A lot can change in one summer movie season: Around this time last year, Benedict Cumberbatch had yet to begin his 2013 big-screen victory tour, and Henry Cavill’s hairy chest was still for diehards only. Those two were just a few of last summer’s big breakouts — in Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel, respectively — and the May-to-August period is ideal for minting new stars. Which up-and-comers will be making their mark this year? Here are eight whose names you should be learning pronto.
Hollywood is still suffering from a shortage of new leading men, and now that we’ve milked the Hemsworth brothers for all they’re worth, we’ve imported another young Australian, 24-year-old Brenton Thwaites, to make a go of it. The handsome Thwaites (who you may remember from his mostly shirtless turn in the Lifetime movie Blue Lagoon: The Awakening) is set to take this summer by storm, with key roles in three movies: He’s got the aged-up lead in the adaptation of The Giver, plays Prince Philip opposite Angelina Jolie in Maleficent, and gives good sci-fi as a college kid experimented on by aliens in The Signal. Sorry, young American actors: Brenton Thwaites is taking all your jobs.
Plenty of funny women have done their time in the Saturday Night Live salt mines with little to show for it, and you can add Jenny Slate to the show’s list of one-season wonders like Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Sarah Silverman. Even if SNL never quite knew what to do with her, Slate has proved herself since in projects like Kroll Show, Parks and Recreation, and Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, but she gets her best showcase yet in this summer’s abortion-themed rom-com Obvious Child, where she plays a frazzled stand-up comedian whose one-night stand gets a little bit complicated. Slate nails all her punch lines, but the real revelation is how quickly that croaky voice can make you cry.
You may have seen this boyish 20-year-old in the Carrie remake or in Divergent, but he’s got his first lead in the highly anticipated The Fault in Our Stars, adapted from John Green’s romantic novel. We already know he’s got chemistry with his co-star Shailene Woodley — disconcertingly, they play brother and sister in the Divergent franchise — but this is the sort of role that could rocket him to the romantic peaks that only Ryan Gosling and the boys from Twilight have recently known.
Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox declined to come back for the fourth Transformers film, so Michael Bay decided to mint a couple of new stars: In addition to rising Irish actor Jack Reynor, 19-year-old Nicola Peltz (Bates Motel) was picked to headline the next Transformers trilogy as the series’ new female lead. She’ll star as Mark Wahlberg’s daughter in the Dinobot-laden Transformers: Age of Extinction, and let’s hope it does a sight better than Peltz’s last would-be blockbuster, the M. Night Shyamalan–directed adaptation of The Last Airbender.
The 44-year-old Aussie has been around for a while, making the most of character-actor parts in films like Lawless and The Great Gatsby, but it wasn’t until his involving turn in Zero Dark Thirty — where he had the most sizable male part as Jessica Chastain’s co-interrogator — that Hollywood suddenly sat up and took notice. Can he lead a movie all by his lonesome? We’ll soon see: He just began shooting the Terminator reboot (where he’ll play John Connor), and this summer, he’s the face of the human resistance in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, with fellow new recruits Keri Russell and Gary Oldman on his side.
Harvey Weinstein tussled with Snowpiercer director Bong Joon-ho about the running time of his sci-fi drama, threatening to cut twenty minutes out of the film (which is about the haves and have-nots aboard a futuristic bullet train) to make it more palatable for American audiences. Let’s be happy that Weinstein eventually backed down, because rumor has it that he wanted to slice sections pertaining to a lock-breaker (Song Kang-hu) and his drug-addicted daughter (Ko Asung) that give the movie much of its unique flavor. In particular, the 21-year-old Go — an English-speaking South Korean actress who also starred in Bong’s 2006 breakout The Host — is one of the movie’s spiky secret weapons.
For his first film role, Ellar Coltrane snagged a doozy: He’s the lead in Richard Linklater’s coming-of-age tale Boyhood, which Linklater shot in small installments for almost twelve years as Coltrane aged from 7 to 18. At first quiet and malleable, as his character ages, you can see Coltrane coming into his own, too, and when he starts to show personality, nerve, and a point of view as an actor, you’re as proud of his evolution as any parent possibly could be.
Listen, you’re a Vulture reader: You already know who Chris Pratt is, and you love him. (If these two statements are not true, get out now, you interloper.) Still, Pratt’s a relative unknown to the wider world — Parks and Recreation isn’t exactly a ratings smash — though that’s likely to change this summer with his charismatic turn in the next big Marvel movie, the space-set Guardians of the Galaxy. His role as Star-Lord was a highly coveted one in town, with the part tipped to have the same sort of breakout potential as Robert Downey Jr.’s lead in Iron Man, so very soon, Chris Pratt may not be your little secret anymore. (Start preparing some hipster proclamations: “I liked Chris Pratt back when he was just a chubby comedian!”)