Crass as it sounds, movie stars are like any other product: Once they expire, they need to get replaced by something fresh. So as formerly reliable box-office attractions from Russell Crowe to Nicole Kidman to Eddie Murphy lose their luster, movie studios have a vested interest in identifying the next wave of actors who can lure moviegoers into theaters. And in the last month, two young actors have popped onto the public’s radar in a big way, joining a wave of promising twentysomething performers poised to become major stars in the next decade.
The overwhelming hype and goodwill surrounding The Social Network is a big win for everyone concerned, but oddly enough leading man Jesse Eisenberg might not be the biggest beneficiary of the movie’s mojo. He was already on a very fast track to stardom before starring as Mark Zuckerberg in “the Facebook movie,” having notched years of good reviews for indies like The Squid and the Whale (2005), Adventureland (2009), and Solitary Man (2010), to say nothing of winning raves from fanboys for the terrific genre picture Zombieland (2009). So while Eisenberg may be a relatively new commodity for mainstream audiences, he’s an established brand in Hollywood, and now he’s got a major hit under his belt.
That being the case, the actor who walks away the biggest winner from The Social Network is not necessarily Eisenberg (or even costar Justin Timberlake, already as beloved and famous as humanly possible), but rather young British thespian Andrew Garfield. Playing Brazilian-born Facebook co-creator Eduardo Saverin, Garfield completes the movie’s testosterone triumvirate, enjoying a terrific showcase alongside critic’s fave Eisenberg and pop star Timberlake. It also doesn’t hurt that Garfield’s first big mainstream performance comes courtesy of an A-list director (David Fincher) and one of the most celebrated writers in contemporary popular entertainment (Aaron Sorkin). This represents a big leap forward given that the 27-year-old Garfield’s previous American credits are all in little-seen projects, from Lions for Lambs (2007) to the Red Riding trilogy (2009) to The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009).
As has been widely reported, however, the biggest news surrounding Garfield isn’t what he’s already done but rather what he’s about to do: He was recently cast as Peter Parker in Sony’s forthcoming reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, due for release in 2012 and set to be helmed by (500) Days of Summer guy Mark Webb. Putting an actor who isn’t yet familiar to audiences in the center of a major blockbuster is the surest sign that Hollywood sees big things for that actor.
Just this week, Sony announced that Garfield’s costar in the Spidey movie will be Emma Stone, who is (not coincidentally) this month’s other newly minted movie star. The wise-beyond-her-years leading lady of Easy A, the smart teen comedy that’s doing nicely at the box office, Stone has been climbing the Hollywood food chain for several years, appearing in small TV roles since 2005 and appearing in movies since 2007. The 21-year-old Arizona native has appeared almost exclusively in comedies so far, including Superbad (2007), The House Bunny (2008), and Zombieland (2009), and she ruled the school, pun intended, with her starring debut in Easy A. Smart but approachable, lovely but not intimidating, and grown-up but still girlish, she possesses a mixture of qualities so ephemeral that it’s not hard to understand why Hollywood heavyweights envision her becoming a box-office draw.
So now that Garfield and Stone have been anointed as potential movie stars, who else is waiting to join them as big-time marquee attractions in the coming years?
Dianna Agron. As if playing an eye-catching role as a pregnant teen on the megahit TV show Glee wasn’t enough, 24-year-old Agron is also exactly the sort of gorgeous blonde that the movie camera adores. It’s no surprise, therefore, that she’s the only Glee kid with two movies in the can, including the sci-fi flick I Am Number Four, due in February. Don’t be surprised if she’s the first member of New Directions lured away from McKinley High by a big movie deal.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The onetime 3rd Rock from the Sun child actor made a graceful transition to grown-up roles via Sundance faves like Mysterious Skin (2004) and Brick (2005), then scored a major hit with (500) Days of Summer (2009). Seemingly wanting to avoid typecasting as a heartthrob, Gordon-Levitt played an odd assortment of supporting roles before returning to the mainstream with a key role in this summer’s brainy blockbuster Inception. He’s got a handful of potential hits in the pipeline, and rumors persist that Inception director Christopher Nolan might cast the 29-year-old as the Riddler in Nolan’s next Bat-film.
Chris Pine. Taking over the iconic role of Captain James T. Kirk in last year’s Star Trek reboot was a daunting task, mostly because any trace of Shatner in the performance could have led to ridicule, but Chris Pine (who turned 30 in August) swaggered through the movie like he’d already been a star for a decade. Pine’s been awfully shrewd since then, demonstrating his chops by appearing in theater productions and taking a costarring role opposite Denzel Washington in the thriller Unstoppable, which opens next month. The long lull before the next Trek outing is serving Pine well, allowing him to create a diversified public persona instead of getting typecast as the skipper of the Enterprise.
Emma Roberts. Now that she’s been acting steadily for half a decade, it’s time to forget all the nepotism remarks about the fact that she’s Julia Roberts’ niece; 19-year-old Emma seems to be in this for the long haul, earning enough respect from colleagues to land steady work even if she doesn’t yet have a hit to her name. The Nancy Drew reboot in 2007 failed to launch a planned series of films, but Roberts has plugged away in thankless genres like kiddie movies (2009’s Hotel for Dogs) and date-night flicks (this year’s Valentine’s Day). A test of her ability to connect with grown-up viewers will be her appearance in Scream 4, opening next April, because that franchise has a tendency to spawn female stars.
The preceding are some of the actors who have generated the greatest enthusiasm among Hollywood power brokers, but keep an eye out for a handful of others whose stock is rising: Kieran Culkin, 28, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead 25, from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World; Freida Pinto, 25, from Slumdog Millionaire and the recent Woody Allen flick You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger; and Mia Wasikowska 20, from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Plus, the jury is still out on Taylor Lautner, 18, who has several projects in the works but is still known for Twilight movies, and Blake Lively, 23, who surprised people with her credible performance in The Town and joins the superhero circus in next year’s Green Lantern.
Oh, and just so you don’t think Hollywood’s gone crazy for the Twitter generation, keep in mind that two of the fastest-rising actors in the biz are holdovers from Generation X.
The people handling Zack Galifiankis, 41, the breakout star of The Hangover (2009) are doing everything right to position him as the next big thing in movie comedy. He’s earning all sorts of credibility by appearing in the smarty-pants HBO series Bored to Death and this weekend’s offbeat comedy It’s Kind of a Funny Story; he’s costarring with red-hot Robert Downey Jr. in Due Date, coming out next month; and he’s back with the old gang in The Hangover 2, out next year. Galifianakis even walked away a winner from the summertime flop Dinner for Schmucks, in which his cameo was singled out for praise.
Diminutive California native Jeremy Renner, 39, notched more than a decade’s worth of credits in film and television before scoring an Oscar nomination for The Hurt Locker (2008), and he’s clearly making up for lost time by securing roles in as many potential blockbusters as possible: He’s poised to take over the Mission: Impossible series as Tom Cruise’s protégé in the upcoming fourth installment, which is shooting now, and he’ll play the Marvel Comics superhero Hawkeye in Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, scheduled for a 2012 release. In addition to popcorn fare, he’s keeping up his acting chops in serious pictures like Ben Affleck’s current hit The Town and Paul Thomas Anderson’s next picture, The Master, due for release next year.