five+1 – Actors to Watch in the 2010s

Updated on February 11, 2022

I can’t wait to see what these guys do next!

As the decade winds down and ‘Best of the Year’ and ‘Best of the Decade’ lists are being tossed out, discussed, and dissected (still working on ours!), I thought we’d do something a bit different, by looking forward. It’s always hard to predict the future — some of the best films and performances come from unexpected new filmmakers and actors — but there are always people who catch your eye right now, who make you think, “I can’t wait to see what these guys do next!”

Well today we’re going to look at five actors (plus one!) who we’re really looking forward to seeing on the silver screen in the next decade.

1. Reece Thompson

five-1-reece-thompsonYoung Reece Thompson first caught our eye in Rocket Science, giving a frankly award-worthy turn as chronic stutterer turned reluctant debate team student, Hal Hefner. It was a brilliant, witty and nuanced performance that turned an otherwise de rigeur quirky indie comedy into one of the best films of the decade for me.

Thompson is a surprisingly subtle actor for someone so young; I thought he might be at least a decade older than he was in Rocket Science, only playing a young high-schooler. But like Jason Schwartzmann a decade before him in Rushmore, Thompson found himself shining in a role perfectly suited for his age, yet letting him prove himself with material well beyond the usual high school drama stuff. He’s instantly relatable and likable in ways that many of his more chiseled, preened contemporaries are not, and has a real screen presence.

Since Rocket Science he has starred in Assassination of a High School President, further cementing his quirky high school indie film cred (if there is such a thing). With a couple more films on the burner (including Provinces of Night with Hilary Duff, Val Kilmer & Kris Kristofferson), and age definitely on his side (he just turned twenty-one), Reece Thompson is the young actor I’m most interested in seeing develop over the next decade. He’s already proven he has the talent, now we just need to see how he ends up using it. However it goes, I think I’ll be entertained.

2. Ranbir Kapoor

five-1-ranbir-kapoorFor nearly twenty years now, the king of Hindi cinema has been Shah Rukh Khan. For two decades he’s been the ever-reliable, ever-youthful superstar of Bollywood that, frankly, shows no signs of slowing down, growing up or old, or even waning in popularity over the next ten or even thirty years. Heck, he should probably be on this list. Love him or hate him (I belong unapologetically in the former camp, by the way), you can’t deny that Shah Rukh Khan has that certain something, that X Factor, that neither his contemporaries like Aamir Khan or Salman Khan, or the younger bunch who showed up at the start of this decade like Hrithik Roshan or Abhishek Bachchan, seem to have.

Well, now we do have someone with that X factor. The wonderful thing about Ranbir Kapoor is that while everyone expected him to be a competent actor, carrying on in the generations-long tradition of Kapoor leading men in Bollywood stretching back to his great grandfather Prithviraj Kapoor, nobody quite expected him to be so good.

In the short span of four films, Kapoor has gone from strength to strengh, culminating at the end of this year in his stand-out performance in Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year. Kapoor is that strangest, rarest of actors in India, the star who can literally disappear into a role. While you’re watching him you stop being aware that it’s Ranbir Kapoor — a feat even Aamir Khan can’t pull off any more — and just watch.

So maybe he can’t play the studly Punjabi alpha male role that has marked Bollywood heroes for decades now, but maybe that role just isn’t needed any more. And as Indian cinema hopefully grows better as it has done in this eventful decade, one thing you can be sure of: Ranbir Kapoor (& Shah Rukh Khan!) will keep us coming back for more.

3. Sharlto Copley

five-1-sharlto-copleyI need to get this out of the way first: I do not like District 9. I know I said I was looking forward to it (and truly, I was), but the only reason a review of it does not appear on this site is because I had the sneaking suspicion that I may not like Avatar that much, and I was saving my one good rant of the year for James Cameron’s big smurf movie*.

*(The Love Aaj Kal review doesn’t count as that was more bile than rant, you know)

But if there was one saving grace to District 9 for me, it was the central character of Wikus Van Der Merwe, as played by Sharlto Copley. Like most times I knew very little about D9 going into the theatre other than the basic setting, and when Copley showed up in the opening montage as the nerdy Van Der Merwe, making bad jokes to the camera, I had him pegged as the comedy sidekick or even the villain, not the hero. So when it turned out that not only was Copley playing the perfect man out of his depth, but also playing that role magnificently, the general suckiness of the plot and the videogame progression of the screenplay sorta melted away. I was invested in Wikus Van Der Merwe in ways I have not been in a character for quite a while now, and all of it was down to how Copley played him.

There’s a good chance that you never heard of Sharlto Copley before this — indeed, IMDB only lists District 9 and Alive in Joburg, Neill Blomkamp’s short film that inspired it, as his only credits. Right now Copley is set to play ‘Howling Mad’ Murdock in the new A-Team film opposite Bradley Cooper & Liam Neeson. It is, to be frank, a bit of a let down to see an actor of his talent now going on to play exactly the kind of comedy sidekick role he busted out of in D9, but such is the way with the Hollywood machine.

Sharlto Copley makes intensity and vulnerability seem effortless, takes that bundle-of-nerves raw energy and channels it with humour and wit and humanity. I hope and pray that he sticks around long enough to show us some more of that magic.

4. Byung-hun Lee

five-1-byung-hun-leeAs the first of many pyrotechnic action sequences wound down and the rogue’s gallery of bad guys in this year’s big-screen adaptation of G.I. Joe were revealed, one face seemed more than a little familiar, but I couldn’t place him at first. He was leaner and more muscular in the role of evil ninja Storm Shadow, but it was indeed Byung-hun Lee, and I was very happy to see him again.

Just a week before I had chanced upon an old film of Lee’s from 2001, Bungee Jumping of Their Own, while flipping channels. It started out as an engaging but generally normal Korean romantic drama, but soon veered into a strange and bold reincarnation plot that was sold, whole and soul, buy Lee’s heartfelt performance as both young lover and older, heartbroken school-teacher, his wounds ripped open by the entry of someone who may or may not be the reincarnation of his once-lover (except this time she’s a teenage boy). Trust me, set any feeling of discomfort as to the strangeness of the plot aside right now, because it’s a pretty great movie, and if for nothing else, you need to see it for Byung-hun Lee.

Even in a mindless popcorn romp like G.I. Joe (which I really liked a lot, by the way), Lee brought to Storm Shadow a certain deadpan charm, a physicality that was more manic Energizer Bunny than calm and collected ninja warrior — and it worked wonders for the otherwise flat character.

It’s a shame that most Asian actors who act in Hollywood never go beyond the stock martial arts master roles (I imagine that when or if a Bollywood hero crosses over he’s destined for a lot of dancing. But that’s a discussion for another time) that the west sees Far East heroes slotting into. Lee is obviously a gifted dramatic actor, and who cares if he’s not headlining a fourth-quarter Oscar bait drama with the latest hot Hollywood actress? Korean movies are awesome, and there’s more than a decade’s worth of his past work for me to go discover. He hasn’t moved lock stock and barrel to Hollywood (in fact I don’t think he has a western project in hand) but the world of cinema is big enough, and rich enough, to not care anymore.

5. Lee Pace

five-1-lee-paceQuick: who’s six-foot-three, the very definition of tall, dark & handsome, talented & charismatic, and been in more overlooked gems than anybody else this decade? If your answer was, “The Pieman!” then you, my friend, are already a convert to the cult of Lee Pace.

But for the rest of you: just what is the big deal about this thirty-year-old? Pace’s resume reads like a short list of the underrated and overlooked of the latter half of the decade, and he’s the only actor on this list who is here as much for his work on TV as he is for his movie roles. Because anyone who saw the criminally shortlived Wonderfalls and its similarly cancelled-before-its-time cousin Pushing Daisies will tell you, Lee Pace is good. And hey, if the noughties proved anything, it’s that TV is as fantastic a narrative medium as film is, and that whole small-screen/big-screen divide is evaporating, if it isn’t already gone.

But while I wait in hope for a Pushing Daisies revival, I have no doubt that Pace makes a fantastic movie actor. He breathed life into the dashing romantic hero of Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day, and it’s no small feat to shine in a cast that includes Frances McDormand, Amy Adams and Ciarán Hinds. But shine he did, and also played the lead in Tarsem Singh’s The Fall (I have yet to see it, but by all accounts it’s a hell of a film).

There’s something delightfully Old Hollywood about Lee Pace’s appeal; he’s not a spiky-haired pouty triple-threat (well, he is, but let’s just say Zac Efron and he don’t share quite the same demographic), and while he may be finding a place right now in period pieces and quirky fantasies, it’s only a matter of time — and a bit of luck — before the rest of the world takes notice, and we are all in the Cult of Pace.

But first, please, someone greenlight a Pushing Daisies movie?

+1. Colin Firth

five-1-colin-firthYes, that Colin Firth. For decades now Firth has been in the shadow of, fought against, and even lampooned his breakout role as Mr. Darcy in the BBC’s Pride & Prejudice adaptation from 1995. But there’s more to the actor than playing romantic lead types, as amply proven in the roles he has picked over the last few years. For every Mamma Mia! there is a Genova, for every Accidental Husband there is an, And When Did You Last See Your Father?. And there is also, thankfully, a St. Trinians and a Dorian Gray, where he gets to have some fun.

Of late he’s been getting rave reviews in Tom Ford’s (yes, that Tom Ford) directorial debut A Single Man, and has been nominated for several awards already. About time, I say. Firth has always been one of my favourite actors (he’s one of the main reasons I unashamedly think Love, Actually is not just a good, but great movie), and it’s just now, as he enters his 50s, that Colin Firth is truly coming into his own.

That wraps up our first five+1 post (we thought of calling it Top 5, but really, there’s always one extra, right?). Come back in a few days for our picks of five actresses to watch in the 2010s!