The Kids Are Alright

500 Days Of Film Reviews The Best Child Performances of 2016

2016 will be remembered for many reasons but, perhaps, one of the most exciting developments has been the emergence of some truly remarkable child actors whose performances have been nothing short of stunning.


The year started with Jacob Tremblay’s incredible, Oscar nominated portrayal of Jack in Lenny Abrahamson’s Room. He is, by turns, heart-breakingly vulnerable and fiercely resilient. I can’t wait to see how Tremblay’s career progresses - starting next year with Colin Trevorrow’s The Book Of Henry.


Meanwhile, 2016 has also seen impressive child performances in other powerful dramas. For example, Günes Sensoy gives a wonderful performance in Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s brilliant film, Mustang and Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri are superb in Ira Sachs’ Little Men.


In addition, Suzu Hirose shines in Our Little Sister and Briana Shann and Dylan McKiernan are heart-breakingly convincing  in Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake.



Finding the perfect child actor for a role is no easy task. Directors often embark upon exhausting journeys - looking for a particular, illusive quality, something unaffected, something natural.


For example, Jeff Nichols has talked about the challenge of casting the role of Alton Meyer in Midnight Special. However, as soon as he met Jaeden Leiberher he knew that he had struck gold. Leiberher possessed that special otherworldly quality that Nichols was looking for and he was more than able to hold his own alongside the intensity of Michael Shannon’s performance. 


Steven Spielberg is, of course, the master of finding and nurturing young actors. This, his 70th year, was no different. The BFG features a brilliant performance by a ten year old actress called Ruby Barnhill. 


Spielberg watched 30 audition tapes a week before he discovered his Sophie. According to an interview with Empire Magazine, the director spied “untapped fire” in Barnhill's eyes and, after spending a day with her in Berlin, knew that she had the part. Spielberg’s instincts were (unsurprisingly) spot on - Barnhill delivers the perfect combination of vulnerability and strength.   



Just as finding the right Sophie was crucial for The BFG, it was equally important for John Favreau to find the perfect Mowgli for this film, The Jungle Book. Neel Sethi gives an incredible performance - it still amazes me how someone so young can

carry an emotionally powerful film with such ease. 


In addition, Oakes Fegley is wonderful as Pete in Disney’s enjoyable and surprisingly moving Pete’s Dragon and Julian Dennison is superb (already a master of comic timing) in Taika Waititi’s Hunt For The Wilderpeople.



The horror genre has proved particularly fertile ground for effective child performances this year. For example, I was endlessly impressed by Hwan-hee Kim’s portrayal of Hyo-jin in The Wailing and the children in The Witch are brilliant (Anya Taylor-Joy and Harvey Scrimshaw most particularly).


Also, while the films themselves were disappointing, the child performances in Ouija: Origins Of Evil and The Conjuring 2 were impressive. 


However, one of favourite child performances of 2016 came in Babak Anvari’s superb horror film, Under The Shadow. Avin Manshadi plays Dorsa, a young girl under threat from an evil spirit in an apartment block in 1980s Tehran. Her performance is phenomenal - eerie, vulnerable, and powerful.



2016 has certainly been a stellar year for child performances. If these actors are supported and nurtured the future of cinema looks bright indeed. 


What was your favourite child acting performance of this year?


Do let me know by leaving me a comment in the box below! 

Write a comment

Comments: 4
  • #1

    Wendell (Sunday, 01 January 2017 20:13)

    I'd have to say Tremblay was my top choice, but that's almost by default since I haven't seen any of the other movies, here. I did like Neel Sethi in The Jungle Book, though.

  • #2

    Jane (Wednesday, 04 January 2017 12:37)

    Hi Wendell,
    Happy New Year! Jacob Tremblay's performance in Room is superb isn't it... a tough act to follow! I also loved Neel Sethi in Jungle Book. Must watch that one again!

  • #3

    TC Kirkham (Wednesday, 18 January 2017 02:22)

    Little Men won almost half of my awards this year, and Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri both made our 2016 Rising Stars Honors, with Theo the youngest male to ever top the list - that kid is so amazing in Little Men, then you find all the short films he's written, directed, and starred in...this kid is going to be huge one day...count on it!

  • #4

    Jane (Wednesday, 18 January 2017 09:48)

    Hi, I absolutely agree with you about Little Men. It is a stunning film and Theo Taplitz is a very impressive talent. Based on this evidence the future of cinema is secure!