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The 10 Most Exciting Actors Working in Hollywood Today

22 January 2017 | Features, People Lists | by Ryan Jamison

The Master (2012)

There are plenty of veteran actors still working today, but there are also new faces from the past couple of decades that have shown tremendous talent, and may likely be remembered years from now as the best of their millennium.

This list focuses on those men, who continue to do great work in a variety of films from skilled directors. It should be noted that the top spot on this list would have been reserved for Philip Seymour Hoffman if not for his tragic passing a couple of years ago. Alas, this is still one hell of a group.


10. Michael Fassbender

It’s hard to believe that Michael Fassbender has only been working in film for one decade, since he already has a reasonably long filmography containing a slew of excellent performances. His devilish eyes are capable of imbuing not only sinister evil, but intense emotion and alluring charm as well. Whether leading or supporting a film, he gives his all and is often the most watchable actor in a scene.

Much of Fassbender’s best work comes from his collaborations with director Steve McQueen, who has brought out the actor’s most illustrious qualities. In Hunger, Fassbender’s third-ever film, he demonstrated awe-inspiring devotion by losing an enormous amount of weight to play a prisoner undergoing a hunger strike. In Shame, he went deep into the mind of a character fighting an internal battle of addiction and unwanted desires.

In 12 Years a Slave, he took on the role of a cruel slave-owner to receive his first Academy Award nomination. He earned another for Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs, in which he bypassed his lack of physical resemblance to the titular icon and managed to inhabit his personality to great effect.

Next, Fassbender will star in Terrence Malick’s Song to Song (unless his part is entirely cut) before returning to Ridley Scott’s sci-fi universe in Alien: Covenant. He rounds out his 2017 output with a detective role in The Snowman, a mystery involving a woman’s disappearance.


9. Christian Bale


When it comes to completely devoting oneself to the physicality of a character, there’s nobody like Christian Bale. He famously lost 63 pounds for his role in The Machinist before gaining it all back plus an extra 40 for Batman Begins. He has since put himself through more weight fluctuations even when offered to simply wear a fat suit. None of this would mean a thing, however, if Bale were not also such a compelling actor. He has proven himself many a time to be versatile, emotive and just plain exhilarating to watch.

After putting in some solid work in the eighties and nineties, including a particularly noteworthy heartbreaking performance in the underseen All the Little Animals, Bale started off the 2000s with his frighteningly off-the-wall turn in American Psycho. Since then, he has alternated between smaller character-centric films and massive blockbusters in which he is given little to chew on.

While his talents were not always utilized to the best of his abilities, he still knocked it out of the park when given the chance. He has hit his stride in the 2010s, at the start of which he rightfully won an Oscar for his performance as a drug-addicted boxing trainer in The Fighter.

He then went on to receive two more nominations for his work in American Hustle and The Big Short, while shining in other films like Out of the Furnace. Each character he plays in these films have nothing in common with one another, yet he fleshes them all out brilliantly.

Bale will soon re-team with Scott Cooper for the western Hostiles before standing alongside Fassbender in Malick’s Song to Song. The former sounds like an especially good showcase for the actor to do some dirty work.


8. Ryan Gosling

Everyone loves America’s sweetheart, Ryan Gosling. Guys think he’s a bad-ass, girls think he’s adorable, and film lovers think he’s one of the generation’s finest actors. They’re all correct. Sometimes quietly mysterious while at other times wildly enthusiastic, he never fails to command the screen and draw viewers in whether it be with pain or enchantment.

The Canadian actor entered the 21st century with a dark portrayal of a Jewish anti-Semite in The Believer, and continued playing emotionally tortured characters in such films as The United States of Leland. He won over the hearts of millions in The Notebook before earning his first Oscar nomination for Half Nelson, in which he plays an inner-city teacher with drug tendencies.

He was tremendous in the offbeat Lars and the Real Girl, but his most hard-hitting work came afterwards with Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, in which he tragically molds a dynamic character who discovers and destroys his only love. Gosling found his most iconic film figure in the unnamed protagonist of Drive, who oozes coolness but possesses a brewing sense of violent rage.

He then returned to Cianfrance for another unforgettable performance in The Place Beyond the Pines, again carrying a weight of tragedy with him that hangs over the entire film even when he is not present. He has recently been replacing that painful edge with humor and playfulness, such as in The Big Short and The Nice Guys, and is very probably soon to receive a second Oscar nomination for his delightful musical role in La La Land.

Gosling’s next project is – wait for it – Malick’s Song to Song (not kidding, nor was the convenience of his placement here intentional). He will then star in Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 before reuniting with Damien Chazelle for the Neil Armstrong biopic First Man. If expectations are met, he’s in for a strong set of films here.


7. Casey Affleck

Speaking of quietly enthralling actors, Casey Affleck is the king of soft-surfaced characters with intense emotions boiling underneath. His vulnerably cracking voice met with subtle facial tics and the occasional outburst have become defining traits of his unbeatably gripping performances, and the size and quality of his roles have greatly increased in the past decade.

His probable imminent Oscar win should lead to an even further progression of such strong acting gigs, which is especially exciting for long-time fans who have watched him slowly evade the shadow of his more generally famous brother, Ben.

For a long time, Affleck only had bit parts in films, the most popular of which was Good Will Hunting which introduced him as a wimpy sidekick with a desire for more attention.

One decade later, following numerous small roles and lesser-known films, he played a character with similar frustrations in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Only this time, he was given the spotlight as the naïve and jealous “coward” to really evaluate the inner emotions and psychology of such a character, and he absolutely killed it (no pun intended).

He was nominated for an Oscar for his work – something his brother has never achieved in the acting realm – and finally garnered the kind of notice he deserves for his talent. He has since brought the same amount of brilliant internalizations to more central roles in such films as Gone Baby Gone and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and stole every moment he was on screen with a palpable sense of fuming anger and trauma in Out of the Furnace.

Most recently, he did career-defining work as the unimaginably grief-ridden janitor in Manchester by the Sea. The unrepairable brokenness he brings to this character is heart-wrenching to watch, and the few moments in which his agony is brought to the forefront penetrate with immense power. If he does indeed claim Oscar glory for his work, it will be highly deserved.

Set to be released this year are two more films with his Ain’t Them Bodies Saints director David Lowery titled The Old Man and the Gun and A Ghost Story. Affleck is also getting started on the production of another starring vehicle which he will also write and direct himself: a father-daughter drama called Light of My Life. Each one of them sounds very promising.


6. Mark Duplass

The One I Love

This may come across as a peculiar choice given his sidelined position in the grand scheme of Hollywood, especially compared to the rest of the men on this list, but Mark Duplass is doing things in indie cinema that are more exciting than most films and performances in the mainstream.

Associated with propelling the “Mumblecore” style of acting into the independent film circuit, Duplass produces low-budget character-driven films in which he often stars as ordinary men (or weirdos, in some cases) who are not so commonly depicted in major films. More importantly, he does so with an irresistibly naturalistic charisma that makes him highly interesting to watch at all times.

One of the main reasons Duplass is such a magnetic presence on screen is the fact that, in many of these films, the scripts themselves are only story blueprints while the dialogue is totally improvised by Duplass and his various cast mates.

Highlights of such cases include his first role in the underrated The Puffy Chair, through to his work in Your Sister’s Sister, The One I Love and Creep. In the latter film, he uses his naturalism in a very different way, making his character unpredictably disturbing and, indeed, creepy.

Most recently, he delivered his best performance yet in Blue Jay, channeling a deep sadness into the soul of a character who remains charming and funny at the surface. While typical movie scenes have pre-determined paths to each emotional beat, Duplass continues to fill those spaces with refreshingly impulsive moments that ring truer to life than the majority of screen performances.

Next, the actor will return as the chilling Creep for a sequel, followed by a departure from his self-written/produced roles as he joins the cast of Jason Reitman’s next outing, Tully. He has signed on to do multiple more films for Netflix in the vein of Blue Jay in the coming years.



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  • Hamid Razi

    Good list.

    One gripe tho, why the title “exciting” ? …it’s just so broad/general hence bewildering.

    I mean what makes Leonardo Dicaprio or Edward Norton less “exciting” than say Mark Duplass ?

    ” This list focuses on those men, who continue to do great work in a variety of films from skilled directors.”

    This doesn’t add up with the title.

    • Some_Warrior

      Right,Both Edward Norton and Leonardo DiCaprio are more talented than most of the actors on the list.This seems like an incredibly biased article.
      Regretting reading it now.

  • sailor monsoon

    Oscar Fucking isaac

  • Pingback: The 10 Most Exciting Actors Working in Hollywood Today | Roberto Cimatti()

  • Some_Warrior

    Leonardo DiCaprio deserves a spot on this list

  • SergioPavon

    Good list, agree with everyone of them. I would add Eddie Redmayne, he has had excellent performances the last years, and Christoph Waltz.

  • this bear is tops blooby

    Daniel Day-Lewis is in a class all by himself. Definitely a once in a generation sort of actor.

  • here and there

    Nice list, I like that you’ve included Casey Affleck and Michael Shannon, and am intrigued to hear about Mark Duplass.

    The one I’m really watching lately is Matthew McConaughey. Talk about someone who’s made good on the talents they’d long had, multiple times in a remarkable run. (Okay, that was already talked about a couple years ago, but maybe what isn’t is that he’s still on that streak, acting-wise.)

    Say what you will about the critical and commercial reception of some of his latest films (and so much of that is outside an actor’s control), but as an actor he’s been in consistently great form since at least 2011, which is no small thing considering the number of substantial roles that’s been.

    Add to that, I think in 2016 he gave some of his strongest and most winsome performances yet (between “Free State of Jones” and “Sing,” respectively), and word has it his work in “Gold” is great, as well.

    McConaughey’s 2011 through 2014 is the kind of thing that entire careers don’t usually reach, so it’s an unsustainable bar. But even just looking at his relatively quieter past two years, “The Sea of Trees,” “Free State of Jones,” “Kubo and the Two Strings,” and “Gold” are all the kind of ambitious, varied projects I’d like to see good actors go for, despite how they may turn out critically or commercially. That and the fact that I find McConaughey continuing to deliver great performances regardless of anything else is why he’s one of the most exciting actors to me right now.

    Hoping “White Boy Rick” with Yann Demange will be another great project.

  • Speaking of exciting, where is Oscar Issac, Eddie Redmayne and Christoph Waltz?? Leo Di Caprio, Matt Damon, Daniel Brühl, Colin Farrell, Ralph Fiennes, Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Cumberbatch and Matthew Mcconaughey could have been included in honorable mentions. Jeremy Renner and Edward Norton are so underrated as well.

    • Mortimer

      This is seriously the first time that I find out that someone considers Eddie Redmayne exciting actor. Dude starred in a couple of Oscar bait, by-the-numbers movies in a past few years and that was it.

  • Tim O’Hare

    Great list. Note that he said ‘most exciting’ not best. DiCaprio is a good actor but there’s no obligation to put him on the list. He delivers solid performances in every movie and has been rewarded with an Oscar. To me ‘exciting’ should be given to an actor where we have yet to see the limits to their potential. Joaquin Phoenix a perfect example because he is so unpredictable. He literally risked destroying his career in order to make a movie and run a social experiment. DiCaprio follows a conventional path of forming a good relationship with a director and oscillating between various genres. He plays a historical figure, does an action role, appears in an arthouse flick, does a romance, appears in an adaptation of a classic novel and does some Oscar bait. That’s not to undermine what DiCaprio does, it takes talent to continually pick winners and to have that range, but the beauty with Joaquin Pheonix is just how unpredictable he is.

  • louis

    Ryan Jamison once again uses the highly subjective term “exciting” to compile a list of biased towards celebrating whiteness. Can’t wait to see your next list: “The 10 Most Exciting (white) Actresses Working in Hollywood Today.” Then again, your list of directors didn’t include a single woman, so who knows if you will do that one.

    • noobatmovies

      Everyone here has something to say, and they are adding their own suggestions so if you don’t like what you are seeing why don’t give your list of people that deserve to be on this list?

      Because they are so many, many actors that could be here – everyone is agreeing on that – but try to understand the guy, it’s difficult to sum up just to 10, instead dialogue 🙂 in my own experience, i learn much more with the comments than the lists sometimes eheh

      • louis

        I appreciate your trying to start a dialogue and being much more civil than many I’ve seen.

        I certainly agree that it is hard to sum up just 10, but it’s frustrating as a person of color who loves film to continually see white men celebrated, often at the expense of deserving women and minorities. And when we complain, we get racist and illogical backlash such as “that’s how Hollywood is,” or “diversity is for idiots” as defenses for celebrating white men for being white men in mediums that are supposedly meritorious.

        But if you want my opinion on great actors of color who are “exciting,” whatever that means, then here’s some:
        Denzel Washington, Mahershala Ali, Idris Elba, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Don Cheadle, Forest Whitaker, Jeffrey Wright, David Oyelowo, MIchael K. Williams, Michael B. Jordan, Djimon Hounsou, Dev Patel, Benicio Del Toro, Oscar Isaac, Javier Bardem, Demian Bichir, Gael Garcia Bernal, MIchael Pena, Diego Luna.

        With the exceptions of Fassbender, Day-Lewis, and maybe Hardy, any of the above could easily have taken the place of any one on this list. I mean, come on, Mark Duplass?

        • noobatmovies

          Congrats that is in fact a good list 🙂 Some of them i already known, and they are really talented, others i didn’t, but i will believe in your words…

          The fact is the title leaves a lot to explain, what is an “exciting” actor?? For me, it’s more than being just a good actor, it’s also being an actor who is capable to make risks, get away of his confort zone, always innovating, steal the shown even when they aren’t the protagonist… You have to wonder those in your list, in matter of fact in all Hollywood, that are actually like that, regardless the color of their skin, their first-born nationality or language, gender, age… And it’s a very difficult job… Never the less this writer should extend the list to 20, 30 and make another with actresses…

          Another point is i believe that for this article he only included actors whose carrers are more based on movies, most of your list have more work on tv roles… And he explain on top that this list was only dedicated to millenium actors (so i guess actors that had already a good carrer in the 90’s, 00’s were excluded)

          But still, don’t underrated those who are in the list like Joaquin Phoenix, for example, because was an actor who put his public image in danger, people really believed that he went mad, but it matter of fact he was creating publicity for a mockdocumentary directed by Casey Affleck. Not many actors and actresses in Hollywood put their public image in risk just for the art itself.

          Except Mark Duplass, i didn’t understand either…

  • Mortimer

    1. DDL
    2. Phoenix
    3. Fassbender
    4. Gosling
    5. Hardy
    HM – Bale, DiCaprio, Norton, Gyllenhall, Isaac
    Younger one – Adam Driver

  • Mortimer

    An it seems Gosling and Fassbender are the leads in the Song to Song. But Bale is unfortunately cut, according to reliable source.

  • Lluvia Anaïs

    I´m so pleased that finally someone mentioned Jake Gyllenhal. I think he is being very underrated, specially with his lack of Oscar noms. Definitely my favorite actor working today.