A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with Chris Braunschweig and we somehow got on the topic of child stars.
How this topic came about? I can’t recall, but I did write a note to myself to do a Coffee Break on this very subject.
In order to simplify the process and prevent some of my selections adult antics tainting their inclusion, this list is based entirely on this person’s accomplishments as a child/teenage actor.
Without further adieu, here are the greatest child stars of all-time in random order:
I’m only 30 and I know who she is, that should tell you how iconic she is.
Seriously, the hair, the dancing, the cheeks, animal crackers in her soup and the whole shebang. Shirley was the prototype for all child stars to come and there's a reason she dominated the box office in the 1930s.
She had the "it factor” all those Hollywood types rave about.
“Home Alone” is enough to put him on this list, but then there’s also its sequel, “My Girl,” The Good Son,” “Uncle Buck”, “Richie Rich” and basically everything he did from 1989-1994.
As a kid who grew up in this era, I can tell you firsthand that if his name was attached to project I was begging my mom to take me to go see it (the only exception to this was “The Pagemaster,” which I have never seen and still have no interest in viewing).
Mac — it’s what all the insiders like myself call him — took the template Shirley Temple created and brought it to modern times. As a far as male child stars go, he remains the GOAT!*
*Young Michael Jackson could give him a run for his money here, but his adult career surpassed his childhood accomplishments by far so that’s why he didn’t make this list and why MAC has the belt.
Of all the child stars on this list, Dakota Fanning is the only one to have made me cry from her acting ability alone.
Did I cry the first time I saw “My Girl” and Mac’s character died from the bee stings? Of course. However, having your character die is an easy way to draw tears whereas doing it through sheer skill is a bit more challenging.
The film in question where Dakota brought me to actual tears was “Man on Fire.” This thriller starred Denzel Washington as an alcoholic former elite military guy turned bodyguard for a wealthy Mexican-American family that Dakota belongs to. Although this film is old enough to get a driver's permit, I don't want to spoil it or reveal the tear-inducing scene so all I can say is go see it if you haven't.
Although Dakota dabbled in some children's movies as a child actress, drama was her forte and she excelled in it. She received a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for outstanding performance by female actor in a leading role at eight!
While it may seem unfair to choose only one of “The Coreys” for this list, Corey Feldman played a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (Donatello) and Corey Haim did not, so that made things a lot easier.
Corey Feldman was a mega child star and starred in some of the 1980s biggest cult classics such as “The Goonies,” “Gremlins,” “Stand by Me” “The Lost Boys” and two of The Friday the 13th movies.
Look, I am not a child of the ’80s but I would remiss I didn’t recognize his contributions to that decade’s pop culture and the memories he helped create for Gen Xers.
The Olsen Twins
I went back-and-forth a lot on this last slot, but ultimately I have to give it to the Olsen Twins.
While Mary-Kate and Ashley live a more low-key lifestyle these days, you couldn’t turn on a TV or walk in a store in the 1990s without seeing a VHS cover of one on their direct-to-home movies or a random product they were hawking.
These girls were all about branding before it became the thing that everyone is encouraged to do.
Thanks to their prolific marketing and non-stop work schedule as children, the now adult Olsen Twins are thought to be worth about $300 million combined.