Dr. Venkman Presents: Top 10 Best Child Performances!

by Joey Paur


Venkman here - I think that child actors have given some of the greatest performances in film and most of them are overlooked because they are kids. There are a handful of kids that have actually been nominated for an Oscar and only 3 have won the Award they are Patty Duke in 1962, Tatum O'Neil in 1973, and Anna Paquin in 1993. all of these were for Best Supporting Actress. I just wanted to share with you what I think the top 10 best child performances are. There are so many to choose from, but out of all the movies that have child stars these are the 10 that stuck out above the rest. I have provided a scene from each movie with every choice. Some are longer than others but the are all must watch. Enjoy!




10 – Kirsten Dunst as Claudia in ‘Interview with a Vampire’ - 12 years old


She still hasn’t topped what she did in this movie, which is a shame. I know she has got the talent in her, but she hasn’t used it since this movie. She was able to act and keep up with two of Hollywood’s most talented actors. Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. What impressed me the most was how she aged in the movie. She didn’t age physically because she was a vampire, but mentally she played an aged experienced woman in the body of a child. You knew she was older than how she looked. She was 12 years old when she played this  part.



Trivia: Evan Rachel Wood auditioned for the role of Claudia.



9 – Heather O’Rourke as Carol Anne in ‘Poltergeist’ - 7 years old


This is a genuine Horror film about a little girl named Carol Anne who starts to be able to communicate with the spirits that reside in her home. Remember this line “Hello? What do you look like? Talk louder, I can't hear you! Hey, hello! Hello, I can't hear you! Five. Yes. Yes. I don't know. I don't know.” She played an amazing cute little girl being terrorized by a poltergeist.. She was 7 years old when she starred in this movie and she was amazing! She made you believe everything that was happening. I would think this type of role would be really hard to play but she did it. She also coined the creepy phrase “They’re here”.



Trivia: Drew Barrymore was considered for the role of Carol Anne, but 'Steven Spielberg' wanted someone more angelic. It was Barrymore's audition for this role, however, that landed her a part in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982).

It is also sad to say that Heather died at a young age on Febuary 1, 1988.


8 - Dakota Fanning as Rachel in ‘War of the Worlds' - 10 years old

When I was watching War of the Worlds Dakota Fanning was the part of the film that made me feel the real fear of the event of aliens attacking the world. There was one scene that blew me away though. It is the scene where Tom Cruise throws the kids in the mini van and tells his friend Manny that if he doesn't get into the car he's going to die. It cuts to Dakota's reaction and holy cow. The look on her face as she here's this is indescribable I got chocked up seeing this little girl with so much terror in hear face. She has done several other films that she has done very well in, but I thought this was her best performance so far. She was 10 years Old.

Trivia: During the filming of the underwater scenes (where the ferry capsizes) 'Steven Spielberg' played a prank on Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning by playing the dramatic music from Jaws (1975) (also one of Spielberg's films) through the massive underwater speakers on the sound stage.



7 – Haley Joel Osment as Cole in ‘The Sixth Sense’ - 11 years old


Here is a kid that came out of no where. Playing the creepy kid that can see and communicate with dead people. You’ve all seen the movie so you know why he is on the list. He had it in those eyes. He was really seeing dead people! You believed this kid and you just felt for him you didn’t want him to be scared anymore. He was 11 years old when he played this character.



Trivia: Reputedly, Haley Joel Osment got the role of Cole Sear for one of three reasons: First, he was best for it. Second, he was the only boy at auditions who wore a tie. Third, M. Night Shyamalan was surprised when he asked Haley Joel Osment if he read his part. Osment replied, "I read it three times last night." Shyamalan was impressed saying, "Wow, you read your part three times?" To which Osment replied, "No, I read the script three times."



6 – Anna Paquin in 'The Piano' - 11 years old

What can I say? She was amazing in this role and won an Academy Award for it! The clip below is the only thing I could find to show you. It is a little montage. I don't really like it, but its what I could find.




5 – River Pheonix 16, Will Wheaton 14, Corey Feldman 15, Jerry O’ Connell 12 – ‘Stand By Me’


Yes they all get to share the same spot. It’s my list so I can do what I want. This is an ensemble cast of kids that worked off of each other to get the effect that this movie had. If one of the actors was off they would all be off. But each one of these guys hit their part perfectly, and because of it we have a timeless classic that will live on for years to come. 



Trivia: According to Wil Wheaton on the DVD documentary, the scene in which Verne (Jerry O'Connell) can't remember the "secret knock" to the clubhouse was thought of by Wheaton, Phoenix, and Feldman on the day it was shot as another way to make Verne look more pathetic.


4 – Natalie Portman as Mathilda in ‘The Professional’ - 13 years 0ld


This girl was fantastic in ‘The Professional’. If you’ve seen the movie you know what I’m talking about if not then it is a movie you have to go out and watch now. She was not playing a kid in this movie. She was playing an adult. Here is a kid that was forced to grow up fast. There is a great scene that builds up to her putting a gun to her head that really shows what she's got.



Trivia: Natalie Portman was originally turned down for her role due to being too young, but she came back and gave such a brilliant performance that Luc Besson had to give her the role.



3 – Henry Thomas as Elliot in ‘ET’ - 11 years old


How can you not love Henry Thomas in E.T. He lit up the screen and has such an amazing talent. He was able to Bring out every type of emotion possible in this movie. He made you laugh he made you cry. The audience hung on his every word and listened to what he had to say. Not many people listen to what kids have to say. Below is Henry Thomas’ audition footage for the role of Elliot. I love this clip and you will know why he got the part. He was 11 years old.



Trivia: At the auditions, Henry Thomas thought about the day his dog died to express sadness. Director 'Steven Spielberg' cried, and hired him on the spot.



2 – Christian Bale as Jim ‘Jamie’ in ‘Empire of the Son’ - 13 years old

I don’t know if you have seen this film or not but I think it is one of Steven Spielberg’s best films, and it got totally overlooked when it came out. I guess the studios didn’t know how to market a movie like this when it came out. Christian Bale carried this whole movie! This is an epic movie that is carried by a 13 year old kid and he was absolutely fantastic! I am shocked he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar. But it is one of the best performances in a movie ever. I hope he and Spielberg work together again one day.


Trivia: Christian Bale was picked for the role of Jim out of more than 4,000 auditions. Spielberg had seen Bale in the miniseries "Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna", and Amy Irving, who starred in it, personally recommended Bale to her husband. Spielberg had not thought much of Bale in "Anastasia", but upon Bale auditioning, cast him for the role of Jim.



1 – Ricky Schroeder as T.J. in ‘The Champ’ - 8 years old


This is my #1 choice for best child actor. I have yet to see a kid deliver the type of performance that Ricky Schroeder gave in this movie. Everything single time I watch this movie I am brought to tears. I don’t get chocked up I flat out cry and I can’t hold it back. He was 8 years old when he did this movie. Below is the end scene it is 9 min long but you have to watch it all the way through to get the full effect of his performance! I still think Ricky is a amazing actor and I hate that his roles have been limited to TV. I think he could be just as good as Ed Norton and Christian Bale if given the opportunity.



Trivia: This was Ricky Schroders film debut.


I just want to point out that 4 out of the 10 picks were films that were either produced or directed by Steven Spielberg. The guy knows how to get what he wants out of his child actors.

There are a few names that did not make the Top 10, but deserve an honorable mention from back in the day we have Tatum O'Neil, Katy Kurtzman, Shirley Temple, and Elizabeth Taylor. Don't get me wrong they were all great! You may not agree with this, but I think their performance's just did not stand the test of time when compared to these other performances.

Other great Child actors considered for the top 10 include Elijah Wood, Joseph Mazzello, Abigail Breslin, and Jamie Bell. 

Please feel free to make any recommendations that I may have missed so I can watch the movie. 

-Dr. Venkman


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