The best child actors of all time

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: August 9, 2022 (Last updated: December 14, 2023)

Many of us grew up watching children’s TV and films, but what happened to the famous child actors who played our favourite characters, and who are the best child actors of all time? While many of the younger actors of times-gone-by have continued in the film industry, some of them have had interesting, and often controversial journeys along the way.

These days, there are a new generation of child actors taking over our screens and cinemas all over the world. But who are the greatest child actors of all time, and how does the new generation of child actors compare to those of the past?

Child actors of the past and where they are now

Macaulay Culkin

One of the most famous child stars of his time; Macaulay Culkin rose to fame for his starring roles in the Home Alone franchise. Although his films may be overshadowed by rumours of drug addiction and a brief arrest on drug charges, Culkin seems to be having something of a second act. 

He has featured in the 2021 series of American Horror Story, receiving widespread recognition, has launched a podcast and website, and has even modelled for Gucci at a runway event. A recent favourite among fans of his early work was an advert Culkin starred in for Google Home, where he played an older version of his character in Home Alone, getting up to many of the same shenanigans as in the original films.

Shia Labeouf

After rising to fame in the Disney sitcom Even Stevens, Shia Labeouf has had a varied career, from appearing in popular and commercially successful films such as Transformers and Fury, to taking part in performance art that received widespread coverage in the media. 

Labeouf has faced his fair share of criticism and controversy. From legal issues surrounding public intoxication, to his troubled relationship with FKA Twigs, much of Shia Labeouf’s personal life has been in the spotlight. Despite all of the controversy, Labeouf still seems to be getting casted in films, and is reported to be starring in a film about Padre Pio, a monk from Puglia, which is set in Italy after World War I.

Emma Watson

Emma Watson and her co-stars in the Harry Potter series have become worldwide celebrities since they first hit our screens, and have become acclaimed actors and actresses in their own right. Many of us grew up watching them find their way around Hogwarts, and go through the trials and tribulations of growing up, all while fighting off Dementors. On top of continuing her acting career, Watson has also gone on to campaign for a variety of causes, and sits as a Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women.

The best current child actors

Millie Bobby Brown

After playing the role of Eleven in Netflix’s Stranger Things, Millie Bobby Brown looks set for a career in the spotlight. The science fiction series set in 1980’s America has been an international success, and a brilliant performance from Brown has seen her being scoped out by directors for roles in upcoming films. Although just 12 years old when she took her starring role in Stranger Things, Brown has already appeared in two recent Godzilla films, and released her own brand of beauty products.

Sunny Pawar

Sunny Pawar is a child actor hailing from India who is famous for starring in Australian biographical drama Lion, for which he won?? an Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts award for best lead actor. Since then Pawar has won the Best Child Actor Award at DFW South Asian Film Festival at just 11 years old. Perhaps most impressive, is that Pawar could not speak English, and had to learn some of his lines phonetically for his role in Lion.

Julia Butters

Best known for her role in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Julia Butters managed to steal the scene despite sharing the screen with Leonardo DiCaprio. Butters was so successful in her role, that ??Steven Spielberg has chosen her to play the role of his sister, in an autobiographical film loosely based on the director’s childhood.

With so much talent, it is impossible to say who the best child actor is right now, and so many iconic child actors mean we can’t say who the most famous kid actor is either. One thing for sure though, is that Hollywood has produced many talented child actors who have gone on to have rich careers, and the younger actors of today are also set to have a big impact on the industry for years to come.

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