What makes a breakout star? Is it shimmying your hips in the same vein as Elvis Presley, carrying his twangy accent for months after playing him in a biopic? Is it serving up a piping hot dish of risotto at a busy Chicago restaurant? Perhaps it’s sporting 800 different costumes in one take and introducing the world to the world’s most abstract bagel. Or maybe it’s making us all sob while playing opposite Normal People hottie Paul Mescal.
This year has introduced us to a whole array of fresh faces. On TV, we met everyone from Italian queens in The White Lotus to hilarious new folks in Abbott Elementary. Independent distributor A24 continued to lead the way in film, with plenty of breakthrough performances in its releases across genres. But promising performances also came out of Hollywood’s biggest movies, including Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Nope.
Can any of these breakthrough stars take home an Emmy or Academy Award next year? Some are almost destined to be nominated, and others have a pretty big shot at winning. Even if this year wasn’t their strongest case for a nom, their performances this year made us believe there’s a chance in future years.
Without further ado, here’s who we thought made it big in 2022 thanks to movies like Elvis and shows like The Bear, where you can expect to see them next, and from which earlier shows and movies you may recognize them.
Amber Midthunder (Prey)
With a stunning debut in the Hulu original film Prey, Amber Midthunder proved herself as a sci-fi/action star to watch. Prey entered the Predator franchise this year, as a prequel to all four pre-existing films. Midthunder stars as Naru, a young Comanche warrior tasked with protecting her family from colonizers—oh, and a giant alien predator who hunts humans for sport. Both are equally terrifying! After Prey, Midthunder is set to star as Princess Yue in Netflix’s upcoming live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender series.
Austin Butler (Elvis)
Austin Butler blew us all away as Elvis and still is; he hasn’t even turned the accent off yet! Not only are we expecting him to get nominated for an Oscar for his performance as The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, it’s safe to say we’re rooting for him to win. He’s got a pretty good chance. Before Elvis, which served as the star’s big break, Butler starred in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and The Dead Don’t Die. After Elvis, he’s set to star in Dune: Part Two as the villainous Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen.
Ayo Edebiri (The Bear)
Ayo Edebiri is a fantastic stand-up comic as well as TV writer, for shows like What We Do in the Shadows and Dickinson. But in 2022, she gave a jaw-dropping performance as Sydney in The Bear on Hulu, serving up risotto and other delights. Besides The Bear Season 2, Edebiri is next set to star in the films Bottoms alongside Rachel Sennott and Theater Camp with Ben Platt.
Beatrice Grannó, Sabrina Impacciatore, and Simona Tabasco (The White Lotus)
Our Italian queens. Beatrice Grannó and Simona Tabasco played Mia and Lucia in The White Lotus Season 2, two sex workers who ended up on top of the world by the season finale. Both actresses starred in a smattering of Italian series and films before they appeared in The White Lotus alongside Sabrina Impacciatore, who took the esteemed role of the hotel’s concierge this season, Valentina. Ahead of The White Lotus, Impacciatore starred in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ as Seraphia, as well has a handful of major roles in Italian releases.
Brandon Perea (Nope)
Brandon Perea quickly became one of our favorite new performances of the year thanks to his fantastic comedic timing in Nope, Jordan Peele’s summer blockbuster. Perea starred as Angel, a Fry’s employee who helps the Haywoods install a slew of cameras to stalk an alien creature. Playing for laughs off of the iconic Keke Palmer, Perea proved he’s a legend in the making. Five stars, Angel, five stars. Before Nope, Perea starred in a handful of TV series, like The OA and Doom Patrol.
Charlbi Dean (Triangle of Sadness)
Charlbi Dean made waves with her performance in Triangle of Sadness, Ruben Östlund’s wealth satire, starring as self-obsessed model Yaya. Sadly, the South African actress passed away earlier this year due to an unknown illness possibly related to a past car accident. Along with acting in the Palme d’Or winning romp, Dean starred in titles like Spud and Black Lightning, as well as modeled for magazines like GQ and Elle. It’s tragic to see Dean’s name on our breakthrough performance list—especially while highlighting where to watch these stars in the future —but we’d be remiss not to include the actress’ stand out role.
Chase Sui Wonders (Bodies Bodies Bodies)
Some may know Chase Sui Wonders from the prematurely canceled Genera+ion on HBO Max, but everyone else met the actress this year in Bodies Bodies Bodies. A24’s horror flick brought together some of the best Gen Z performers, from Rachel Sennott to Amandla Stenberg—alongside Pete Davidson—but Wonders was the clear breakthrough performer. Playing Emma, a wannabe actress with a terrible boyfriend, she was the perfect star to be thrown off of Pete Davidson’s lap and pushed down a flight of stairs to her demise. Wonders is set to star in Apple TV+ crime series City on Fire next.
Daryl McCormack (Bad Sisters; Good Luck to You, Leo Grande)
When you star as the hunk in two acclaimed women-led stories back-to-back, you’re going to be remembered. Daryl McCormack graced us with stellar performances this year in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, as well as my favorite TV show of the year, Bad Sisters. He got to screw around with Emma Thompson! He got to investigate the death of a family’s most hated relative! And he looked good all the while. Bad Sisters has been renewed for a second season, so we’re hoping to see him again soon. (You may also recognize him as Isaiah Jesus from Peaky Blinders.)
Frankie Corio (Aftersun)
Frankie Corio may be the breakthrough star of the year, seeing as the actress has no other credits to date and is also the youngest performer on our list. Corio starred as Paul Mescal’s young daughter in Aftersun, Charlotte Wells’ dazzling debut feature for A24. From first kisses to home videos, Corio gave a tender performance that will surely be remembered for years to come. She and Mescal struck up a delightful chemistry, too, with set photos that looked almost exactly like the ones Wells took with her father while on vacation.
Emma D’Arcy (House of the Dragon)
Yes, they starred in the prequel series of HBO’s biggest show of all time. But wouldn’t we all agree that Emma D’Arcy’s real breakthrough performance was “A negroni…sbagliato…with prosecco in it”? I’d say so. But their performance in House of the Dragon was, indeed, a magical feat, so let’s not whittle anything down to viral memes. D’Arcy starred as the older version of Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen in the saga, a warrior married to her uncle. Before House of the Dragon, they starred in titles like Truth Seekers and Hanna (2019).
Keyla Monterroso Mejia (Abbott Elementary; The Estate)
While The Estate came in as one of the goofiest movies of 2022, Keyla Monterroso Mejia also had a prominent role in the second season of Emmy-winning Abbott Elementary. She stacks up with the rest of the outstanding cast, playing Melissa’s (Lisa Ann Walter) new aide Ashley, who can’t seem to get a grip on teaching. Instead, she becomes a principal’s assistant to Ava (Janelle James)—you can guess where that leads. Mejia also had a gut-busting role on Curb Your Enthusiasm last year, so it’s safe to say she’s a comic to watch.
Madelyn Cline (Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery)
Ask a local teen about Madelyn Cline and they’ll give you all the scoop—her performance on Outer Banks, her relationship with Chase Stokes, etcetera. She hasn’t exactly become a household name, though, but that might change after the Netflix release of Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. In the whodunnit, Cline stars as Whiskey, the floozy sidepiece of men’s rights activist Duke Cody (Dave Bautista). Thanks to her quick wit and suspicious nature, Whiskey is a stand-out in the ensemble movie. Before Glass Onion and Outer Banks, Cline starred in Boy Erased and had a bit part in Stranger Things.
Stephanie Hsu (Everything Everywhere All at Once)
Stephanie Hsu threw down one of the best performances of 2022, hands down, so it’s hard to believe she’s on our “breakthrough performers” list. At this point, the Everything Everywhere All at Once actress should have hundreds of credits on her IMDb profile—here’s hoping she’s lining up plenty of roles as we speak. Hsu plays Joy Wang (aka Jobu Tupaki) in A24’s biggest movie of the year, starring as Michelle Yeoh’s villainous daughter in the action romp. Her performance includes a fantastic villain entrance, with glittery costumes and stunning makeup—all certainly deserving of an Oscar nomination. Early next year, we’ll see Hsu when she guest stars in Rian Johnson’s new mystery series Poker Face.
Tenoch Huerta (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever)
Tenoch Huerta had his breakthrough role not only in Hollywood’s massive Marvel Cinematic Universe, but also in the MCU’s grand Black Panther story, specifically, starring as Namor in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Huerta stars as the antagonist in the sequel, and somewhat akin to Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger, he’s after Wakanda’s legendary vibranium mine. Before his Hollywood breakthrough, Huerta starred in a number of series like Narcos: Mexico and Blue Demon, as well as films like The Forever Purge and Sin Nombre.
Thuso Mbedu (The Woman King)
Thuso Mbedu’s performance as Cora in Barry Jenkins’ 2021 series The Underground Railroad is also notable, but her role in The Woman King really stands out in the young actress’ career. Starring alongside Viola Davis, Mbedu plays Nawi, a young warrior hoping to join the women warriors of Dahomey. Gina Prince-Bythewood’s action flick stars a number of young actresses joining the ranks of Agojie, but Mbedu really kills it with plenty of stunts and an emotional tale of mothers and daughters.