Top 10 Breakout Stars of the Last Decade
VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu
WRITTEN BY: Don Ekama
These breakout stars defined the past decade. For this list, we'll be looking at Hollywood superstars who landed their breakout roles in the 2010s and have enjoyed pretty successful careers since. Our countdown includes Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Emma Stone, and more!
Top 10 Breakout Stars of the Last Decade
Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Breakout Stars of the Last Decade.
For this list, we’ll be looking at Hollywood superstars who landed their breakout roles in the 2010s and have enjoyed pretty successful careers since.
What promising actors do you think are due for a big break in the 2020s? Let us know in the comments!
#10: Andrew Garfield
After winning a BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor in 2008, Andrew Garfield rode into the 2010s with a lot of promise. His breakout role came just at the start of the decade when he was cast in David Fincher’s widely acclaimed film “The Social Network”. Garfield’s performance as the lesser known co-founder of Facebook, Eduardo Saverin, earned rave reviews from critics and garnered him Supporting Actor nominations at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs. Later, his status as a Hollywood A-lister would be solidified when he played the titular superhero in 2012’s “The Amazing Spider-Man”. Since then, Garfield has shown no signs of stopping, taking on even more challenging roles over the next decade and banking two Academy Award nominations for “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Tick, Tick... Boom!”.
#9: Margot Robbie
The wonderful Margot Robbie got her major start on Australian TV, starring on the long-running soap opera “Neighbours”. After three years on the show, Robbie moved to the States and landed the role of a lifetime when she was cast opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street”. At just 23 years old, Robbie may have been a relative newcomer to the big screen, but with such a captivating performance, there was no way you could tell. The movie opened the door for such career-defining roles as Harley Quinn in “Suicide Squad” and Tonya Harding in “I, Tonya”. Robbie received an Oscar nomination for the latter, a feat she repeated with her performance in 2019’s “Bombshell”.
#8: Donald Glover
Truly one of the most versatile entertainers of his generation, Donald Glover has conquered movies, TV and music. Glover was fresh out of college when he was hired as a writer on the NBC sitcom “30 Rock”, but achieved international recognition for his role on “Community”. He went on to create the critically commended “Atlanta”, an obvious labor of love in which he also served as an actor, writer, director and producer. The show made him the first Black person to win an Emmy for directing a comedy series. He has also starred in blockbuster films such as “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Solo: A Star Wars Story”. Not one to be pigeonholed, Glover ventured into music as well, under the stage name Childish Gambino, and has won multiple Grammys since.
#7: Adam Driver
After attending Juilliard, Adam Driver moved to New York, where he got his start on the stage. His first break came in 2012 when he was cast as Adam Sackler on the HBO series “Girls”. The show paved the way for Driver to pivot to the big screen, with supporting roles in films such as “Lincoln”. Soon after, the San Diego actor landed his major breakthrough as the villainous Kylo Ren in the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy. Driver would go on to obtain his first Academy Award nomination in 2019 for his portrayal of police detective Flip Zimmerman in Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman”. He is also known for his collaborations with director Noah Baumbach, including the 2019 film “Marriage Story”, which earned him a second Oscar nomination.
#6: Millie Bobby Brown
At just 12 years old, Millie Bobby Brown became world-famous for her role as Eleven, the superhuman girl at the center of the hit Netflix show “Stranger Things”. Her exceptional performance received unanimous praise from critics and audiences alike and saw her get nominated twice for the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. Outside of the show, Brown appeared in the 2019 film “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”, which marked her debut on the big screen. She has since followed that up with the “Enola Holmes” films, in which she starred as the titular teenage detective and also served as a producer. With such an impressive résumé before even turning 20, the world sure is Millie Bobby Brown’s oyster!
#5: Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Although she appeared in multiple films and TV shows, Phoebe Waller-Bridge was relatively unknown throughout the first half of the 2010s. That all changed when her acclaimed comedy series “Fleabag” premiered in 2016. Waller-Bridge played the quirky title character who routinely broke the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience. The show catapulted her to fame and secured the British actress three Emmy awards in 2019. She next served as the showrunner for the first season of the thriller series “Killing Eve”, which she was also headwriter and producer for. Since then, Waller-Bridge seems to have transitioned to the big screen, co-writing the screenplay for the James Bond film “No Time to Die” and starring in 2023’s “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”.
#4: Emma Stone
By the end of the 2000s, Emma Stone was already gaining traction in Hollywood, particularly with her appearance in the cult classic “Zombieland”. However, her breakthrough came in 2010, when she played the lead role of Olive Penderghast in the teen comedy “Easy A”. Stone’s stardom only continued to rise over the next few years, culminating in her first Oscar-nominated performance in 2014’s “Birdman”. Two years later, she earned her second nomination and first win starring opposite Ryan Gosling in “La La Land”. Whether she’s playing a struggling actress in Los Angeles, or an English socialite vying for the affection of the Queen, you can always expect Stone to deliver a show-stopping performance.
#3: Lupita Nyong’o
Not many actors have achieved the rare feat of getting an Oscar nomination for their debut feature film role. In 2014, the Kenyan-Mexican actress Lupita Nyong’o not only achieved that feat, she surpassed it by actually winning. After earning a master’s degree in acting from the Yale School of Drama, Nyong’o was cast in her breakout role as Patsey in Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave”. She took up supporting performances in films like “Non-Stop” and “Queen of Katwe” before joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Nakia in “Black Panther”. A performer with a truly versatile range, Nyong’o has adeptly handled everything from drama to action to horror. We’re not sure there are many out there who can compete with her effortless grace and poise.
#2: Octavia Spencer
For Octavia Spencer, getting to the pinnacle of her career has been the result of tireless hard work, years in the making. The Montgomery, Alabama actress made her debut in the 1996 film “A Time to Kill” but it wouldn’t be until 15 years later that she landed her breakthrough role. Her portrayal of the fiery maid Minny Jackson in 2011’s “The Help” received particular praise from critics, among a field of spectacular performances in the movie. It earned her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, paving the way for further Oscar-nominated performances in “Hidden Figures” and “The Shape of Water”. She has also appeared on the small screen, with a supporting role on “Mom” and an Emmy-nominated performance in “Self Made”.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
Michael B. Jordan
Since “Fruitvale Station”, Jordan’s Star Power Has Only Gotten Bigger & Brighter
Her Oscar-Nominated Turn In “True Grit” Was Just a Glimpse Into Her Captivating Abilities
Malek Has Been Hacking the Hollywood System Since He Played the Lead on “Mr. Robot”
From the Restraint of “Room” to the Grand Scale of “Captain Marvel”, Is There Anything She Can’t Do?
“Fresh Off the Boat” & Straight Into the Limelight, We Say!
#1: Jennifer Lawrence
Before she became the household name that she is today, Jennifer Lawrence cut her teeth with guest appearances in TV shows. At the age of 20, Lawrence garnered wide acclaim and an Oscar nomination playing a teenage girl who shoulders her family’s responsibilities in 2010’s “Winter’s Bone”. She quickly followed that up with leading performances in blockbuster franchises such as “X-Men” and, of course, “The Hunger Games”. These led to her becoming the highest-paid actress in 2015 and 2016. Even with such big-budget movies, Lawrence has remained a critical darling. She won her first Academy Award for “Silver Linings Playbook”, and received further nods for “American Hustle” and “Joy”. Lawrence has, undoubtedly, proved that she is a force to be reckoned with.