We’re about to hit a real sea-change with the kind of movies Hollywood is making. For years, studio bosses shied away from the idea of making movies with female leads that weren’t weepies or romantic comedies, but last year saw the three of the top-grossing movies — “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” “Frozen” and “Gravity”—star women, all in genres that are traditionally more male driven.
Slowly but surely, audiences are proving that they’ll turn up and see actresses in parts that are more than just token roles, and studio executives are increasingly running out of excuses to stick with the status quo. (Unless their name is Kevin Feige, apparently.) And it’s lucky, because the depth and range of female talent that’s coming up is enormously impressive, and they deserve to have killer roles to take on.
Yep, it’s the latest in our On The Rise series, and after looking at screenwriters, actors, composers and cinematographers, we’ve picked out thirteen actresses that are heading for the top. Previous years have seen faces like Dakota Johnson, Maika Monroe, Nicole Beharie, Brie Larson, Jennifer Lawrence and Alicia Vikander make the cut. Who joined this time around? You can take a look below, and weigh in with your own recommendations in the comments section.
When the cast of J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: Episode VII” was first announced back in May, most of the new names were familiar, at least to the savvy cinephile: John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis, Max Von Sydow. But there was one face who was essentially a total newcomer, 22-year-old British actress Daisy Ridley, and if the rumors are correct, she, along with Boyega, is going to be the lead of the entire trilogy (and, possibly, the daughter of Han and Leia). Ridley is a Londoner who made her acting debut last year in long-running medical drama “Casualty” (something like national service for British actors, Kate Winslet, Orlando Bloom, Ray Winstone, Tom Hiddleston and Martin Freeman all had early gigs on the series), and has appeared steadily on TV since, cropping up in youth drama “Youngers,” the excellent comedy “Toast Of London,” and the murder procedural “Silent Witness." Her most substantial part so far has been opposite Jeremy Piven in the period drama “Mr. Selfridge.” She’s also got a lead role in the low-budget British horror film “Scrawl” in the can, and was to supposed to make an appearance in smash hit comedy sequel “The Inbetweeners 2,” but when reshoots were required, they clashed with her next gig, and the part had to be recast. But when that next job is “Star Wars,” you probably aren't too upset by that. Ridley is busy filming her first trip to a galaxy far, far way, and is currently the only cast member confirmed to be returning for Rian Johnson’s “Episode VIII” and “Episode IX.” The last time we had a female lead in a "Star Wars" movie, we got Natalie Portman, so we’re expecting equally big things from Ridley.
Seven years on from a remarkable performance in Ang Lee’s erotic thriller “Lust, Caution,” and having spent much of the intervening time becoming one of China’s biggest stars, Tang Wei may be about to conquer the U.S. as well. The 35-year-old actress from Hangzhou, who trained at the Central Academy Of China, started off her career in television, before beating over 10,000 rivals for the part of Wong Chia-chi, a young woman who’s tasked with seducing and planning the assassination of a Japanese collaborator in “Lust, Caution.” The film drew attention both for being Lee’s follow-up to his acclaimed “Brokeback Mountain,” and for its explicit sex scenes, but Tang rightly drew enormous praise (and an Independent Spirit Award nomination) for her performance, even if the sex scenes caused her to be banned from acting for a year by the Chinese government. Once she returned, it was with great success, with a starring role in the rom-com “Crossing Hennessy” (a remake of the obscure 1988 Amy Irving vehicle “Crossing Delancey”), which earned her a nomination from the Golden Horse Awards for Best Actress. Actioners “Dragon” and “Speed Angels” followed, before another monster rom-com hit with “Finding Mr. Right” (a riff on “Sleepless In Seattle”), co-starring Wu Xiubo. But it’s the next few months that should win her an even wider following, as she’s starring in Ann Hui’s Venice closer “The Golden Era,” and in January will be seen in her first American movie, as the female lead in Michael Mann’s “Blackhat,” opposite Chris Hemsworth. It’s potentially a very big deal indeed, at home and abroad, but she’s got big arthouse plans as well as blockbusters. She’s seguing from Mann to Wong Kar-Wai, with a major role in the director’s next film, “The Ferryman.”
We’ve been a little touch-and-go with HBO's new series “The Leftovers,” but at the point when we were in danger of tuning out altogether, episode 6 happened. “The Guest” focused on the character of Nora Durst, played by Carrie Coon, and unfolded in an almost self-contained way, giving Nora an arc encompassing grief, anger, humor, regret, anguish and acceptance, and illustrates the possibilities of the show’s multi-character format. Moreover, it made it impossible not to realize that Coon has become not just the show’s surprise breakout, but one of the most compelling, quietly convincing new actresses we’ve seen recently. Aside from the Damon Lindelof show, Coon’s screen credits are few — a couple of single episodes of procedural TV — but in 2013 she was nominated for a Tony for her performance in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (the actor and playwright Tracy Letts, whom Coon recently married, won for his role in that production). That show was her Broadway debut after years with Chicago’s venerable Steppenwolf Theater Company, but on the foot of her triumphant small-screen breakout, Coon landed a plum role for her feature film debut. In David Fincher’s upcoming “Gone Girl,” she plays Margo “Go” Dunne, the twin sister of Ben Affleck’s lead, who is a pivotal and fairly meaty character. If the book is anything to go by, this should give Coon something to get her teeth into.
After a decade of working consistently in film and TV, Tessa Thompson finally looks ready to explode in the next few months. The 31-year-old L.A. native made her name on the stage in various Shakespeare productions before landing the regular role of Jackie Cook in the second season of “Veronica Mars.” She only lasted a season, but went on to crop up regularly on TV from there on out, with a major part in short-lived Kevin Williamson show “Hidden Palms,” and one-offs in shows including “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Life,” “Private Practice” and “Heroes.” Alongside Kerry Washington, Thandie Newton and Janet Jackson, she impressed on the big screen in Tyler Perry’s departure “For Colored Girls,” and returned to television for “Detroit 1-8-7,” “666 Park Avenue” and, most notably, a regular stint on BBC America’s “Copper,” a period drama from “Oz” creator Tom Fontana. 2014’s the one that’ll tip her over the edge into stardom, though, starting in January, when “Dear White People” premiered at Sundance. Justin Simien’s film is a wise and acerbic satire (he made our screenwriters list earlier in the week), and among a fine ensemble cast, Thompson is the obvious stand-out as Samantha White, the outspoken, Taylor Swift-loving, mixed-race host of the college radio show of the title. It’s a fierce and funny performance that embraces the smart contradictions that Simien built into the character and runs with them, and should make Thompson very much in demand. In fact, it already has. She recently wrapped the key role of Diane Nash, one of the organizers of the titular march, in Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-aiming “Selma.’ WIth the two movies hitting theatres only months apart, she’s going to start 2015 with things looking better than ever.