15 Child Stars Who Shined Brightest at the Oscars at an Early Age

Securing an Oscar is deemed the ultimate accolade in the film industry, with some dedicating decades to clinch one of the coveted statuettes. Leonardo DiCaprio’s quest for the honor spanned 25 years, while Glenn Close has pursued it for over four decades, despite accumulating eight nominations. Yet, throughout history, there have been instances where winners possessed only a few years of on-screen experience.

1. Hailee Stenfield — 14 years old

© True Grit / Paramount Pictures and co-producers

The actress, who has since garnered acclaim for her musical endeavors and prominent roles in productions like “Bumblebee,” “The Edge of Seventeen,” and “Hawkeye,” catapulted to fame with her portrayal in “True Grit” in 2010. This performance earned her her first and only Oscar nomination to date at the age of 14. Steinfeld, previously known for minor roles in short films and television, emerged from a pool of 15,000 teenagers in a rigorous casting process for the role of Mattie Ross.

Competing for the Best Supporting Actress award alongside established industry figures like Amy Adams, Helena Bonham Carter, and Melissa Leo, Steinfeld faced stiff competition, with Leo ultimately clinching the Oscar.

2. Jodie Foster — 14 years old

© Taxi Driver / Columbia Pictures and co-producers

Jodie Foster embarked on her legendary career at a remarkably young age, predominantly appearing in children’s productions until the age of 14. Among her early collaborators was the renowned director Martin Scorsese, who cast her in “Taxi Driver” in 1976, entrusting her with the role of Iris. The film courted controversy due to the nature of Foster’s character, prompting thorough psychological assessments before filming commenced. Foster approached her role with the poise and professionalism of a seasoned actor.

While “Taxi Driver” garnered four Oscar nominations without securing any wins, Foster herself received accolades, including two BAFTA awards for her performances in “Taxi Driver” and “Bugsy Malone,” making her the youngest actress ever to achieve such a feat. To this day, Jodie Foster boasts two Oscars to her name.

3. Bobby Driscoll — 13 years old

Bobby Driscoll is presented by Donald O’Connor with special Academy Award at age 12 as the outstanding juvenile actor of 1949 for his excellent work in the films SO DEAR TO MY HEART and THE WINDOW, 1950

Courtesy Everett Collection / East News

Between 1934 and 1960, the Academy Youth Award, an honorary distinction bestowed at the discretion of the Academy’s board of governors, was presented at ten Oscar ceremonies to young actors who had made notable contributions to the industry.

In 1950, Bobby Driscoll became the ninth recipient of this award. Driscoll, emblematic of the American ideal of the time, was the inaugural actor to sign a contract with Disney, subsequently starring in four films. Among these, “So Dear to My Heart” and “The Window” earned him the honorary award—a scaled-down version of the original statuette.

4. Saoirse Ronan — 13 years old

© Atonement / Universal Pictures and co-producers

At the tender age of 13, Saoirse Ronan catapulted to stardom with her standout performance in “Atonement” in 2007. Her portrayal of Briony, whose misunderstanding escalates into a consequential lie, drives much of the film’s conflict.

While “Atonement” secured one Oscar out of its seven nominations, Ronan didn’t claim a statuette that evening. Despite her initial nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category, the young Irish talent has since earned three additional nominations for Best Actress, for her roles in “Brooklyn,” “Lady Bird,” and “Little Women.” Although she’s yet to clinch her first Oscar, her consistent nominations underscore her remarkable acting prowess.

5. Keisha Castle-Hughes — 13 years old

© Whale Rider / South Pacific Pictures and co-producers

Keisha Castle-Hughes’ career is a prime example of hitting the ground running. In 2002, despite having no prior acting experience, the young Australian beat out ten thousand applicants to land the lead role in the film “Whale Rider.” Portraying Pai, a teenage girl who emerges as the last hope for her whale-taming tribe’s leadership, Castle-Hughes delivered a poignant performance, embodying Pai’s personal journey and aspirations.

Securing an Oscar nomination for her debut on-screen appearance is a rare feat, yet Castle-Hughes achieved just that. In a category that included luminaries like Diane Keaton, Naomi Watts, and Charlize Theron—eventual winner of the Best Actress award—Castle-Hughes made her mark.

6. Haley Joel Osment — 11 years old

© The Sixth Sense / Hollywood Pictures and co-producers

The young actor, recognized for his roles in films like “Pay It Forward” and “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” shot to fame in 1999 with his memorable portrayal of Cole Sear in “The Sixth Sense.” Despite his acclaimed performance, the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor that year went to British actor Michael Caine. Interestingly, Caine later shared the screen with Osment in “Secondhand Lions.” Notable contenders for the award included Tom Cruise and Jude Law.

After years of active involvement in Hollywood, Osment took a hiatus from acting and public life, reemerging in the 2010s to explore more diverse roles, distancing himself from the archetype of the vulnerable child that initially propelled him to fame.

7. Anna Paquin — 11 years old

© theacademy / Instagram

Following its release in 1993, “The Piano” emerged as one of the most acclaimed films at the Oscars the following year, earning 8 nominations and securing 3 statuettes. Among the winners, Anna Paquin stood out, clinching the award at just 11 years old. However, the Canadian actress humbly attributed her success in 2019, stating, “it was a combination of Holly Hunter’s amazing performance, Jane Campion’s extraordinary direction, and the fact that I was in the right place at the right time. I didn’t know what I was doing.”

To date, Paquin remains the second-youngest person to win an Oscar in a competitive category. Her achievement is made even more remarkable considering she competed against industry luminaries like Emma Thompson and Winona Ryder for the coveted statuette.

8. Abigail Breslin — 10 years old

© Little Miss Sunshine / Searchlight Pictures and co-producers

Olive Hoover’s heartwarming journey in “Little Miss Sunshine” became a box office hit despite facing challenges in its production. With a modest budget of eight million dollars, the film stood out amidst big-budget releases like “Babel” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” in 2006. Audiences and critics alike embraced this tale of a young girl’s dream to participate in a beauty pageant.

While Abigail Breslin didn’t take home an Oscar, the film’s message resonated deeply. “Little Miss Sunshine” reminded viewers to cherish life and reject the notion of constant competition. Breslin herself shone at the Oscar ceremony, co-presenting awards alongside Jaden Smith for Best Short Film and Best Animated Short Film.

9. Quinn Cummings — 10 years old

© The Goodbye Girl / Warner Bros. and co-producers

With just two films to her name, Quinn Cummings showcased her acting prowess in “The Goodbye Girl,” portraying Lucy, the daughter of the film’s leading lady. Released in 1977, the movie became the first romantic comedy to surpass the $100 million mark at the US box office. Cummings, alongside Richard Dreyfuss, received a nomination for her role, with Dreyfuss ultimately winning the award.

Although Quinn Cummings stepped away from acting in the film and television industry by the early 1990s, she continued to stay active in other pursuits, notably as a book author.

10. Tatum O’Neal — 10 years old

© theacademy / Instagram

Actress Tatum O’Neal remains the youngest person to ever win an Oscar in a competitive category for her role in “Paper Moon.” Acting alongside her father, Ryan O’Neal, she portrayed one half of a duo of con artists. While “Paper Moon” received four nominations at the 1974 awards, Tatum was the sole recipient of the coveted statuette, marking a remarkable debut in film for the young actress.

Following her auspicious start, O’Neal continued to carve out a career in the industry, finding more success in television than in film. She secured special appearances and recurring roles in popular productions such as “S*x and the City,” “Rescue Me,” and “Criminal Minds.” Despite her early Oscar triumph, when asked about her aspirations for a second win, O’Neal expressed a different perspective. She emphasized the importance of giving her best in auditions, landing desired roles, and achieving self-sufficiency based on her own merits.

11. Quvenzhané Wallis — 9 years old

© Beasts of the Southern Wild / Cinereach and co-producers

Quvenzhané Wallis delivered a remarkable performance in “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” released in 2012, earning her several notable achievements. Most notably, Wallis broke conventions by receiving a nomination in the Best Actress category, a rare feat for young actors who typically find themselves nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category. Her nomination also marked her as the youngest actress in history to receive such recognition and the first person born in the 21st century to achieve this honor.

Adding to the astonishment, Wallis was just five years old when she auditioned for the role, a year younger than the minimum age requirement of six for the selection process. Despite this hurdle, she stood out among four thousand contenders and was chosen to star in the acclaimed film.

12. Jackie Cooper — 9 years old

© Skippy / Paramount Pictures and co-producers

Jackie Cooper holds one of the longest-standing records in Oscar history as the youngest child ever nominated in the competitive Best Actor category. This historic nomination took place over ninety years ago for his portrayal of the mischievous character in the 1931 film “Skippy.”

His nomination came in only the fourth edition of the awards, marking him as the first young actor to receive such recognition. While he didn’t take home the statuette, Cooper’s legacy as a trailblazer in the industry was firmly established. He continued to act after his nomination, enjoying a prolific career that spanned until the late 1980s.

13. Margaret O’Brien — 8 years old

© Meet Me in St. Louis / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and co-producers

Margaret O’Brien stood apart from many young actors who receive honorary nominations or awards that launch them into stardom. Already an established actress, she made her debut at the tender age of four in the film “Babes on Broadway,” quickly becoming an iconic figure of the 1940s with an impressive filmography.

In 1944 alone, O’Brien showcased her talent in notable films such as “The Canterville Ghost,” “Music for Millions,” and “Meet Me in St. Louis,” earning her the Academy Award for Youth. However, her journey with the honorary statuette took a peculiar turn when it was stolen, presumably by someone working in O’Brien’s family home. After decades of considering it lost, she was finally reunited with her cherished award.

14. Justin Henry — 8 years old

© Kramer vs. Kramer / Columbia Pictures and co-producers

Justin Henry made Hollywood history by receiving a nomination for his very first acting role, establishing himself as the youngest person ever nominated in any competitive category at just eight years old for his performance in “Kramer vs. Kramer.” The film achieved global success, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1979, largely due to its stellar cast, which included Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep portraying a couple navigating a divorce.

At the subsequent Oscar ceremony, “Kramer vs. Kramer” dominated the nominations and awards, securing nine nominations and winning five statuettes. The film triumphed in nearly every major category it was nominated in, including awards for both Hoffman and Streep. Though Justin Henry didn’t clinch any awards, his portrayal remains a standout aspect of the film’s enduring legacy.

15. Shirley Temple — 6 years old

Shirley Temple remains an iconic figure in Hollywood history, having begun her illustrious career at the tender age of three. Quickly rising to become one of the highest-grossing stars of her time, Temple’s talent was evident in her diverse skills, showcased in her 1934 film “Bright Eyes,” which was tailored specifically for her and allowed her to display her singing, dancing, and acting abilities.

1934 marked a prolific year for Temple, with notable appearances in films such as her debut in “Stand Up and Cheer!” as well as in “Sorrowful Jones” and “Baby, Take a Bow.” Her unparalleled stardom prompted the Academy to honor her as the inaugural recipient of the Juvenile Award that same year, recognizing her exceptional contributions to the entertainment industry. Decades later, in the mid-1980s, the Academy replaced the miniature version of the award given to Youth Award winners with a full-size statuette for Temple.

The annual Academy Awards ceremony continues to captivate millions of viewers worldwide, prompting us to delve into a small investigation that uncovered a plethora of fascinating facts surrounding the prestigious event.

Preview photo credit Taxi Driver / Columbia Pictures and co-producerstheacademy / Instagram