15 of the Best Performances by Child Actors

Some of the greatest film performances of all time have come from young stars. Over the years, plenty of child actors, from Jodie Foster to Dakota Fanning, have proven that age and experience don’t necessarily dictate talent. With these memorable roles, these kids not only earned critical acclaim, but also showed that they have acting chops on par with some of Hollywood’s most well-known names. Here are 15 of the best performances by child actors of all time.

1. Natalie Portman — Léon: The Professional

A young Natalie Portman hugs a teddy bear in a scene from The Professional

Léon: The Professional | Columbia Pictures

The 1994 French action crime thriller, directed by Luc Besson, marked Natalie Portman’s film debut. The actress took on the complex role of Mathilda, the tough talking 13-year-old whose family is murdered and is then taken in by Léon, an assassin.

As Mathilda, Portman was both fascinatingly realistic and amazingly emotional, wrestling with sadness, humor, and a need for revenge. Critics called the performance a “striking debut” and a “breakout turn” for the young Portman, who has only continued to garner critical acclaim throughout her career since.