Summer Superlatives ’09: 5 Breakout Stars

A lot of future stars are born in the summer. Although the Oscar-caliber actors usually emerge from the winter season, the summer months most often judge an actor’s true commercial success. Getting a big role in a possible blockbuster, such as Megan Fox in 2007’s “Transformers,” can make you the next biggest hit on search engines across the web.

In picking my top five breakout actors this summer, I looked at how big their roles were in this summer’s movies (some of them had more than one), their short-term list of upcoming projects and their general longevity and potential to be a recognizable or marquee name in the future.

5. Zoe Saldana

Breakout role: Uhura in “Star Trek”

In a cast brimming with talented young actors including Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, Saldana stood out as the thin, sexy and strong-willed Uhura, turning a Star Trek character who had little do with anything in the show other than enhancing the racial palette into a critical component of J.J. Abrams’ reboot. After scoring a huge role in this winter’s “Avatar” alongside another breakout star further down our list, Saldana looks to be following quickly in the footsteps of similar African-American stars such as Rosario Dawson, Thandie Newton and Halle Berry. She also has parts in Chris Rock’s American version of “Death at a Funeral” and another graphic novel adaptation “The Losers” due out next year.

Next big role: Neytiri in “Avatar” (December)

4. Ken Jeong

Breakout role: Mr. Chow in “The Hangover”

Jeong sprung naked out of a car trunk and into the collective conscious of comedy moviegoers everywhere. Jeong worked his way up the Apatow ladder with small roles in “Knocked Up” and “Step Brothers” eventually leading to bigger parts in last year’s “Pineapple Express” and “Role Models” to “The Hangover” and “The Goods” and consequently the hottest Asian-American comedian out there today. Born in North Carolina of Korean descent, Jeong got his medical degree at UNC, but his roots in improv got him discovered and it’s been crazy since. He still has a few movies due out this year and the future projects keep piling on.

Next big role: A marriage counselor in “Couples Retreat” (October)

3. Zach Galifianakis

Breakout role: Alan in “The Hangover”

Galifianakis was no stranger to fans of Comedy Central, but the world got a fresh and hysterical brand of humor when Zach flexed his acting muscles (or roles of fat) in “The Hangover.” More than anything else was how convincingly dumb and amusingly naïve and soft-hearted his character Alan was. It was Zach’s performance that propelled “The Hangover” beyond a funny and outlandish summer comedy into one of the best executions of a basic comedy premise to come out of Hollywood in awhile. Comic relief in a comedy can be very unfunny, but most of us had a humor revelation with how much we laughed at Galifianakis. Not only does he have a “Hangover” sequel to look forward to, but a role alongside two of the decade’s best — Steve Carrell and Paul Rudd — in next year’s “Dinner for Shmucks.”

Next big role: Jerry in “Youth in Revolt” (October)

2. Sam Worthington

Breakout role: Marcus in “Terminator Salvation”

Australia’s next great export, Sam Worthington, was a breakout star before his breakout film hit theaters. Having been cast as the star in both “Avatar” and the remake of “Clash of the Titans,” I haven’t even seen a movie he’s in and he’s already following in the footsteps of Russell Crowe. Could he be more than an action star? That remains to be seen, but he should start seeing magazine covers like GQ within the next few months. What’s more amazing is that he came out of nowhere. He had a couple parts as just another soldier in an American war movie and starred in the crocodile horror thriller “Rogue,” so Hollywood must just be convinced that he’s going to be the latest thing and we have no choice but to believe them. How else does James Cameron of all directors cast Worthington in a movie as risky of a venture as “Avatar”? The answer to this riddle might be in looks alone, but we’ll have to see.

Next big role: Jake Sully in “Avatar” (December)

1. Bradley Cooper

Breakout role: Phil in “The Hangover”

Much like Worthington, Cooper convinced Hollywood he was ready for some big roles before he was a household name (“Yes Man” and “He’s Just Not That Into You”), but he proved them right with “The Hangover.” He’s a heck of a leading actor who can play the douche role or the nice guy and he was amusing as a bit of both playing Phil, the hot shot of the bachelors. His fame recently landed him a big role in the planned “A-Team” movie and he’s currently working on the star-studded “Valentine’s Day,” another romantic comedy vignette movie ala “Love, Actually” surrounding that pesky Feb. 14 date. Cooper tops our list because he’s made it big in genres that appeal to both sexes and that’s the kind of actor that makes a big name for himself in Hollywood.

Next big role: Steve in “All About Steve” (Sept. 4)

Honorable Mentions: Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds”) Chris Pine (“Star Trek”), Jeremy Renner (“The Hurt Locker”), Aubrey Plaza (“Funny People”).


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