The 13 youngest ever actors to be nominated for an Oscar
Awards season always turns up note-worthy moments: showstopping outfits, witty speeches or egregious faux-pas are instantly turned into memes and circulated endlessly on social media.
In 2021, one moment in particular captivated viewers worldwide, and that was watching eight-year-old actor Alan Kim – dressed in a tuxedo – tear up while accepting a Critics Choice Award for his scene-stealing part in the critically acclaimed film Minari.
After a successful season, however, which included a Bafta nod, the young star was eventually shut out of the Oscars. It was a shame – in a year of history-making nominations for the Academy Awards, seeing Kim recognised would have been the cherry on top.
But it was always a long shot. Child actors are a welcome but infrequent inclusion at the Oscars – their rarity though, does make every instance especially memorable.
In the run-up to next month’s ceremony, here is a list of the 13 youngest stars to receive an Oscar nomination – an accolade most actors will spend their whole lives only coveting.
Tatum O’Neal, 10 years old (Paper Moon, 1974)
At only 10 years old, O’Neal earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in the comedy drama Paper Moon. She starred opposite her father Ryan O’Neal as Moses Pray and Addie Loggins – a pair of slick con artists swindling their way through 1930s Kansas. Beating out the likes of Linda Blair (The Exorcist), Candy Clark (American Graffiti), Sylvia Sidney (Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams) and her Paper Moon co-star Madeline Kahn, O’Neal remains the youngest person ever to win an Academy Award for acting.
Anna Paquin, 11 years old (The Piano, 1994)
While now Paquin is most recognised for her leading role in HBO’s vampire drama True Blood, the actor made waves decades earlier with her Oscar-winning turn in Jane Campion’s The Piano. Aged 11, the Canadian-New Zealand actor toppled the likes of Holly Hunter and Emma Thompson. Paquin recently re-entered Oscars chatter with her seven-word part in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, which earned 10 nominations last year but no wins.
Patty Duke, 16 years old (The Miracle Worker, 1963)
Duke was 16 years old when she starred as Helen Keller in the 1963 film adaptation of The Miracle Worker, a role she had also played in the stage production. The New York-born actor – who died aged 69 in 2016 – enjoyed a hugely successful career following her history-making win. Duke acquired cult status for her role in 1967’s Valley of the Dolls and went on to earn 10 Emmy nominations (including three wins) for her performances on the small screen.
Justin Henry, eight years old (Kramer vs Kramer, 1980)
Although Henry starred in the 1979 film Kramer vs Kramer aged seven, it was one year later that he earned his Oscar nomination for the emotional divorce drama. The young star was in good company, portraying the son of Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep’s warring spouses. Henry went on to appear in John Hughes’s classic Sixteen Candles as Molly Ringwald’s younger brother.
Quvenzhané Wallis, nine years old (Beasts of the Southern Wild, 2013)
Wallis was nothing short of phenomenal in Beasts of the Southern Wild – a role that she auditioned for when she was just five years old. Praise for her lead performance as Hushpuppy dominated conversation around the 2012 film. By the time of her Oscar nod Wallis was nine years old, making her the youngest-ever Best Actress nominee to date. She has since starred in 2014’s reboot of Annie opposite Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz.
Jackie Cooper, nine years old (Skippy, 1931)
Cooper may be best known for his heartrending performance in The Champ, but the young actor gained the most critical acclaim for his role in the 1931 comedy Skippy – based on the popular comic strip by Percy Crosby. Nine-year-old Cooper starred in the title role as the feisty son of Dr Herbert and Ellen Skinner (Willard Robertson and Enid Bennett).
Mary Badham, 10 years old (To Kill a Mocking Bird, 1952)
Badham had big shoes to fill playing Jean Louise “Scout” Finch in the 1962 film adaptation of Harper Lee’s acclaimed novel To Kill a Mockingbird. But fill them she did, and her performance as Lee’s charming heroine was recognised by the Academy with a Best Supporting Actress nod.
Haley Joel Osment, 11 years old (The Sixth Sense, 2000)
Some may remember Osment in M Night Shyamalan’s horror hit as simply one line of dialogue (“I see dead people”) but the young star’s performance was far more than just a catchphrase. Aged 11, Osment narrowly lost out to Michael Caine (The Cider House Rules) for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars that year. Now, the actor can be seen on Amazon Prime’s superhero series The Boys.
Patty McCormack, 12 years old (The Bad Seed, 1956)
Twelve-year-old McCormack was chilling as a suspected killer in The Bad Seed. Her Oscar-nominated performance as the creepy, pigtailed Rhoda Penmark was followed up by a string of features, including a part as First Lady Pat Nixon in 2008’s Frost/Nixon.
Keisha Castle-Hughes, 12 years old (Whale Rider, 2004)
Castle-Hughes was only 12 years old when she nabbed the lead role in Whale Rider, a 2003 film about a girl with Maori heritage. The part earned her a Best Actress nomination at the Academy Awards, but most recently the New Zealand-born actor starred as Dornish fighter Obara Sand in HBO’s fantasy series Game of Thrones.
Jodie Foster, 14 years old (Taxi Driver, 1977)
An Oscars fixture, Foster picked up her first nomination for her supporting role in Martin Scorsese’s 1976 film Taxi Driver. Her portrayal of the child prostitute Iris was plagued by controversy but kickstarted a starry career for the actor, who has gone on to win two Oscars since (The Accused and The Silence of the Lambs).
Hailee Steinfeld, 14 years old (True Grit, 2011)
Steinfeld has gone from strength to strength since her Oscar-nominated performance in the Coen Brothers’s True Grit. In the 2011 film, Steinfeld plays a young girl hunting down her father’s killer. The actor has followed it up with a string of high-profile appearances in film and on TV, and currently stars as Emily Dickinson in Apple TV Plus’s Dickinson. She has also enjoyed a successful music career, with her 2015 track “Starving”, featuring Grey and Zedd, reaching top five in the UK charts.
Linda Blair, 15 years old (The Exorcist, 1973)
Few can forget Blair’s harrowing performance as the possessed child of The Exorcist, a part which earned her a Supporting Actress nod at just 15 years old. Much of the character’s demon dialogue, however, was dubbed by Mercedes McCambridge, who was uncredited for her part in the seminal movie. McCambridge had previously won an Academy Award herself for her screen debut in All the King’s Men (1949).
This article was originally published in 2021