Five Breakout Film Stars and Their Best Roles in 2011

March 29th, 2012

A look at 2011's Breakout Movie Stars

Each year, there are a few actors and actresses who suddenly seem to become household names. The path to becoming a breakout star varies: some actors are cast in a big-time debut, while others achieve stardom after years of paying dues. No matter how these actors achieved recognition, listed below are five stars who have wowed audiences in 2011.

Rooney Mara in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

Cast in the English-language adaptation of 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,' Rooney Mara had the difficult task of playing goth hacker Lisbeth Salander. In the film, Salander is both a victim of abuse and the perpetrator of a particularly gruesome revenge. However, Mara's carefully balanced portrayal was one of the hallmarks of this often graphic film. Her performance garnered Mara an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

Prior to her role in 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,' Mara had a small supporting role in the 2010 critically acclaimed film 'The Social Network.' Sharp-eyed audience members will recognize her as the girl who breaks up with the Mark Zuckerburg character at the beginning of the film.

Melissa McCarthy in "Bridesmaids"

Prior to 2011, Melissa McCarthy fans probably remembered her best for her long-running role as Sookie in television's 'Gilmore Girls.' However, when 'Bridesmaids' became the surprise hit comedy of 2011, movie watchers fell in love with McCarthy's uncouth character. In the film, McCarthy plays Megan, the raunchy future sister-in-law who delivers most of the pithy one-liners in the film.

McCarthy received an Oscar nomination for the role, but she's also still on the small screen as half of the titular couple in 'Mike and Molly.'

Jessica Chastain in 'Tree of Life'

While 'The Help' garnered Jessica Chastain a supporting actress Oscar nomination in 2012, the 'Tree of Life' was her breakout role of the year. Playing opposite Brad Pitt's authoritative father role, Chastain is Mrs. O'Brien, a woman who embodies the idea of grace in the film. Her compelling portrayal of the nearly silent, long-suffering mother remains one of best performances in this lauded film.

Most moviegoers were completely unfamiliar with Chastain, who had completed only a few film roles before being cast. However, Chastain acted in a total of six films released in 2011, making her the most prolific film actor for 2011 on this list.

Michael Fassbender in 'Jane Eyre'

Fans of the Quentin Tarantino 2009 film 'Inglourious Basterds' may remember Michael Fassbender as Lt. Archie Hicox. However, it was Fassbender's portrayal of Mr. Rochester in 2011's 'Jane Eyre' that made film watchers take notice. In the film, Fassbender plays a broody romantic hero who lies to the heroine, driving her away. However, Fassbender's ability to portray Rochester as being tormented by his past allowed audiences to root for the couple to reunite at the end of the film.

Fassbender also demonstrated his range in 2011 with three other films. In addition to ÒJane Eyre,Ó he starred in the big-budget action flick 'X-Men: First Class' opposite James McAvoy. Later in the year, art house film 'Shame' opened with Fassbender in the leading role. He also starred opposite Keira Knightley and Viggo Mortenson as Carl Jung in the film 'A Dangerous Method.'

Jonah Hill in 'Moneyball'

Although Jonah Hill had some name recognition before 2011, his casting opposite Brad Pitt in 'Moneyball' surprised some. Luckily, Hill rose to the occasion as Peter Brand, a Yale economics graduate whose revolutionary ideas provide the catalyst for the film. Not only did 'Moneyball' go on to be a success at the box office but Hill also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.