Every year, new actors are introduced to the mainstream by way of performances so intense, so charismatic, or so brave, that they become impossible to ignore. But, what makes a true breakout performance, rather than one-off onscreen chemistry, is the potential for that lightning to strike again, and again, and again.
Tom Cruise had it when, in a pair of briefs and shades, he slid across the floor of his fictional parents' home, and into our theaters for the next three decades. When we first saw a tough-as-nails ingenue named Jennifer Lawrence skin a squirrel in Winter's Bone, we knew it wouldn't be the last time we'd watch her expertly wield a weapon on the big screen. And, when a 12-year-old Natalie Portman fit right in with a bunch of assassins, sociopaths, and drug addicts in The Professional, she solidified herself as someone we would watch grow up on film.
But, picking an actor's breakout role isn't always easy, a hard truth we learned while putting together this list. Often times, we're tempted to pick their debut role, or the performance we just like the best. Singling out the exact moment a star earned the "super" prefix is hardly cut and dried. What we tried to do was select the role that finally made an actor a part of the zeitgeist; the turn that made it clear we'd be seeing a lot more of them.