The Most Underrated Actors & Actresses of the 21st Century

Leonardo DiCaprio. Brad Pitt. Meryl Streep. Tom Cruise. Jennifer Lawrence. Ryan Gosling. These stars have long dominated the film industry, gaining so much recognition and winning countless awards. However, there are many actors and actresses out there who have not received the spotlight that they deserve. The list that follows is a recognition of those who have delivered outstanding performances but have somewhat remained in the shadows of these big, more recognised stars.

Cillian Murphy

This first one may come as a shock following his titular role in Oppenheimer (2023), which he recently won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor for. However, for many years, he has flown under the radar. Some may say that this is due to his low-profile persona, as he chooses to remain distant from social media and out of the public eye. Now that he has gained success in his role as J. Robert Oppenheimer, it is important that his other roles do not get overshadowed. Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders (2013-2022), Robert Fischer in Inception (2010) and Jim in 28 Days Later (2002); all these roles deserve just as much recognition as Oppenheimer.

Miles Teller

Most people probably recognise Miles Teller from that scene in Top Gun: Maverick (2022) where he quite literally took our breath away. However, I believe that Teller has delivered some noteworthy performances over his career that deserve just as much attention. His intense and dedicated performance in Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash (2014) was truly outstanding. The authenticity Teller brought to his role was a different kind of breath-taking. This realism and relatability that Miles Teller brings to his roles deserve so much more attention than they get. His performance in The Spectacular Now (2013) was one of the first I ever saw, and I was truly impressed.

Ariana DeBose

On a general note, I believe that musical theatre itself is a highly underrated sector of the entertainment industry. This leads me perfectly onto my next underrated actress of the 21st century: Ariana DeBose. She initially rose to fame for her role in the hit Broadway musical Hamilton but has recently started to make appearances in television and film. A standout performance for me was her Academy Award-winning turn as Anita in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of West Side Story (2021). The raw emotion DeBose brought to her character was inspiring; her sass and sarcasm were just perfect. Unfortunately, due to its dismal box office performance, Disney’s Wish (2023) hasn’t given her the attention she deserves.


Rami Malek

I can no longer look at Rami Malek without thinking of Freddy Mercury. His performance in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)is truly ingrained in my memory despite being released over five years ago now. It takes such talent to tackle a legendary singer in a biopic, some noteworthy names being Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman (2019) and Austin Butler with his role in Elvis (2022). However, Rami Malek is one that I think has kind of been forgotten since his Academy Award win, which has received an unfair reputation of being undeserved. His embodiment of Freddy Mercury and commitment to the character was scarily accurate and his attention to detail in his movements and style truly added that authentic layer to his performance.

Letitia Wright

Letitia Wright’s breakout role in the MCU film Black Panther (2018) brought her deservedly into the limelight. Winning the BAFTA Rising Star Award in 2019 truly proved how much promising potential Wright had in the film industry. Unfortunately, Wright has struggled to find much work outside of the Black Panther franchise despite her talent. Wright has also gone under the radar with her activism, which has focused on racial equality, mental health, support for youth, and environmental activism. Having a significant public platform and high visibility, Letitia Wright is wisely using her celebrity status to make a difference: a very underrated form of influence that more actors and actresses should strive for.

Daisy Edgar Jones

Most of you probably know Daisy Edgar Jones for her utterly authentic role in the television show Normal People (2020), however I am here to praise her excellence in Where the Crawdads Sing (2022). Consequence critic Liz Shannon said this on her performance: “it’s hard to imagine literally anyone else capturing Kya’s innocence and intelligence as ably as [Edgar-Jones] does,” and I couldn’t agree more. Being a fan of the book that the film was inspired by, I had very specific expectations of what I wanted Kya’s character to be like, and Daisy Edgar Jones embodied my thoughts perfectly. Some critics have even said that Edgar-Jones was actually too good for this film and deserved a much better film to debut in. Thankfully we’ll see much more of her in the coming years, with a lead role alongside Glen Powell in the Twisters reboot, and she is set to star alongside Andrew Garfield in the Carl Sagan biopic Voyagers.

Ke Huy Quan

How can you not like Ke Huy Quan? Quan rose to fame as a child actor in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and The Goonies (1985). After spending many years working behind the scenes as a stunt coordinator, Ke Huy Quan shocked the world with his performance in Everything Everywhere All At Once (2023), a film which won him many awards, including that well-deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. His life-story as a young refugee and his rise to fame is truly inspiring. His skills in both acting and martial arts are severely underrated, and his performance in Everything Everywhere All At One (2023), thankfully brought him the attention he deserved.

Hunter Schafer

Schafer has gained attention for her performance as Jules Vaughn in the HBO show since 2019. More recently, she portrayed Tigris Snow in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (2023) a performance which particularly caught my attention. Talking with ET from the red carpet of the New York City premiere, Schafer stated, “Tigris kind of feels like the first character piece I’ve really done that’s not like a teenage girl who is kind of like one step away from who I am,” she said. “It was like a challenge for me.” It’s always so inspiring to see actors and actresses perform outside their comfort zone and, being relatively new to acting, Schafer’s performance made it look so easy. I hope she continues to be the amazing actress she is and gets all the recognition she deserves.

Comments (1)

  • I love Daisy Edgar Jones! She, and many others that you have mentioned, need more chances in the spotlight! They are all amazing! 🙂

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