Top 10 Best Horror Movie Performances By Child Actors

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Top 10 Best Horror Movie Performances By Child Actors

VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Andrew Tejada
These horror performances blew us away! For this list, we'll be looking at the young performers who showed off amazing acting chops in scary movies. Our countdown includes “The Good Son”, “Pan's Labyrinth”, “The Exorcist”, and more!
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Top 10 Best Child Actor Performances in Horror Movies


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 Best Child Actor Performances in Horror Movies.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the young performers who showed off amazing acting chops in scary movies. Beware of some minor spoilers lurking your way.

What’s your favorite performance in a horror film? Let us know in the comments below.

#10: Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh

“It” (2017) & “It Chapter Two” (2019)
When the audience first meets Beverly Marsh, she has to withstand torment from a bunch of her classmates with incredible toughness. She later shows a ton of kindness towards Ben after finding out he is also mistreated. And through Beverly’s terrifying interactions with her disturbing father and Pennywise the Clown, we see her show true fear and vulnerability. Actress Sophia Lillis was able to capture all those emotions and more while playing the character. Throughout both films, she shows us that Beverley is a complex and free-spirited character who doesn't want to be defined by her troubled past. Lillis’ layered performance made her one of the standout members of the Losers Club.

#9: Macaulay Culkin as Henry Evans

“The Good Son” (1993)
After Mark loses his mother, he starts staying at his aunt and uncle’s house. It’s there that the audience meets a mischievous cousin named Henry. Played by Macaulay Culkin, the young boy seems to be slightly creepy but overall normal. Over the course of the film, his childish pranks devolve into harming animals, causing car crashes, and attempting to take multiple lives. Culkin’s able to switch from innocent to sinister at the drop of a hat. The detached and cold way he delivers certain lines will send a chill down your spine. Over the span of a film, the actor truly made us believe that a vicious sociopath was hiding underneath the mask of a boy's smile.

#8: Milly Shapiro as Charlie Graham

“Hereditary” (2018)
Milly Shapiro gave an incredible performance as Charlie in “Hereditary.” Although she isn't in a large portion of the movie, she makes the best of every second she's on screen. Shapiro quickly makes us believe that Charlie is just an ordinary girl with a pure view of the world. However, the actress also unveils a creepier side to her character during a few of the movie's most unsettling scenes. She portrays her dark side by using remarkably few words and an iconic clicking sound. Shapiro’s stellar work pulled us deeper into the movie’s sinister mysteries.

#7: Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther Coleman

“Orphan” (2009)
The Coleman family decides to adopt a sharp and seemingly well-behaved nine-year-old girl named Esther from an orphanage. But it soon becomes apparent that their newest edition is hiding a sinister secret. While we won't give away the twist about Esther here, we can definitely praise actress Isabelle Fuhrman for taking on the role. From the moment we met her, we immediately suspected something was off without any dialogue. And Fuhrman does an excellent job at portraying Esther as she descends into madness and starts going after anyone who upsets her. It’s equally chilling and amazing to see the actress go from a girl who’s a little too smart for her age to a menacing maniac.

#6: Heather O'Rourke as Carol Anne Freeling

"Poltergeist” (1982)
Actress Heather O'Rourke became part of one of the most iconic scenes in horror cinema at a very young age. She played Carol Anne Freeling, a girl whose family is targeted by a malicious spirit known as “The Beast.” O’Rourke instantly made horror history at the beginning of the film when she communicated with a static-filled TV in the middle of the night. Throughout the rest of the movie, she believably played a precocious child that was surrounded by evil on all sides. Every time she got in danger, we were amazed at how realistically she conveyed her terror. O’Rourke’s acting talents helped get us invested in Carol Anne’s scary journey.

#5: Ivana Baquero as Ofelia

“Pan's Labyrinth” (2006)
“Pan's Labyrinth’s” complex mix of historical drama and fantasy wouldn't have worked without Ivana Baquero. She played a girl named Ofelia who must complete special tasks for a magical faun in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. Baquero blends wide-eyed wonder, a grounded determination, and genuine fear into one fantastic performance. She’s able to hold her ground on screen whether she’s acting opposite a crooked captain or the horrifying Pale Man. The actress also makes it feel like we watched Ofelia grow into a more mature character in less than two hours. Baquero commands this grim fairy tale with her amazing talent.

#4: Kirsten Dunst as Claudia

“Interview with the Vampire” (1994)
Although “Interview with the Vampire” initially focuses on Tom Cruise's Lestat and Brad Pitt’s Louis, the duo becomes a trio when Claudia enters the mix. After she’s turned into a vampire at a young age, she must live out the rest of her days in a child’s body. Kirsten Dunst clearly conveys the tragedy of being unable to age as time relentlessly marches on. The actress expertly comes across as an experienced vampire without losing Claudia’s child-like immaturity. Not only does Dunst create a great character, but she also holds her own against heavyweights like Brad Pitt. To this day, Claudia is one of the most memorable cinema vampires of all time.

#3: Harvey Spencer Stephens as Damien Thorn

"The Omen" (1976)
There's no way you can talk about the scariest children in horror films without mentioning Damien. One of the reasons he's so terrifying is because of how great Harvey Spencer Stephens was at playing the Antichrist. With just a smirk or a glance, the actor is able to strike fear into our hearts. Since Damien seems so pure of heart on the surface, his parents don’t take serious actions to stop his wicked deeds until it’s too late. The sheer malice Stephens is able to convey through a facade of innocence is incredible. Damien may look nice, but you will definitely suffer if you ever cross him.

#2: Haley Joel Osment

“The Sixth Sense” (1999)
While most people remember “Sixth Sense” because of its mind-bending twist, Haley Joel Osment’s performance should not be overlooked. He played Cole, an intelligent young boy who can communicate with ghosts. Although his gift initially frightens him, he decides to use his power to help the deceased find peace. Osment shows incredible range throughout the movie. We feel his fear, believe in how intelligent he is and tear up alongside him every time he feels grief. The Academy also acknowledged how skilled Osment was by nominating him for Best Supporting Actor. While he didn’t walk away with that prestigious achievement, he won audiences over with one iconic horror line.

Before our top pick frightens us, here are a few honorable mentions.

Jacob Tremblay as Bradley Trevor
“Doctor Sleep” (2019)

Miko Hughes as Gage Creed
“Pet Sematary” (1989)

Danny Lloyd as Danny Torrance
"The Shining" (1980)

Alex Vincent as Andy Barclay
“Child's Play" (1988)

Millicent Simmonds as Regan Abbott
“A Quiet Place” (2018)

#1: Linda Blair as Regan MacNeil

“The Exorcist” (1973)
In “The Exorcist,” a sweet girl named Regan turns into a hellish force of nature after she’s possessed by a demon. Linda Blair pulls off a stunning transformation between those two extremes. She completely changes her acting style and physicality to become the iconic horror villain we know today. Whether she’s saying an incredibly vulgar line or roaring like a demon, Blair stays completely committed to the role. And the fact that she pulled off playing the character under layers of makeup only to go back to the innocent Regan again deserved praise. Fortunately, Blair was recognized with an Academy Award nomination. It was an appropriate nod to a young actress who gave one of the best horror movie performances of all time.
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