From Tessa Thompson to Brie Larson, 23 Actors Who Broke Out at Sundance Film Festival


The annual Sundance Film Festival kicks off each year with a bang, and it can make or break the careers of up-and-coming talent. It’s the premiere festival for aspiring actors to be recognized for their breakout performances, and ultimately achieve accolades during awards season the following year. Some actors are now so ubiquitous that it is almost impossible to remember a time before they were considered A-list talent, but, in fact, bonafide superstars like Jennifer Lawrence, Brie Larson, and even Hugh Grant broke out at Sundance. With their performances in Winter’s Bone, Short Term 12, and Four Weddings and a Funeral, respectively, they captured the attention of directors, producers, and audiences in a major way, springing them into the spotlight for years to come. As so many performers have gotten their big breaks at Sundance, W has been there to capture their first big steps into star status. See 23 of Sundance’s biggest breakout stars, as photographed by W, here.


Tessa Thompson was named a breakout star when Dear White People premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.


When Thirteen premiered at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, Evan Rachel Wood quickly became a star.


Kiersey Clemons made a big splash in Dope when it premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.


Esther Garrel appeared in Call Me By Your Name, which premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.


Before starring in Get Out and Sorry to Bother You, Lakeith Stanfield appeared in the 2013 Sundance darling Short Term 12.


Anya Taylor-Joy became well-known after her performance in The Witch, a horror film that premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.


Rami Malek made a mark with his performance in Short Term 12, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2013.


Brie Larson gained critical acclaim for her performance in the 2013 drama, Short Term 12.


Danielle Macdonald impressed American audiences and critics when she starred as a Jersey rapper in Patti Cake$, which premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.


Elsie Fisher was just 14 years old when she starred in 2018 Sundance hit Eighth Grade.


Four Weddings and a Funeral was the 1994 Sundance hit that introduced Hugh Grant as a leading man.


Abigail Breslin’s performance in Little Miss Sunshine, which premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, eventually earned her an Oscar nomination the following year.


Michael B. Jordan starred in the 2013 film Fruitvale Station, marking the beginning of his onscreen partnership with director Ryan Coogler.


Tatiana Maslany gained traction after appearing in the 2009 film, Grown Up Movie Star.


Miles Teller snapped up everyone’s attention after his performance in Whiplash, which premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.


Daniel Kaluuya nearly broke the Internet after his starring role in the 2017 film Get Out, which first made waves at that year’s Sundance Film Festival.


Felicity Jones captured audiences’ hearts in the 2011 romantic drama, Like Crazy.


At the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, Amy Adams broke out as an indie talent to watch thanks to her performance in Junebug.


Jennifer Lawrence was catapulted to fame after her turn in Winter’s Bone, which premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and went on to earn her her first Oscar nomination.


Carey Mulligan was nominated for an Academy Award after starring in An Education, which premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.


Bel Powley won over audience’s hearts in Diary of a Teenage Girl, which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.


Quvenzhané Wallis went on to be nominated for an Oscar for her performance in the the 2012 film, Beasts of the Southern Wild.


Elizabeth Olsen gained traction after starring in Martha Marcy May Marlene in 2011.