6 Breakout Stars of Summer 2012

Six relative unknowns with star-making roles in some of this summer's biggest films

Heard of Benjamin Walker? How about Richard Ayoade? Or Quvenzhane Wallis?

The answer to all of those questions is probably no — but not for long. Walker, Ayoade, Wallis and other up-and-coming actors are about to make big names for themselves, thanks to star-making roles in some of this summer’s most hotly anticipated movies.

They join a couple of other critical favorites who, thanks to leading roles in films like “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Prometheus,” are poised to leap into the big time.

Also read: The Blockbuster That Ate Hollywood: Why ‘Avengers’ Is Crowding the Box Office

Here are summer's top six breakout actors and actresses.


How He’ll Spend His Summer: Delivering the Emancipation Proclamation and kicking undead ass in “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" (June 22). 

Upcoming: Reliving the Vietnam War protest that tore the sport of boxing apart in “Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight” (2012).

Why He’s Ready to Break Through: He’s had small parts in films like “Kinsey,” but until he took on the film adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s bestseller, Walker was best known for playing the title role in the Broadway musical “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson.”

As the ax-wielding 16th president, Walker gets the chance to show off his eloquence, intelligence and fighting skills — not to mention saving the Union from blood-sucking baddies. 

Also read: 'The Avengers': 5 Things You Need to Know If You Don't Read Comic Books


How She’ll Spend her Summer: Trying to stay alive in Ridley Scott's highly anticipated “Prometheus” (June 8).

Upcoming: Starring opposite Rachel McAdams in Brian De Palma’s revenge thriller “Passion”(2013) and romancing Colin Farrell in the crime drama “Dead Man Down” (2013).

Why She’s Ready to Break Through: The Swedish actress set tongues wagging when she appeared as a take-no-prisoners Lisbeth Salander in the original foreign-language version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” She made her American debut playing delicious foil to Robert Downey Jr. in “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.”

Facing off against some flesh-eating extraterrestrials propelled Sigourney Weaver to international fame in Scott's  “Alien” over three decades ago. Will it do the same for the director’s “Prometheus” muse? In space, we’re betting a lot of people will hear her scream.


How He’ll Spend his Summer: Menacing Batman as the villainous Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises” (July 20), then selling moonshine along with Shia LaBeouf in “Lawless” (Aug. 31).

Upcoming: Nothing firm yet, but maybe, just maybe, the long-delayed “Mad Max 4: Fury Road” will finally get off the ground, allowing Hardy to put his own stamp on the post-apocalyptic wanderer.

Why He’s Ready to Break Through: Billing a rising star as the “next Brando” has become something of a cliché, but as anyone who saw Hardy’s turn in last fall’s underrated “Warrior” knows, this English actor has the smoldering intensity to deliver on that boast.

As Heath Ledger’s iconic turn in the last Batman movie demonstrated, it's always more fun to be the bad guy, and his odd, Caribbean-flavored accent and thuggish physique are prominently on display in the “Dark Knight Rises” trailer.

His turn in “Lawless” will give him a chance at winning over the more serious film crowd, as well.


How He’ll Spend His Summer: Making the neighborhood safe from alien invaders alongside Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill and Vince Vaughn in “The Watch” (July 27).

Upcoming: Directing Jesse Eisenberg in a comic version of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's “The Double" (2012). 

Why He’s Ready to Break Through: The English comic has the market cornered on geeky one-liners. His gift at lampooning the pocket-protector set was on display in the British comedy series, “The IT Crowd,” and "The Watch" seems the perfect vehicle to bring those talents to this side of the Atlantic.

To nab his part in the all-star comedy, he reportedly beat out no less a funnyman than Chris Tucker. With its odd blend of science-fiction and suburban parody, "The Watch" could be his “Rush Hour.”

Also read: ‘The Master’: Paul Thomas Anderson Reaches Out to Scientologist Tom Cruise (Exclusive)


How She’ll Spend Her Summer: The 8-year old Wallis plays a young girl searching for her mother in a mystical Mississippi Delta community in “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (June 27).

Upcoming: Umm … fourth grade?

Why She’s Ready to Break Through:  As Hushpuppy, the precocious youngster who talks to animals in the film fable, she dazzled critics and audiences at major festivals like Cannes and Sundance. Raved Time’s Richard Corliss, “A lovely, wiry thing, she seems to live through each of Hushpuppy’s moods, fears and visions.”

With a wise-beyond-her-years performance, she's already been pegged as a possible Oscar nominee.


How She’ll Spend Her Summer: The “Dancing With the Stars” coach busts some moves opposite Tom Cruise in the heavy-metal musical “Rock of Ages.”

Upcoming: Playing a plane crash survivor who has her faith shaken from her brush with death in an untitled comedy from “Juno” scribe Diablo Cody (2013) and romancing Josh Duhamel in an adaptation of “Dear John” novelist Nicolas Sparks' “Safe Haven” (2013).

Why She’s Ready to Break Through: Last year’s “Footloose” should have been a big break for Hough, but the remake of the 1980s hit failed to connect with audiences. Still, her all-American good looks, soaring voice and ability to cut a rug make her a true triple threat in the film adaptation of the big Broadway hit.