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The 23 Biggest Breakout Stars Of 2014

These are the actors who left their mark on film and television this year. Now they enter 2015 as Hollywood's most exciting new players.

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1. Chris Pratt

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Thanks to consistently adorable and flat-out hilarious turns on Everwood, The O.C., and Parks and Recreation, Chris Pratt's star factor has been building for years now. But the first clue that this lovable Parks & Rec cast member could hold his own on a bigger screen came when Pratt slimmed down, and beefed up, to play the supporting role of a soldier in 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty.

And after Pratt underwent a second physical transformation — to become Peter Quill/Star-Lord in this year's Marvel hit Guardians of the Galaxy — he solidified his position as a movie star in his own right. His on-screen charisma was more than matched by his off-screen charm, found front and center in every single interview he did for the film.

Guardians' box office dominance and Pratt’s publicity sprint (his body was also talked about once or twice or three trillion times) turned the 35-year-old actor into 2014's most obsessed-over "new" star. With the final season of Parks starting in January and Pratt's second starring action hero role in June’s hotly anticipated Jurassic World, it feels like this year gave birth to a major new movie star. —Jarett Wieselman

2. Gugu Mbatha-Raw

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With her elegant and expressive face, Gugu Mbatha-Raw was born to be projected onto the biggest screen possible. And after two short-lived television shows — 2010’s Undercovers on NBC and 2012’s Touch on Fox — Mbatha-Raw gifted audiences with a pair of performances as unique as the films that contain them. The 31-year-old actor starred in May's sumptuous Belle and November's criminally ignored Beyond the Lights, delivering thoughtful portraits of women in crisis that were as heart-wrenching as they were captivating. —J.W.

3. Grant Gustin

The CW

A thousand-ish miles away from Oliver Queen's (Stephen Amell) super-grounded, super world of The CW's Arrow is the fantastical land of The Flash, where Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) dons a skintight, head-to-toe bright red suit to catch metahumans (those given special powers in the fallout from a particle accelerator explosion).

While there are hundreds of people responsible for the unlikely success of The Flash — the masterful visual effects team, the writers, and executive producers Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, David Nutter, and Sarah Schechter — the show was going to live and die on Gustin's performance.

In the 24-year-old actor's hands, Barry Allen has a delicious zest for life. The notes of humor Gustin vocally and physically peppers into each episode cannot be celebrated enough — they are what truly convey Allen's fundamental understanding that he is living out every fanboy's dream. And, in many ways, so is Gustin. —J.W.

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4. Sarah Koenig

Elise Bergerson

No one captured our imagination or attention in 2014 quite like Sarah Koenig, the narrator (and true star) of This American Life's spin-off podcast, Serial. What began as one woman's search for answers turned into a full-blown cultural obsession as we attempted to solve the puzzle of Hae Min Lee's murder.

Was Adnan Syed truly innocent or secretly a charming psychopath? And what is the deal with Jay? And how in the world did Mr. S. happen upon Hae's body? These are just three of the three million questions fans have asked, Reddit'd, and podcasted about after listening to every gripping installment of Serial.

Along the way, Koenig has been celebrated for her findings and criticized for how she reported them. And while the finale didn't offer up concrete answers, the 44-year-old journalist did prove that the radio show is alive and well. —J.W.

5. David Oyelowo

Paramount

David Oyelowo has been consistently dependable in supporting roles for years, but in 2014, the 38-year-old actor presented us with a single performance so astounding, you couldn't help but take notice, stand up, and applaud. While Selma is about a revolution, it's Oyelowo's humanizing, electrifying, and devastating turn as the revolutionary Martin Luther King Jr. that personalizes a global issue. —J.W.

6. Gina Rodriguez

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Gina Rodriguez is endlessly charming on The CW's Jane the Virgin and has a Golden Globe nomination (the network's first!) to prove it. But this year, Rodriguez also proved to be the kind of actor every show, network, demographic, and culture needs more of.

The 30-year-old delivered 2014's most profound, and unexpected, speech about cultural identity — off the top of her head — at the Television Critics Association summer press tour in July, and every interview since then has been filled with sound bites that are equally awe-inspiring. As one of the most prominent Latinas currently on television, Rodriguez knows she carries the weight of an entire culture on her shoulders and has used that momentum to start a movement. —J.W.

7. Dylan O'Brien

MTV

MTV's Teen Wolf has long played Dylan O'Brien's character, Stiles Stilinski, for laughs. But that all changed in 2014 when Stiles was possessed by an evil entity called the Nogitsune, tasking O'Brien with his heaviest material yet on the show. The curse ended up being a gift for fans, as the "Dark Stiles" arc resulted in Teen Wolf's most emotionally resonant episodes to date and in O'Brien's best performance of his short but promising career.

The 23-year-old actor then set his sights on movies and scored the lead role in The Maze Runner, September's film adaptation of James Dashner's dystopian novel about a cadre of teens trapped inside a massive maze. The marketing material placed O'Brien front and center, inviting his fans to come out in droves — and they did just that. The action-packed film opened at No. 1 and has gone on to gross over $100 million domestically, while a sequel is currently in production. —J.W.

8. Carrie Coon

HBO

By the time Carrie Coon made her screen debut — in 2011's The Playboy Club — she had dozens of plays and a Tony nomination under her belt. But it wasn't until this year that Hollywood used her talents to maximum effect.

First, she brought The Leftovers' emotionally crippled Nora Durst to life with a performance so raw, it was painful to watch and impossible to look away from — often in the same scene. Coon next played one of the only likable characters in Gone Girl (her film debut) and accomplished the near-impossible task of convincing the audience to empathize with Nick Dunn (Ben Affleck).

Coon's ability to turn complicated, messy, and difficult characters into authentic human beings is an astounding feat to behold. —J.W.

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9. Ansel Elgort

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In the span of a single year, 20-year-old Ansel Elgort has parlayed his work in three films — Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, and Men, Women & Children — into full-blown global stardom.

And let's be real: We're all still reeling from his heartwarming, heart-melting, heartbreaking realization of The Fault in Our Stars' Augustus Waters, the dreamiest boy that ever did live. Okay? Okay. —J.W.

10. Samira Wiley

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There are so many women from Orange Is the New Black worthy of inclusion on this list. The last year saw Laverne Cox emerge as a trailblazing advocate for the trans community; Uzo Aduba win an Emmy for her first season on the show, only to further blow viewers away in Season 2; Lorraine Toussaint create a truly chilling villain; and Yael Stone make us question everything we thought we knew about Litchfield's prisoners as Lorna Morello. But it was Samira Wiley’s performance that truly made 2014 the year of Poussey!

Wiley explored her character's emotional limitations in her OITNB flashback episode, was pushed to the brink in the present, and made us long for a future where Poussey and Taystee (the equally divine Danielle Brooks) were BFFs again (or maybe more). Wiley made every declaration of love, vented frustration, and unstoppable tear sting with a empathetic passion — and sometimes she did it in German. —J.W.

11. Michiel Huisman

HBO

It felt like every time I turned on the television this year, I was met with Michiel Huisman's face. He was the sexy Liam McGuinnis on Nashville, the dangerous (and sexy) Daario Naharis on Game of Thrones, the mysterious (and sexy) Cal Morrison on Orphan Black, and the smooth (and sexy) leading man in Baz Luhrmann's The One That I Want, a short film for Chanel No. 5.

And with a supporting role as the kind (and sexy) Jonathan in Wild, it looks like Huisman's omnipresence is extending to movies next. —J.W.

12. Leslie Jones

NBC

Anyone who caught Leslie Jones' "Weekend Update" debut in May knew the Saturday Night Live writer's promotion to full-time cast member this year was inevitable. Coursing with an infectious energy as she jumped from skewering satire to silly jokes, Jones has been a breath of fresh air all year long on SNL, both in front of the camera and behind it, in the writers room.

Jones also steals all of her scenes from some of the industry’s heaviest hitters in Top Five, a who's who of comedy right now. —J.W.

13. Jack Falahee

ABC

When Peter Nowalk — an out gay man — created How to Get Away With Murder, he wanted the addictive murder mystery to have a gay male character as one of its leads. That's how the sharp, uninhibited, quick-tongued Connor Walsh was born.

But the character truly came alive in the hands of Jack Falahee. The 25-year-old actor imbued Connor with endless charisma, fascinating ethical ambiguity, and, yes, unbridled sexual energy. While the writers deserve plenty of credit for creating such an unabashedly sexual gay man on network television, those titillating scenes would be nothing without Falahee's heart and brain fueling Connor's groin. —J.W.

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14. Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer

Comedy Central

Broad City's directionless, career-less, and filterless main characters Abbi Abrams and Ilana Wexler have done a lot of insane things to make a buck. But the real-life best friends who play them, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, have made a place for themselves in Hollywood with the often biting, always brilliant Comedy Central series, which they created and write for, as well as star on. —J.W.

15. Finn Wittrock

FX

While American Horror Story: Freak Show revolves around Fräulein Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange) and her traveling troupe of sideshow "monsters," the real attraction on the current and fourth season of AHS has been Finn Wittrock's malevolent, daring, and uncompromising performance. As Dandy Mott, a sociopath who even Oedipus would be creeped out by, Wittrock slinks from frame to frame, filling every on-screen moment with a hypnotic terror.

And in addition to making audiences scared to go to sleep on Wednesday nights, Wittrock had two other important roles this year: one as Taylor Kitsch's doomed lover in the Emmy-winning HBO movie The Normal Heart, and another as an Air Force officer stranded at sea in Unbroken, Angelina Jolie's upcoming war drama. —J.W.

16. Eva Green

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Eva Green defies categorization and expectation in equal measure. This year, she followed a small indie (White Bird in a Blizzard) with a big-budget action orgy (300: Rise of an Empire) and then a gothic television show (Showtime'sPenny Dreadful). Those three projects gave Green, who never fails to deliver an unbridled performance, a platform like never before.

But particularly of note is her work on Penny Dreadful, where the 34-year-old actor plays medium Vanessa Ives. Green's performance in the series' seventh episode, "Possession," where Vanessa is — you guessed it — possessed by a demon, showcased Green doing physical, verbal, and emotional acrobatics that left you breathless. There is quite literally nothing this woman is incapable of as an actor. —J.W.

17. Teyonah Parris

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Teyonah Parris has been quietly wowing as Dawn Chambers, Mad Men's first black secretary, since 2012, but with roles in Starz's Survivor’s Remorse and the dynamite Dear White People, Parris proved she's ready to take the lead this year. —J.W.

18. Jenny Slate

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In Obvious Child, Jenny Slate's performance as Donna, a twentysomething whose life is a mess, is raw and often cringeworthy in the best way possible. Despite the extreme premise — Donna gets unexpectedly pregnant and then decides to get an abortion, all while falling for the one-night stand who knocked her up in the first place — Obvious Child is so painfully true to life that you can't help but fall in love with Slate. She's unintentionally charming because of her vulnerability, and that's what really makes her stick out as an actress. —Erin La Rosa

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19. Allison Tolman

Chris Large/FX

Allison Tolman's portrayal of quiet competence and deadpan wit made FX's Fargo a delight. In Tolman's hands, the uncommonly decent Deputy Molly Solverson became uncommonly complex. Seriously, the actor has more depth of character in her right eyebrow than most sitcoms. The woman is enthralling. —Ariane Lange

20. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones

Focus Features

These two British actors, who starred as husband and wife in The Theory of Everything, easily became the most adorable non-couple of the year. But more than that, they proved to be an immensely talented duo. In James Marsh's film, Redmayne and Jones exquisitely and beautifully depicted the budding nascent relationship and, eventually, deteriorating marriage between Stephen and Jane Hawking. The film spent as much time showing the extraordinary highs and lows of Jane's life as it did of Stephen's after being diagnosed with a debilitating motor neuron disease, allowing both actors to shine like they never had before.

Certainly you may remember Redmayne from his turn as Marius in the 2012 theatrical version of Les Misérables or as the aspiring filmmaker responsible for penning My Week With Marilyn in that movie adaptation; others who saw Like Crazy were blown away by Jones in 2011 and familiar with her ability to tell a love story; but both actors made us chuckle and weep, smile and wince in The Theory of Everything. We can't wait for more. —Jaimie Etkin

21. James Corden

The Weinstein Company

Corden's been a comedy staple in England for years, but he hit U.S. shores in a big way this year, leveraging his full-bodied performance in 2012's One Man, Two Guvnors (for which he won a Tony Award) to land supporting, but significant, roles in Begin Again and Into the Woods, roles the actor made even more significant by infusing them with his compelling everyman quality.

But Corden's biggest 2014 accomplishment came in September when CBS announced he would take over as host of The Late Late Show, beginning in March 2015. —J.W.

22. Gaby Hoffmann

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For those who grew up watching Gaby Hoffmann in movies like Field of Dreams, Uncle Buck, Sleepless in Seattle, and Now and Then, 2014 cemented the childhood realization that she is one of the most emotionally authentic, compulsively watchable actors of her generation.

Though she shone in smaller roles like Wild's Aimee, Girls' Caroline, and Veronica Mars' Ruby, the real standout was Hoffmann's searing performance as Ali Pfefferman in Amazon’s equally sublime Transparent. —J.W.

23. Rosamund Pike

Twentieth Century Fox

Following a screening of Gone Girl, my brilliant colleague Kate Aurthur commented that Rosamund Pike's performance as Amy Dunne felt like it was in an entirely different film, one directed by Brian De Palma. And I so much preferred that story to the one David Fincher offered up.

While Ben Affleck was running (awkwardly) from torch-wielding villagers, Pike was running away with the whole damn movie. Her lyrical narration set the stage perfectly for that second act twist where love gave way to hate and it was Amy's heart of darkness that kept Gone Girl alive. Show me a movie moment in 2014 more operatically horrifying than Pike's execution of the film's Grand Guignol climax and I'll give you a shed full of unused electronics. —J.W.

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