LOS ANGELES -- Elle Fanning does some incredible work as a teenager caught up in the anti-nukes activism of 1960s London in the new coming-of age drama "Ginger & Rosa."
This latest, greatest performance is part of a career she's carved out for herself at only age 14, with previous impressive roles in films including "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Super 8" and "Somewhere." (Must be in the DNA: Her older sister, Dakota Fanning, is also talented and experienced well beyond her 19 years with an eclectic mix of films ranging from "War of the Worlds" and the "Twilight" movies to "Hounddog" and "The Runaways.")
So in a year in which "Beasts of the Southern Wild" star Quvenzhane Wallis became the youngest-ever best-actress nominee at the Academy Awards at only 9, here's a look at five great child actresses:
Shirley Temple: The original. What precocious little girl hasn't watched Temple singing and dancing to "On the Good Ship Lollipop" and thought to herself: "That looks like fun -- I want to do that too"? Of course, we all couldn't do it because she had that rare "thing" -- that spark, that zest, that glow. She also worked her butt off perfecting her craft at a very young age -- she started dancing and appearing in short films at 3 and making features at 5 -- but she made childlike charm and enthusiasm look effortless. By 6, she'd already won an Academy Award -- a special juvenile honor, but still. She then went on to make dozens of films over a three-decade career and remains arguably the greatest child star ever. What has your kid done today?
Elizabeth Taylor: In her early, family-friendly films such as "Lassie Come Home" and especially "National Velvet," Taylor had a startling and mature beauty for someone her age. Something about her aura radiated a grace and sophistication well beyond her years. Those mesmerizing eyes, that luxurious dark hair and flawless skin. It was as if she never went through the sort of awkward pre-adolescent stage the rest of us endured. She made her first film, "There's One Born Every Minute," at age 10. You guys know what happened from there: triumph, heartache, three Academy Awards, multiple marriage, superstardom.
Jodie Foster: As she said in her rambling speech at this year's Golden Globes, she's been in the public eye since age 3. Now at 50, the two-time Oscar winner is a great example of remaining strong and vital throughout the transition from child stardom to adulthood. Foster had confidence and swagger from her earliest days -- it's evident even in something silly like a guest appearance on "The Partridge Family." In 1976 alone, in a demonstration of her great range, she played two very different kinds of kids: Iris, the world-weary prostitute, opposite Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese's brilliant and disturbing "Taxi Driver," and Annabel, the quick-witted tomboy who finds she's magically switched bodies with her mother in the Disney comedy "Freaky Friday."
Kirsten Dunst: She started modeling and appearing in commercials when she was only a few years old, but her breakout role at age 12 was playing the adorably creepy vampire Claudia opposite Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in "Interview With the Vampire." Great choices from there have included Sofia Coppola's "The Virgin Suicides" and "Marie Antoinette," Michel Gondry's dreamlike "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and the kitschy cheerleader comedy "Bring It On." Playing Mary-Jane in the "Spider-Man" trilogy probably didn't hurt. But she was excellent -- and deserved an Oscar nomination -- for her haunting work as a depressed bride in Lars Von Trier's "Melancholia." (She also has a movie opening this weekend, the sci-fi romance "Upside Down.")
Abigail Breslin: She was one of the youngest-ever Oscar nominees at age 10 for her charming, vulnerable and ultimately inspiring performance as awkward pageant contestant Olive in the crowd-pleasing indie "Little Miss Sunshine." But she made an impression even earlier than that when she made her film debut at just 5 in M. Night Shyamalan's "Signs." Her varied work has ranged from the star-studded romantic comedy "Definitely, Maybe" to the heart-tugging "My Sister's Keeper" to the horror comedy "Zombieland" to the musical drama "Janie Jones," which showed off her singing and guitar-playing talents. (Like Fanning and Dunst, Breslin has a new movie in theaters this weekend, too: the thriller "The Call.") And she's only 16 now -- it's all out there in front of her.