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Jacob Tremblay, 9
How's this for the fourth grade? The actor is generating early Oscar buzz for his heartbreaking performance in Room, in which he stars as a 5-year-old boy who has been held captive with his mother (Brie Larson) in a tiny shed. The subject matter sounds bleak, but Tremblay is the film's incandescent source of light. "How did he do it?" marvels Larson. "He's so wise beyond his years."
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Marsai Martin, 11
On ABC's black-ish, Martin plays Diane Johnson, twin to sugary-sweet Jack — and her deadpan portrayal is the complex glucose carb that holds the family together. "Marsai is an old soul," creator Kenya Barris says. "There's a way she will deliver lines, and we wrote that character a certain way, but that character, she helped to define what that character was for me... She's Pinky and the Brain-esque in that she might end up taking over the world."
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Ian Chen, 9
As Evan, the youngest Huang brother on ABC's Fresh Off the Boat, Chen doles out wisdom with a confidence rare for kids his age — something he tries to channel in his professional life. "Sometimes I feel scared [at auditions], but I try not to worry," he says. "It's just like, relax, you're allowed to be yourself." Chen practices what he preaches: When he and his TV brothers aren't on set, they swap instruments in a band they've dubbed "Fresh On the Beat."
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Abby Ryder Fortson, 7
Fortson spent 2015 proving she can hold her own in adult stories: She appeared on HBO's Togetherness and Amazon's Transparent, played the manipulative Harper on ABC's The Whispers, and acted opposite Paul Rudd in Ant-Man. But she's not worried about burning out — acting is in her blood. "My parents are actors, and I used to go on auditions with them," she says. "One day I was like, 'When can I start?'"
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Pierce Gagnon, 10
He wowed us as twisted tyke Ethan on CBS' Extant and uncontrollable Cid in 2012's Looper, but Gagnon hopes to be in more action-adventure fare like Tomorrowland, in which he appeared this year. "I like to run around and beat people up," he says, adding that he wants to do his own stunts someday. "I'd like to be the next Wolverine," he says, "or the next James Bond!" Pierce, get in line.
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JoJo Kushner, 7
It would be hard for an actor of any age to shine sandwiched between two Oscar winners, but sassy Kushner stole our hearts opposite Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro in The Intern. As befits the on-screen daughter of a mogul mom (Hathaway), the first-time film actress comes off as smart and fearless. We're betting this tot will graduate from intern to full-time star before too long.
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Miles Brown, 10
The wide-eyed, upbeat life force of black-ish's Johnson siblings, the cheery Brown gives off his fair share of kid-happy vibes as plucky Jack. "Miles is so sweet and tender, and that really adds to who Jack is," says Barris. "But there are moments when he knows 'I'm using my cuteness.' And I love that!"
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Kylie Rogers, 11
As Minx, a girl possibly under the influence of a killer entity named Drill on The Whispers, Rogers delivered a chilling performance that stole the spooky show, thanks to a trick she used: "I'd decide if I was Minx or Drill in every scene, and that was the best part," she says. And the chance to frighten viewers? A happy bonus for the young actress. "I didn't know how scary she was until episode 4," Rogers admits. "After that I was like, 'Yes! I'm going to be the scary one!'"
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Albert Tsai, 11
Tsai was a breakout star of ABC's short-lived Trophy Wife, and his flawless comedic timing is now back in full force as Ken Jeong's TV son, Dave, on ABC's freshman Dr. Ken. "I love making people laugh," Tsai says. "I just feel excited and pumped to do it." Ever since acting in a school play in second grade, the pint-sized actor has liked to crack jokes and make funny facial expressions (doing a "cool chipmunk" is his favorite). But Tsai says he eventually wants to tackle dramatic parts. The only thing is, he says with a chuckle, "I'd just have to practice crying on cue for a bit."
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Isaiah Tootoosis, 7
The Saskatchewan native's turn as Leonardo DiCaprio's son in The Revenant (Dec. 25) may be brief, but his performance is the film's driving force. The 7-year-old wasn't familiar with the star before landing the role, but he's certainly a big fan now. "My movie dad is really nice," Tootoosis says of DiCaprio, "and I hope I can be in another movie with him again."
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Forrest Wheeler, 11
Wheeler stretches his comedic muscles as oddly mature middle brother Emery on Fresh Off the Boat, nailing everything from absurd sibling arguments to monologues packed with relationship advice. "I like acting a lot because it makes me feel at home," he says. "Acting wasn't my goal in life, but I liked it!" Still, there is one aspect of the show that's still foreign to the 11-year-old: the 1990s setting, which he never experienced in real life. "I didn't know what a pager was," he says. "I had to ask someone."
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Isabella Crovetti-Cramp, 10
As the child version of Jennifer Lawrence's titular character in David O'Russell's Joy (Dec. 25), Crovetti-Cramp captures the determination that helps Joy eventually build a business empire. She's not afraid of hard work, either. "David treated me just like the other actors," she says, "which I loved because most directors think that just because you're a kid, they have to treat you like one."