Thanks to the successful film adaptations of The Hunger Games franchise and The Fault In Our Stars, 2014 could be dubbed the year of the YA. The genre of books took over the box office with other big screen takes on the first of the Divergent series, The Giver, If I Stay, and The Maze Runner.
While the primary focus on these films was the young stars that embodied the angst-ridden teens of the books, every one of these movies was supported by an award-winning adult actor. Even Meryl Streep got into the YA game, adding pedigree to The Giver, which starred budding star Brenton Thwaites.
But how did Streep compare to Julianne Moore, who stepped into the role of President Coin in the third Hunger Games film, or to Kate Winslet, who portrayed the villain in the first installment of Divergent? We ranked all of the 2014 film performances based on who used their Oscar prowess to maximum effect.
In order from worst to best:
12. Stacy Keach (If I Stay)
Pedigree: One Golden Globe
The longtime actor’s appearance could almost be a cameo since he’s nothing more than “Grandpa” in the film. Though, his brief time on screen does bring some actual emotional depth to a film fraught with earnestness.
11. Patricia Clarkson (The Maze Runner)
Pedigree: Emmy Award winner and Academy Award nominee
Revealed to be an architect of the maze, in which a bunch of young, studly men have been trapped in, Clarkson does her best to be menacing, but has little to really chew on. While we love Clarkson (see: Six Feet Under), she’s wasted here and not even utilized to maximum effect. Why have here her to begin with?
10. Ashley Judd (Divergent)
Pedigree: Multiple Emmy Award and Golden Globe nominations
Wait, was she even in the film? Yes, Judd appeared in the film as Tris’ (Shaliene Woodley) mother Natalie Prior. She died in her only pivotal scene, giving Woodley’s character motivation to rebel against the tyranny of the factions and Kate Winslet. (I don’t have time to explain the whole movie, so we’re glossing over details.) While Judd is a fine actress, she had nothing really to do, which is both a shame and a waste of her talents (see: Double Jeopardy if you ever any reason to doubt her). See you in dream sequences in subsequent Divergent films, assuming that by casting you they wanted you to stick around.
9. Kate Winslet (Divergent)
Pedigree: One Tony Award away from an EGOT
As the film’s main villain, Winslet played the terribly tyrannical Jeanine Matthews. (The name itself just sounds like a mean girl you knew in high school.) It’s refreshing and fun to see Winslet play evil, but the film’s clunky writing didn't let the actress live up to her multiple Golden Globe and Academy Award wins. But she’ll be back as the film’s main baddy, only next time she’ll have to share the screen with other Oscar favorites, Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer. You in danger, girl.
8. Jeff Bridges (The Giver)
Pedigree: Academy Award and Golden Globe winner
Let’s not pretend that The Giver was a great film. It would be a distraction and complicate who is at fault for Bridges turn as the bearded, cranky title character, who eventually is convinced to overthrow the government by tween and give memories to all people. He did a fine job of making Taylor Swift seem believable as his daughter. But even so, he lit up the screen when he was opposite Meryl Streep. (More on her soon.)
7. Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1)
Pedigree: Emmy Award winner and Acadey Award nominee
One of the standouts in the first two Hunger Game films, Tucci didn’t have much to do in the third as much of the focus was on District 13. But his time on screen was always appreciated. He’s managed to turn a bit player into a charismatic character that would have lacked depth in anyone else’s hands.
6. Julianne Moore (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1)
Pedigree: Two Emmy Awards and four Academy Award nominations
In the third installment of The Hunger Games, Moore made her first appearance as President Coin, a new authority Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) must mide balance with. While Moore largely relies on cold stares, she did give Lawrence someone to actually act opposite against and help raise the profile of the film itself. Moore knows how to command a presence, even if she’s stuck with a hairdo reminiscent of Rogue’s from the X-Men franchise. Sadly though, she didn’t have much to do as her role will likely be larger in the final Hunger Games film. Let’s give her an A for effort and remember that she’s killing it on the indie front with Still Alice.
5. Meryl Streep (The Giver)
Pedigree: Three Academy Awards and a sh** ton of other accolades
It’s hard to criticize Streep because practically everything she does is amazing. Unfortunately, this fell outside of that “practically everything.” Unfortunately, this character was largely about the wig. And a wig can’t carry a whole film. However, her acting did resonate near the end of the movie, showcasing any real emotion, especially when her character fears the idea of memories returning to her or society.
4. Laura Dern (The Fault in Our Stars)
Pedigree: Four Golden Globes and one Academy Award nomination
Can I just say that I’m here for anything Dern does? In The Fault In Our Stars, the romantic drama about two kids with cancer who fall in love and then (spoiler alert) die (well one of them does), Dern plays Hazel Grace’s (Woodley, again) selfless mother, who does everything in her power to make sure her daughter’s life is as fruitful and meaningful as it can be in the short time she has ahead of her. Paired with her other notable roles in Wild and When the Game Stands Tall, you might say Dern is having an “it” moment. But seriously, she grounded this teen romance that was literally reaching for the stars.
3. Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1)
Pedigree: One Academy Award, one Golden Globe, and one BAFTA
First introduced in Catching Fire, Hoffman was hyped as a major get for the franchise and helped spur the casting of other A-list stars, such as Moore. But in his second (and final) appearance, Hoffman lives up to the legacy of his career despite the sometimes clunky nature of Mockingjay - Part 1. He comes alive as Plutarch Heavensbee, Coin’s senior adviser and believer in Katniss’ role as the voice of the Districts’ rebellion. And when he and Moore share the screen, you feel like something deeper is happening than what was written for the scene. Their characters know what is at stake even when Katniss doesn’t.
2. Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1)
Pedigree: Two Emmy Award nominations
It would be an understatement to say that Effie Trinket is a favorite among fans of the film franchise. She has all the best lines, most amazing outfits, and generates all the laughs. That’s a testament to Banks’ skills as an actress. She’s like a chameleon on screen, slipping into any character thrown at her. Whether it’s dramatic (Seabiscuit), romantic (Invincible), sassy (30 Rock), insanely funny (Pitch Perfect), or insanely ridiculous (Modern Family), the actress commits every single time. And considering that Effie wasn’t even in District 13 in the books or meant to have much of a role in the third film, Banks takes advantage of every minute of screen time. And given the darker tone Mockingjay – Part 1, even Banks adds some new layers of emotion to Effie.
1. Woody Harrelson (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1)
Pedigree: One Emmy Award and two Academy Award nominations
While on HBO’s True Detective, Harrelson reminded audiences just how much he shines when constrained to a straight role, and the actor came alive as Haymitch Abernathy, Katniss’ mentor. Covered in a wig and knit cap, Harrelson lets himself play up what could have become a single-note character built around a bad temper. Instead, he’s comical, earnest, a true supporter of the cause, and believer in the one person that most aren’t sure to trust. Harrelson’s banter and chemistry with Banks didn’t hurt things either. Over the course of three films, they’ve created an unexpected and welcome character dynamic that we can only hope results in some sort of post-rebellion romance.
The actor continues to be one of the best things about the franchise and his off-screen persona doesn’t hurt either. His recent hosting gig on SNL reminded audiences that he doesn’t take all his success or The Hunger Games business too seriously. He’s just along for the ride, and that’s what this journey with Katniss has been: a roller coaster that will eventually come to an end.