Top 10 Biggest Movie Stars of 2017

Daniel Day-Lewis takes a bow, Gal Gadot is a Wonder Woman for the ages, and a handful of relative unknowns suddenly leapt to movie stardom. These are 10 of the biggest stars in film in 2017.
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Daniel Day-Lewis: Hollywood’s Most Intense Actor Says Farewell

Phantom Thread Photo

Daniel Day-Lewis in 'Phantom Thread.'

Sixty years-old might seem like an early age to retire, but if your life’s work has been marked by the same intensity as Daniel Day-Lewis’, then perhaps you deserve a break. The news broke in June: Day-Lewis, a five-time Oscar nominee and three-time winner (for My Left Foot, There Will Be Blood and Lincoln), had decided that the movie he was then working on, Phantom Thread directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, would be his last. Phantom Thread was released in December to near-unanimous rave reviews for the actor’s performance, which is now to be considered his swan song. But what a way to go: Day-Lewis, who turned 60 in 2017, earned a Golden Globe nomination for his role as a fashion designer in 1950s London, and appears a likely shoo-in for an Oscar nomination in 2018.

British-Born Actor in an American Role: Daniel Kaluuya

Get Out Movie Photo

Daniel Kaluuya in 'Get Out.'

At age 29, U.K.-born Daniel Kaluuya was already a veteran of British TV with a lengthy list of credits going back to 2006. But in 2017, he leapt to prominence in America in Get Out, the critically acclaimed horror film directed by Jordan Peele. In the movie, Kaluuya played a man – an African-American – who visited his white girlfriend’s family for the first time. The visit turned terrifying after this outwardly white, liberal family turned out to harbor racist views. While the casting of a British actor in American TV and movies to play American characters is nothing unusual, criticism of Kaluuya’s casting in Get Out came from an unexpected source, Samuel L. Jackson, who ignited a mini-dustup when he questioned the casting of Kaluuya in this movie about race relations in America, and Kaluuya fired back at him in interviews. As 2017 came to a close, however, Kaluuya and the movie were nominated for Golden Globes and appeared likely to be nominated for Oscars in 2018.

Emma Stone: Match Point

Emma Stone and Steve Carell

Emma Stone as Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs in 'Battle of the Sexes.'

Emma Stone followed up her Best Actress Oscar win in February for the musical La La Land with a performance of a very different kind – as tennis great Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes. The movie centered on a special tennis match that was arranged and promoted in 1973 as a match that would decide gender supremacy in tennis and, by extension, all sports and other physical pursuits. King was the reigning star of women’s tennis. Her opponent was an aging former men’s tennis star named Bobby Riggs. Their match, which took place in Houston’s famed Astrodome, was one of the most talked-about pop culture events of 1973. King won, and Stone was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance and seemed headed for a probable second consecutive Oscar nomination.

Steve Carell: Funny Man Turned-Dramatic Actor

Steve Carrell 'Last Flag Flying' Photo

Steve Carell in 'Last Flag Flying.'

Ever since Foxcatcher, the 2014 movie in which Steve Carell played an eccentric member of the ultra-wealthy du Pont family who formed an unhealthy attraction to members of the U.S. Olympic wrestling team, Carell has taken on ever-more challenging dramatic roles. For most of his career, Carell was known for comedy – from The Daily Show to The Office – but this year he won praise for his performances in two more movie dramas – Battle of the Sexes (as Bobby Riggs, the male challenger to Billie Jean King) and Last Flag Flying, directed by Richard Linklater. In Last Flag Flying, Carell co-starred with Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne as Vietnam War vets who became reunited after one of their sons was killed in Iraq.

A Wonder Woman for the Ages: Gal Gadot

Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.

Gal Gadot didn’t exactly come out of nowhere to star in one of 2017’s most successful movies. Although the star of Wonder Woman was little known in the United States, she was already famous in her native Israel, where this model, actress and martial-artist had made a name for herself as Miss Israel in 2004, followed by a string of acting credits on Israeli television. In Wonder Woman, she put her physique, strength and martial-arts skills to work and, in the process, created a fierce new female archetype who came along in a year when women were on the march and female empowerment was in the air.

'Lady Bird' Takes Flight: Saoirse Ronan

Saoirse Ronan Lady Bird Photo

Saoirse Ronan in 'Lady Bird.'

Lady Bird was a small movie that became big. In the movie directed by Greta Gerwig, Saoirse Ronan played a 17-year-old teen coming of age in the early 2000s in Sacramento. Though the movie was praised, the acclaim was not unanimous. And yet, this movie took off anyway and came to occupy a place all its own among the movie hits of 2017. Boosted by social media and word-of-mouth, Lady Bird soared. Along with Gerwig, much of the credit for the movie’s success went to Ronan, who had previously gained fame in another small movie that also took on a life of its own, 2015’s Brooklyn.

Sally Hawkins: Acclaim for the Year’s Most Challenging Movie Role

Sally Hawkins 'The Shape of Water' Photo

Sally Hawkins in 'The Shape of Water.'

In what might have been the most challenging role in any movie in 2017, Sally Hawkins played a mute woman who fell in love with a merman (the male version of a mermaid) in The Shape of Water directed by Guillermo del Toro. Hawkins not only had to learn American sign language and be fluent in it, but she reportedly had to learn the version of ASL that was prevalent in the 1960s, which is when the movie took place. And then she had to use her signing skills to express her love for this sea creature who resembled the creature from the black lagoon, the famed 1950s movie monster. Hawkins, a Golden Globe nominee for the role, was another of this year’s serious actors who seemed poised for award season acclaim as 2017 came to a close.

Never Surrender: Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill

Darkest Hour Winston Churchill Photo

Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in 'Darkest Hour.'

A number of actors have played Winston Churchill over the years, but Gary Oldman’s performance as the tough, irascible, inspiring British prime minister of World War II may have been the most widely praised of them all. The movie, Darkest Hour, depicted Great Britain on the eve of war with Nazi Germany and told the story of how Churchill, who became prime minister in May 1940, exhorted his people to stand firm and never surrender. In makeup and padding, Oldman immersed himself so thoroughly in the role that the actor seemed like a dead ringer for Churchill.

High Marks For a Skating Routine: Margot Robbie

Margot Robbie in 'I, Tonya' Photo

Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding in 'I, Tonya.'

The Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan story of 1994 occupied a rightful position right alongside the O.J. Simpson trial, the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal and other sensations of the 1990s. The Harding-Kerrigan story – in which Harding and her then-husband Jeff Gillooly tried to prevent her ice-skating rival, Kerrigan, from competing at the Olympics by hiring someone to attack her – is so well-remembered that anyone intending to play Harding in a movie faces a very tough challenge. Australian-born actress Margot Robbie was apparently up to it. Among other things, she prepared for the lead role in 2017’s I, Tonya by spending five months learning to skate, reportedly for four hours a day, five days a week. The work paid off. Robbie was widely praised for her performance and her skating came passably close to the skill once possessed by Harding, who was, after all, an Olympic-caliber ice skater.

Frances McDormand: Complex Character

Frances McDormand 'Three Billboards' Photo

Frances McDormand in 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.'

You might describe the character Frances McDormand played in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri as the movie’s heroine, but the character was a lot more complicated than that. She was bitter over the unsolved murder of her teenaged daughter so she leased a series of billboards outside this small Missouri town on which she excoriated the local police department. Though the character was driven by a noble cause, she was also irrational, stubborn, uncooperative and so convinced that she was in the right that she resorted to committing heinous criminal acts herself. Who better to play such a complicated woman than McDormand, who may have been one of the few American actresses with the skills necessary to take on a character this complex and make it work. The movie was another triumph for McDormand in a long career characterized by great performances.