10 Young Actors Who Should Be Our Next Action Stars

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Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, the fourth installment of the venerable action franchise, is in theaters now (well, sort of; they did this tiered release where it went to IMAX screens last Friday, but everywhere else on Wednesday, so if you’ve got an IMAX screen in your city, you can go see it there, but if not, later, and… yeah). When it was in pre-production last year, much ink was spilled over the casting of Hurt Locker star Jeremy Renner in one of the supporting roles, with speculation running rampant that the young actor was being groomed to take over the series’ leading role from producer/star Tom Cruise, who is, at 49, perhaps getting a touch long-in-the-tooth for all this running/fighting/climbing 100+ story building nonsense.

There does seem to be something of a dearth of young actors equipped to take over the action-hero mantle from folks like Cruise, Will Smith (43), Jackie Chan (57), and the stars of The Expendables. So we got to thinking about some of the twentysomething actors who we’d like to see take a shot at action stardom. Check out our picks after the jump, and add your own in the comments.

Kristen Bell

Hollywood has seldom dropped the ball the way they have with the lovely and talented Ms. Bell, who has spent the last several years appearing primarily in insipid comedies like When in Rome and You Again. Lest we forget, this terrific young actor first came onto our radar via the late, great Veronica Mars, where she played a hard-case junior PI with toughness and vulnerability. How hard is it to get from that show to a big-screen action vehicle? Make it happen, suits.

Donald Glover

It’s not just that we love Mr. Glover for his work on the heartily-endorsed Community; it’s that he also went and put out one of 2011’s best hip-hop records, causing thoughtful pop culture fans across the landscape to cock their heads slightly and ask, “Hey, I wonder what else that guy can do?” We’re willing to bet he could use his good looks and lickety-split comic timing to take over the kind of fast-talking action/comedy roles that Eddie Murphy and Bruce Willis used to do so well.

Keira Knightley

Ms. Knightley took a crack at an action lead before, but she unfortunately took it in Tony Scott’s wildly incomprehensible mess Domino. (Ditto her supporting performance in the unfortunate King Arthur.) Coming off a year of brilliant but intense performances, maybe the time is right for the knockout Brit to pull a Jolie and blow off some steam by strapping on a gun.

Michael B. Jordan

You may not know him by his name (at least not with the initial in the middle of it), but those who like good television will recognize the face of Michael B. Jordan, who went from Wallace on The Wire to Vince on Friday Night Lights to Alex on Parenthood — all roles that he has imbued with equal parts intelligence, sensitivity, and edge. We haven’t seen much that this young actor can’t do; some steel-jawed man of action work certainly seems within his impressive range.

Chloe Grace Moretz

This one’s a bit of a cheat, because Ms. Moretz has already shown herself capable of hardcore action work — she was the centerpiece of what was probably 2010’s best action sequence, Hitgirl’s taking of the tower in Kick-Ass. She’s been leaning towards more serious acting work in recent films like Hugo and Texas Killing Fields, and that’s fine; at a mere 14 years old, she’s got a couple more years for that stuff. But the action genre welcomes her back whenever she’s ready to give it another swift kick in the groin.

Daniel Radcliffe

The idea of Harry Potter playing an action hero may seem like a stretch — except that the last three or so Harry Potter movies were, basically, action movies (albeit ones with fantasy elements and decent characterization and all sorts of other good stuff too). And if slender, young, serious Radcliffe seems an unlikely action star, just remember how skeptical we all were about Matt Damon’s action chops before we saw The Bourne Identity.

Zachary Quinto

Quinto got plenty of opportunities to do big action scenes (or as big as they can do them on TV, anyway) during his time on Heroes, but he has yet to get the chance to work that muscle on the big screen — sure, he played Spock in Star Trek, but that character is about the brains rather than the brawn. With his feature film star on the rise after his acclaimed work as part of the ace Margin Call ensemble, we’d like to see some of that Sylar mojo in his upcoming roles.

Melonie Diaz

This electrifying young actress has also done a bit of TV action work, but most of her film roles (Be Kind Rewind, Hamlet 2, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints) have been light comedy/drama roles. She’s got a tough side, though, no doubt about it, and some savvy casting director had better see it soon too.

Hunter Parrish

We continue to be surprised that we haven’t seen more of this charismatic young actor during his downtime from playing Silas Botwin on Weeds; his film roles have mostly wasted his gifts, though he’s keeping busy this summer playing Jesus on the Broadway revival of Godspell. With his chiseled good looks and affability, we’d figure him an easy fit for the action genre.

Ezra Miller

We’re going to stretch the list a bit for this last entry, because Miller is too peculiar and fascinating a presence to convincingly due the straight-forward action hero thing. Instead, we humbly propose that, while the casting directors of Hollywood are grabbing ideas out of this list for their protagonists, they also consider Miller for a villainous role or two? He’s got the kind of ruthless intelligence and studied creepiness that Alan Rickman and Gary Oldman brought to their big-action villain turns; match him up against Jordan or Bell and we’ve already bought a ticket.

What about you? What up-and-comers would you like to see try on the action genre?