2014 is almost over — but before we say goodbye, let's say "thank you" to the people who made this year way more awesome. Without these beautiful apes, superheroes and robots, we would have been left with a pretty crap year, overall. Here is our complete list of the best breakout stars of 2014.
Last year's notable winners included Nicole Beharie, Grant Gustin, and Tilikum, but here's our picks for 2014, in no particular order:
Pedro Pascal - Game of Thrones
Pedro Pascal waltzed away with our hearts as Game of Thrones' Oberyn Martell. The Prince of Dorne came and left too quickly. But while he was in Westeros, he delivered some of the very best lines of the entire season. From his monologue about his first time he met Tyrion Lannister to his exit, the work Pedro Pascal put into Oberyn has forever imprinted his face onto our hearts. We are all your Sand Snakes now.
Emily Bett Rickards - Arrow
Emily Bett Rickards (who plays Arrow's Felicity Smoak) starred in one of the best episodes of Arrow, ever. Not only was the episode itself bad ass, but Rickard's character is truly coming into her own right now. Felicity "makes stuff happen" for everyone on Arrow. And as the show grows, she's slowly becoming the the connective thread between everyone. Plus, she's absolutely amazing to watch. What a fantastic standout performance this year.
Toby Kebbell - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
In a perfect world Toby Kebbell and Andy Serkis would BOTH be nominated for Oscars for their work in Dawn of the planet of the Apes. But it was the horrifying work of Kebbell as the villainous ape Koba that really stood out as something fresh — and also downright horrifying. Just try and watch the Koba steals a gun scene without shivering. Kebbell brought out a lot of darkness from this character, and it was a delight to watch.
Jennifer Kent - The Babadook
This bad ass creator of the Babadook both wrote and directed this complete mind job of a horror movie. The Babadook is one of our top 10 best films of 2014 for so many reasons, but mostly due to the way elevated real-life anxieties to new levels. And that's due to Kent's writing and execution of her smart, edgy concept.
Chris Pratt - Guardians of the Galaxy, LEGO Movie
Image via Entertainment Weekly.
The one-shot comic Edge of the Spider-Verse had Gwen Stacy taking over all the Super Spider responsibilities, and it was fan-freaking-tastic. The off shoot was so beloved that the fictional song performed by Gwen's band The Mary Janes (and yeah the lead singer in the band is Mary Jane, Gwen plays some bad-ass drums) was recreated by the band Married with Seamonsters.
Melissa Suzanne McBride - Walking Dead
Never in a million readings would we speculate that the Walking Dead comic book character Carol could usurp Rick Grimes for the crown of "here's a ton of miserable shit you have to deal with." And dammit Carol handles her shit. She handles her shit all over the place. From delicately executing psychopathic children to doling out the Walker head-shots — if the sun goes down on humanity I want actress Melissa Suzanne McBride on my team. And she does it all with such grace and sincerity, it's almost impossible to believe that we're not all trapped in the same nightmare after being pulled into her world for a single hour.
George The Goldfish
George the house pet was so beloved that his keepers shelled out $200 to get his brain tumor removed, so he could have a longer, healthier life. That's some fish.
Key & Peele
Doing weird science fiction and fantasy sketches just right. From Stan Lee Pitches Superheroes For Senior Citizens, Do vampires really want to be sexy all the time, to Alien Apocalypse reveals humanity's only weakness (racism) there has rarely been a time that Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele's sketch show didn't make us laugh. And then there's the legendary "Aerobics Meltdown" short, which may be the greatest contribution to humanity in the form of a comedy bit.
Illustrator and writer Noelle Stevenson just ended her webcomic Nimona to major fanfare. On top of that she launched Lumberjanes which has become an instant darling among readers looking for funny stories about girls. Her work is beautiful and full of heart. All we want in 2015 is more Stevenson!
Image via Noelle Stevenson.
Tobias Menzies - Outlander
We could easily give the entire cast of Outlander a spot on this list. But Tobias Menzies work as (spoiler alert) both the nefarious Black Jack and future husband Frank is absolutely riveting. Even when he's at his worst (his very, very, very worst) it's still the best acting we've seen in years.
Shailene Woodley - Divergent
Divergent ass kicker actress Shailene Woodley showed up and made us all rethink that time we tattooed "J-LAW 4 EVA" across our chests. Woodley has this moon-child spirit that we're willing to water and wait and watch grow.
TARS - Interstellar
The only character of Interstellar who doesn't spend his or her entire screen time weeping into a camera lens. TARS the robot saves Interstellar from itself, and is truly the silver lining around the (very beautiful) black hole that was Chris Nolan's Interstellar. This robot's sass (and ability to translate exceptionally complicated life altering theories into morse code) brought warmth and heart to this space journey. Good job TARS (and good job voice of TARS Bill Irwin).
Finn Wittrock - American Horror Story
American Horror Story: Freak Show has been a bit of a mess. There's been plenty of hits, and plenty of misses but always lots and lots of singing. Thank goodness for the gorgeous baby-faced Dandy Mott (played by Finn Wittrock) or we would be bored to tears. This actor has recreated scene after scene of horror story homages, and always keeps the audience on their toes. He's the one true weird gem in a carnival full of freaks, and that's saying something. Second is Pepper — we love you Pepper.
Jorge R. Gutierrez - The Book of Life
Fresh, gorgeous animation! Thank heavens! Channeling imagery and storytelling from Dia de los Muertos long time animator Jorge R. Gutierrez created The Book of Life. And it was not only visually astounding, but also a movie that challenged the minds of children to think beyond the Disney world.
Iain De Caestecker - Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
After a so-so starter season, SHIELD is back on top and we think Iain De Caestecker had a lot to so with this spectacular new season. His character Fitz has become the MVP of SHIELD, playing a version of his super-geek character with brain injuries, who's struggling to keep contributing. His amazing pathos and intensity just elevates the whole show.
Sarah Koenig - Serial
Episodic podcast "Serial" has picked up the mantle of "that thing everyone commands friends to listen/watch/read right now." Executive producer and series host Sarah Koenig's exhaustive breakdown of the 15-year-old Baltimore murder case is not only popular, people's obsessions with the series is downright cult-like.
Russian Space Sex Geckos RIP
Five brave geckos were sent into space in hopes that there they would all get it on for science. They're all dead now. But they died as they lived, humping for a better world. Russian Space Geckos you truly are the heroes of the final frontier.
Image credit: Roscosmos.
Korrasami - Legend of Korra
This year had two seasons of the very best Korra plus the whole thing ended simply spectacular when long time friends Korra and Asami were seen heading off together hand-in-hand. And if you had any doubts, The Legend of Korra creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino confirmed our suspicions a few days after it aired. Korra and Asami ended as a couple. Love! (Update: and earlier version of this story had this section omitted unintentionally).
Kamala Khan was just a normal girl from Jersey City—until whammo, she gets super powers. Now possessed with great power, the Muslim teen takes on super villains and teenage life while shapeshifting her way to the top of the comic sales. Not only is this character a creative breath of fresh air, thanks to writer G. Willow Wilson and artists Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, but it's selling like hot cakes because the people love it. Thanks for the suggestion Lauren D. (Update: and earlier version of this story had this section omitted unintentionally).
Robin Lord Taylor - Gotham
Going full blown Oswald Cobblepot on Gotham. We love everything about this character in spite of those bangs. (Update: and earlier version of this story had this section omitted unintentionally).
But the biggest star of 2014 was simply weird stuff. The biggest film featured two CG characters (one that was a tree and the other a raccoon), a beloved movie that took a heartfelt look at the constraints of creativity was made entirely out of LEGOs (and it had a whole third dimension side plot), the indie hit The One I Love had a plot so weird the marketers refused to tell it to consumers. We sent Geckos into space to have sex with each other, FOR SCIENCE. Truly the crown of 2014 should be bestowed atop the oddly shaped head of Weird. Weirdness ruled the roost, and we loved it.
Additional reporting and writing from Lauren Davis, Charlie Jane Anders. Special thanks to Esther Inglis-Arkell and Dave Gonzalez.