Years from now, film critics will look back at the Fanning sisters and wonder how, out of all the child stars that came through Hollywood in the 2000s, the two of them managed to make it out unscathed. Unlike so many of their peers, Dakota and Elle Fanning have never been caught getting drunk, doing drugs, or really, even earning a bad movie review; instead, the sisters have consistently come across as intelligent, poised, and, dare we say it, even normal. Sure, Dakota, 20, is the only one to actually make it out of adolescence — Elle turns 16 today, April 9 — but judging from her track record so far, the younger Fanning sib (and new Marie Claire cover star) should have no problem spending the rest of her teen years following in her sister's trouble-free footsteps.
And if how she spent the first couple months of 2014 give any indication of what's to come, Fanning's next few years are off to a good start. In January, the actress premiered Low Down, a biopic about a jazz pianist, in Sundance to outstanding reviews. Although the film itself faced criticism, Fanning's "first-rate" performance was singled out, with reviewers showering praise on the "ever-impressive" actress' "heartbreaking" portrayal of a teenage girl struggling with her father's addiction issues.
Also premiering at Sundance was Young Ones , a dystopian Western featuring the actress as Mary, a teen struggling to survive in a drought-plagued state. Although critics lamented Mary's lack of plot and screentime, the film received generally good reviews for its innovative visuals and There Will Be Blood-esque themes.
Yet it's Fanning's upcoming slate that has us the most excited. With all the attention that's been focused on Angelina Jolie, it's easy to forget that she's not the only star of Maleficent , out in May. Fanning plays Aurora, the future Disney princess who suffers the wrath of the vengeful villain (Jolie) who fears the girl's growing power. With near-guaranteed blockbuster status, Maleficent will be Fanning's most prominent role to date, and a close relationship with Jolie definitely doesn't hurt her future box office potential.
And then there's The Boxtrolls, a stop-motion comedy set for release in September, in which Fanning voices one of the cave-dwelling, trash-collecting boxtrolls of the title. Yet unlike most big animated films coming out this year, The Boxtrolls is an indie, produced by Focus Features and starring a cast of well-known, but not superstar actors. In addition to Fanning, there's Game of Thrones' Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Ben Kingsley, Toni Collette and Simon Pegg; the only animation regular is Rio's Tracy Morgan. The Boxtrolls might do just as well as any animated film released by a major studio, but its indie cred fascinatingly sets it apart from the pack.
Add all this to the Marie Claire cover, which listed Fanning, alongside Lupita Nyong'o, Emilia Clarke, and two other up-and-comers, as a "Fresh Face," and the actress' 2014 is already pretty great. It's exciting to see Fanning's career go so well, especially considering that her every move is inevitably compared to that of her famous older sister. Both girls are talented, but as Dakota focuses on college, it's Elle who's finally getting the spotlight. Her performances in films like Somewhere and Super 8 may have gotten her out of her sister's shadow, but it won't be until this year, when Elle's four films hit theaters, that audiences will truly begin to see her talent as separate from Dakota's.
That said, the sister comparisons aren't totally bad; Dakota has handled her fame expertly, earning raves for indie dramas while cheerleading at football games and winning her high school's Homecoming Queen. If Elle's career does continue to follow the path of Dakota's, then both sisters can consider themselves the reigning child star champions of Hollywood.