The Breakout Stars of Summer 2014

While many fans spent the summer taking time off, these actors worked their asses off to stand out from the crop of blockbuster films and reality TV, delivering something fun, fresh, and exciting. Not only were their projects hits in their own right, the actors themselves were breakouts and proved to be ones to watch for the rest of the year. From Obvious Child’s Jenny Slate to Billy Eichner, check out our picks for the biggest ones to watch come fall.

Jenny Slate

Thanks to her romantic dark comedy, Obvious Child, Jenny Slate finally graduated from TV guest star and former Saturday Night Live cast member to indie darling. The actress has been building buzz with her guest role on Parks and Recreation and now she has a project to celebrate that’s all her own.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw

The sleeper hit of the summer definitely belonged to Belle, which tells the story of an illegitimate mixed-race daughter of a Royal Naval officer. Gugu Mbatha-Raw shined in the title role winning the hearts of critics and fans alike. Her name may not be familiar now but more from her when her second film, Beyond the Lights, hits theaters in November.

Brenton Thwaites

With four films (The Giver, Maleficent, Oculus, and The Signal) out this year and another two on the way, Brenton Thwaites is 2014’s It Boy. And thanks to the high pedigree of his co-stars (Angelina Jolie, Laurence Fishborne, and Meryl Streep), the 25-year-old actor is making the right impression with Hollywood.

Ansel Elgort

Thanks to Divergent and The Fault In Our Stars — and let’s be honest, the appeal of Shailene WoodleyAnsel Elgort found himself leading the summer as the most buzzed about actor. Tom Cruise didn’t even have enough star power to topple TFIOS and that’s saying something.

Chris Pratt

Fans of NBC’s Parks and Recreation have been enjoying Chris Pratt’s dopey comedy for years but thanks to a dramatic transformation and a leading role in Guardians of the Galaxy, the actor from laughable dude to Hollywood stud. And considering he’s now a part of Marvel’s film universe, things can only go up.

Mackenzie Davis

After a number of standout small roles, Mackenzie Davis suddenly found herself co-starring alongside Daniel Radcliffe in What If, a millennial take on Rom-Coms. In addition to her big screen success, the young actress is part of AMC’s new period drama about the evolution of the computer, Halt and Catch Fire, which was just picked up for season two.

Nathan Parsons

After a couple of so-so years, True Blood was back in the news thanks to Luke Grimes, who quit the series after refusing to play gay opposite of Nelsan Ellis’ character Lafayette. In stepped Nathan Parsons, who not only out shined his predecessor but had no qualms about giving fans what they wanted before series end: a romance for Lafayette. And the two sure looked good on screen together.

Greg Poehler

Amy Poehler’s younger brother Greg found success this summer with the autobiographical sitcom, Welcome to Sweden. Sure it helped that his sister has Parks and Rec but he proved he wasn’t a sibling taking advantage of a family member’s success. The show’s been renewed for a second season.

Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox first popped last summer thanks to the surprise success of the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black. And things really exploded at the start of the summer thanks to hype surrounding the return of the issue and covers on both Time magazine and The Advocate. She made good on the hype with a first-ever Emmy nomination for a transgender actor.

Billy Eichner

Fans of the Fuse series, Billy on the Street, are already familiar with Billy Eichner’s grumpy, zany brand of comedy. However, everyone got a taste of him thanks to a recurring role on Parks and Recreation, which led to his own sitcom deal on USA, and even more buzz about BOTS. Oh did we mention he landed a book deal and a guest spot on the CBS series, The Millers? What did you do this summer?

It should be noted that four of these stars have some connection to Parks and Recreation. Oh, the great and wonderful power of Amy Poehler.

[Photo Credit: Getty Images]