Scene Stealers 2023
Here are 10 of the year’s best supporting performances across television and film.
In a year chock-full of splashy starring vehicles, 2023 was surprisingly kind to the little guys. Some of the year’s biggest blockbusters boasted ensemble casts the size of football teams, a practice made cool again with the help of Barbie and Oppenheimer. Though their title characters will inevitably take some of the spotlight, a handful of the year’s most talked-about performances came from actors who made the most of their limited screen time.
At the end of each year, Inverse looks back on the performances that stuck with us long after the credits rolled, and the actors who stole the show without top billing. From internet boyfriends to Oscar winners and relative unknowns, these 10 scene stealers each surpassed conventional expectations, delivering performances that went beyond what they were given on the page.
Here are the best scene stealers of 2023, ranked.
10. Lizze Broadway, Gen V
Like many in the Gen V ensemble, Lizze Broadway’s Emma represents a certain intersection of teen trauma. She’s essentially Ant-Man if he had to induce vomiting to get small and binge to get big. Emma’s character allowed the series to explore the nuances within a decades-long debate about disordered eating — but that’s not the only thing that makes Emma interesting.
Emma goes through a lot in Gen V’s eight episodes. Her character is marked by trauma, but that’s what makes Broadway’s buoyant, tender performance that much more rewarding. We don’t root for her because she’s the most powerful supe at Godolkin University. We do so because she might just be the most realized, the most “human.” Whether she’s shrinking down to the size of a Polly Pocket to crawl through a combatant’s brain tissue or coaching a character like Sam (Asa Garmann) through an impromptu mental breakdown, it’s impossible to take your eyes off of Emma. That she can inspire empathy though it all proves that there’s yet some hope (and tons of humor) in the endlessly hopeless Boys universe.
9. Hong Chau, Poker Face
Poker Face is predicated on a strong sense of justice. As one of the few detective shows still following Columbo’s “howcatchem” structure, amateur detective Charlie (Natasha Lyonne) needs to feel some sense of responsibility to the victims she encounters on her journey. But something unique happens in Episode 2: Charlie strikes up an impromptu rapport with Hong Chau’s Marge, an off-the-grid drifter who’s later framed for the episode’s central murder.
Charlie attempts to solve the case sheerly out of loyalty to Marge. Their connection, while initially a little weird, boasts a warmth that rarely blossoms at rest stops in the middle of nowhere. Of course, there’s awkwardness there, too: it’s clear that Marge hasn’t really connected with anyone after years of life on the run. But Chau balances her instinct to protect with some hilariously zany doomsday prepping. We don't see Marge again after she’s arrested for murder, but Chau leaves enough of an impression to ensure that you’re thinking about her throughout Poker Face’s second episode — and rooting for Charlie as she risks it all to clear her name.
8. Margot Robbie, Asteroid City
Few people could have sold Asteroid City’s understated climax like Margot Robbie. The Barbie star makes a surprise cameo in Wes Anderson’s soulful sci-fi, appearing briefly as an actor cut from the titular play-within-the-film (yet still remembers the bulk of its pivotal scene by heart). She recites it back to Jason Schwartzman’s Jones Hall word-for-word, inadvertently reminding him of his character’s motivation. She slips in and out of her role seamlessly, parroting lines back to Jones with a subtlety and tenderness that delivers the film’s major gut punch — and all while dressed in gaudy, Elizabethan garb.
Robbie is the vessel through which Anderson's thesis is conveyed. She represents the emotional crux of Asteroid City that was, ironically, cut for time. Robbie alone must sell this moment. It’s not only necessary for Jones, but for an audience that will never see that scene fully realized, yet need to experience some kind of catharsis before the credits roll. Robbie embodies that catharsis with an elegant balance of restraint and warmth, becoming the perfect personification of Anderson’s nebulous study on grief.
7. Shamier Anderson, John Wick: Chapter 4
If John Wick: Chapter 4 is about the next generation, then Shamier Anderson makes a compelling case as the new face of the saga thanks to his disarming presence, a few well-timed quips, and his lovable canine sidekick. In a film chock-full of martial arts legends, B-movie action stars, and even a Brit-pop princess, Anderson’s Tracker is but one of many potential scene-stealers. But it’s Tracker that brings the world of Wick back down to earth. Anderson’s charm, paired with a bit of desperate grit, makes his out-of-depth everyman much more than some fish out of water. His trial-by-fire descent into a high-end world of assassins mirrors a John Wick origin story we never got to see. It’s a fitting reminder that this franchise has always belonged to the outsiders: if Keanu Reeves is truly walking away from the franchise, then he has the perfect successor in Anderson.
6. Olivia Colman, The Bear
The Bear is not a show for the faint of heart. The breakout series is a blistering cycle of mania and distress: for every moment of contemplation, there’s an hour-long dive into a character’s fractured psyche. As a story tasked with exploring the crippling, cutthroat world of fine dining, that gauntlet of emotion isn’t unexpected — and The Bear, at least, does offer moments of respite when we need them most. Sometimes they come with surprising cameos attached, like Olivia Colman’s appearance in the Season 2 episode “Forks.” Colman stars as Chef Terry, the enigmatic boss of “the best restaurant in the world,” where Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) briefly interns.
Their exchange is brief, but she breaks down Richie’s walls of pride and fear of abandonment quicker than anyone ever has. They connect over shared experiences while peeling mushrooms, of all things: Terry admits that she was once just like Richie, brash and prideful and mad at the world. It surprises us as much as it does him, but that might be the very thing that inspires real change in Richie. It’s not hard to believe he would turn his life around after just a week at Terry’s restaurant, and that’s all a tribute to Colman’s disarming warmth. Who wouldn’t gain a new perspective on life after peeling mushrooms with her for five minutes?
5. Regé-Jean Page, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
In Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, Regé-Jean Page plays Xenk, a self-righteous, scene-stealing force that the actor later described as a “cautionary tale” against “min-maxing your character” in a roleplaying game. Even with only a passing familiarity with D&D, a straight-man like Xenk should be hilariously familiar. Page makes a meal out of a role that easily could have been forgotten. His appearance in Honor Among Thieves is short-lived — he swoops in at the second act to guide the established party on a perilous side quest, only to dip the moment the dust settles — but the Bridgerton alum is far from forgettable.
If nothing else, you’ll be thinking of Xenk traipsing into the sunset (in an infallibly straight line, jumping over boulders without a break in pace) for endless campaigns to come. In a film chock full of solid performances, Page’s is a critical hit, if only because he’s able to pull so many laughs from such a brief supporting role.
4. Daniel Kaluuya, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
In a multiverse movie packed with variations of the same character, it’s a miracle that anyone in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse stands out from the pack. The film belongs to Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) and Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) above all, but some attention inevitably must go to Hobie Brown (Daniel Kaluuya), aka Spider-Punk.
Once the mohawked web-slinger swings in to aid Miles and Gwen in their fight against the Spot (Jason Schwartzman), it’s impossible to ignore his charms. So much of that comes from Kaluuya’s irrepressible skill as an actor, but the work that went into his character design and animation can’t be discounted either. Perhaps more than any of the Spider-People, Hobie embodies the patchwork style of this multiverse the best. He is all about anarchy, after all, so he clearly takes pride in standing out. And at the end of the day, that’s what makes him one of the most exciting Spideys we’ve seen in a long time.
3. David Krumholtz, Oppenheimer
When Cillian Murphy’s J. Robert Oppenheimer first encounters Isidor Isaac Rabi (David Krumholtz), it’s instantly clear he’s made a friend for life — even if Oppie himself takes advantage of that notion later. Their rapport is more than a little one-sided, but Krumholtz is such an evocative, endearing performer that you don’t mind how much he’s carrying the conversation. The actor conveys so much with a wistful smile or a shrug. And when he sheds a single tear over the nebulous consequences of nuclear warfare, it carries the same devastating weight as the threat of Oppenheimer’s inventions.
Everyone in Nolan’s biopic makes a blistering impression, but Rabi is the rare gentle soul in an ensemble full of callous peacocks and collateral damage, the humanity that this meditation on death and destruction needs to offset the balance. Krumholtz understood his assignment perfectly. Even amongst the existential dread of a world on fire, you’ll be thinking about his pleas to get Oppenheimer to eat whenever possible.
2. Ray Stevenson, Ahsoka
Few Star Wars projects have produced as checkered an output as Ahsoka. At best, it was an interesting experiment, one that slotted a few surprises into an occasionally hollow trip down memory lane. One of those surprises — and the most welcome by far — came in the form of Baylan Skoll, a mercenary played to perfection by the late Ray Stevenson.
The mystery surrounding the character was part of his appeal, but as Ahsoka chugged along, it became a frustrating sticking point. So little is revealed about Baylan across the series’ eight episodes: his past, his motivations, and his plan are never explicitly disclosed, and yet he remains Ahsoka’s most compelling character by far. That has so much to do with the dignity and pathos that Stevenson brings to the role.
Baylan is an imposing character, one that kills at will and serves the series’ villains without question. But Stevenson’s studied, knightly presence also brings some much-needed nuance to the binary between Jedi and Sith, and the hypocrisy driving each dogma. Knowing Stevenson won’t be able to continue that thread is more than a little heartbreaking, but what little time we spend with Baylan is an honor in itself.
1. Keivonn Woodard & Lamar Johnson, The Last of Us
Fate plays an interesting role in HBO’s The Last of Us: As we learn throughout the heart-breaking series, it’s very rarely kind. That truth might hit the hardest with the introduction of Henry (Lamar Johnson) and his young brother Sam (Keivonn Woodard). The pair are endearingly inseparable, not unlike the series’ central duo. They’re a perfect foil to Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey), particularly in the way they personify the series’ central thesis: how far would you go to protect the one you love?
Johnson and Woodard carry this thread with raw, captivating simplicity. That Sam, who is deaf, needs Henry to survive this zombie apocalypse, isn’t a surprise. Showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann changed certain aspects of the character to make him more reliant on Henry — but whenever Henry communicates with Sam in ASL, whether they’re alone or with Joel and Ellie, it’s clear he depends on him just as much. They’re at once fully formed individuals and entirely indivisible; that’s what makes their ultimate demise so unbelievably devastating, and Johnson and Woodard’s joint performance such a harrowing high point.