Five Actors’ Siblings We Secretly Like Better

We fuel the fire of Hollywood’s sibling rivalries.

By Kristin Hunt

If Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that celebrity siblings are coattail-riding hacks who, much like your couch-surfing stoner friend, will never go away. But sometimes, out of the ashes of a laughable child star or dense pretty boy’s career rises a sibling with far more promise and/or talent. In honor of Olsen-twin sister Elizabeth Olsen's starring role in the critically acclaimed Martha Marcy May Marlene, here are five actors' siblings we secretly like better.

1. Elizabeth Olsen

For a while, being the younger sister of the Olsen twins was kind of like being the fifth Beatle: everyone was intrigued by the concept, but few actually acknowledged your existence. No one paid any mind to Elizabeth Olsen when she popped up in a few of her mogul sisters’ shorts, like Adventures of Mary Kate and Ashley: The Case of the U.S. Space Camp Mission. Unsatisfied with space-camp life, Elizabeth opted to go the non-traditional route and actually study acting before making any movies herself. Degrees in hand, she acted in three movies set for 2011 release: Silent House, Peace, Love and Understanding, and Martha Marcy May Marlene, which has already nabbed a Sundance award. If that weren’t a strong enough debut, her projects slated for 2012 boast costars like Dustin Hoffman, Peter Sarsgaard, and Allison Janney, all of whom provide a tad bit more prestige than Dave Coulier. Also working in her favor? No Wal-Mart clothing line.


2. Casey Affleck

The late ‘90s and early ‘00s were all about Ben Affleck. He vividly brought Michael Bay’s explosion porn films to life in blockbusters like Armageddon and Pearl Harbor. But by the time Gigli came out, the world was getting pretty tired of his ubiquity, his acting style, and the infuriating portmanteau he shared with Jennifer Lopez. It was around this time that people started noticing Casey Affleck, then in the middle of the Ocean’s Eleven franchise. The younger Affleck went on to upstage Brad Pitt in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and helped launch Ben’s directing career by anchoring Gone Baby Gone. Oh, and his own directorial debut? The much-buzzed about I’m Still Here.


3. Elle Fanning

In her child-star days, Dakota Fanning seemed hell-bent on grabbing universal adoration, or at the very least an Oscar, for her cloying, look-how-damn-precocious-I-am roles in everything from The Cat in the Hat to Uptown Girls. Then Dakota went from child star to teen star and decided Twilight was her best career move. Luckily, her little sister Elle came along and showed the world that one Fanning was capable of varied, interesting, and non-hammy acting, even in her preteen days. As of this year, Elle has already worked with David Fincher, Sofia Coppola, and Cameron Crowe. She even has a freaking Vivaldi biopic in the works. So Papa and Mama Fanning, please stop making this girl tell reporters Dakota is her favorite actress. She’s earned her keep.


4. Kieran Culkin

Considering that image of Macaulay Culkin doing his best Edvard Munch was the unofficial Culkin family crest for a solid decade, it’s a wonder his younger brother Kieran ever made a single movie. But after toiling in random bit roles for the better part of the ‘90s, he achieved some serious indie cred through the back-to-back successes of The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys and Igby Goes Down. Then he pretty much stole Scott Pilgrim vs. the World from Michael Cera and co. with his hilarious playboy roommate role. We should’ve known this guy was the best Culkin from his very first sip of Pepsi in Home Alone.


5. Jesse Eisenberg

Jesse Eisenberg is the only actor on this list who's achieved the stunning feat of besting a younger, cuter sibling. Long before Jesse was tossing out Aaron Sorkin’s bon mots, his little sister Hallie Kate was dominating small screens everywhere as that adorable, dimpled Pepsi girl. But as much as we might have enjoyed her Godfather impression or that wholly unnecessary Miracle Worker remake, Jesse’s roles in The Squid and the Whale and The Social Network are a little more nuanced. Plus, despite his seemingly uptight persona, he still manages to make the occasional zombie comedy, or hilarious Conan cameo.

Commentarium (46 Comments)

Oct 18 11 - 12:24am

I see there's little note of Casey Affleck's would-be star turn in The Killer Inside Me, perhaps because it was awful. And coyly referring to I'm Still Here as "buzzed about" fails to note that the buzz was mostly "Oh God, what the fuck is this?" and "Are we supposed to take this shit seriously?" I'm not convinced the guy is much of an actor or a director.

Oct 18 11 - 2:15am

I gotta agree with the pick of Casey Affleck. And probably with Elizabeth Olsen because, sight unseen, heck, you'd have to.
It's a little early for a call on the Fannings, and you're really not going to blame Dakota for "Cat in the Hat," are you? She's not the reason it sucked. But I was amazed by Elle way back in "The Door and the Floor," when she was just a little kid.
Neither of the Eisenbergs enchants me. Jesse has his obvious limits, I'm not predicting a long career. As to the Culkins, on that one, Nerve is just wrong.

Oct 18 11 - 7:46am

Elle. I really liked her in Phoebe in wonderland. that was such a good film. She looks alot like her sister in the photo they chose though..

Oct 18 11 - 10:17am

You missed Matt / Kevin Dillon.

Oct 18 11 - 1:32pm

No Maggie Gyllenhaal love?

Oct 20 11 - 12:10am


Oct 18 11 - 2:02pm

Eric over Julia.

Oct 19 11 - 1:55pm


Oct 18 11 - 2:15pm
don't forget

yes on the Rick over Julia. Also: Chris over Sean (Penn, of whom I was reminded of in the "dance scenes" article in this issue).

Oct 18 11 - 5:04pm

Chris was not better than Sean. That's just silly

Oct 18 11 - 2:30pm

Eric Roberts has always been underrated due to his need to be in every crap film he ended up in. However, he is a way more interesting actor than his superstar sister. Let's hope he gets a role that will put him back in the spotlight like what "The Wrestler" did for Mickey Rourke. Check out Mickey and Eric in "The Pope of Greenwich Village". Genius.

Oct 18 11 - 4:02pm

what about all the Baldwins ?

Oct 19 11 - 8:55pm

It's too obvious that Alec wins

Oct 20 11 - 10:07am

Stephen all day long over the nut job Alec

Oct 21 11 - 1:12pm

Harpo Baldwin, obviously.

Oct 18 11 - 4:51pm

Come on nerve, don't just put a pop spin on articles that the Times published three days ago....

Oct 18 11 - 4:53pm

On a whole I dislike Ben Affleck. there is something about Casey that I like, he seems a little twisted, maybe slightly damaged in an interesting way and yeah and more intelligent. Ben has but totally my intellectual inferior.

Oct 18 11 - 8:26pm

one of my favorite entertainment journalists. love it!

Oct 18 11 - 8:42pm
el profe

Elle and Dakota Fanning are both talented.

I must also say that Eric Roberts is better than Julia Roberts in every way conceivable, even with his terrible film choices.

Oct 19 11 - 2:02pm

Like Zeprin said, Eric over Julia.
Randy over Dennis Quaid (even though he's batshit now)
Joan over John Cusak (by a nose)
Marlon over Damon and Keenan if only for his portrayal in Requiem for a Dream

Oct 21 11 - 2:04am

Marlon's okay but I prefer Damon Jr. Did you see The Other Guys? That kid's going places.

Oct 19 11 - 4:05pm

Although I do not agree with this list, it was pretty interesting to see others views on it.

Oct 19 11 - 4:17pm

Robin Lively ("Teen Witch", "The Karate Kid, Part III") and her little half-sister, Blake. I'll leave it up to everyone to decide who's better.

Oct 22 11 - 10:46am


Oct 19 11 - 9:01pm

Jason over Justine (Bateman)

Oct 19 11 - 9:10pm

I had never seen her in anything before, but Oh My God does Jesse Eisenberg sister look like him! Especially his Hasid character in Holy Rollers...

Oct 23 11 - 3:49am

hey hallie was in that movie with him!
i really like their brother/sister relationship. jesse always talks about her in a positive way in interviews and commentaries.

Oct 20 11 - 3:26pm

Good article but I love the comments. I'm so happy that I'm not the only person that prefers Eric over Julia. I would watch Eric's worst movie over anything Julia is in.

Oct 20 11 - 5:02pm

Dave Franco over James

Oct 21 11 - 2:09am

So true about Eric vs. Julia. Back in the 80's I never could figure out her appeal. I mean she wasn't especially talented. And she was never anything special to look at. Even now I am confounded by her fame. She's like a lady Kevin Costner.

Oct 25 11 - 12:49am

holy crap. i am constantly saying that kevin costner must have made a deal with the devil. he acted the same in ALL his movies, and people were amazed by him. like. wts!?

Oct 21 11 - 12:02pm


Oct 21 11 - 1:12pm

yyyyyyy is totally better than zzzzzzzz.

Oct 21 11 - 12:50pm

shoot......Casey upstaged Ben in "Good Will Hunting"

Oct 21 11 - 1:27pm

Always preferred Chad over Rob Lowe.

Oct 21 11 - 5:15pm

Emily is way better and cooler than Zooey..............

Oct 21 11 - 5:23pm

Pablo Schreiber over a six pack (of abs, if you saw "Desire Under the Elms" on Broadway)

Oct 21 11 - 10:09pm

why no rory culkin love?

Oct 22 11 - 8:57pm
Sean H.

I'm glad that James Franco's cute younger brother has emerged just as the older Franco is getting fat and going crazy.

Oct 23 11 - 11:50pm

owen wilson or luke wilson??? hmmmmm

Dec 22 11 - 4:14am

luke. he's actually likeable, and for all his behind the camera work.

Oct 24 11 - 3:12pm

Emily. For the win. Bones is so much hotter than the "new" girl

Oct 25 11 - 11:56am


Oct 25 11 - 11:56am

You can't judge Dakota for making one terrible choice in an otherwise stellar career. She's amazing as Cherie Curry in The Runaways. It's too bad the horrendous Kristen Stewart is in it too, but you should watch it for Dakota.

Aug 15 12 - 6:36pm

Rooney Mara and Kate Mara? Zooey Deschanel and Emily Deschanel?

Aug 21 12 - 5:03pm

Solange Knowles over Beyonce.