Netflix—fresh off causing millions of viewers to lust over David Harbour’s dad bod in Stranger Things’ third season—on Tuesday is offering something that can be described only as Harbour-core. Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein is the actual title of a half-hour mockumentary about David Harbour, who plays himself, uncovering archival footage of his father (also played by Harbour) overseeing a disastrous play that unfurls other Harbour family secrets. Even for streaming standards, you’d have to consider this extremely niche programming.
But Harbour, of all actors, warrants the weird mockumentary treatment because he’s operating at the height of his powers. A longtime character actor, Harbour has in recent years transformed into a full-blown star—thanks in large part to playing Chief Jim Hopper on Stranger Things. (He also starred in the bloody but uneven Hellboy remake earlier this year, and will be in Marvel’s upcoming Black Widow prequel.) Whether he’s rocking Hopper’s patented dad bod, or, per one ebullient reporter, looking like a “shredded daddy” for Hellboy, Harbour has undeniably qualified as one of the biggest stars of 2019.
But is he riding the hottest hot streak of the year? Let’s revisit some other celebrities who’ve commanded the spotlight in 2019, detail how they did it, and ask whether their achievements stack up to the Shredded Daddy himself.
When not functioning as an unofficial spokeswoman for Juul or marrying a Jonas Brother in a Las Vegas wedding streamed on Diplo’s phone, Turner has been at the center of two of the biggest cultural properties on the planet: Game of Thrones and Marvel (courtesy of the X-Men entry Dark Phoenix). As our Annoying TV Kid Bracket—won by Sansa Stark’s former tormentor Joffrey Baratheon—demonstrated, it can be a big risk to give kid actors sizable TV roles, since not all child actors capably grow into their characters. Having been one of the approximately three people who watched The Americans, I can confirm that it was hilariously obvious how much they avoided putting young Henry Jennings on screen in later seasons.
But Turner superbly handled Sansa’s transformation from a naive princess into a hardened Northern ruler—a satisfying culmination for a character who endured more hardship than most people in Westeros. She and Arya Stark—played by Turner’s IRL best friend Maisie Williams—are perhaps the only characters who had solid arcs in the eighth season. Dark Phoenix, meanwhile, doubled down on Turner’s franchise star power and showcased her potential to play darker roles. Dark Phoenix and the final season of Thrones were relative disappointments, which does take some of the shine off Turner’s stellar year. But their shortcomings had nothing to do with Turner—so, please, chug some red wine at MSG, you’ve earned it.
Hotter Than Harbour? The Phoenix’s embers are still emitting a good amount of heat. Slight edge to Turner.
Lil Nas X
If you still haven’t heard Billy Ray Cyrus spit bars on “Old Town Road,” congratulations on avoiding all public places over the past four months. Lil Nas X’s ascendance in 2019 continued when his first EP was released in June, including yet another “Old Town Road” remix featuring Young Thug and Walmart yodeling legend Mason Ramsey (this is either the best or worst sentence you’ve ever read, depending on who you are).
The remixes (there have been two of them now, and lord knows how many more are on the way) are getting a bit unwieldy, but it’s hard to stay annoyed at Lil Nas X for capitalizing on his newfound fame, especially when he seems like a genuinely charming dude who’s had to deal with the country music genre’s attempts to reject him—which, blessedly, only elevated “Old Town Road” to its absurd, chart-breaking heights. He also continues to be one of the best meme-makers on the internet:
me when my label tells me i have to release songs other than new versions of old town road pic.twitter.com/9joAZRh9kB— nope (@LilNasX) May 25, 2019
You can continue to pretend “Old Town Road” isn’t a banger, or you can just strap in for the good vibes, partner.
Hotter Than Harbour? Lil Nas X took the top spot in The Ringer’s list of the best midyear moments in culture, so he’s still arguably riding the hottest streak on the planet. Any more Mason Ramsey content, though, and we’ll have to reconsider.
Keanu is beloved by the masses even as he shies away from the spotlight, a paradox that only adds to his enduring legend. This year all of his big projects converged in a compact time period. From a third John Wick movie to a cameo in Ali Wong’s Netflix rom-com to voicing a Canadian stunt toy in Toy Story 4 to being the star of a forthcoming cyberpunk-themed video game, the Keanussance has fully bloomed this summer.
What this period of activity has demonstrated—aside from that it’s always a good idea to pair him with puppies—is the versatility with which Keanu inspires ardent devotion. There’s not much of a through line among executing Boban via library book, telling Ali Wong “I missed your thighs,” and fretting over the rejection of a French Canadian child on Christmas morning, other than the fact that Keanu plays these character notes perfectly. Lest we think he’ll be gone for a while, well, that video game is coming out next year—and the dude just shaved his beard for the new Bill & Ted. Excellent!
Hotter Than Harbour? In John Wick 3, John Wick was shot off a building by Ian McShane—and all it did was really piss him off. Baba Yaga > Hopper.
Jeremy Renner (?)
It’s been so easy to make fun of Hawkeye, a certified Wife Guy who’s good with a bow and trapped inside a franchise where several heroes (and villains) have capabilities akin to nuclear weapons. Suffice to say, he’s a bit overmatched, and, therefore, the butt of a lot of MCU jokes. But Hawkeye’s tragicomic existence extends to the man who plays him, Jeremy Renner, who clearly doesn’t yearn for superherodom. He just wants to be a rock star.
Hawkeye might be going to Disney+ for a miniseries, but Renner’s heart is set on his emerging music career, which he’s shared with devout followers on the Jeremy Renner app—which has already claimed the souls of my colleagues Kate Knibbs and Danny Heifetz—and, for some reason, the “Summer of Jeep.” Inexplicably, being a serial murderer in a record-breaking Marvel movie has been the least interesting thing about Jeremy Renner this year. For those about to rock to Renner, we salute you (while also questioning your life choices).
Hotter Than Harbour? No, but I can’t stop jamming to “Heaven Don’t Have a Name,” and it’s becoming a problem.
If there was ever a sign that the erstwhile Disney star was primed to tackle more mature material, how about being the lead in a series that’s featured a historically large number of onscreen penises? HBO’s Euphoria, with its vested interest in teens living in the digital era, feels purposefully controversial. But the show’s gimmicky nature shouldn’t take away from Zendaya’s excellent performance, the highlight of the multifaceted roles she has embraced this year.
After a beguiling but all-too-brief turn in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Zendaya’s MJ returns in Far From Home with more to do, and (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!) she eventually harbors the secret that her classmate/crush Peter Parker is also Spider-Man. This MJ isn’t the prototypical Marvel love interest; she’s not gonna make out with Peter in the pouring rain as he hangs upside down. This MJ is more likely to gush about her fascination with the Black Dahlia murder. And on Euphoria, Zendaya has been the sweet center of an often-dark and devastating show. Even while playing Rue, a troubled, opiate-addicted teen, in countless hard-to-watch scenes, the actress remains magnetic.
Zendaya has become a breakout star, but has done so by picking roles that are slightly left of center (shout-out The OA Season 2) but seem quintessentially made for her. With an upcoming role in Denis Villeneuve’s Dune remake, Euphoria’s being renewed for another season, and more Spidey on the way, Zendaya’s hot streak might just be beginning.
Hotter Than Harbour? Since sloshing around in her own primordial pool, yes.
While Zendaya brings a charming weirdness to MJ, Holland imbues his take on Peter Parker with the spirit of a golden retriever. This summer he gushed about hanging out with Far From Home costar Jake Gyllenhaal while giving off serious “little brother just wants his big bro to notice him” energy. The duo’s banter on the Far From Home press tour almost—almost!—exceeds how fun Holland is as Parker in the film.
Holland is also notoriously bad at keeping Marvel state secrets—to the extent that the studio tells him as little as humanly possible, which also gives every press stop the potential to be must-see viewing. The biggest surprise is probably that Holland didn’t give anything major away before Far From Home dropped. Nevertheless, Holland—along with Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther and Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel—is being positioned as the future of the MCU, ensuring that his time in the spotlight is only just beginning.
At just 23, Pugh has already put together an impressively versatile résumé, with star-making turns in the AMC miniseries The Little Drummer Girl and Lady Macbeth among her early career highlights. (She was also pretty good in Outlaw King, though slightly overshadowed by the news that Chris Pine flaunted his penis, twice!) The Pugh-hive—the name I’ve bestowed upon those like me—has had even more reason to celebrate in 2019, beginning in February with the WWE biopic Fighting With My Family, in which she played the history-making WWE diva Paige.
But as fun as Fighting With My Family was, Pugh’s peak didn’t arrive until this month with Midsommar, Ari Aster’s sophomore feature about dirtbag boyfriends and a Swedish commune that is (minor spoiler alert) extremely into ritual sacrifice. Pugh’s Dani slowly embraces the community, known as the Hårga, who eventually put her in a position to (major spoiler alert) stuff her boyfriend’s immobilized body in a bear carcass and watch him get roasted alive. You know, classic breakup stuff. But Pugh’s performance is transcendent, capturing Dani’s evolving relationships with the Hårga and her cruddy boyfriend in all their terrifying and cathartic intimacy. Next, she’s got a leading role in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women still on the way, and she joins Harbour on the Black Widow movie that’s in production. Long may the May Queen reign.
Hotter Than Harbour? The sun literally doesn’t set on the Hårga during the summer solstice, so yes.