Pop Culture’s Top 10 Movers and Shakers

(2021 Edition)


Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict’s been busy. Check out the British actor’s IMDb page, and you’ll find that he’s been involved in no fewer than eight productions this year.

What earns him a place on this list is twofold: One, he plays Doctor Strange in the year’s record-breaking blockbuster, Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Two, he’s likely the frontrunner for a Best Actor Oscar for playing a deceptively rough and rowdy Montana cowboy in The Power of The Dog. (Read our review before watching!)

Add his portrayal of the talented, eccentric cat aficionado Louis Wain, and you’ve got a one-year acting portfolio that perhaps even Meryl Streep would envy.

Hwang Don-hyuk

You won’t see Hwang in front of the camera much. But you’ve heard his work behind it.

The Korean director created Netflix’s runaway hit Squid Game—a show wherein adults compete in children’s games for money. And if they lose, they die.

Hwang intended the show as a critique of Korea’s class disparity when he wrote it back in 2009. Now it’s Netflix’s biggest hit ever, with more than 142 million homes streaming it at some point.

Curiously, and disturbingly, the ultraviolent show attracted a lot of children, too, many of whom replicated the scenarios on their own school playgrounds. (Thankfully without the blood and death.)

Frances Haugen

She’s not a household name like, say, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. But when she started talking, the woman nearly brought Facebook itself to its knees.

The social media whistleblower first spilled her secrets to The Wall Street Journal back in September—detailing Facebook’s controversial inner-workings in what the Journal dubbed “The Facebook Files.”

Backed by internal documents, she said that Facebook stoked controversy for more clicks, and it did nothing when even its own research found that Instagram was harming the mental health of young teens.

“The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook,” she said on 60 Minutes. “And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money.”

Halyna Hutchins

You’ve probably heard that Alec Baldwin accidentally shot and killed someone on the set of Rust. But you might not know the name of the victim—cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

I think the story serves as a tragic reminder of the power of celebrity. We see these stars, hear them, read about them. We feel, in some ways, like we know them.

But sometimes, that celebration of celebrity can overshadow humanity—where in a story like this, a life tragically ended, can feel like a footnote. It’s a reminder that each of us should be treated with equal dignity and importance in life and death.

Master Chief

The star of the Halo video game franchise is no newbie. He’s been shooting up screens for 20 years—before many Halo players were even born.

But it’s been six years since Halo 5 came out, so the release of the sixth game in the franchise—Halo Infinite—was greeted with big interest. (81 million copies were sold before it was even released.)

That translates to a $6 billion gross, which makes the much-ballyhooed first weekend take of Spider-Man: No Way Home ($680 million worldwide) look like couch-cushion change by comparison.

And for those who just can’t get enough Master Chief in their lives, Paramount+ announced this year that a Halo TV series is coming, too. (And yes, we’ll definitely be reviewing it.)

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Like a little music with your entertainment? Lin-Manuel Miranda has been doing his best to provide it.

This past year alone, he’s had his hand in Vivo (which he wrote, produced, made music for and starred in); In the Heights (a movie version of his first Broadway success);

Tick, Tick … Boom! (he directed that one) and Encanto (he helped write the screenplay and composed eight songs for, too).

(And, of course his creative opus, Hamilton, continues to stream on Disney+ as well.)

Elon Musk

“I admire anyone who is making a positive contribution to humanity, whether that is in entertainment or technology,” Musk told Time when the magazine chose him its Person of the Year.

He’s driving much of the conversation and technology regarding artificial intelligence. He’s pushing for something called the Hyperloop—essentially a combination between a subway and a vacuum tube that would shoot folks around at 700 miles an hour.

And—unusual for a businessman—Musk has become a celebrity in his own right, boasting 48 million followers on Twitter and a Saturday Night Live hosting gig to his credit.


Speaking of techno-visionaries, we meet one in Netflix’s The Mitchells vs. The Machines: Mark Bowman, the Mark Zuckerberg/Steve Jobs/Elon Musk-like creator of PAL, a phone-based AI system.

Alas, when Bowman’s set to replace his trusty ol’ PAL phone with a new, improved version, PAL takes offense … and decides to take over the world.

PAL represents the uneasy relationship many of us have with today’s near-magical technology. We love what our phones can do for us. But let’s be honest: They can kind of creep us out, too.

Olivia Rodrigo

The youngest person on this list, 18-year-old Olivia Rodrigo started her career in earnest on Disney+, starring in High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.

But a litany of successful singles and the release of her debut album, Sour, catapulted her off the small-screen and forced Time to dub her 2021’s Entertainer of the Year.

Her song “Driver’s License” was the No. 1 track streamed on Spotify this year (and another, “Good 4 U,” was No. 4), and she’s been nominated for seven Grammys.

But while her career’s cleaning up, her songs are none too clean. We’ll be watching her in the years to come, but so far, this former Disney princess is following an all-too-familiar trajectory.

Jessica Simpson

The singer/actor/celebrity posted a picture—a raw photo of herself without makeup, her face red after crying, taken in 2017—on Instagram to celebrate her fourth year of sobriety.

Simpson herself called the photo “unrecognizable.” She writes that “drinking wasn’t the issue. I was. … The real work that needed to be done in my life was to actually accept failure, pain, brokenness, and self-sabotage.”

Simpson, whose father was a Baptist youth minister, has increasingly talked about the influence of faith in her life. Her 2020 memoir Open Book talks transparently, and painfully, about lots of issues, from sexual abuse to struggles with substance abuse.

Who else should've made the cut?

Let us know on our blog, Facebook or Instagram!