Countless big stars from the 1990s ended up fading into obscurity, going from household names to someone you vaguely recognize but can’t quite place. Many former ’90s stars made it big while they were quite young, and just never ended up succeeding in the entertainment industry as adults. Others were known for one particular show and could never shake their iconic role. Regardless of the reason, there are a lot of 90s stars that end up all but disappearing from Hollywood, going on to live plain, boring, regular lives.
However, there are a few exceptions, stars that managed to make it big and continue their fame and success for decades. Some stars on this list have remained in the spotlight pretty much continuously; others have taken a brief hiatus, stepped back for a period of time, and then returned in a blaze of glory.
When you think of former 90s stars, you probably have nostalgic memories of curly phony cords, scrunchies, high-waisted pants, and those sweet, sweet tunes they were always playing in the background. While the stars on this list all got a taste of that fame, they’re also still strutting their stuff on the red carpets today.
Here are ten 90s stars who are still relevant today.
10. Neil Patrick Harris
Though in real life he’s in a loving, committed partnership with adorable children, basically everyone associates Neil Patrick Harris with his Casanova character on How I Met Your Mother, the one and only Barney Stinson.
His quick wit in real life and masterful portrayal of the womanizer on screen have earned him countless fans. However, it’s not his first big role on a television series: when he was much younger, he played the genius Doogie Howser on Doogie Howser, M.D. The show ran for four seasons, and while some may have let that success define their career, Harris hustled for countless small roles and guest starring appearances until finally landing Barney.
9. Leonardo Di Caprio
Nowadays, everyone knows Leonardo DiCaprio as that guy who dates a lot of models, and that guy who’s never won an Oscar despite being pretty well received in Hollywood (sorry to rub salt in your wounds, Leo!).
However, he definitely isn’t new to the Hollywood scene – he was one of the biggest 90s heartthrobs. DiCaprio got his start doing small roles on television series, including Growing Pains, and he shot into superstardom after playing incredible challenging roles in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and The Basketball Diaries. His notoriety thanks to those roles led him to snag the title gig of Romeo in Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo + Juliet alongside Claire Danes.
The real role that solidified his ’90s fame? A certain lovable artist by the name of Jack Dawson in Titanic. DiCaprio has gone on to several complex roles, but the ’90s girl in all of us will always hold nostalgia for that moment where Jack is on the nose of the ship shouting that he’s “the king of the world!”
8. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
An actor by the name of Joseph Gordon-Levitt proves that you can definitely hold out hope for a swan-like transformation from average teen to mega-hot superstar. When he was trying to break into the entertainment industry, Gordon-Levitt had a series of small parts on various television shows and T.V. movies, but he was catapulted into superstardom playing the floppy-haired Tommy Solomon on television series 3rd Rock From The Sun.
After that show wrapped, he took a small hiatus from Hollywood before bursting back onto the scene to star in hits like 500 Days of Summer, Inception, 50/50 and more. He’s a multi-talented star who can sing, act, and who knows what else – he’s definitely one of Hollywood’s A-List, and shows no signs of fading away.
7. Julia Roberts
Julia Roberts is still such a big, A-List name today that you may have forgotten her fame in the 1990s. Roberts started out the decade with what remains her most iconic role to date – a lovable prostitute named Vivian Ward in 1990s hit Pretty Woman.
The role absolutely launched her career, and she went on to star in countless movies throughout the decade including Notting Hill, Runaway Bride, Stepmom, My Best Friend’s Wedding and more. Who knew that playing a call girl could end up transforming you into one of the 90s’ biggest rom com names?
6. Alyson Hannigan
Alyson Hannigan was huge in the late ’90s – after a series of small guest starring roles on television shows and in made-for-TV movies (anyone sense a common theme for ’90s stars? Guess that was the way to make it back then!) she ended up landing a role in popular series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She played Willow Rosenberg, who rose from a meek side-kick to an ass-kicking, powerful woman, and consequently cemented her status amongst Hollywood’s players.
During Buffy’s run, she also snagged a role in teen movie American Pie, telling audiences around the world about that one time at band camp. Though Buffy wrapped in 2003, many consider it a ’90s show – after all, just look at those clothes! However, only two years after finishing up one successful television series, Hannigan managed to land a role on another hit series – a comedy this time, How I Met Your Mother. She played the lovable shopaholic Lily Aldrin for nearly a decade.
5. Christina Applegate
Applegate spent basically the entire decade playing the infamous Bundy family’s eldest daughter, Kelly, on the hit comedy series Married With Children. Applegate perfected the role of a giggling, rebellious, boy-obsessed teen, and she did it so well that a lot of actresses playing bimbo characters in Hollywood today might very well look back to the ’90s to see how it was done.
After playing a teen for so many years, Applegate had some growing up to do, and went on to star as the female lead in several other comedy series including Jesse, Samantha Who?, and Up All Night, all while snagging roles on the silver screen.
4. Mayim Bialik
Though she had several other small roles throughout the ’90s, Mayim Bialik was known for her lead role in one particularly iconic ’90s series – she played Blossom Russo on the series Blossom, which centered on the young teen adjusting to life with her father and brothers when her mother leaves to pursue her own dreams.
Bialik spent five years playing the character she has become so closely associated with, and after the show wrapped in 1995, she took a bit of a step back. Sure, she still had some small roles, but a large majority of them were voice-overs for cartoons. Simply put, when people saw her name, they only thought of Blossom.
In 2010, she changed that by landing the role of Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler on comedy hit The Big Bang Theory. Now, everyone knows Bialik’s name, since she’s on screens around the world grappling with the infamous Sheldon Cooper and holding her own. Oh, and amidst her ‘lull,’ she managed to get a Ph.D, so… girl was pretty busy!
3. Mario Lopez
Forget Edward and Jacob – in the 1990s, there were two options for teenage girls, and it was a serious decision. You were either a Zack or a Slater. Mario Lopez shot into superstardom playing the sometimes chauvinistic, always charming, incredibly handsome wrestler A.C. Slater on hit series Saved by the Bell.
He’s still a huge name in the entertainment industry, although his focus has switched a bit. While he still gets acting roles, he’s primarily known as being the never-aging hot host on shows America’s Best Dance Crew and Extra. However, in case you’re missing your dose of Slater, no fear – Jimmy Fallon did us all a solid and had a fun little SBTB throwback on his show a few months ago.
2. Claire Danes
Let’s be honest – every single girl who grew up in the ’90s wanted to be Angela Chase from My So-Called Life. The cult series only ran for two years, but it shot Claire Danes into stardom – we all wanted a killer red bob, and we all wanted Jordan Catalano. Danes cemented her role as a ’90s star by appearing alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, playing the other half of the iconic star-crossed lovers.
She had a few quiet years in between, but no one would would argue she isn’t an A-Lister today. Her portrayal of Carrie Mathison on hit series Homeland has audiences around the world hooked on their television screens every week, waiting to see what will happen next.
1. Will Smith
If it weren’t for the tell-tale ’90s wardrobes, you’d never be able to tell that Will Smith was a ’90s star – the man never ages! However, that familiar theme song about a certain life being flip-turned upside down will have every ’90s kid dancing in their seats, and that’s all because of a certain Will Smith.
Smith played the title role in sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air from 1990 to 1996, treating us all to his ’90s outfits, dance moves and catch phrases. However, he definitely didn’t retire from the game after the show wrapped – he went on to star in films like the Men in Black franchise, Ali, Hitch, The Pursuit of Happyness and more. He’s taken on genres from comedy to drama and his career shows no sign of slowing down – he’s every bit as relevant today as he was with his iconic hairstyle in the ’90s.