Apparently the market share of talented, onscreen eye candy who made it big in the 90’s owe their careers to Nickelodeon, the WB, CW (or whatever the Warner-owned channel calls itself these days), and Aaron Spelling. Whether by theater projector or boob tube antennae, 1990’s culture was actually quite fertile ground for the ambitious actress. Gender roles, typecasting, and other ever-present, ‘Debbie Downer’ issues aside, the 15 women listed here all eventually reached a level of creative freedom and financial stability, but not solely on their talents as actors and entertainers; their good looks played an undeniable role in their rise to success.
While it is true that not every actress listed is technically retired or out-of-work, it is also true that none of these women have been in anything as notable, critically acclaimed, or well-received as the work that propelled them to the heights of their fame and influence. These actresses are by no stretch of the imagination washed up, nor did any who explicitly retired leave the industry on dishonorable terms. These are just 15 of the most attractive and popular actresses of the 90s, with no judgment as to their career choices.
15. Calista Flockhart
Calista Flockhart‘s acting career started on the edge of the 90’s with an ’89 TV appearance as a baby sitter on dramatic series Guiding Light and onstage performance, alongside another actress on this list, Melissan Joan Hart. She still worked in obscurity for years, small parts here and there, but with 1998’s The Practice, the Midwest-born actress scored her most memorable role as uncertain and awkward but highly capable eventual-lawyer, Ally McBeal. The character struck such a chord with viewers that Calista was able to round out the decade pre-Y2K with a hit spin-off named for her most endearing character.
14. Leelee Sobieski
Liliana “Leelee” Sobieski reached the height of recognition for her acting chops in the last two years before Y2K, though her career started mid-1990 with a string of TV movie and series appearances on now classic but forgotten shows like comedienne Brett Butler’s Grace Under Fire, News Radio (starring Joe Rogan, Andy Dick, and the late, great Phil Hartman), and a one month, nine-episode stretch as title character Charlie Grace’s daughter, Jenny, on ABC. It was her acting in the disaster flick Deep Impact and as Joan of Arc in the 1999 TV mini-series retelling of the French knight’s story.
13. Linda Fiorentino
Between 1991 and 1997, Linda Fiorentino landed a starring role in at least two decently received films a year, yet many readers will have trouble placing her name and face. If you were a moviegoer last millennium you saw this husky voiced actress in Kevin Smith’s Dogma, in Will Smith-vehicle Men In Black, in Unforgettable opposite Ray Liotta, or starring in The Last Seduction with Bill Pullman. Unlike Bill, who will be reprising (in Independence Day: Resurgence) his popular role as US President Whitmore from 90s sci- fi classic Independence Day, Linda stopped acting back in 2007.
12. Terri Conn
Theresa “Terri” Conn’s last on-air appearance in anything of note came four years ago, back in 2012; a guest spot on one episode of 30 Rock. The Indiana-born actress entered the entertainment industry in much the same way, through small, one- or two-episode roles on big network sitcoms and soaps, and for the latter half of the 90’s continually found work on such hit shows as The Young and the Restless, Step By Step, Breaker High, and 7th Heaven. Conn closed out the decade as Katie Peretti on As The World Turns, for which she eventually filmed over 1,300 episodes.
11. Mackenzie Rosman
Mackenzie Rosman is another 7th Heaven alumnus, though her 236 credited episodes as, Ruthie Camden, youngest of the hit TV drama’s seven namesake children, greatly overshadows Terri Conn’s single appearance on the series. Rosman coincidentally turned seven years old during 7th Heaven‘s first season; the budding young actress essentially came into to her own as a performer and a young woman on network television. Her acting credits have been sparse in the new millennium, and she has no projects in development or slated to wrap this year, but keeps busy with other pursuits like philanthropy and competitive horse jumping.
10. Heather Locklear
Of course, this former Melrose Place cast member and 90’s sex symbol had to go and star in a made-for-TV movie at the beginning of this year, so Heather Locklear is technically disqualified from this list. However, the last entertainment vehicle the platinum blonde had a starring role in was as Chloe in four episodes of Hot In Cleveland back in 2012-2013. Despite her indomitable good looks and having had regular roles on such television classics as Dynasty, T.J. Hooker, and Spin City with Michael J. Fox, she failed to convert any of her six Golden Globe nominations into a win.
9. Vanessa Marcil
Vanessa Marcil just last year (in 2015) ended a 23-year stint as Brenda Barrett on TV’s General Hospital, a stretch that has spanned her entire acting career thus far, and will have spanned her entire career should she not find work in the new year. Although she spent more time in the new millennium as a soap star and strutting her stuff in and on the show, Las Vegas, Marcil first became a household face on 37 episodes of the original incarnation of Aaron Spelling’s Beverly Hills 90210, as “Donna’s cousin,” Gina Kinkaid: former competitive ice-skater turned Beverly Hills heartbreaker.
8. Shannen Doherty
Shannen is another women who started (acting) as a teenage girl on a majority of episodes of Beverly Hills 90210, a show whose 10 seasons neatly span the 90s in their entirety. The notoriously difficult actress who has had her fair share of embarrassing run-ins with paparazzi and the law, currently has a sitcom in development and, according to IMDb, a few other projects at various stages in the creative process, at least one in post-production, one that has only just been announced, and one that is filming, with Doherty in the role she was always meant to play, the Devil.
7. Rebecca Gayheart
After her guest appearance on Ugly Betty in 2007, Rebecca Gayheart’s acting career seems to have sputtered to a halt. Not surprisingly, the Kentucky native’s exit from the television industry and the public eye coincides roughly with the birth of her two daughters, Billie and Georgie, respectively in March, 2010 and December, 2011. Gayheart is yet another fake graduate of Beverly Hills High, though she only lasted one season on 90210, but her 90s credits also include parts in films like Jawbreaker, Urban Legend and Scream 2 and on TV with shows like Hercules, Sliders, Earth 2, and 1999’s Wasteland.
6. Sarah Michelle Geller
It seems a good indicator of when somebody has relaxed their ambitions in Hollywood is when they decide to guest voice act on Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken; between 2005 and 2014 she provided her talents to the show in near obscurity. And were you aware Sarah Michelle also voice acts for the new Star Wars Rebels series that hit the airwaves in tandem with the release of the latest Star Wars feature length film? Her resume boasts a sprinkling of came-and-went TV roles but Geller is still mostly associated with her late-90’s role as Sunnydale’s resident vampire hunter, Buffy.
5. Brandy Norwood
Brandy Norwood is a former R&B singer and actress who went simply by her first and stage name, Brandy. Her talent was apparent in childhood and in 1993 Norwood dropped out of high school and her mother became her manager. That year they negotiated a recording contract with Atlantic records and the fledgling artist scored a small role on a primetime sitcom. One year later, Brandy’s debut album peaked at #20 on Billboard’s Top 200, eventually selling upwards of 6 million copies, and she parleyed her stint on someone else’s show into five seasons of her own UPN series, Moesha.
4. Melissa Joan Hart
Melissa Joan Hart owes her career to the casting crew at Nickelodeon. From ’91 to ’94 she worked for the kid-friendly network as Clarissa, Explaining It All. CBS noticed her Nickelodeon who cast her as another know-it-all, Sabrina, The Teenage Witch. From ’96 through the end of the decade, Hart ran with this character, voicing Sabrina for the animated versions of Clueless and Sabrina. The openly Christian actress did just release a film this year, a movie called God’s Not Dead 2. But the film will likely go unnoticed; God’s still not be dead, but this star’s acting career may be.
3. Neve Campbell
Scream 1, 2 and 3 and Party Of Five is not the start of an impossible riddle or a particularly avant-garde line from a Burroughs or Joyce novel, but the list of credits that made Neve Campbell a darling of the angsty teen and young adult male demographics for most of the 90’s. Then there is her starring role alongside Denise Richards in Wild Things, involving a steamy onscreen encounter between the two actresses that is forever burned into the collective consciousness. Campbell still works in entertainment, but her former glory overshadowed even a recent role on House Of Cards.
2. Bridgett Fonda
Bridgett Fonda is an officially retired actress. Her last acting job was in the title role of a 2002, TV-movie rendition of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. Before retiring from showbiz, she had built up an impressively long resume of roles mostly in feature-length films. Fonda found steady work for the entirety of the 90’s and avoided being typecast, neither as eye candy, a dainty, sweet pushover, nor a totally rough-around-the-edges tomboy–she could play smoldering, playful, deadly serious, or simultaneously strong and sexy, and saw a huge surge in popularity after starring in 1997’s Jackie Brown.
1. Tiffani-Amber Thiessen
For the entirety of the 90s, Tiffani Thiessen played a starring role as popular Bayside High student Kelly Kapowski, on some incarnation of coming-of-age TV comedy Saved By The Bell, or as precocious junior- high transfer student Valerie Malone on Beverly Hills 90210. Since Y2K, this sexy star has been working in near anonymity, doing voice over work for Disney Junior’s animated series, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, making a 2015 guest appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon last year, and starring in a five-season run of White Collar, a presumably popular series aired on the less frequented USA Network.