For children of the ’90s, there were certain teen heartthrobs that were the talk of the schools. We had their posters on our walls, torn from Teen Beat and other magazines targeted at young girls. These guys shows up on the big screen in touching love stories and sports-related underdog stories. They played lovable and sweet characters in our favorite sitcoms. They sang love songs that touched our hearts.
If you’re feeling nostalgic for the 1990s and are wondering where your favorite teen heartthrobs are now, you’ve come to the right place.
Read on for our list of 10 teen heartthrobs of the ’90s.
10. Devon Sawa
Devon Sawa stole the hearts of young girls in the mid-1990s. His first big movie, Little Giants, made the right choice in casting him as the romantic lead in this sports-themed pre-teen film. Then he starred in two movies alongside Christina Ricci in 1995: Casper and Now and Then. Soon, he was featured regularly in teen magazines.
Unlike some child and teen actors, Devon’s career continued as he got older. In the late ’90s and early ’00s, he starred in hit movies such as Idle Hands, SLC Punk and Final Destination. Recently, he had a big part in the CW TV show Nikita. When asked what it was like being a teen heartthrob, Devon said, “Well, it was something that was really hard to break out of. As soon as I got to 17 and 18 years old and I wasn’t playing these teen roles anymore, it was hard to transition. I wanted to get out of that kind of teen-idol thing. So far it’s worked.”
9. Joey Lawrence
While Joey Lawrence had a bit of a career in the 1980s, it wasn’t until the early ’90s sitcom Blossom that he became a household name. He played the character of Blossom’s older brother, also named Joey. He even had a catchphrase that people remember to this day: “Whoa!”
After Blossom ended in 1995, Joey started a new show with his two younger brothers called Brotherly Love that went on until 1997. He’s kept very busy since then and has been in a large number of television shows and made-for-TV movies. He’s been especially busy working on multiple projects with former Sabrina, the Teenage Witch star Melissa Joan Hart–including their current TV show, Melissa & Joey. Those who loved his flowing locks from the ’90s will be disappointed to find that he mostly goes for a short-haired or bald-headed look now.
8. Mark-Paul Gosselaar
While Mark-Paul Gosselaar wasn’t the only teen heartthrob on Saved by the Bell (Hello, Mario Lopez), he definitely held the hearts of the fans a bit more. His character, Zack Morris, was the perfect boyfriend in the eyes of the viewers. Throughout the show’s reign in the early ’90s, he impressed viewers with his blond locks and infectious smile.
Mark-Paul seemed to effectively sidestep the traps of drugs and alcohol that plague a lot of child and teen actors. Instead, he focused on his career. While he was never as popular as he was on Saved by the Bell, he’s had a solid career in TV and film since then. You can currently see him on the TNT show Franklin & Bash.
7. Brad Renfro
Brad Renfro captured the attention of girls in the early and mid-’90s with his roles in The Client and Tom and Huck. He had the kind of acting range that had him starring in both comedic and dramatic roles–and girls loved it. During his career, he mostly focused on movies, starring in over 20 films. However, most of his movies in the late 1990s and beyond were small and straight-to-video.
Unfortunately, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Brad died in 2008 at the age of 25 from a heroin overdose. In the years leading up to his death, he had a number of run-ins with the law, including public intoxication, drug possession and grand theft. Before he died, he was quoted as saying, “If you’ve never tried drugs, DON’T. And if you have, pray.”
6. Nick Carter
The Backstreet Boys were a huge boy band in the mid-’90s. While all five members of the group were popular among fans, Nick Carter was by far the biggest teen heartthrob among them. Perhaps it was his mop of blonde hair or his baby face. He was also the youngest of the group, appealing to the pre-teens the music was created for. Nick stole hearts throughout the ’90s with three popular albums.
Nick fell prey to the classic problem that plagues teen celebrities: drugs and alcohol. He struggled with both for many years until he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. In an interview with People Magazine, he said “I don’t want to be that person people read about and think, ‘That’s sad that he couldn’t stop it and killed himself.” That helped him sober up. Since then, he’s continued to create music, going on tour with Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block. He released a duet album in early 2014 with Jordan Knight called Nick & Knight.
5. Luke Perry
Although Luke Perry wasn’t technically a teen when he was on Beverly Hills: 90210, he played one on the show and was still a much-loved actor by teen girls all over the world. Fans were enamored with his hair and bright smile reminiscent of a young James Dean. He played his character, Dylan, for the entire 1990s.
Luke has continued acting since Beverly Hills: 90210. Still, he hasn’t seen the same popularity and mega celebrity status since the show ended. He was in the recent TV show Body of Proof and has done a lot of voice acting in in the last decade.
4. Jonathan Brandis
Jonathan Brandis had the mop of hair that seemed so popular with female fans of teen heartthrobs in the 1990s. It also didn’t hurt that he had roles in some fun movies and TV shows at the time. He starred alongside Rodney Dangerfield in the 1992 film Ladybugs. He also had a big role–arguably his biggest and most popular–in the sci-fi TV show seaQuest DSV.
Like Brad Renfro, Jonathan Brandis’ life ended way too soon. Jonathan took his own life in 2003 at the age of 27. According to People Magazine, he had been telling his friends that he was going to kill himself for a while before he actually did. This is a very sad end to a young actor’s life.
3. Andrew Keegan
Not only did Andrew Keegan play the romantic leads in pre-teen and teen movies in the ’90s, he was also a popular teen heartthrob during that time. His first movie, 1994’s Camp Nowhere, gave him a leading role that young fans swooned over. He also starred in 10 Things I Hate About You, had a small part in Independence Day and had roles in a slew of television shows.
Though his popularity certainly faded as he got older and his pre-teen fans grew up, Andrew continued to act in movies and TV shows. He’s also starring in a horror movie, Living Among Us, where he plays a vampire. The movie comes out in late 2014 or early 2015.
2. Jonathan Taylor Thomas
Jonathan Taylor Thomas, affectionately called JTT by his young fans, was one of three brothers on the hit ’90s TV show, Home Improvement. Besides the TV show, he also starred in Tom and Huck alongside Brad Renfro and was the voice of young Simba in The Lion King. His image was seen in teen magazines for most of the decade.
While JTT worked in movies for a while, he eventually quit acting. He stepped away from Home Improvement in 1998 to focus on his education. He did just that, attending major universities including Harvard and Columbia. He hasn’t been in much since the ’90s, though he did have the occasional cameo role. He recently told People Magazine, “I never took the fame too seriously. It was a great period in my life, but it doesn’t define me. When I think back on that time, I look at it with a wink. I focus on the good moments I had, not that I was on a lot of magazine covers.”
1. Leonardo DiCaprio
Some of us may have forgotten, but Leonardo DiCaprio originally started his long and illustrious career as a 1990s teen heartthrob. With roles in Growing Pains, This Boy’s Life and Romeo + Juliette , he captured the hearts of teens all over the world. His pictures were plastered on walls and inside school lockers. While he was already popular in the early and mid-’90s, that popularity skyrocketed when he starred alongside Kate Winslet in Titanic in 1997.
Leo is the most successful former teen idol on this list by far. Not only did he never slow down on the acting roles, he’s also become well-respected in the industry. He’s been nominated for four individual Academy Awards including for his role in the 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street.