Teen idols are more than just a part of growing up, they are a clear picture of where entertainment is headed. We get to see what is cool, what will be cool and, most importantly, we find the stars of tomorrow all ready to start winning awards and appearing in ads for whiskey or watches or whatever will pay them the most.
But not every teen star has the chops to stay at the top. For every Leonardo DiCaprio, there is a Jamie Walters. For each Scarlett Johansson, you can find a Leelee Sobieski. Some of these teen stars disappeared due to drugs, but most of them fell out of the limelight for a far less interesting reason – they weren’t very good actors or they ended up choosing bad movies or shows. Some decided that spending their lives in front of the camera wasn’t for them and chose a more quiet life. Some were famous for just a minute, one hit wonders who lucked into near super-stardom, only to fly too close to the sun and fall quickly back to Earth.
The 1990s were full of these kinds of stars, and you darn well know they deserve to be celebrated! We filled our days, and our walls, with thoughts (and posters) of them, wondering what it would be like to hang out with them, dreaming of getting to second base with more than a few. They were more than our crushes, they were our markers for tomorrow, leading the way in what was and wasn’t cool. They were our 1990s gods of hip, and we will never forget them.
15. Jennifer Love Hewitt
Jennifer Love Hewitt was, to be blunt, a goddess of the late 90s. Between her movies, her hit TV show, and her albums, you couldn’t escape seeing the talented and arguably hardest working teen in Hollywood, but no one really minded. Hewitt, compared to some of her contemporaries (we’re looking at you Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears) came across as innocent. Not just innocent, but nice. She seemed like the kind of person who would show up and help you out when your crush put you down.
Still, her choice to stay clean, aside from I Know What You Did Last Summer, admirable as it was, gave her only so many choices when it came to moving forward with her career. By the time Hewitt tried to cash in on her sex-appeal with The Client List, it felt forced.
Hewitt, who married her Client List co-star Brian Hallisay in 2013, hasn’t appeared in a movie or show since 2015, choosing instead to spend time with her two children. We can only hope she comes back soon.
14. Neve Campbell
Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Party of Five co-star will forever be remembered for her role as Sidney Prescott, one of the great heroes of horror movies. Across the four Scream films, as well as her work in The Craft and Wild Things, you can’t talk about 1990s movies without bringing up Neve Campbell.
Along with being the first breakthrough horror star since Jamie Lee Curtis, Campbell has proven herself as a great actress, working alongside iconic actors like Sissy Spacek, William H. Macy, and Donald Sutherland. Campbell’s decision to make smaller films and spend some time acting in England’s West End theaters pulled her off the covers of magazines, but the actress has never stopped working. Last year, she joined the cast of Netflix’s critically acclaimed series House of Cards as a Texas-based political consultant, and in 2018 she will be hitting theaters starring alongside Dwayne Johnson in Skyscraper.
13. Lacey Chabert
It’s a Party of Five three-peat! Lacey Chabert starred on the show as the second youngest of the children whose parents were abducted by aliens or something (I never watched it). Needless to say, between the three great actresses on this list, and Matthew Fox, this show was really well cast.
Unlike Neve Campbell and Jennifer Love Hewitt, Chabert had never had much luck with a starring role in a movie. Lost in Space was a disaster that tanked at the box office, and while Mean Girls was a big hit, she was relegated to a secondary role. Chabert has been able to find great success in voice work though, taking on a number of well known characters in cartoons and video games, including Zatanna Zatara in a number of DC comics related shows and games, Gwen Stacy in The Spectacular Spider-Man, and Eliza Thornberry in The Wild Thornberrys not to mention her uncredited work as the voice of Meg Griffin in the first two seasons of Family Guy.
12. Seann William Scott
Seann William Scott was paid just eight thousand dollars to play Steve Stifler in the first American Pie film. To be blunt, the producers got a hell of a deal there – it is impossible to think of anyone else in that role, and we have to wonder if the movie would have been as successful without Scott.
Scott, fearing that he would get typecast as his American Pie character, did his best to take on a wide variety of roles, including the doofy nerd in Final Destination, a stoner in Dude, Where’s My Car? and a police officer in Southland Tales. Sadly, the world just wanted to see him as Stifler.
While his live action movies have had limited success at the box office, Scott is part of the animated film series Ice Age alongside Ray Romano, Denis Leary, and John Leguizamo. In 2011, Scott starred in the hilarious and touching cult hockey hit Goon, and the sequel, Goon: Last of the Enforcers, is scheduled to come out this year.
11. Tiffani Amber Thiessen
Before Jennifer Love Hewitt took the innocent but sexy crown in the late 90s, Tiffani Amber Thiessen had that spot locked down. As the perfect girl-next-door on Saved by the Bell, Thiessen’s image hung on the walls and locker doors of many a teen boy who wished they were rich enough and had the ability to stop time for some fourth-wall breaking monologues just like her eventual TV husband Zack Morris.
After Saved by the Bell, Thiessen looked to show her mature side by joining Beverly Hills, 90210 and starring in a series of TV movies, but the ghost of Kelly Kapowski was always close behind. Still, Thiessen has never had trouble finding work. She starred on White Collar for five years and between guest appearances on other shows, Thiessen has her own cooking show, Dinner at Tiffani’s on the Cooking Channel. Next year, Thiessen will be starring in Alexa & Katie, a new Netflix sitcom.
10. Mike Maronna
The Adventures of Pete and Pete lasted just three years, but it is hard to say that the show wasn’t the coolest thing on cable. As we viewers watched the strange yet oddly familiar daily lives of the two brothers with the same name, we got to see some of the coolest musicians and future stars show up and have fun, including Janeane Garofalo, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, Juliana Hatfield, J. K. Simmons, and Michael Stipe.
But the show wouldn’t have worked if Big Pete wasn’t both likable and down to Earth, and actor Mike Maronna was the epitome of those things. After the series ended, Maronna went off to college and appeared in a few movies like the underrated Slackers, and was the star of a series of Ameritrade commercials that were so popular, Maronna got to make a video with then-President Bill Clinton.
Still, Maronna wasn’t overly interested in continuing with work in front of the camera and chose instead to get behind the lights and work as an electrician on sets for various TV series. These days, when he isn’t spending time on set or with his wife and child, Mike is recording his hilarious podcast The Adventures of Danny and Mike, with his Pete and Pete costar Danny Tamberelli.
9. Thora Birch
Thora Birch was a child star before she was a teen star, but her work in movies like Purple People Eater, Hocus Pocus, and Monkey Trouble were, if you’ll excuse the pun, kids play compared to the movie that rocketed her to stardom, American Beauty.
In American Beauty, Birch plays Jane, the daughter of Lester and Carolyn (Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening). Lester, hitting the center of his midlife crisis, has quite the crush on his daughter’s best pal, Angela (played by Mena Suvari) while Birch’s Jane is hung up on emo kid Ricky Fitts (played by Wes Bentley).
Along with winning a slew of awards, American Beauty caused some controversy not only for the homosexual themes that some Americans weren’t ready to deal with in the late 90s, but also because Birch appears topless in the film, which was made when she was just sixteen.
While Birch has been working regularly since she was eight, nothing she has been in has hit as big as American Beauty. She did star in Ghost World, the cult hit film based on the Daniel Clowes comic and co-starred Scarlett Johansson.
8. Elizabeth Berkley
While she came to the attention of teens as Jessie Spano, the bright and sometimes caffeine pill addicted member of the Saved by the Bell gang, it was her role in Showgirls that Elizabeth Berkley will be remembered for. While the Joe Eszterhas written and Paul Verhoeven directed film was a critical and commercial bomb when it came out, it has since become a cult classic as more people have come to see the satire that Verhoeven was going for in his film.
Since Showgirls, Berkley has appeared on various TV shows and popped up in her fair share of movies. In 2013, she came in sixth place on Dancing with the Stars. In 2015, Berkley got in touch with her Saved by the Bell roots when she appeared on Tiffani Amber Thiessen’s Dinner at Tiffani’s and reprised her character on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
7. Tia & Tamera Mowry
For five years, Tia and Tamera Mowry were the second most famous teen twins around, coming in after the Olsen Twins. Their show, Sister, Sister started off as part of ABC’s Friday night staple for all the young-ins of the 1990s, TGIF, but moved to the newly created WB (now known as CW) at the start of the second season.
After Sister, Sister, Tia and Tamera worked on a number of shows as guest stars sometimes appearing together and sometimes going solo. In 2013 they got their own reality series, Tia & Tamera, which ran for two years.
Since then, Tia has fit in TV work along with raising her son and coaching the Atlanta team of the Entertainment Basketball League which is a thing that apparently exists. Tamara has two children and is one of the hosts on the syndicated talk show The Real which is a thing that apparently exists.
6. Rachael Leigh Cook
Rachael Leigh Cook hit the scene by starring in the movie version of The Baby-Sitters Club, based on the long-running series of books that no girl under 17 hadn’t read in the 80s and 90s. Her next big outing was in Tom and Huck, starring fellow lister Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Brad Renfro followed by the critically acclaimed House of Yes starring Parker Posey. Still, it was She’s All That where Cook became a star. The movie, which tries to convince the viewer that Rachel Leigh Cook isn’t gorgeous by giving her glasses and baggy clothes, made over a hundred million dollars at the box office and turned Cook into a teen idol.
Cook’s next two big movies, Anti-Trust with Ryan Phillippe and the vastly underrated Josie and the Pussycats both under-performed at the box office. Since then, Cook has spent most of her career guest starring on shows or making straight to video movies. She has also played the character Tifa Lockhart in the Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy game series as well as Jaesa Willsaam in Star Wars: The Old Republic.
5. Rider Strong
As the cool and handsome friend of Corey on Boy Meets World, Rider Strong was the crush of many a young girl. After the show ended it’s one hundred and fifty-eight episode run, Strong looked to break out of the clean teen stuff by starring in Eli Roth‘s gruesome horror film Cabin Fever, and while the movie was a low-level success, it didn’t do much for Strong’s career.
Strong has shown up as a guest star on a great number of shows, including Bones and Veronica Mars. He’s also starred in a more than a few indie films like Paradise Texas and Too Late. Recently, Strong reunited with his pals Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel, appearing in the Boy Meets World sequel series Girl Meets World. Along with showing up as his character Shawn, Strong directed eighteen episodes of the show. Later this year, Strong will premiere his first film as director with Micah the A**hole Ghost.
4. Nicole Eggert
While she made her first appearance in front of the camera in 1979 at the age of seven, it would be her role as Jaime Powell in Charles in Charge that would make Nicole Eggert a star. While she was an instant hit with teen boys around the world, the show itself was never very big and it was canceled in its fourth season.
Still, you can’t keep a hot blonde down – Nicole took her skills and headed to Baywatch, and her teen fans were more than happy to follow. For two years, Eggert ran up and down the beach in slow motion.
Since then, Eggert has acted in a number of straight to video and TV movies as well as more than a few reality TV shows, including Botched, where Nicole showed up looking for a breast reduction. In 2014 she started her own business, Scoops Ice Cream Truck.
3. Christine Lakin
For eight years Christine Lakin played the tomboy Al on Step by Step, but keeping her in overalls and a backward baseball cap didn’t keep other teens of the time from crushing on her.
After Step by Step, Lakin went on to star in a variety of TV movies, including Reefer Madness alongside Kristen Bell and fellow lister Neve Campbell. In 2006, Lakin joined the MTV improv series Wild ‘n Out for four seasons. In 2012, Lakin starred in the mockumentary series Lovin’ Lakin, which was a goof on reality shows about child stars. Co-starring on the show was her Step by Step dad Patrick Duffy and Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane.
This year, Lakin starred in the new sitcom Hollywood Darlings alongside fellow 90s teen stars Beverley Mitchell and Jodie Sweetin. In the unscripted series, the three women play exaggerated versions of themselves as they try to live normal lives after growing up in abnormal conditions.
2. Tatyana Ali
The singer and actress, who started her career at the age of six on Sesame Street, released her first album, Kiss The Sky, in 1999. The album went gold and produced the hit single “Boy You Knock Me Out” featuring Will Smith.
In 2002, Ali graduated from Harvard with a B.A. in African-American studies. Ali is also politically minded – she was a prominent spokesperson for Barack Obama in his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. In 2014, Ali released a new EP, Hello.
1. Jonathan Taylor Thomas
There was a time, before the Internet was well structured and information was truly available to all, before Wikipedia, when the word on Jonathan Taylor Thomas, or JTT as his adoring fans called him, was that he didn’t just quit the hit show Home Improvement – he had quit acting altogether, choosing to live a life away from the public eye.
In truth, JTT left the Tim Allen sitcom to focus on college, but he never actually quit acting. Since leaving the hit series for school, Thomas has appeared in a number of TV shows, including Smallville, The Simpsons, and most recently Last Man Standing (which he also directed a few episodes of as well).
In July of this year, there was a story that quickly spread across the Internet that Thomas had passed away, but this was nothing more than a true bit of fake news. As far as any of us know, JTT is living happily.
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