The other night the theater held a special screening of the 1997 Kevin Williamson horror flick, I Know What You Did Last Summer. That film was like a snapshot of who the hot actors and actresses were of that decade. It starred Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Ryan Phillippe. It got me wondering, where did they all go? I started thinking about all the other big stars of the 1990s that were on the brink of lasting stardom and then somehow never seemed to make it. I mean, these were stars that most of us were obsessed with and were sure they would remain A-list celebrities. Instead they seemed to disappear or otherwise fall down the pecking order a bit.
Some have disappeared entirely, left the business to pursue other opportunities, or chose to step behind the camera. Whatever works for them, I suppose. The others still pop up every now and then, in small film and television roles. Some have gotten starring roles in failed network television series that just didn’t seem to catch on with viewers. Regardless, they are definitely not as famous as they once were. For some, that’s just the way it is, but for others, it’s entirely conceivable that a huge comeback is on the horizon. Some of those 90s stars were just too talented, too entertaining, and just too beloved to be relegated to B or C-list status. Here are 15 of our favorite celebs from our childhood that need to make a comeback!
15 LeeLee Sobieski
Though LeeLee Sobieski had some small roles in the mid 1990s, most of us remember her first in 1998’s Deep Impact, starring opposite Elijah Wood. That film was one of the year’s biggest hits and Sobieski got rave reviews. The role allowed her to move on to bigger roles such as the acclaimed mini-series Joan of Arc in 1999. It seemed as if she was poised to jump into the new millennium and become a big star. Alas it never seemed to materialize. Though she had a few big roles in the early 2000s, namely Here on Earth (2000), Joy Ride (2001), and The Glass House (2001), her star seemed to fade. She’s continued to work steadily and though most of her early roles were critically recognized, she’s yet to achieve the type of recognition many think she deserves. Here’s hoping that one role comes along that might elevate her to new heights.
14 Rachael Leigh Cook
This one hits home. I always thought Rachael Leigh Cook was adorable. She was funny, talented, and just all-around incredible. She starred in 1999’s She’s All That, which was my go-to date movie at the time, and Josie and the Pussycats (2001) is still a cult-classic. Why she isn’t an A-list actress today is beyond me. Like most of the others on this list, she’s stayed working, acting in small film roles and some television series here and there, but nothing as high-profile as her early work. She had a great six-episode arc back in 2009, on the series Psych, which showed she was still as adorable as I remembered. She lent her voice talents to numerous animated projects, like Batman Beyond, the Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts video games, as well Robot Chicken. This year she’s starring in a new theatrical take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is currently in post-production. Will this film be her comeback vehicle?
13 Melissa Joan Hart
Melissa Joan Hart was best known for her roles as Clarissa Darling in Nickelodeon’s Clarissa Explains It All (1991-1994), and then as the title character in Sabrina, the Teenage Witch (1996-2003). However, after that, her career seemed to suffer a dry spell. She did some television appearances and some small film roles, but nothing big. In 2010, it seemed the networks were finally ready to give her a shot with the lead role on the ABC Family series, Melissa and Joey, co-starring another former teen actor Joey Lawrence. The series ran for four seasons but was cancelled in 2015, after not really gaining much traction. Hart is a great talent, funny, and a fan favorite. Apparently, she’s currently filming a Hallmark Christmas film titled Christmas Hours that will air on the Lifetime Network. Maybe that’ll lead to some phone calls for some higher profile work. Here’s hoping she bounces back soon.
12 Neve Campbell
I was talking to a film critic the other day about great starlets of the 90s, and why they haven’t been able to transition to the new millennium. One of the names that came up was the beautiful and talented Neve Campbell. She had an award-winning television series, Party of Five (1994-2000), which she was able to translate into some popular film roles, such as in The Craft (1996), Scream (1996), and Wild Things (1998). When she left Party of Five to concentrate on her budding film career, everyone thought she’d continue to be a huge star. However, though she reprises her role in a few Scream sequels, super stardom has eluded her. Recently she appeared on Mad Men, and then for a couple of seasons of the award-winning Netflix series House of Cards. She was also cast in a leading role in Dwayne Johnson’s upcoming 2018 action blockbuster Skyscraper. Do I smell a comeback?
11 Alicia Silverstone
Another teen heartbreaker, Alicia Silverstone was every young man’s dream. Her role as Cher in 1995’s Clueless, or her appearances in those 1990s Aerosmith music videos, will forever solidify her status as a pop culture icon. She had the look, which won her the leads in The Crush, The Babysitter, not to mention her role as Batgirl in Batman & Robin (sorry we mentioned it, but she’s pretty cool in it). Unfortunately, Silverstone’s career seemed to follow the paths of many other young attractive actresses of the MTV generation; they put her in as many mini-skirt roles as possible, then relegated her to some B-movies and let her to slowly fade away. It’s been done to so many others, like Winona Ryder and Drew Barrymore. Like those actresses, if she’s lucky, Silverstone can return as an older, more mature actress. She recently landed a role on TV Land’s upcoming series American Woman. Let’s see if this is the role that can help facilitate Silverstone’s comeback.
10 Sarah Michelle Gellar
Sarah Michelle Gellar is another 1990s horror maven, having appeared in back-to-back horror hits with I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) and Scream 2 (1997), following that up with the hit film Cruel Intentions (1999). She juggled her film roles with her starring role on the cult television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When Buffy ended after seven seasons, Gellar followed that up with two popular Scooby Doo films as well a return to the horror well with The Grudge (2004) and The Grudge 2 (2006). But then, that was it. Her roles since then have been minor at best. I thought she’d found a comeback vehicle in the 2013 CBS series The Crazy Ones, with the legendary Robin Williams. Unfortunately, the ratings never really caught on with the show and it was cancelled after one season. I hope the networks haven’t given up on Gellar. She’s a real talent and hopefully the right project will come along.
9 Jason Priestley
Jason Priestley was the man in the 1990s. He had a hit television series, starring as Brandon Walsh in Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990-2000). That show that dominated the decade. When the show went off the air, Priestley moved on to other television roles and has kept working up until the present. But none of these projects has ever garnered him the success like he had back then. Priestley did land a successful Canadian series, Call Me Fitz (2010-2013), but outside of Canada it remains unseen. As a matter of fact, he’s done quite a bit of work on Canadian television lately. He starred in 2016’s Raising Expectations, which only ran for one season, and currently stars in Private Eyes, which was just renewed for a third season. Hopefully, one of these roles will catch the eye of a producer somewhere and he’ll get the chance to make a comeback that we all know he has in him!
8 Calista Flockhart
Calista Flockhart is the award-winning actress that starred in the legal comedy that defined the end of the 1990s, Ally McBeal (1997-2002). It was a hit television series that was so popular the network tried to re-edit episodes into a pure sitcom and air them as their own series, entitled Ally. The producers removed the courtroom drama segments to focus just on the personal life of Flockhart’s character. I think they realized they were getting too greedy and cancelled the series after ten episodes. That was the popularity of the character! Nowadays, Flockhart is more famous for being the wife of Harrison Ford than for any of her acting projects. She’s had a few different series after Ally McBeal went off the air, most recently co-starring as Cat Grant on The CW series Supergirl. Though her character is popular, it is unlikely that it will elevate her to the same level of success she previously held, but here’s hoping.
7 Wesley Snipes
Wesley Snipes was a bonafide star, and arguably still is. He’s an actor, producer, martial artist, and for the entire decade of the 1990s, had about a dozen hit movies. Try to remember some of them: New Jack City (1991), Jungle Fever (1991), White Men Can’t Jump (1992), Passenger 57 (1992), Rising Sun (1993), Demolition Man (1993), and that’s just the first few years of the 1990s. He’s probably best known as the Marvel Comics’ character, Blade in the Blade film trilogy. The man’s a big action star. Then he was gone. I know, he refused to pay his taxes and was sent away to federal prison. That has to put a damper on one’s career. Now that he’s been released and proved he still has his action-star chops by appearing in The Expendables 3, maybe he’ll get the call he’s been waiting for: The Avengers Meet Blade. Okay, that probably won’t happen, but hopefully he’ll get back to the same level of success he had prior.
6 Tiffani Thiessen
Tiffani-Amber Thiessen (now simply known as Tiffani Thiessen) was huge in the 1990s, thanks to shows like Saved by the Bell and Beverly Hills, 90210. She was only fifteen when she co-starred as the popular Kelly Kapowski on the hit series Saved by the Bell. Though it only ran for four seasons, it was among the most popular shows on television. She reprised the role in another short-lived series and a television movie, but then moved on to other adult roles. She’s stayed acting regularly, most recently as a regular on the USA Network’s White Collar, yet her roles are not as big as they were in the 1990s. She’s a great actress and she landed a starring role on the upcoming Netflix series Alexa and Katie. Here’s hoping it’s a big hit and marks the comeback many believe she deserves.
5 Freddie Prinze Jr.
What Jason Priestley did for 1990s television, Freddie Prinze Jr. did for films. His first big film role was 1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer, where he first met his future wife Sarah Michelle Gellar. He followed that up with the sequel I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (a cinematic stinker, but still has a good cult following). It was his next role in 1999’s She’s All That that had women swooning and everyone believing he was well on his way to A-status leading man roles. But that didn’t occur. He did a few more big films, nothing groundbreaking, but has remained mostly working in television. His small-screen roles in George Lopez and 24 were good, but that big A-list stardom has eluded him. He’s currently starring as the voice of fallen Jedi Kanan Jarrus in the Disney animated series Star Wars: Rebels. Instead of pursuing super stardom, he would rather spend quality time with his wife, Sarah Michelle Gellar. I guess that’s a choice I would make as well.
4 Brendan Fraser
Oh, Brendan, where have you gone? You were all over the 1990s in high-profile film roles. He had already proven his comedy and dramatic talent in popular films like Encino Man (1992), School Ties (1992), Airheads (1994), The Scout (1994), then George of the Jungle (1997) and Gods and Monsters (1998). But it was 1999’s The Mummy, which made the tall, athletic Brendan Fraser an action star. His follow up, The Mummy Returns (2001) seemed to be his last real hurrah. Sure, he had other film roles, and he’s good in them too, but no more blockbusters. He did do a third Mummy film, but it was critically panned and so went the career of Fraser. He is so talented that a comeback has got to be in the stars for him.
3 Sean Patrick Thomas
Seriously, what happened to this guy? Sean Patrick Thomas had some small roles in the late 1990s, but then landed some choice gigs, like Cruel Intentions (1999). His breakout role as Derek in 2001’s Save the Last Dance should’ve been the one that put him on track for more leading man roles, but they never really materialized. I thought for sure he was back on track with his great role as Jimmy James in the Ice Cube social comedy Barbershop (2002). The man is talented, charismatic, and the ladies love him. What’s the issue here? He’s continued to work, with small roles here and there, but nothing big like he should be landing. This month, it was announced that Thomas was cast in a lead role in James Wan’s new horror film The Children, by New Line Cinema. New Line has been on a winning streak with their horror films lately so here’s hoping this is a comeback film for Thomas!
2 Kel Mitchell
Remember Kenan and Kel, with Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell. The duo was hilarious, though a bit cheesy and over-the-top. Their popular film Good Burger was a great showcase for their brand of humor in the 1990s. While Kenan can be seen weekly in Saturday Night Live, his former partner Kel is pretty much missing from the limelight. Rumor has it that the two are no longer very close and might not even be on speaking terms. Kel has worked steadily with a lot of voice-over projects, and he’s been a staple of kid’s television for years. However, he should’ve been able to transition his comedic talents into stardom in the new millennium, as Kenan has. He’s still repping that Nickelodeon network as a co-star in the series Game Shakers. Here’s hoping he’s only one project away from returning to the spotlight.
1 Jonathan Taylor Thomas
Jonathan Taylor Thomas was a teen heartthrob who seemed destined to breakout into an adult leading man. His role on the hit Tim Allen television comedy, Home Improvement (1991-1998) made Thomas pretty much a household name. While on that series, he was able to land choice film roles in family-friendly films like Man of the House (1995), Tom and Huck (1995), and Wild America (1997). He was even the voice of young Simba in Disney’s The Lion King (1994). When Home Improvement ended in 1998, he finished high school, and then everyone expected he would start accepting the kinds of roles that would elevate him to leading man status. However, he chose to further his education instead. He studied at Harvard, in Scotland at St. Andrews University, and then finally at Columbia University. Thomas slowly began returning to acting. He appeared in a few episodes of Tim Allen’s latest sitcom Last Man Standing. Here’s hoping he’s able to return to the stardom he enjoyed as a teen.
Sources: ranker.com, suggest.com, imdb.com