The early 2000s was a time to behold. From Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears’ matching denim outfits to rearranging your top friends on MySpace, the 2000s had all the right ingredients. But as time went on, interests and pop-culture trends evolved, as did the stars who were considered to be extreme heartthrobs in Hollywood.
While today, Liam Hemsworth and Taylor Swift are being crowned some of Hollywood’s most popular stars, there was a time when others held that title. From singers to actors, the early 2000s was filled with talented, hot stars that were in extreme high demand within the industry. They graced the cover of multiple magazines and were considered pop-culture's most talked about celebrities. Since their time in the spotlight, many of these stars have since taken a step back to pursue other endeavors, while some are still just a popular as ever. It’s quite interesting to see how much the industry has evolved in just shy of two decades.
It's fun to see where some of these hottest stars are today. Taking a walk down memory lane can be considered bittersweet, but looking at these 15 hottest stars from the early 2000s is well worth the trip.
15 Mischa Barton
Mischa Barton’s role as Marissa Cooper in Fox’s television series, The O.C., was a prominent credential to her resume seeing as the show racked in a large fanbase practically overnight. Barton’s fame also greatly increased as the success of the show continued to grow and she was named the “Next Big Thing” by Glamour magazine. Despite the positives that came with the show, the actress’ character was killed off in the season three finale. Following her departure from the series, Barton appeared in multiple unsuccessful films. In 2007, her legal troubles began when she was arrested for possession of marijuana, driving under the influence, and operating a vehicle without a valid license. Two years later, the actress was under two weeks of psychiatric confinement under a 5150 following an incident while seeking medical attention for a tooth infection. Barton was able to make a full recovery and she went on to dance on the 22nd season of the celebrity reality show, Dancing with the Stars, with her professional dance partner Artem Chigvintsev. The duo finished in 11th place.
14 Hilary Duff
In the 2000s, it was more than clear that Hilary Duff was the queen of the Disney Channel. Landing the title role of the new Disney series, Lizzie McGuire in 2001, Duff was on the fast track to success. With the show drawing in most of the ratings for the network, the young actress quickly became a teen idol overnight. In between filming the show, Duff appeared in multiple movies such as Cheaper by the Dozen and the 2004 romantic comedy A Cinderella Story. When not in front of the camera, the actress spent time in the studio working on her music career. Once her Disney days came to an end, Duff created a new image for herself while still maintaining her squeaky clean reputation. In 2010, Duff married Canadian NHL player Mike Comrie and the couple welcomed their first son, Luca, two years later. Five years after her marriage, Duff and her husband legally separated but continue to remain good friends. That same year, she released her fifth studio album, Breathe In. Breathe Out. If you didn't get enough of this once Disney child star, you can catch her in her TV Show, Younger, which is in its third season.
13 Jessica Alba
Jessica Alba was the desired “it" girl in the early 2000s with her breakout role in Fox’s sci-fi series, Dark Angel, which earned her a Golden Globe nomination. During her time in the spotlight, Alba was featured in an array of action and comedy movies. But it became clear that she was a fan favorite when she sported barely-there bikinis in the 2005 film Into the Blue alongside the late heartthrob Paul Walker. Her appearance in the film won her the ‘Choice Female Hottie’ surfboard award at the 2007 Teen Choice Awards. With her time spent in the Marvel Universe playing Sue Storm in the Fantastic Four movie duology, Alba made her transition into the horror-film genre when she starred in the 2008 film, The Eye, which gained mixed reviews. Despite her boisterous career in the early 2000s, Alba’s acting career has since slowed down. In 2012, the actress launched The Honest Company, which focuses on producing toxin-free baby and household goods. Today, the thirty-five-year-old is busy running her company and raising her two young girls with her husband.
12 Tom Welling
Tom Welling was in the prime of his career when he was named by People magazine to be one of the “Breakthrough Stars of 2001”. That title was due in part to his prominent role as Clark Kent in The WB’s live-action Superman series, Smallville. When the pilot aired in 2001, it was clear that Welling had the looks and acting abilities to draw in millions of viewers. With his growing fame starring as Superman, Welling was also making appearances on the big screen with the 2003 family comedy, Cheaper by the Dozen. After his ten-year run as the Man of Steel, Welling worked on projects behind the camera as a producer and director. From there, Welling went from gracing the covers of teen magazines to living a low-profile life. His return to acting was in 2013 in the historical drama, Parkland. He additionally had a role in Nicholas Sparks’ 2016 book-to-film adaptation, The Choice.
11 Rachel Bilson
Rachel Bilson quickly became a hit by portraying the loveable and quirky Summer Roberts on Fox’s hit teenage drama series, The O.C. in 2003. While her character was originally supposed to only be featured in a few episodes, her chemistry with her fellow cast mates earned her a series regular role. At the 2005 Teen Choice Awards, the brunette took home three awards and was then ranked sixth on Maxim magazine’s “Hot 100 List” the same year. Her first film role was in the romantic comedy-drama, The Last Kiss, which she starred alongside Zach Braff. In 2011, Bilson returned to television in The CW series, Hart of Dixie, which aired for four seasons. After meeting in 2008 on the set of Jumper, Bilson announced her engagement to her co-star Hayden Christensen in 2010. Four years later, the couple welcomed their daughter Briar Rose Christensen, but have yet to tie the knot.
10 Shane West
Shane West stole the heart of many female fans following his portrayal as Landon Carter in the adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ romantic drama novel, A Walk to Remember, in 2002. With the success that the film found at the box office, West won the “Male Superstar of Tomorrow” title. When not acting, West was the lead singer of a punk rock band that featured a few of their songs on the A Walk to Remember soundtrack. His last performance was in 2009, seeing as his acting career took up the majority of his time. The actor then joined the infamous cast of NBC’s long-running medical drama, ER, during its eleventh season. In between filming the show, West starred in several independent films. The actor later found luck in 2010 with The CW show Nikita, which illustrated the life of a spy. Currently, the American actor stars as John Alden in the hit show, Salem.
9 Sophia Bush
Beginning in 2003, Sophia Bush ruled The WB network as her One Tree Hill character, Brooke Davis, quickly became a fan favorite. For nine years, Bush was a coveted member of the television series and even directed three episodes. During that time, the brunette graced the covers of multiple magazines and picked up an array of endorsement deals. Her career in film also began to flourish by starring in the comedy, John Tucker Must Die, in 2006. Bush then illustrated the range of her acting ability when she appeared in the 2007 horror film, The Hitcher. Following the end of One Tree Hill, the actress was cast in a CBS sitcom, but it was quickly canceled after just six episodes. From there, Bush was able to land a new home on NBC by portraying Detective Erin Lindsay in Chicago P.D. Aside from Bush’s passion in film and television, the actress is a dedicated activist and spends her time raising awareness regarding the adoption of pets.
8 Jessica Simpson
In the early 2000s, Jessica Simpson’s music career was in full swing. While feeling that her innocent looks were holding her back in regards to her competition with popstars Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, the blonde adopted a new image. Her new sexy sound and image quickly moved her into the teen-pop scene. In 2001, her album Irresistible debuted on the Billboard 200 chart at number 6, which prompted Simpson to headline her first tour. In 2003, Simpson and her new husband Nick Lachey starred in their MTV reality show, Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica. The show quickly became a pop-culture success but only ran for three seasons as the couple filed for divorce after just three years of marriage. That same year, the pop star made her acting debut as Daisy Duke in the film The Dukes of Hazzard. After a brief attempt in country music, Simpson settled down to marry once again to a retired NFL tight end, Eric Johnson. In addition to raising their two children, the former singer also focuses on her fashion line.
7 Britney Spears
It’s still relevant to say that Britney Spears continues to be a pop music icon. While things may have seemed a little touch-and-go during her infamous 2007 meltdown, it’s quite clear that she is back on her A-game. In the early 2000s, Spears had it all; Justin Timberlake, sold-out shows, hit singles, and a movie. She was clearly the star of the music industry and there was no denying that her choreography was the desired dance moves at all the parties. Her albums such as Oops!... I Did It Again and In the Zone, topped the charts with her record-breaking singles. In 2002, the starlet had the lead role in the comedy-drama film, Crossroads, where she played a budding singer. While her music career was experiencing multiple highs, it was her personal life that was hitting rock bottom. Her high profile divorce to Kevin Federline and questionable parenting techniques were the media’s favorite stories. However, Spears was able to overcome the negativity and not only raise her sons as a single mom, but also continue to sky rocket her career. In 2013, the singer debuted her new Las Vegas residency show, Britney: Piece of Me. This year, she began the fourth year run of her show in Sin City and released her ninth studio album titled Glory.
6 Chad Michael Murray
For any girl watching The WB network during the early 2000s, it’s safe to say that Chad Michael Murray was their crush. When One Tree Hill premiered in 2003, the show introduced both drama and the beloved Scott brothers. Murray’s role as the small town brooding basketball star, Lucas Scott, quickly put him on the map. For six seasons, he graced the presence of the small screen all while having equal success at the box office. The actor worked alongside Hilary Duff in the 2004 fairytale spin, A Cinderella Story. The following year, he tested the waters of the horror film genre in the thriller House of Wax. After his run on One Tree Hill, Murray has starred in several television movies but hasn’t been able to land a long term role besides appearing in ABC’s Agent Carter before its cancelation. Murray is now married to his Chosen co-star Sarah Roemer and the couple recently announced they were expecting their second child.
5 Jennifer Love Hewitt
Following her appearance as Audrey Hepburn in the 2000 film, The Audrey Hepburn Story, Jennifer Love Hewitt was dubbed the “most popular actress on television”. The title was due in part to her 37-score Q-rating, which measures the popularity of a celebrity. With her positive feedback, the Texan native was in high demand and she went on to star in several successful features and even have a short music career. Hewitt signed to Jive Records in 2002, where she recorded her fourth studio album. Her first single “BareNaked” peaked at No. 24 on the charts and ultimately stands as her biggest radio hit. In 2005, Hewitt left the big screen to star in the CBS television series, Ghost Whisperer, until its cancelation in 2010. Television is where she continued to soar as she then went on to star in The Client List for two seasons, which is where she met her now husband, Brian Hallisay. Together the couple have two children, Autumn and Atticus.
4 Freddie Prinze Jr.
Cue the screaming fan girls. In the early 2000s, Freddie Prinze Jr.’s face could be found plastered on the walls of every teen girl's bedroom. His acting skills and attractive looks was enough to capture the attention of any audience. Appearing as the love interest in several films such as Down to You (2000) and the 2001 film Summer Catch, it was no surprise that Prinze Jr. was considered to be one of the hottest stars of that time. Despite his heartthrob title, the American actor took a long absence from acting and focused on work behind the camera. As a fan of World Wrestling Entertainment, Prinze Jr. joined the creative team as a producer and director. While juggling his work with the WWE, Prinze Jr. also voiced several animated characters before making a comeback to acting with a few cameo performances. This year, the former actor released a cookbook, Back to the Kitchen: 75 Delicious, Real Recipes (& True Stories). When not in the kitchen, Prinze Jr. devotes his time to his wife, and fellow actress, Sarah Michelle Gellar and their two children.
3 Kirsten Dunst
Kirsten Dunst quickly climbed to the top of the Hollywood pyramid, after starring in the hit teen comedy, Bring It On, in 2000. The same year, she appeared in the film, Get Over It, where she made her singing debut. Dunst then entered the Marvel Universe for her portrayal as Mary Jane Watson in the Spider-Man trilogy from 2002 to 2007. During that time, the blonde actress secured roles in multiple films of the romance genre including Wimbledon and Elizabethtown. Following the number of films she starred in during the early 2000s, Dunst transitioned her career by starring in independent films and announced her 2016 directorial debut of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, starring Dakota Fanning. In 2015, the actress joined the second season of Fargo, which earned her a Golden Globe nomination for her role as Peggy Blumquist. When not acting, Dunst enjoys working with multiple charities and raising awareness for political activism.
2 Julia Stiles
Following the success of her portrayal of Kat Stratford in the 1999 romantic comedy film 10 Things I Hate About You alongside the late Heath Ledger, it was clear that Julia Stiles would be entering the 2000s as a desired actress. In 2001, she starred in Save the Last Dance, which won her two MTV Movie Award titles. The same year, Rolling Stone placed her on the April cover and dubbed her “the coolest co-ed”. Stiles broke away from the traditional teen romance films, when she appeared as a Treadstone operative in three movies of the Jason Bourne franchise. In 2012, she experienced several accomplishments by having a small role in the 2012 hit film, Silver Linings Playbook. Four years later, the actress reprised her Bourne character role in the fifth installment of the Jason Bourne franchise. Earlier this year, the actress announced her engagement to Preston J. Cook, a camera assistant she met last year when working on Go With Me.
1 Josh Hartnett
Josh Hartnett quickly developed an impressive resume after starring in a number of successful films, but his appearance in the historical drama Pearl Harbor in 2001 illustrated his talent. His role in the film earned him three nominations at the MTV Movie Awards and the Teen Choice Awards. From there, Hartnett’s career continued to blossom and he was even named one of People’s “50 Most Beautiful People” in 2002. He starred in successful films such as 40 Days and 40 Nights and Black Hawk Down, but in 2008, Hartnett took his talent to the Apollo Theatre in London’s West End in the theatre adaptation of Rain Man. While Hartnett later mainly focused his career on starring in independent and neo noir films, he found brief success with Showtime’s 2014 horror drama, Penny Dreadful. Currently Hartnett is filming an upcoming indie drama titled The Long Home, which is also directed and co-starred by James Franco. Last year, the thirty-eight-year-old actor and his longtime girlfriend Tamsin Egerton welcomed a daughter.
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