Every generation has their own heartthrobs, and the crop that bewitched ’90s teens were some of the best. Between ABC’s TGIF lineup, more movies being released, and magazines like Tiger Beat and YM being more popular than ever, celebrity crushes reached a fever pitch. Many of these teen idols managed to parlay their early fame into lasting careers, like Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Drew Barrymore, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
However, some are defined by the decade. They may still be around Hollywood or even experiencing a bit of a career resurgence, but the ’90s were definitely their careers’ golden decade thus far. Everyone has their favorite ’90s crush, and this is not an exhaustive list, so get a little nostalgic in the comment section about who made your young heart go pitter-patter.
Jonathan Taylor Thomas
Jonathan Taylor Thomas, affectionately know as JTT to millions of screaming tweens, is the quintessential ’90s child star. Something about the way he rocked the flannel and bowl cut look that typified the decade was like catnip to young girls everywhere. Transitioning from his start on the wildly popular sitcom, Home Improvement, he went on to star in movies like The Lion King, Man of the House, Tom and Huck, Wild America, and I’ll Be Home For Christmas.
Thomas has left acting behind for the most part. He had guest stints on Smallville and Veronica Mars, and occasionally pops up on his former television dad Tim Allen’s sitcom Last Man Standing, but his focus has been on education instead of lasting fame, studying at Harvard and Saint Andrews University before graduating from Columbia in 2010. Whether he returns to acting full-time remains to be seen, but there is definitely a generation that would welcome him back.
Admittedly, Winona Ryder is in a different league than everyone else on this list. She was the epitome of ’90s grunge cool, becoming an icon through movies like Mermaids, Edward Scissorhands, Reality Bites, and Girl Interrupted. She was even nominated for an Academy Award twice (in 1994 for The Age of Innocence, and again in 1995 for Little Women). However, any ’90s list without Ryder is simply incomplete, so she gets a mention here.
After her infamous shoplifting debacle, Ryder went on an acting hiatus from 2001 until 2006. She started appearing in small films again before really gaining notice until 2010’s awards darling Black Swan. Since then, she has appeared in films like Star Trek, The Dilemma, and The Iceman. She’s set to star alongside Oscar Isaac in the upcoming HBO miniseries, Show Me a Hero, and also has a role in the upcoming Netflix series, Montauk. Here’s hoping she’s back to stay. #WinoForever
Devon Sawa may not have been in as many movies as some on this list, but he made an impression nonetheless. When he danced with Christina Ricci in Casper, preteen hearts fluttered away to a higher realm of squee. Whether you loved him in Now and Then, Wild America, Idle Hands, or Final Destination, you were definitely into his floppy hair and approachable bad boy vibe.
After starring in Eminem’s “Stan” music video, Sawa’s career dropped off a bit, thanks to drugs and the typical pitfalls of early stardom. He appeared in Slackers and Spider-Man: The Animated Series, before getting a big role in The CW’s Nikita.
Jennifer Love Hewitt
Jennifer Love Hewitt is the ultimate ’90s girl next door. Thanks to Party of Five, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Can’t Hardly Wait, Love Hewitt was a teen queen of the first order. Easily one of the most lusted-after women on television at the time, she managed to turn her early success into a steady television career beyond the ’90s, as well. A few Maxim cover shoots certainly didn’t hurt things, either.
Love Hewitt continued her television work with The Ghost Whisperer, The Client List (for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe), and Criminal Minds. She also appeared in a handful of films, including Heartbreakers with Sigourney Weaver. In 2010, Love Hewitt wrote a dating book entitled I Shot Cupid and introduced the world to “vajazzling.” Thanks?
Freddie Prinze, Jr.
In the ’90s, if your movie needed an affable, sensitive jock whose parents just didn’t understand, Freddie Prinze, Jr. was your man. He starred in I Know What You Did Last Summer and its sequel, as well as the iconic teen film She’s All That, which cemented his heartthrob status for the ages.
Post-’90s, Prinze, Jr. starred in the Scooby Doo films, Summer Catch, and Down to You. He also transitioned to television and voice work, having his own short-lived sitcom, Freddie, and appearing in Boston Legal, Friends, Robot Chicken, 24, and Star Wars Rebels. Prinze, Jr. also worked as a director and producer for WWE from 2010 until 2012. He’s also been married to fellow ’90s icon Sarah Michelle Gellar for 13 years, proving that love is indeed real.
Alyssa Milano really began her road to fame with the ’80s sitcom Who’s The Boss?, but it wasn’t until the ’90s with Melrose Place and Charmed that she became a totally crushable babe. I mean, she inspired the name of Star-Lord’s spaceship in Guardians of the Galaxy. Clearly, her hotness was astronomical.
Following her run on Charmed, Milano appeared in things like Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, My Name Is Earl, and New Year’s Eve. After a few quickly canceled television shows, she is currently starring on ABC’s guilty pleasure show, Mistresses. She is also a humanitarian, working with UNICEF, PETA, and Charity: Water.
After playing a teen father on 7th Heaven, Andrew Keegan probably made you believe in DILFs. Jessica Biel fell in love with him on the show, and so did you. He also achieved his Tiger Beat pin-up status with Camp Nowhere, Party of Five, and as that douchebag Joey Donner in 10 Things I Hate About You.
More recently, Keegan hasn’t acted in anything that you’ve probably seen. His last big movie being 2001’s O, where he played third fiddle to Mekhi Phifer and Josh Hartnett. However, he is the only person on this list to be the founder of a religion. That’s right. Andrew Keegan founded an enlightenment cult called Full Circle. They were eventually shut down for serving illegal kombucha, proving that it was exactly as insufferable as you could imagine.
With the original 90210, you were either a Kelly fan or a Brenda fan. Jennie Garth played Kelly, the archetypal blonde popular girl with a penchant for bad boys. She wasn’t as scary as Shannen Doherty’s mean girl, Brenda, but still seemed as far out of reach as possible. This obviously made her even more desirable. Hearts broke everywhere when Kelly finally chose Dylan, because that meant that she hadn’t chosen you.
After she left the most famous zip code, Garth starred in a long string of Lifetime movies. She also co-starred with Amanda Bynes in the sitcom What I Like About You, reprised her role as Kelly in the 90210 reboot, and had her own CMT reality show, Jennie Garth: A Little Bit Country.
Sure, Boy Meets World was mostly about Cory Matthews’ life and love, but it was Rider Strong‘s Shawn Hunter who often stole the show. Shawn was troubled and “dangerous” (I mean, this was a TGIF show, so take that with a grain of salt), but he was one half of one of the greatest bromances ever, and probably conditioned an entire generation of young women to love emotionally unavailable men.
Following Boy Meets World, Strong also appeared in the horror film Cabin Fever and its sequel, as well as working on and starring in some short films. He was one of the many original cast members to return for Girl Meets World, because, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Tiffani Amber Thiessen
The cast of Save By The Bell was stacked with hotties, but there was something about Tiffani Amber Thiessen that set her apart. All the girls wanted to be her and all the boys wanted to date her. Kelly Kapowski was the ultimate teenage cool girl, and people are still nostalgic for that show in a big way. Thiessen also starred as Valerie in the later seasons of 90210, making her a part of two iconic ’90s television shows.
As is usually the way for many teen stars, Thiessen went on to star in a bunch of made-for-television movies. She also starred in shows like Fastlane and White Collar. In 2015, she started hosting her own cooking show, Dinner at Tiffani’s, which is probably a pretty great gig if you can get it.
James Van Der Beek
Dawson’s Creek wreaked utter havoc on the emotions of teenagers for years, much of that due to James Van Der Beek. Sure, he became a total whiner in the later seasons of the show, but the Dawson-Joey-Pacey love triangle is one of the most famous in teen dramas.
Van Der Beek’s teen heartthrob credentials are also bolstered by his appearance in Varsity Blues.
After appearing in films like Scary Movie, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and The Rules of Attraction, Van Der Beek returned to doing mostly television work. He popped up on Criminal Minds, Ugly Betty, One Tree Hill, How I Met Your Mother, and multiple versions of Law & Order.
In 2012, The Beek played a hilariously exaggerated version of himself on the gone-too-soon Don’t Trust The B—- in Apartment 23 and became an internet meme. He is currently starring in CSI: Cyber.
Melissa Joan Hart
Melissa Joan Hart was either the cool big sister you wish you had or your friend’s cool big sister who you wanted to date. Hart became known for playing spunky know-it-alls due to her work on Clarissa Explains It All and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. In 1999, she starred opposite a pre-Entourage Adrian Grenier in Drive Me Crazy (and the accompanying Britney Spears music video).
After a string of made for television films and a turn on Dancing with the Stars, Hart returned to her sitcom roots with ABC Family’s Melissa and Joey, starring opposite fellow teen star Joey Lawrence. She is also very into Alabama football.