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Male Heartthrobs of the 1990s: Where Are They Now?

Rachel M. Johnson is a lover of all things pop culture. She's been writing about music and entertainment online for years.

The 90s brought us a wide array of iconic TV shows, movies and music that introduced us to some of the most sexy and swoon-worthy heartthrobs we've ever had. Many of the men on this list have gone on to have extremely successful careers in Hollywood, and continue to age like fine wine. Let's take a stroll down memory lane and check out some of the most famous male heartthrobs of the 1990s.


Leonardo DiCaprio

Then: Before his poster was hung on the bedroom walls of million of girls everywhere, DiCaprio initially became a household name after receiving an Oscar nomination for his role in the 1993 film, What's Eating Gilbert Grape? During the 90s, he would also star in The Basketball Diaries, Marvin's Room, and The Man in the Iron Mask. Leo-mania was in full swing in the latter part of the decade, when Leonardo DiCaprio took the world (and ladies) by storm with his dreamboat roles in Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Titanic (1997).

Now: Since becoming an ultimate Hollywood hunk, DiCaprio has built one of the most extensive and colorful film careers in history. With movies such as Catch Me If You Can, Gangs of New York, The Departed and The Wolf of Wall Street on his resume, the actor is truly a chameleon. He's had an impressive five Academy Award nominations, finally winning Best Actor for his role in 2016's The Revenant. DiCaprio is also well-known for his environmentalism, and produced a documentary on climate change, Before the Flood. Plus, he’s still as handsome as ever.


Jonathan Taylor Thomas

Then: Jonathan Taylor Thomas was the ultimate teen heartthrob due to his role as mischievous teen Randy Taylor on Home Improvement. The young actor became the resident hottie on the hit show, which aired from 1991 to 1999. Prior to his success as Randy, Thomas had starred as Kevin Brady on the short-lived spin-off, The Bradys (1990). He also voiced Simba in The Lion King (1994).

Now: Thomas left the show in 1998 in order to focus on his academics; he would go on to study at Harvard, Columbia and St. Andrews in Scotland. After the early 2000s, he almost stopped acting entirely. He had guest roles on the shows 8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter, Smallville and Veronica Mars. In 2013, he was reunited with his once on-screen dad Tim Allen on Last Man Standing; he returned once more in 2015.


Freddie Prinze Jr.

Then: Prince Jr. developed a loyal and passionate fan-base after appearing in the late '90s films I Know What You Did Last Summer. The film series made him well-known among teenage audiences, and he nabbed his first leading role in the romantic comedy She's All That (1999). The film was a box office success, grossing $63 million upon its release and has since become one of the most popular teen films of the 90s.

Now: The actor went on to find success in the 2000s, starring as Fred Jones in the live-action film version of Scooby-Doo, and its sequel Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. He began dating his I Know What You Did Last Summer co-star Sarah Michelle Gellar in 2000, and the couple were married in 2002. They have two children together. Prinze Jr. made appearances on the shows Friends and Boston Legal, and on his own television sitcom, Freddie. These days, the actor primarily does TV work, having appeared on shows such as Bones and 24.


James Van Der Beek

Then: James Van Der Beek captured the hearts of girls across the country as the titular character in the hit WB series Dawson’s Creek. The successful show ran from 1998 to 2003, making its young stars household names. During this time Van Der Beek would also appear in the films Varsity Blues (1999) and The Rules of Attraction (2002), the former placing at number one for two weeks at the box office.

Now: Since his days at the Creek, Van Der Beek has appeared in TV films including Taken in Broad Daylight and Salem Falls. He starred as a fictionalized version of himself on the cult ABC sitcom Don’t Trust the B——in Apartment 23, CSI: Cyber, and What Would Diplo Do? He currently stars as Matt Bromley in the FX drama Pose.


Luke Perry

Then: Luke Perry became the ultimate heart throb when he starred as resident bad boy Dylan McKay on the iconic teen drama Beverly Hills, 90210. Perry appeared on the show from 1990 to 1995, and again from 1998 to 2000. When he wasn’t wooing Brenda or Kelly on the drama, the actor would also appear in the 1992 film Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Invasion, and The Fifth Element.

Now: Since his days at the ultimate heartbreaker, Perry has gone on to make appearances on shows like What I Like About You, Will & Grace and Body of Proof. He currently stars as Fred Andrews in the Archie Comics based teen drama Riverdale, and will appear in the upcoming Quentin Tarantino film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.


Will Smith

Then: Actor, rapper and overall funny man Will Smith began his career as a performer under the name The Fresh Prince in the late 1980s, and soon skyrocketed to fame on the beloved comedy show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The series ran for 6 seasons, from 1990-1996. It didn’t take long before Hollywood came calling, as Smith went on to star in the box office smash hit Independence Day (1995), as well as Bad Boys, Men in Black, Enemy of the State, and Wild, Wild West. The actor soon became a blockbuster staple.

Now: Smith has continued to become a Hollywood heavy hitter, and is the only actor to have eight consecutive films gross over $100 million at the domestic box office. His long movie resume includes hits such as Hitch, I Am Legend, Hancock, and Suicide Squad. He is set to appear as the Genie in the live-action version of Aladdin this summer.


Mark-Paul Gosselaar

Then: Mark-Paul Gosselaar first rose to fame as the scheming but lovable Zack Morris on the teen sitcom Saved by the Bell, a character he played from 1989 to 1993. He would reprise the role for the spin-off, Saved by the Bell: The College Years from 1993 to 1994. The blonde sensation would appear alongside fellow sitcom star Candace Cameron Bure in the 1996 TV drama film She Cried No.

Now: Gosselaar has kept himself busy since his sitcom days, starring as Detective John Clark, Jr. on NYPD Blue, Raising the Bar, and as Peter Bash in Franklin & Bash. The actor is set to star in the upcoming supernatural drama The Passage, and most recently appeared alongside Bruce Willis in the 2016 film Precious Cargo.


Brad Pitt

And Then: Arguably one of the most swoon-worthy heartthrobs of the 1990s, Brad Pitt first came onto the scene as the sexy cowboy hitchhiker in the 1991 iconic film Thelma & Louise. His famous love scene with Geena Davis in the movie further solidified his “sex symbol” status. He would go on to steal the hearts of women everywhere with his handsome looks and performances in Interview with the Vampire, Seven, 12 Monkeys and Fight Club.

Now: Brad Pitt has most definitely kept himself busy since driving women everywhere crazy, acting and producing many hit films. Just a few of his mega successful movies include Ocean’s Eleven, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and The Big Short. He had high-profile marriages to both Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie, the latter whom he shares six children with. He will star along fellow ’90s heartthrobs Leonardo DiCaprio and Luke Perry in the upcoming film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.


Devon Sawa

Then: Devon Sawa made young girls everywhere swoon during the mid-1990s, when he first starred as the romantic lead in the sports-themed pre-teen film Little Giants. He would go on to star in two films alongside Christina Ricci in 1995: Casper and Now and Then. Sawa was constantly featured in teen magazines, cementing his heartthrob title.

Now: Unlike other child and teen actors, Sawa continued to find success in Hollywood as he grew older, appearing in movies such as Idle Hands, SLC Punk, and Final Destination. He had a lead role in the CW series Nikita and Somewhere Between, and most recently appeared in Hawaii Five-O.


Barry Watson

Then: Barry Watson starred as Matthew Camden on the mega-hit WB series 7th Heaven, a role in which the actor gained much recognition (and attention from the ladies). He stopped being a series regular after the sixth season, but continued to guest star until the show's tenth season. Watson would go on to star with fellow TV-sensation Katie Holmes in the 1999 film Teaching Mrs. Tingle. The actor was diagnosed with Hodkin's disease in 2002, and took a leave of absence from 7th Heaven but was in remission in 2006.

Now: Watson went on to have roles in films like Sorority Boys, Boogeyman and A Dog's Way Home. His television credits include the lead role in What About Bryan, Samantha Who? Hart of Dixie and most recently Masters of Sex.


The Backstreet Boys

Then: The Backstreet Boys formed back in 1993, with members AJ McLean, Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell. The boy band rose to fame with their 1996 debut album, Backstreet Boys and with their follow-up a year later, Backstreet’s Back. The group spawned hits such as “I’ll Never Break Your Heart”, “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)”, and “Quit Playing Games With My Heart.” Their final album of the decade, Millennium has since sold 30 million copies.

Now: Unlike other boy bands, after a brief hiatus the Backstreet Boys are back and stronger than ever. They released Black & Blue (2000) and Never Gone (2005) with the original members, and they have an upcoming album DNA releasing next year. The groups has sold more than 100 million records worldwide and continue to tour, even having released a documentary in 2015.


Jared Leto

Then: With his striking blue eyes and mysterious demeanor, Jared Leto first came onto the scene when he was cast opposite Claire Danes in the cult-classic My So-Called Life (1994). Though the show only lasted a season, it quickly brought Leto a huge fan following. He would go on to star in films such as Prefontaine, Urban Legend, and the critically acclaimed The Thin Red Line. He ventured into music when he co-founded his band, Thirty Seconds to Mars in 1998.

Now: Leto has not slowed down a bit, with both his acting and music careers being very successful. He starred in the critically acclaimed film Requiem for a Dream, as well as movies like Panic Room, Suicide Squad, and his Oscar-winning role in The Dallas Buyer’s Club. His band Thirty Seconds to Mars have sold over 15 million records, and have released 5 studio albums.


Joshua Jackson

Then: Joshua Jackson played the side-kick best friend who managed to get the girl on the hit teen drama Dawson’s Creek, a role that cemented the actor’s dreamboat status. Prior to appearing as the funny and swoon-worthy Pacey Witter on the show, he had starred as Charlie Conway in The Mighty Ducks film series. He would also appear in the movies Urban Legends and Cruel Intentions.

Now: Jackson's career in Hollywood has continued to be positive, as the actor went on to star in films such as Cursed, Shutter and One Week, for which he won a Genie Award. He has also found success once again on the small screen, appearing as Peter Bishop in the science fiction series Fringe and currently as Cole Lockhart in Showtime's The Affair. Jackson made his theatrical debut in Broadway's Children of a Lesser God, a performance he's received a Drama League Awards nomination for.


Rider Strong

Then: Rider Strong is famous for his portrayal of the troubled but caring Shawn Hunter on the hit sitcom Boy Meets World, a role he played from 1993 to 2000. Though the show focused on the love of Cory and Topanga, the character of Shawn quickly stood out and became the object of many girls' affection. Strong actually began his acting career at the age of nine, when he starred in the San Francisco production of Les Misérables.

Now: After the completion of Boy Meets World, Strong appeared in the 2002 indie horror film Cabin Fever, directed by Eli Roth. The movie was a box office success, earning $30.5 million on a $1.5 million budget. He wrote and directed the short film, Irish Twins, which premiered at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. It went on to win the Jury Award and Audience Award at the Woods Hole Film Festival. He reprised his role as Shawn Hunter in the Boy Meets World spin-off Girl Meets World, and currently provides his voice for the animated show Star vs. the Forces of Evil.



Then: Usher took the world (and ladies) by storm with the release of his of his album My Way, in 1997. Though he had previously released his debut album in 1994, his sophomore album spawned hits such as "You Make Me Wanna...", "Nice & Slow" and "My Way." His smooth and powerful voice paired with his impressive dancing skills made Usher a sensation. Aside from his music, he also appeared in three late 90s films: The Faculty, She's All That and Light It Up.

Now: The R&B star went on to release multiple hit albums, including 8701 (2001), Confessions (2004) and Here I Stand (2008). Confessions was a massive hit, selling a whopping 1.1 million copies in its first week, and featured smash singles including "Yeah!", "Burn", and the Alicia Keys collaboration, "My Boo." It has since sold more than 20 million copies. Usher has sold 23.8 million albums, earned 8 Grammys, appeared as a judge on The Voice and helped discover pop star Justin Bieber. His released his most recent album A, earlier this year.


John Stamos

Then: Sure, the beloved sitcom Full House might have introduced the world to the Olsen twins, but it also gave us the hottest uncle around (with the greatest hair), Jesse Katsopolis. John Stamos starred as the wild and fun character from 1987 to 1995, capturing the attention (and hearts) of women and girls alike. Prior to nabbing the role of Jesse, Stamos starred as Blackie Parrish on the soap opera General Hospital from 1982 to 1984, and in the 1986 film Never Too Young to Die.

Now: Since his begging for mercy years as Uncle Jesse, Stamos has gone on to have a successful career in Hollywood. From 2005 to 2009, he starrred as Dr. Tony Gates on ER, has appeared in multiple made for TV films, and had roles on Glee, Grandfathered, and Scream Queens. He also reprised his role of Jesse on the Full House spin-off, Fuller House. Stamos welcomed his first child earlier this year.


Johnny Depp

Then: Does Johnny Depp really need an introduction? The swoon-worthy actor got his start portraying larger-than-life characters, with roles in films like Cry-Baby (1990), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Benny & Joon (1993), and the critically acclaimed What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993). He was a force to be reckoned with throughout the nineties, appearing in a slew of films that catapulted him to fame. His wide range of characters brought a uniqueness to his resume, as he also starred in movies including Ed Wood, Donnie Brasco, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Donnie Brasco.

Now: Depp has refused to slow down, appearing in a wide array of films throughout the 2000s till now. He is perhaps most known for his role as the hilarious and bumbling Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, which were box office smashes. He is well-known for his collaboration with director Tim Burton, having starred in his films like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Alice in Wonderland. The actor most recently appeared in the Harry Potter spin-off, Fantastic Beats: The Crimes of Grindelwald.



Then: Iconic boy band *NYSNC formed in 1995, with original members Justin Timberlake, JC Chasez, Chris Kirkpatrick, Joey Fatone and Jason Galasso. However, Galasso soon dropped out and was replaced by Lance Bass. The group released three studio albums together, and went on to have successful classic pop songs including "Bye Bye Bye", "It's Gonna Be Me", and "Pop". The band completed five nation wide tours and have sold over 70 million records since their debut. They disbanded in 2002.

Now: Justin Timberlake went on to become one of the world's best-selling music artists, with an impressive 32 million albums and 56 million singles sold throughout his solo career. JC Chasez released his solo album Schizophrenic in 2004, and served as a judge on the MTV show America's Best Dance Crew. Christ Kirkpatrick has done voice work for numerous kids shows, including The Fairly Odd Parents, and has appeared on The Simpsons. Joey Fatone competed on Dancing with the Stars, was the host of The Singing Bee, and served as the announcer for Family Feud. Lance Bass appeared in films like On the Line, I Know Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, and on Broadway's Hairspray.

© 2018 Rachel M Johnson

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