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The Biggest '90s TV Teen Idols, Then and Now

Here's what the teen dreams you remember from your must-watch shows look like today.

Every decade produces its own teen idols, but when it comes to TV stars all the kids wanted to be, the '90s ruled. From Felicity to Buffy to Dawson's Creek and The Fresh Prince, there were so many series that launched their young talent into the stratosphere. Many of them are still in the spotlight today, so we're looking back on what our favorite '90s teen TV stars looked like when they first hit the airwaves compared to now. We'll also tell you how they've been keeping busy.

RELATED: Former Teen Idol Says She Was Told Not to Hug Black Co-Star During '90s TV Special.

Claire Danes: Then

Claire Danes 1994
Tsuni/USA/Alamy Stock Photo

Claire Danes played Beth March in Gillian Armstrong's Little Women in 1994, the same year My So-Called Life, her short-lived but much loved teen drama, premiered.

Claire Danes: Now

Claire Danes 2020
Shutterstock/lev radin

For eight seasons, Danes starred as a CIA agent on the drama-thriller Homeland. In 2022, she returned to TV to star with Jesse Eisenberg and Lizzy Caplan in the series Fleishman Is in Trouble, adapted from the book of the same name.

Jared Leto: Then

Jared Leto 1995
Tsuni/USA/Alamy Stock Photo

Jared Leto rose to fame as the aloof object of Danes's character Angela's affections: Jordan Catalano.

Jared Leto: Now

Jared Leto 2019

In 2021, Leto's Joker appeared in the infamous Zack Snyder cut of Justice League and in the fashion dynasty biopic House of Gucci. The following year, he played WeWork founder Adam Neumann in the true crime series WeCrashed and a Marvel anti-hero in the much-criticized comic book movie, Morbius. He also fronts the band Thirty Seconds to Mars.

Jaleel White: Then

Jaleel White in Family Matters
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Steve Urkel wasn't originally meant to be the main character of the TGIF sitcom Family Matters, but the heart wants what the heart wants. Jaleel White became the show's breakout star, playing not just the lovable nerd next door, but his dreamy alter-ego, Stefan Urquelle.

Jaleel White: Now

Jaleel White

Since early in his career, White has been doing voice acting in addition to onscreen work. His 2022 credits include the movies North of the 10The Great InheritanceHustle (alongside Adam Sandler), and Dumbbells Special Edition. He went back to his most famous character for the animated Cartoon Network special, Did I Do That to the Holidays? A Steve Urkel Story.

Larisa Oleynik: Then

Larisa Oleynik in The Secret World of Alex Mack
Hallmark Entertainment Distribution

Larisa Oleynik became the envy of kids everywhere in Nickelodeon's The Secret World of Alex Mack, due to her character's ability to dissolve into a literal puddle whenever things got awkward. She also starred in formative '90s movies The Babysitter's Club and 10 Things I Hate About You.

Larisa Oleynik: Now

Tom Everett Scott and Larisa Oleynik in 2020
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

In 2020, Oleynik (pictured above with co-star Tom Everett Scott) starred in the Netflix family series, The Healing Powers of Dude. The next year, she had a role in the rom-com We Broke Up. The former child star can also occasionally be found on the stage, including performing her own material.

Kirk Cameron: Then

Kirk Cameron in 1990
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Thanks to a series of dramatic TV movies and his role as Mike Seaver on Growing PainsKirk Cameron was one of the premiere teen idols of the late '80s and early '90s.

Kirk Cameron: Now

Kirk Cameron in 2019
Paras Griffin/Getty Images for AFFIRM Films A Sony Company

An Evangelical Christian, Cameron still works as an actor, but almost entirely in TV and movies (like the Left Behind series) with religious themes. He also made a cameo as himself on sister Candace Cameron Bure's series Fuller House in 2019 and hosts his own Christian talk show.

Keri Russell: Then

Keri Russell 1998
Tsuni/USA/Alamy Stock Photo

Mickey Mouse Club alum Keri Russell's first major acting gig was in 1992's Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, but she became a teen icon when the college dramedy Felicity premiered in 1998.

Keri Russell: Now

Keri Russell 2019

Russell's spy drama series The Americans wrapped in 2018. In 2019, she appeared in the final flick in the most recent Star Wars trilogy, and in 2021, she starred in the horror flick Antlers.

Neil Patrick Harris: Then

Neil Patrick Harris in 1991
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Neil Patrick Harris had his breakthrough role in 1988's Clara's Heart and then rose to fame playing a kid genius in Doogie Howser M.D.

Neil Patrick Harris: Now

Neil Patrick Harris in 2019

Harris has had tons of success on stage and screen as an adult as well, from winning a Tony for his starring role in Hedwig and the Angry Inch to playing lovable ladies' man Barney on How I Met Your Mother for nine seasons. Most recently, he appeared in The Matrix ResurrectionsThe Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, and the Netflix series Uncoupled.

Rider Strong: Then

Rider Strong in Boy Meets World
Buena Vista Television

Rider Strong became one of the decade's most beloved floppy-haired heartthrobs playing Shawn Hunter, Corey's best friend, on Boy Meets World.

Rider Strong: Now

Rider Strong in 2017
Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock

Strong has continued to act, but has also dabbled in other aspects of the entertainment industry, including podcasting, playwriting, and filmmaking. He also made a few appearances as Shawn in the Boy Meets World reboot, Girl Meets World and co-hosts a rewatch podcast called Pod Meets World with co-stars Danielle Fishel and Will Friedle.

Tia and Tamera Mowry: Then

Tia and Tamera Mowry 1994
PARAMOUNT TV/Album/Alamy Stock Photo

Twin actors Tia and Tamera Mowry played long-lost twins reunited on the sitcom Sister, Sister, which aired its first episode in 1994.

Tia and Tamera Mowry: Now

Tia and Tamera Mowry 2019
Shutterstock/Kathy Hutchins

Tia (left) and Tamera (right) are both Hallmark Christmas movie frequent fliers and have several other individual ventures.

Mark-Paul Gosselaar: Then

Mark-Paul Gosselaar 1990
Barry King/Alamy Live News

Mark-Paul Gosselaar started playing wise guy Zack Morris in 1987, when Good Morning, Miss Bliss premiered. But it was in the early '90s, when the retooled version of the sitcom—Saved by the Bell—premiered in 1989 that he became a bonafide teen heartthrob.

Mark-Paul Gosselaar: Now

Mark-Paul Gosselaar 2019
Shutterstock/Kathy Hutchins

Gosselaar recently starred as Bow's dad on the black-ish spinoff mixed-ish. He also reprised his defining role in Peacock's Saved by the Bell revival, appeared in an episode of Barry, and stars in the new crime drama, Will Trent.

Mario Lopez: Then

Mario Lopez 1990
MediaPunch Inc/Alamy Stock Photo

The jock to Zack's prep, A.C. Slater made Mario Lopez equally as popular with the kids.

Mario Lopez: Now

Mario Lopez 2019
Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock

Lopez was also back for more Saved by the Bell, as Slater became the PE teacher and football coach at Bayside. But he's otherwise kept busy more as a host than an actor, including on his current gig, anchoring Access Hollywood.

Elizabeth Berkley: Then

Elizabeth Berkley in 1990
Ron Wolfson/Getty Images

Elizabeth Berkley started her career as a model and a dancer before being cast as high achiever Jessie Spano on Saved by the Bell.

Elizabeth Berkley: Now

Elizabeth Berkley in 2018
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Berkley's most recent acting gig was, you guessed it, playing grown-up Jessie on the Saved by the Bell reboot, though you'll also see her in HBO's upcoming music business drama, The Idol. In addition to acting, she's delved into the self-help arena, running an advice site for teen girls called Ask Elizabeth, which later became a book and a documentary.

Tiffani Thiessen: Then

Tiffani Thiessen 1990
Globe Photos/MediaPunch/Alamy Stock Photo

Then known as Tiffani Amber Thiessen, she played cheerleader Kelly on Saved by the Bell, Saved by the Bell: The College Years, and the TV movie in which Zack and Kelly tie the knot. She also joined the cast of another influential teen drama, Beverly Hills, 90210.

Tiffani Thiessen: Now

Tiffani Thiessen 2019
Ovidiu Hrubaru/Shutterstock

Thiessen, like her other costars, also recently returned to her teen dream role for a couple of episodes. She also stars on the Netflix series Alex & Katie and has led her fair share of Hallmark holiday movies.

Lark Voorhies: Then

Dustin Diamond and Lark Voorhies in 1994
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc

Lark Voorhies (pictured above with cast-mate Dustin Diamond, who sadly passed away from cancer in 2021) played Bayside's fashion plate, Lisa Turtle, on Saved by the Bell. She went on to roles in soap operas Days of Our Lives and The Bold and the Beautiful.

Lark Voorhies: Now

Lark Voorhies in 2018
Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

Voorhies has not acted much since the late '00s, but she did make a few cameos in the show's reboot.

Neve Campbell: Then

Neve Campbell in Party of Five
Sony Pictures Television

Neve Campbell's big break came when she was cast as Julia Salinger in the drama Party of Five, about siblings who have to look out for each other after their parents die. Roles in The Craft and the Scream series cemented her as a teen idol.

Neve Campbell: Now

Neve Campbell
Lev Radin/Shutterstock

You can see Campbell in the 2020 Disney+ movie Clouds and the 2018 Dwayne Johnson disaster flick Skyscraper, but the big news for '90s kids was that she returned to the Scream franchise for the fifth film in the series, which came out in early 2022. She also stars in the Netflix legal drama The Lincoln Lawyer.

Will Smith: Then

Will Smith 1990
Barry King/Alamy Stock Photo

Will Smith was already famous as a rapper by the time his series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air started airing in 1990.

Will Smith: Now

Will Smith 2019

Smith is one of the most bankable actors of all time, but he hasn't forgotten his roots. He was a part of the Fresh Prince reunion special that premiered on HBO Max in 2020. He won his first Oscar in 2022 for his role in King Richard; unfortunately, the moment was somewhat soured by Smith leaving his seat earlier in the evening to slap host Chris Rock in retaliation for a joke the comedian made about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith. In 2022, he starred as an escaped slave in the period drama Emancipation.

Tatyana Ali: Then

Tatyana Ali 1992
Michael Ferguson/PHOTOlink/MediaPunch

Tatyana Ali played Will's little cousin Ashley on Fresh Prince and also released her own pop music.

Tatyana Ali: Now

Tatyana Ali 2019
Shutterstock/Kathy Hutchins

Ali can be spotted all over the small and big screens (including, yes, the occasional holiday romance). In 2022, the former teen star was the runner-up on the second season of RuPaul's Secret Celebrity Drag Race, which is far from a bad showing.

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Sarah Michelle Gellar: Then

Sarah Michelle Gellar 1998
Photo 12/Alamy Stock Photo

Sarah Michelle Gellar staked countless creatures of the night on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which aired from 1997 to 2003.

Sarah Michelle Gellar: Now

Sarah Michelle Gellar 2019
DFree / Shutterstock

Gellar still grabbed the occasional acting role over the years, but she also became known for her cookbook and her adorable marriage to fellow '90s teen icon, Freddie Prinze Jr. She's been appearing on screen more in recent years, however, including in the 2022 Netflix teen comedy Do Revenge and lending her voice to the animated series Masters of the Universe: Revelation. This year, she'll be starring in the Paramount+ drama, Wolf Pack.

Alyson Hannigan: Then

Alyson Hannigan in Buffy
20th Television

Alyson Hannigan had been acting for a few years when she was cast as Buffy's bookish best friend Willow, but it was undeniably her breakout role.

Alyson Hannigan: Now

Alyson Hannigan in 2019

Just two years after Buffy ended, Hannigan ended up on another long-running TV show: How I Met Your Mother, which was on the air through 2014. More recent credits include the Disney Channel Original Movie Kim Possible, the animated series Fancy Nancy, and the 2018 slasher flick, You Might Be the Killer. She's also married to another former Sunnydale resident: Alexis Denisof, who played Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.

Joey Lawrence: Then

Joey Lawrence 1991
Globe Photos/ Stock Photo

If you weren't a '90s kid, you'll never know just how ubiquitous Blossom star Joey Lawrence and his catchphrase—"Whoa!—were at the time.

Joey Lawrence: Now

Joey Lawrence 2020

Lawrence, who had a couple of fairly popular hits back in the day, released some new music as recently as 2017, and also was on Celebrity Big Brother in 2019. In 2022, he reunited with former TV sister Mayim Bialik on her show Call Me Kat and competed on The Masked Singer.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Then

Joseph Gordon Levitt in Third Rock From the Sun
Casey-Werner Distribution

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been acting on screen since the late '80s, and if you grew up watching him, Angels in the Outfield might be the first place you remember seeing him. But two years after that, he began starring in 3rd Rock From the Sun, a sitcom about a group of aliens pretending to be an average, human family.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Now

Joseph Gordon Levitt

In 2022, Gordon-Levitt voice Jiminy Cricket in Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio, made a subtle cameo in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, and played Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick in the series Super Pumped. Like a lot of former teen stars on this list, he's also dabbled in writing, directing, and producing, and he runs a creative site called HitRecord, which promotes collaboration among artists who've never even met.

James Van Der Beek: Then

James Van Der Beek 1998
Nina Prommer/Globe Photos/ Stock Photo

James Van Der Beek became a hero to film nerds everywhere when he played the eponymous aspiring director on Dawson's Creek, which came to The WB in 1998.

James Van Der Beek: Now

James Van Der Beek 2019
Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock

In 2019, Van Der Beek competed on Dancing With the Stars (coming in a respectable fifth) and made a cameo in the Kevin Smith movie Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. He was also in the 2020 horror movie, Bad Hair, and voiced a character on the animated series Vampirina.

Katie Holmes: Then

Katie Holmes 2019
Featureflash Archive/Alamy Stock Photo

As Joey Potter, Katie Holmes was the next door neighbor with a secret crush on her best friend, Dawson.

Katie Holmes: Now

Katie Holmes 2019
Shutterstock/lev radin

In 2020, Holmes appeared in the movies Brahms: The Boy II and The Secret: Dare to Dream. In 2022, she wrote, directed, and starred in the pandemic drama Alone Together.

Michelle Williams: Then

Michelle Williams 1998
Featureflash Archive/Alamy Stock Photo

Michelle Williams broke out playing new girl Jen, Joey's rival and eventual friend, on Dawson's.

Michelle Williams: Now

Michelle Willams 2019
Shutterstock/Kathy Hutchins

In 2019, Williams won an Emmy for playing the dancer Gwen Verdon in the miniseries Fosse/Verdon. In 2020, she announced that she'd gotten married to the series' director Thomas Kail, and they've since welcomed two children. Other recent roles include reprising the part of Anne in the 2021 Marvel sequel Venom: Let There Be Carnage, playing an artist in the 2022 dramedy Showing Up, and starring as Mitzi Fabelman in Steven Spielberg's somewhat autobiographical drama, The Fabelmans. She's been nominated for several awards for that last one.

Joshua Jackson: Then

Joshua Jackson 1998
Globe Photos, Inc/Globe Photos/ Stock Photo

Prior to playing Pacey Witter, Dawson's Creek's resident sarcastic class clown, Joshua Jackson was known for The Mighty Ducks movies.

Joshua Jackson: Now

Joshua Jackson 2019
Silvia Elizabeth Pangaro / Shutterstock

In 2020, Jackson starred with Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington on the series Little Fires Everywhere and announced the arrival of his first child with wife and fellow actor Jodie Turner-Smith. In 2021, he led the Peacock series Dr. Death, and you can see him next in the upcoming miniseries adaptation of Fatal Attraction.

Shannen Doherty: Then

Shannen Doherty 1990
FOX/BROADCASTING CO./Album/Alamy Stock Photo

Shannen Doherty had tons of credits under her belt—including Little House on the Prairie—before playing Brenda Walsh on Beverly Hills, 90210, which premiered in 1990.

Shannen Doherty: Now

Shannen Doherty 2019

In 2019, Doherty joined her old friends back at the Peach Pit on the revival series BH90210, and made a tearjerking cameo in the Riverdale episode honoring the late Luke Perry. She's also appeared in a few recent television movies, as well as the action flicks Fortress and Hot Seat.

Jason Priestley: Then

Jason Priestley 1990
FOX/BROADCASTING CO./Album/Alamy Stock Photo

Jason Priestley won millions of hearts playing Brenda's twin brother Brandon on 90210.

Jason Priestley: Now

Jason Priestley 2019

Priestley was also onboard for BH90210. For five seasons, he played a detective on the Canadian crime drama, Private Eyes, and he's starred in a handful of recent TV movies.

Brandy: Then

Brandy Norwood 1996
Barry King/Alamy Stock Photo

Brandy Norwood, or just Brandy, was well known to her teen fanbase before taking on the lead role of Moesha in 1996. Her 1994 debut album was a massive hit.

Brandy: Now

Brandy Norwood 2019
F. S/AdMedia via ZUMA Wire/Alamy Stock Photo

In 2021, Norwood starred on the short-lived music business drama Queens, which she followed up with a role in 2022 movie Best. Christmas. Ever. That same year, she released a single she recorded her with her daughter Sy'Rai. Next up for her? The Disney musical sequel Descendants: The Pocketwatch, in which she'll play Cinderella—the princess she memorably embodied in the 1997 version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.

Corin Nemec: Then

Corin Nemec in 1991
Barry King/Alamy Stock Photo

For three seasons, Corin Nemec played the eponymous character in the sitcom, Parker Lewis Can't Lose—a kid who seemed to be able to get away with just about anything.

Corin Nemec: Now

Corin Nemec in 2017
Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock

Post-Parker, Nemec has stayed active in front of and behind the camera. In recent years, you may have seen him acting in one of the movies in Lifetime's "The Wrong X" series (i.e. The Wrong Cheerleader Coach, The Wrong Stepfather), but he also produces, writes, and directs.

Melissa Joan Hart: Then

Melissa Joan Hart 1996
Allstar Picture Library/Alamy Stock Photo

Melissa Joan Hart grew up with her fans. She followed up her role on the Nickelodeon series Clarissa Explains It All in the early 1990s with the primetime sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch in 1996.

Melissa Joan Hart: Now

Melissa Joan Hart 2019
Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock

In 2019, Hart led the Netflix series No Good Nick, and can often be seen in TV Christmas rom-coms. From 2019 to 2022, she voiced a character in The Casagrandes, and in 2021, she appeared as herself on Hell's Kitchen and Celebrity Wheel of Fortune.

Sage Young
Sage Young is the Deputy Entertainment Editor at Best Life, expanding and honing our coverage in this vertical by managing a team of industry-obsessed writers. Read more
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