19 Big Celebrities Who Debuted In '90s Films

by Taylor Ferber

The most epic time in television was undoubtedly the ‘90s. But because the peak days of Disney and Nickelodeon took over our lives, we may have let the glory overshadow brilliance that was happening in film. And by brilliance, I mean '90s debut roles of celebrities that are immensely well-known today. Thank god for Dazed and Confused, which not only became a cult classic, but introduced us to the mega silver screen stars like Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger. Then there are stars like Mila Kunis, Joseph-Gordon Levitt, and Scarlett Johansson, who were practically fetuses when they first hit the big screen. Those casting directors knew what was up, though.

Some stars landed their first starring roles in the ‘90s, like Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap and Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures. Other stars, though, we only got a peek of, like an itty bitty Jake Gyllenhaal as Billy Crystal’s son in City Slickers and Jason Segel as the dude you want to party with in Can’t Hardly Wait . Little did we know, they'd become the huge stars they are today, but, man, were those good times. Lucky for us, nostalgia time is forever o’clock, so prepare for a blast from the past like no other.

1. Kate Winslet, Heavenly Creatures (1994)

Winslet came into Hollywood guns blazing as the lead role in this teen drama. The flick led her to films like 1995’s Sense and Sensibility, and, of course, Titanic in ’97. We all know what happens after that…

2. Charlize Theron, Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

The star that would soon shine brightly as Charlize Theron got her film debut in this sequel to a sequel, where she was in an uncredited role as a miscellaneous follower. Theron would later held her own alongside Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate, and as leading lady in Mighty Joe Young. She went on to cover magazine after magazine and starred in five films in 2000 alone.

3. Gwyneth Paltrow, Shout (1991)

Before the word Goop made any sense and Chris Martin was just a name, Paltrow played a small role in the romantic teen drama Shout, starring John Travolta. She went on to give a whimsical portrayal of Wendy in the classic Hook that led us to know she’d be a star.

4. James Franco, Never Been Kissed (1999)

Simmer down, Freaks and Geeks lovers. We know this Hollywood babe made his debut on the small screen in ’99 with the show. But this was the same year as the romantic comedy classic Never Been Kissed was released, and I still think he should’ve been casted as Guy Perkins even though he was just the sidekick. He wouldn't be the sidekick for long, though. Oh no, he wouldn't...

5. Reese Witherspoon, The Man in the Moon (1991)

Not to be confused with Jim Carrey’s Man on the Moon, this film gave Witherspoon her first shot, not only on the big screen, but as leading lady. She was only 15 and was already giving us hardcore Sweet Home Alabama vibes.

6. Amy Adams, Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)

Before Ella led an enchanted life, Amy Adams appeared in this film as a pageant girl, who did lead an enchanted life, but one of black comedy. After kicking in on-screen with Kirsten Dunst and Denise Richards, she built her portfolio little by little with supporting roles until she became Amy-freakin’-Adams.

7. Jake Gyllenhaal, City Slickers (1991)

Who would’ve thought the sweet little boy who was Billy Crystal’s son in the hilarious City Slickers would one day give us some of the most steamy sex scenes and, um, photo spreads like this? I’m so happy he did.

8. Mila Kunis, Piranha (1995)

I will never get over how adorable an 11-year-old Mila Kunis was in this TV movie remake. When I was 11, I was trying to kiss boys on the school bus, and here was Kunis starring in films. A few short years later and That ‘70s Show was born. The rest is history and an awesome, self-made career.

9. Jason Segel, Can’t Hardly Wait (1998)

Are you ready for this? IMDb calls Segel’s role in this ’98 classic teen comedy the “Watermelon Guy.” How epic. This was literally a premonition of Segel’s career of comedy after comedy, kickstarted by his role in the beloved yet short-lived Freaks and Geeks a year later.

10. Renee Zellweger, Dazed and Confused (1993)

Before Bridget Jones, there was the "girl in the blue pickup truck" in the classic Dazed. Zellweger later appeared in Reality Bites and starred in the horror sequel Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation alongside a deranged (and baby) Matthew McConaughey. Soon after, she got praise for her role in 1995’s Empire Records and then in ’96, well, let’s just say: Show me the money.

11. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Beethoven (1992)

JGL’s million-dollar smile started gracing screens big and small when was just a kid. At 11 years old, he was "student No. 1" in Beethoven. It's hard to tell in the photo above, but trust: He was there. He also had small roles in shows, including Family Ties, and films like Angels in the Outfield (1994). Then he grew up and none of us were the same.

12. Brittany Murphy, Family Prayers (1993)

Before this actress was sadly taken too soon in 2009, she instantly won America’s heart with her roles on and off screen. She debuted in her first feature film Family Prayers (starring Patti LuPone) with a non-speaking role, but totally crushed it in her spin the bottle scene. Murphy then went on to play Tai in the ‘90s classic Clueless and her irresistible laugh and adorable doe-eyed look made us fall in love.

13. Matthew McConaughey, My Boyfriend's Back (1993)

Before he captured all of our hearts as a didn’t take long for McConaughey washed-up 20something who still hung with high schoolers in Dazed and Confused, Matthew McConaughey could be seen as "Guy #2" in this forgotten film.

14. Scarlett Johansson, North (1994)

Get this: ScarJo was 8 years old when she starred in this film. When the rest of us were headed to P.E. class and picking on boys during lunch, she was working with actors like Elijah Wood, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Jason Alexander (in a film voiced by Bruce Willis, by the way). I can’t.

15. Kate Beckinsale, Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

This British beauty scored some small TV roles before landing her film debut. She played the timeless lead Hero, and showcased her elegance and acting chops with no delay on the slay. Over 20 years ago, she was still the definition of perfection.

16. Christina Ricci, Mermaids (1990)

To breathe the same air as Cher, nevermind land your debut film role in a movie with her, is one of life’s small miracles. Ricci was a little nugget on screen alongside Winona Ryder in this teen drama and soon after scored her breakthrough role in The Addams Family franchise.

17. Steve Carell, Curly Sue (1991)

Who knew Tesio, AKA this miserable waiter, would eventually be the face of a 40-year-old virgin? After his debut, Carell was seen in a few films including Bruce Almighty in 2003 and eventually his major breakout in 2004's Anchorman. He kept it classy every since.

18. Jessica Alba, Camp Nowhere (1994)

Before Alba ran Hollywood and her own business and pretty much the whole world, she appeared in this family comedy at just 12. Are you ready for this fun fact? She also appeared in The Secret World of Alex Mack that same year. If that doesn’t say destined for stardom, I don’t know what does.

19. Lindsay Lohan, The Parent Trap (1998)

OK, who else was convinced that Annie and Hallie were actually two different people for like, a long time? Call me crazy, but that handshake and British accents were epic and super convincing. After this movie was just hit after hit for Lohan, like Disney's Life-Size, Get a Clue and Freak Friday. So many feels here.

I think we can all agree that marathoning sessions will never be the same.

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