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Actors From The ’90s Who Were Supposed To Be The Next Big Thing, But Never Quite Made It

Updated August 24, 2020 6.4k votes 907 voters 128.7k views14 items

List RulesVote up the actors you still love even though they aren't superstars today.

Not all stars shine forever. These actors who were supposed to be the next big thing were seemingly everywhere in the 1990s. Yet, just before stepping onto the stratosphere of major stardom, for whatever reason, they never quite made that final giant leap to Brad Pitt or Julia Roberts territory. 

Some of these forgotten '90s stars chose to retire entirely from the limelight. Bridget Fonda was one of the hardest-working actresses of the grunge decade and then abruptly stepped away from Tinseltown for good in 2002. A few of these other '90s movie stars had a run of critical and/or box office flops that put the brakes on achieving mega-stardom. However, they are still around, working in independent cinema or on the small screen. 

Vote up your favorite actors from the 1990s that you still love - even if they never quite became the next big thing in Hollywood. 

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  • Heather Graham
    Photo: Boogie Nights / New Line Cinema

    Heather Graham's career started picking up steam in the late 1980s when she was just a teenager in the comedy License to Drive. She showed off her dramatic chops in Gus Van Sant's 1989 crime drama Drugstore Cowboy. Graham worked steadily in the early 1990s with supporting roles in Shout, Swingers, and the TV series Twin Peaks. However, she didn't truly pop into the mainstream until she stole the show as Rollergirl in Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights

    The actress enjoyed breakout success and went back to her comedic roots in the 1999 hit comedy Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Graham proceeded to appear in both television and film, including recurring small-screen roles in Sex and the City, Scrubs, and Californication

    In the mid-2000s, Graham definitely made a switch to more independent-minded films. The actress took on roles in heavy dramas like Killing Me Softly, Adrift in Manhattan, and Broken. None of those films received good reviews or were even distributed on a wide national level. She did have a supporting role in two Hangover movies. 

    However, Graham continues to build upon an impressive filmography to this day. In 2018, she also wrote and directed her first movie, the romantic comedy Half Magic. The actress has talked about how grateful she feels to have been involved with so many different types of projects:

    Yeah. I’ll work in comedy or drama. I’m just grateful that I get to work. I think there’s a lot of exciting Heather Graham things going on in TV too. Movies have always been my first love, but I feel like TV is getting so exciting and it’s really fun to work in TV. 

    • Age: 50
    • Birthplace: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States of America
    • Nationality: United States of America
    • Characters: Carol Whalen, Emily Sanders, Dr. Molly Clock, Alicia, Jackie
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  • Carrie-Anne Moss
    Photo: The Matrix / Warner Bros.

    When The Matrix hit the big screen in 1999, movie spectators had never seen anything like it. The mind-bending science-fiction adventure may have starred Keanu Reeves as the chosen one, but it was Carrie-Ann Moss's character Trinity that had all the impressive moves to make the actress the next big thing in Hollywood. She certainly had the physical ability to take on action roles, plus she was absolutely gorgeous. 

    Moss enjoyed the success of two more Matrix installments in the early 2000s and appeared as the femme fatale in Christopher Nolan's backward-moving neo-noir Memento. The movie world waited for the Canadian actress to find a career-defining starring role. However, Moss never seemed to find another part outside of Trinity that sent her into A-list territory. 

    One of her first post-Matrix projects was in 2000's Red Planet. That movie, also starring Val Kilmer, was a major box office dud and received poor reviews. Additionally, Moss appeared in other mediocre works like Suspect Zero, Mini's First Time, and Normal (which received the dreaded 0% on Rotten Tomatoes). The actress spent the next decade appearing in films that were critically panned and largely unseen. 

    In 2015, Moss's career experienced a nice resurgence thanks to a transition to the small screen. The actress entered the Marvel Universe when she was cast as a powerful lawyer named Jeri Hogarth on the Netflix series Jessica Jones. Being a Marvel character has its perks, such as landing roles in additional Marvel shows like The Defenders and Daredevil. 

    Netflix and Marvel parted ways back in 2019. However, Moss certainly has something big on the horizon. Almost 20 years have passed since the last Matrix movie, and the crew is getting back together for Matrix 4, which has a 2021 release date. Moss, who is now in her 50s, is ready to take on the physically demanding role of Trinity. She said, "It’s definitely 20 years later and I have to remember to take my time because I get pretty into it. I have to be so incredibly strong to do it."

    • Age: 53
    • Birthplace: Burnaby, Canada
    • Nationality: Canada
    • Characters: Lookalike, Amanda, Irene Zuko, Woman, Monica Howard
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  • Minnie Driver
    Photo: Good Will Hunting / Miramax

    In 1997, Minnie Driver played the love interest of Will Hunting (Matt Damon) in the drama Good Will Hunting. The fresh-faced starlet earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress and seemed on her way to breakout Hollywood success. She followed up the Academy Award-winning Good Will Hunting with movies that were fairly well-received critically but failed to make an impact at the box office. How many people actually saw The Governess, An Ideal Husband, or Return to Me?

    Then in 2002, Driver publicly criticized the appearance of one of Great Britain's national treasures, Dame Judi Dench. Driver may not have intended the slight, but it followed a general disparagement of English actresses' physical beauty. During an interview, Driver commented, "In England, with all due respect, we have some of the plainest actresses in the entire world as our greatest." She then said of Dench specifically, "Maybe it is because theatre is the great love of England, but you can have Judi Dench, a very small, round, middle-aged, lovely, mothering type, playing Cleopatra."

    That comment got the actress in so much hot water that the British press called Driver "the pushiest woman in Hollywood" and "venomous." Driver avoided the British press for the next two years. In 2002, while out promoting her new solo album Everything I've Got in My Pocket, the actress talked about just how much her seemingly innocuous-at-the-time comment completely affected every aspect of her personal life. Driver said:

    I've taken a pounding, a pounding, and so has my family, my mum and dad, my sister. You have no idea what it's like. It's brutal. But it's like terrorism - you can't not do stuff because of dissent. It's when people make it personal, which I can't stop them from doing, but I'm also not going to let them stop me doing what I want. That's their mean, vindictive viciousness. But let me tell you, it never gets any easier. I hope to get to the point where if the donkey kicks you, you let it go, as opposed to carrying it around feeling awful for days and letting it affect the choices you make in your life.

    Despite the bad press across the pond, Driver never disappeared from the Hollywood silver screen. She just kept appearing in mediocre films like The Phantom of the Opera, Ripple Effect, and Hunky Dory

    Driver did find some success on the small screen and certainly showed off her sitcom comedic chops on two seasons of NBC's About a Boy. She also had a recurring role as Stanley Walker's new wife and Karen's ultimate nemesis on Will & Grace. Driver additionally starred as no-nonsense matriarch Maya DiMeo for four solid seasons of ABC's Speechless. So while Driver never became the ultimate movie star, she did go on to have a steady career as a working actress. 

    • Age: 50
    • Birthplace: Finsbury Park, London, United Kingdom
    • Nationality: England
    • Characters: Lorraine Finster, Dahlia Malloy, Lara Croft, Frances Kelly, Ellie
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  • Leelee Sobieski
    Photo: Joan of Arc / CBS

    Leelee Sobieski was just a teenager when she burst onto the Hollywood scene in 1997's Jungle 2 Jungle. She went on to co-star in the Hollywood blockbuster Deep Impact in 1998 and also appeared alongside Drew Barrymore in the teen romantic comedy Never Been Kissed. The young actress even survived and thrived on the set of Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut at just 14 years old.

    In 1999, Sobieski showed she could handle the entire weight of a production when she starred as the titular character in Joan of Arc. The television miniseries earned Sobieski both Golden Globe and Emmy nominations. The young starlet seemed to have all the makings of a child star who could actually transition to a fruitful career as the next big thing in Hollywood.

    In the early 2000s, Sobieski entered her 20s, and unfortunately, a lot of the success of her teen years dwindled. The box office and critical results from movies like Here on Earth, The Glass House, London, and The Wicker Man all dimmed her star power. In 2009, Sobieski earned the wrong kind of accolade when she was nominated for two Razzie Awards for Worst Supporting Actress for her work in 88 Minutes and In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale.

    In 2009, Sobieski became engaged to fashion designer Adam Kimmel. The couple went on to have two children together. Her relationship with her husband seemed to change her entire outlook on her Hollywood career. At the age of 29, the actress was ready to move on from the spotlight, which was not a comfortable place for her anyway. 

    “Ninety percent of acting roles involve so much sexual stuff with other people, and I don’t want to do that,” she said. “It’s such a strange fire to play with, and our relationship is surely strong enough to handle it, but if you’re going to walk through fire, there has to be something incredible on the other side.”

    Sobieski retired from acting in 2012 to focus on her family and career in art. "I don’t do movie stuff anymore," Sobieski said. "I am totally an outsider! I... am just a mom and an outsider. I am just focused on my kids. I think that’s mainly why I stopped."

    • Age: 32
    • Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States of America
    • Nationality: United States of America
    • Characters: Girl
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