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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 4.9k votes 715 voters 117.3k 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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  • Christina Ricci is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Actors From The ’90s Who Were Supposed To Be The Next Big Thing, But Never Quite Made It
    Photo: Addams Family Value / Paramount Pictures

    Christina Ricci made her big-screen debut at just 9 years old in the 1990 movie Mermaids. Ricci continued her run of early success as Wednesday in The Addams Family and also showed off her dramatic chops in the 1997 drama The Ice Storm. By the end of the decade, the child actress had appeared in everything from family films to weepies. In fact, she never seemed to stop working. But would she be able to make the leap to adult roles?

    Thankfully, Ricci was able to avoid the traditional pitfalls that can wreck not only a child actor's career but also their whole life. Ricci continued to be a big-screen presence, carving out a niche in independent cinema. She found critical success in 2003's Monster and scored further indie cred with films like Prozac Nation and The Opposite of Sex

    The actress also worked steadily on the small screen. She had a recurring role during the final season of Ally McBeal and scored an Emmy nomination for her guest spot on Grey's Anatomy in 2006. She starred as the title character in The Lizzie Borden Chronicles and Z: The Beginning of Everything. She also served as a producer on both of those series. 

    Despite her impressive filmography, Ricci never quite made it into superstar status. The actress thinks that her short stature may have held her back. She said in 2007, "I don’t think that’s ever going to happen for me. I’m five-one first thing in the morning, and I tend to look really small on camera. I can probably go as far as Holly Hunter went, then I think that’s going to be it. I have a feeling I am way too small."

    Superstar status or not, Ricci remains a constant presence as a Hollywood actor and producer. She's had an impressive career and now takes on projects that she truly feels passionate about. She said during an interview in 2019

    Just recently have I actually started thinking, "What do I really want to contribute? Who am I? What means something to me?" I deserve to do work that I feel good about. I want to contribute to the world, I don’t want to just take from it. I want to do things that I’m proud of instead of being exploited, as I feel I was when I was a child. I am now more in charge of myself and doing things because I understand more fully what life is supposed to be about.

    • Age: 40
    • Birthplace: Santa Monica, California, United States of America
    • Nationality: United States of America
    • Characters: Olivia, Maggie Ryan, Erin, Kelly, Offcr. Abby Charles
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  • Josh Hartnett is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Actors From The ’90s Who Were Supposed To Be The Next Big Thing, But Never Quite Made It
    Photo: Pearl Harbor / Buena Vista Pictures

    Josh Hartnett made his cinematic debut in 1998's Halloween H20: 20 Years Later. He rounded out the decade by making a strong name for himself in The Faculty and Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides. Then, his career took off.

    In the early 2000s, the Minnesota-born thespian appeared in Michael Bay's big-budget summer blockbuster Pearl Harbor. He fought another theatrical war the same year, this time in Ridley Scott's Academy Award-winning Black Hawk Down. Hartnett did a good job of mixing up his movie roles with star-making turns in romantic comedies like 40 Days and 40 Nights and gritty crime thrillers like Frank Miller's Sin City

    At the time, Hartnett was not just a good actor, but also a matinee idol with a boy-next-door quality and sexy star appeal. In 2002, Teen People called Hartnett “the hottest new movie star on earth." Yet, just a few years into the 2000s, Hartnett's career cooled off. It turns out that the Midwestern boy was not all that interested in becoming the next Brad Pitt. He even battled over whether or not to take the role in Pearl Harbor in the first place. Hartnett worried about what the trajectory of his career would become if he appeared in a blockbuster of that magnitude. 

    Hartnett reportedly turned down other big movie roles that would have padded his bank account and further added to his star power. Hartnett could have been the next Superman or Spider-Man, or even Batman. Instead of bathing in the spotlight, the actor took a break from show business and returned to Minnesota. 

    “I think it can be an unhealthy environment,” Hartnett said of Hollywood. "To get so consumed with chasing a goal that doesn’t necessarily have to define you is a fool’s errand and I wanted to have a healthy perspective on it. Not only a healthy perspective on the fame itself, but the pursuit of wealth and the pursuit of surface values.”

    When Hartnett did work in the mid-2000s, he took on roles in lower-budget and independent films. In 2014, the world got another chance to see Hartnett in a big-scale production when he appeared on Showtime's critically acclaimed series Penny Dreadful.

    Penny Dreadful wrapped after three seasons, and Hartnett now concentrates on working in several different facets of filmmaking. "I’m doing a lot more writing and a lot more short-film and music-video directing that at some point will turn into directing a feature, if I’m lucky," he says. "I still love the industry and I’m sort of active in it, but also keep it at arm’s length at times too because it can be overwhelming.”

    • Age: 42
    • Birthplace: Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States of America
    • Nationality: United States of America
    • Characters: Michael Fitzgerald
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  • Alicia Silverstone is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Actors From The ’90s Who Were Supposed To Be The Next Big Thing, But Never Quite Made It
    Photo: Clueless / Paramount Pictures

    Alicia Silverstone made her film debut in a Lolita-like role for 1993's The Crush, which gained her major street cred. She was then catapulted into the spotlight as a sexy siren in three hit Aerosmith videos. In 1995, Silverstone starred as Cher in Clueless, the Amy Heckerling-directed film that is now considered one of the most successful teen comedies in cinema history. Silverstone, with her long blonde locks, good looks, and talent, seemed like a shoo-in to become the next big Hollywood sensation. 

    But for all the success that Silverstone had with Clueless, 1997's Batman & Robin seemed to take it all away. Silverstone's Batgirl joined George Clooney's Batman and Chris O'Donnell's Robin for Warner's fourth outing with the Caped Crusader, but the movie was a monumental train wreck. It earned Silverstone the dreaded Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress. 

    In fact, all of Silverstone's movies that finished out the '90s - The Babysitter, True Crime, Excess Baggage, and Blast from the Past (which earned her another Razzie "win" for Worst Actress) - were major disappointments. That negative trend continued into the 21st century. 

    Silverstone's lack of continuing success took its toll. "I stopped loving acting for a very long time," she revealed during an interview in 2020. Silverstone also said that she didn't have many friends in the industry and felt isolated. She added, "I was so overwhelmed by being famous because I was such a young girl and it was never really my intention."

    Recently, her passion for acting has reignited, and Silverstone appeared in a play by David Mamet, as well as Yorgos Lanthimos's 2017 horror thriller The Killing of a Sacred Deer. She enjoyed the experience of working with the Greek auteur and said that she would "just die to work with him again." Silverstone is also a mother, an animal rights activist, and a published vegan cookbook author. 

    • Age: 43
    • Birthplace: California, United States of America
    • Nationality: United States of America
    • Characters: Sharon Spitz, Jessica
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  • Freddie Prinze Jr. is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Actors From The ’90s Who Were Supposed To Be The Next Big Thing, But Never Quite Made It
    Photo: I Know What You Did Last Summer / Columbia Pictures

    In the late 1990s, Freddie Prinze Jr. appeared in prime position to transition from a teen heartthrob to debonair Hollywood leading man. Prinze scored with a string of late '90s hits like I Know What You Did Last Summer and the romantic comedy She's All That

    However, Prinze entered the 21st century with a few major box office duds. Down to You, Boys and Girls, Head Over Heels, and Summer Catch all failed to live up to box office expectations. He scored a hit with the live-action Scooby-Doo film, but failed with his 2005 TV series Freddie

    The actor's professional career may have hit a bumpy patch in the early 2000s, but his personal life was a dream. In 2002, Prinze married Sarah Michelle Gellar, and the couple has remained together for decades. They went on to have two children together. Instead of sweating out the Hollywood grind, Prinze opted to devote his time to his family. He said, "I love being a full-time father. To remove myself from that equation would not be a good thing. I'm basically retired."

    Prinze appears to work when he wants to, not because he feels like he has to. The actor has had recurring roles on the television shows Boston Legal and 24. He also does extensive voice-over work, most notably on the animated TV shows Star Wars Rebels and Robot Chicken

    • Age: 44
    • Birthplace: Los Angeles, USA, California
    • Nationality: United States of America
    • Characters: Tough Guy, Sandy, Fred Jones, Billy, Donny Crane
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