13 TV Actors Who Peaked In The ‘90s

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The ‘90s were a pretty awesome decade for television, bringing us classics like Seinfeld, Saved By The Bell, Boy Meets World and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. It was ten years of debating Angel vs. Spike, wondering if Ross and Rachel would end up together (and if it counts as cheating when you are on a break!), and weeping alongside the most preternaturally eloquent teens ever in Dawson’s Creek. Some ‘90s series are even being revived now – The X-Files returned to TV, and Full House became Fuller House earlier this year.

Many new stars were launched into the Hollywood firmament during the 90s. Neil Patrick Harris first appeared as Doogie Howser, Alyson Hannigan is now potentially better known for her work on How I Met Your Mother than Buffy, almost every Friend launched a career, and Will Smith went from being a near-broke rapper to…well, to being Will freakin’ Smith! However, not everyone made it big once the dust of grunge and stretchy chokers settled – these celebrities may still be working, but none of them have recaptured their ‘90s glory.

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Cruel Intentions -Sarah Michelle Gellar as Kathryn Merteuil
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13 Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Cruel Intentions -Sarah Michelle Gellar as Kathryn Merteuil

Sarah Michelle Gellar was one of the biggest names in the ‘90s – for film and TV. She’s still best known as Buffy Summers, but she also spent a lot of time on the big screen in slasher flicks and sexy romps – Scream 2, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and of course, Cruel Intentions. It was more than just being an attractive blonde, though. Anyone who has seen the final seasons of Buffy knows that Gellar has talent, and her background in martial arts could have easily seen her segue into action movies.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and she spent the next decade working on projects like The Grudge and Scooby Doo. More recently, Gellar returned to TV, but neither her thriller series Ringer nor comedy show The Crazy Ones made it to a second season.

12 Mark-Paul Gosseleaar (Saved By The Bell)

Saved by the Bell

As Zack Morris on Saved By The Bell (as well as Good Morning, Miss Bliss, Saved By The Bell: The College Years, Saved By The Bell: The New Class and the various TV movies for the franchise), Mark-Paul Gosseleaar was the ultimate teen hunk of the ‘90s. Since then, he’s remained a regular on television, with solid roles in series such as NYPD Blue, Commander in Chief, Franklin & Bash and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

Still, despite his many roles since, he remains best known as Zack Morris, and it seems that his massive success in the ‘90s will be hard for him to match in future. But despite being a name inextricably linked with one particular decade, he’s doing pretty darn well for himself.

11 Jason Alexander (Seinfeld)

Actor, comedian, magician, and poker player, Jason Alexander will forever be known as George Costanza, star of Seinfeld. The sitcom that paved the way for Friends, Seinfeld was massively successful, and there is even a George Costanza bar recently opened in Melbourne, proving that the character has long-lasting appeal. Since then, Alexander has had a successful career on stage and on the small screen, but with no major film or television roles that could even come close to his work on Seinfeld.

Bit parts and a few starring roles on shows that were quickly cancelled sum up Alexander’s television career since the ‘90s, and he hasn’t done much better in film. He is still doing well acting and directing on Broadway, however, and has done a range of other performance-based work, including as a professional magician and poker player, as well as in commercials and as a voice actor.

10 Dean Cain (Beverly Hills 90210, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman)

Supergirl Manhunter and Dean Cain

Dean Cain will, for many people, forever be Superman. After starting the 90s as Rick on Beverly Hills 90210, Cain went on to star in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and those years remain his best known. Alongside Teri Hatcher, he was ahead of the game when it comes to superhero TV shows, and even followed up his role on Lois & Clark with a cameo role in Smallville in 2007, and secured a small role as Jeremiah Danvers, the adoptive father of of the titular character in Supergirl this year.

Since his role as the Man of Steel, he’s been in an impressive number of roles on TV and in film – over a hundred credits in the nineteen years since Lois & Clark ended. However, quantity doesn’t trump quality, and few of those roles have been well known. Although he is now starring in Hit The Floor, it seems that his time as Superman overshadows the rest of his career.

9 Tori Spelling (Beverly Hills 90210)

Tori Spelling Reality TV

Tori Spelling spent the entire decade starring on uber-rich teen drama Beverly Hills 90210 as Donna Martin, and her role on the hit series didn’t stop her working on other hit shows at the same time. Spelling appeared in Saved By The Bell, Melrose Place, and Malibu Shore during the ‘90s, as well as in film. Blonde, pretty, young and well-connected, she could have made it huge… but is now famous for being famous, and a staple on reality TV.

While Spelling does still act, she hasn’t had a starring role in a hit show for many years. She does have a husband and family, and she has a series of reality TV shows based on their lives, including Tori & Dean: STORIbook Weddings, Tori & Dean: Inn Love, Tori & Dean: Cabin Fever, and True Tori. Having also written six books, you could argue that while she peaked as an actress back in the ‘90s, she’s still doing pretty well just being herself.

8 Neve Campbell (Party of Five)

Neve Campbell in Scream 2

Neve Campbell spent most of the '90s as Julia Salinger on Party of Five, the middle child who goes through pretty much every kind of teen angst the writers could throw at her. She starred in the show for six years – but somehow managed to work on a whole range of movies at the same time. From the ultimate movie for ‘90s goth kids, The Craft, to three Scream movies and hyper-sexual Wild Things, Campbell was everywhere during this decade – but when the party (of five) ended, her fame took a nosedive.

Still busy, Campbell ended up on a whole lot of big roles in unsuccessful movies, followed by bit parts in more successful TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Mad Men. She’s bouncing back with her current role in House of Cards, but is still no-where near the name that she used to be.

7 Tim Allen (Home Improvement)

Home Improvement Tim Allen - Best Paid TV Actors

Funnyman Tim Allen was the ultimate sitcom Dad in 1991’s Home Improvement, a show that launched a film career as well. He appeared in ‘90s light comedies The Santa Clause (which got two sequels), Jungle 2 Jungle, For Richer or Poorer and Galaxy Quest (which proved that not all of his films are terrible!). He also became the voice of Buzz Lightyear for the beloved Toy Story franchise.

However, his comedic reign definitely peaked in the ‘90s – since then, his biggest films have been sequels, and most of his work has been Toy Story-related. He has recently come back to sitcoms with Last Man Standing, a predictable comedy about a man living with his wife and three daughters, but it’s hardly the next Home Improvement. He’ll be back in 2018 for Toy Story 4, and Last Man Standing may be renewed for a sixth season, but Allen’s glory days are firmly in the ‘90s.

6 Ben Savage (Boy Meets World)

Boy Meets World

Child star Ben Savage is better known as Cory Matthews – the central character in hit ABC sitcom Boy Meets World. On the air from ’93 to 2000, Savage grew up on screen, but unlike many other child stars from the ‘90s and ‘00s, Savage managed to keep his head firmly on his shoulders.

He took a short break from acting after the show ended, before moving on to receive critical acclaim for work on stage and in independent film. He also made small appearances in a few hit TV series, including Chuck, Without a Trace and Bones. Although he is recognized as an incredibly talented actor, there was little to bring him back to the kind of fame he achieved with Boy Meets World… until he signed on for the nostalgic continuation of the series, Girl Meets World.

5 Jennie Garth (Beverly Hills 90210)

Jennie Garth Beverly Hills

Another Beverley Hills 90210 alum, Jennie Garth had also auditioned for Saved By The Bell before becoming Kelly Taylor. She spent the ‘90s dividing her time between the teen drama and made-for-TV movies, and became one of the biggest names of the decade. FHM voted her one of their 100 Sexiest Women in the year 2000 (she was number 59), but outside of the Beverly Hills 90210 franchise, she hasn’t done much since then.

She appeared on spin-off 90210 in 2008, as well as in various less successful series and TV movies… and a lot of celebrity editions of game shows such as Dancing With The Stars and Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader. Now, she has her own reality show The Jennie Garth Project, where she remodels her home. It’s a far cry from the years where she was one of the sexiest and best known women in TV.

4 Matt LeBlanc (Friends)

Matt LeBlanc in Episodes

While most of the cast of Friends went on to carve out fantastic careers either in front or behind the camera, Matt LeBlanc was the one that fell through the cracks. After ten years as Joey Tribbiani on the sitcom, he attempted to pull a Frasier with his own spin-off series, Joey. Set in LA, the series followed Joey as he attempted to pursue his acting career in Hollywood, but it lacked the chemistry or charm of the original series, and tanked after two seasons.

After that, he announced that he would take a year-long hiatus, which turned into five years off screen, before he returned as a fictional version of himself for the comedy series Episodes. At this point, he is (hilariously) famous for playing struggling actors who had one standout role– first Joey Tribbiani, who had been Dr Drake Ramoray, then himself, who had been Joey Tribbiani. Now, he has been announced as a new host of British car show Top Gear, and his star may be back on the rise.

3 Alyssa Milano (Charmed)


Charmed may have been on air for more of the ‘00s than the ‘90s, but it still feels very ‘90s – especially when you consider how the decade was near-obsessed with all things witchcraft (The Craft, Buffy, Hocus Pocus, Teen Witch, Sabrina The Teenage Witch, Practical Magic etc etc). Milano starred as one of the three Charmed Ones – magical sisters living in our world. As well as Charmed, she also spent some of the ‘90s at Melrose Place and on Who’s The Boss, and made a huge number of smaller films.

She was recognizable enough to be mentioned on Family Guy in 2001, but since Charmed ended, she all but disappeared into TV movies and bit parts. She did have a brief recurring role in My Name is Earl, but that’s the most successful project Milano has worked on in the past decade.

2 Nicholas Brendan (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)

Nicholas Brendan

Brendan shot to fame as Xander Harris, one of the original Slayerettes, and the perfect awkward, powerless teen (to balance out all the other super-powered characters in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Having only had a couple of very tiny parts on screen before being cast as Xander, Brendan wasn’t ready for the fame the role brought him, and he has struggled to cope with life in the public eye.

Post-Buffy, he appeared in a range of forgettable roles in TV and small films, with his biggest role to date being Kevin Lynch on Criminal Minds – the boyfriend of a main character who appears infrequently on the show. Sadly, he has got as much publicity for his battles with drug and alcohol addiction as his work as an actor since Buffy ended, and he has been open about dealing with depression in recent years.

1 Shannen Doherty (Beverly Hills 90210, Charmed)

Jason Lee and Shannen Doherty in Mallrats

Shannen Doherty went from one of the biggest shows of the ‘90s to another of the biggest, as she moved from playing Brenda Walsh on Beverly Hills 90210 to playing Prue Halliwell on Charmed. During the decade, she was in nine TV-Movies (nearly one a year!) as well as the Kevin Smith cult comedy Mallrats, a few other films, and occasional appearances on other tv shows. She shot to fame, was nominated for ten awards, but her career went downhill post-Charmed. She also appeared in Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back in 2001, and 90210 in 2008, but aside from those projects she has been in mostly TV Movies and short-lived tv series.

Like the other Beverly Hills actresses on this list, she’s become something of a reality TV “star,” appearing on Dancing With The Stars as well as two of her own reality shows – Breaking Up With Shannen Doherty (where she literally broke up with people on behalf of other people), and Off The Map With Shannen and Holly (a road-trip show with former Charmed co-star Holly Marie Combs).


Can you think of any other past-their-prime actors who should be on here? Let us know in the comments!

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