The Definitive Ranking Of The Most Important ’90s Teen Heartthrobs
This is 100% scientific.
25. Zachery Ty Bryan
Zachery Ty Bryan was a really cute guy who had the misfortune of being on Home Improvement with the teen idol who happened to be the literal center of the teen girl universe in the ‘90s. Because of that, girls in the market for someone to swoon over generally passed over Zachery’s sad puppy eyes and questionable mullet haircuts.
This is a shame, because he was very much an unsung comic lynchpin of that show, who set up many of the show’s best punchlines. Only Will Friedle on Boy Meets World managed to play beautiful and stupid better than Zachery Ty, and he holds a special place in the hearts of every girl who was secretly in love with the school bully.
24. Will Friedle
Will Friedle was the seminal sexy idiot older brother of the '90s, and also the second hottest dude on any show or movie that you would willingly watch with your whole family: Boy Meets World. For bestowing beautiful eye candy upon the tweens of America who were forced to spent Friday nights on the couch with their parents, Will Friedle was a saint.
23. Luke Perry
In the early '90s there was NO bigger show for teens than Beverly Hills, 90210 and most of its popularity had to do with Luke Perry, whose Dylan McKay was the ultimate bad boy that you couldn't help but root for (or want to save from himself).
22. Erik von Detten
OK, so Erik von Detten wasn't the biggest teen star of the '90s, but his work on Disney Channel's Brink! and So Weird left an indelible mark on young tweens everywhere, or at least his hair did -- why was it always wet?
Though somewhat forgettable, Erik von Detten provided an important alternative to those girls who wanted a niche alternative to the nice dudes of Saved By The Bell, but didn't want to graduate to the brooding scowls of Jared Leto.
21. Mario Lopez
Mario Lopez was the perfect gateway drug for tweens who were into hunky guys, but didn’t want to swoon over actual adult men. Plus, he had dimples the size of Olympic swimming pools and a mouth that definitely was in the top three of The Most Biteable Mouths of the ‘90s.
But Mario loses points for always seeming just a little too into himself. It’s hard to fantasize about him sweeping you off your feet when you know you would have to wait for him to finish checking out his body.
20. James Van Der Beek
You worried more about James Van Der Beek’s fictional love life on Dawson’s Creek than your own (probably non-existent) love life, and that was saying something. JVDB was the type of guy you just wanted to reach out and hug, because he was that thoughtful, artistic, hot blond hunk of man that you assumed you would meet all the time once you reached that sophisticated man-mecca you pictured college as being.
But while JVDB was hunky, Dawson turned into a total whiner in later seasons, which relegates him to forever being the second most hot guy on Dawson’s Creek.
19. Nick Carter
Backstreet Boys' Nick Carter was not only the baby of the group, he was also the hottest. Sure, he went through a bit of an awkward phase early on (didn’t we all?), but by the release of 1999’s "I Want It That Way" he was at peak HOTNESS. Lusting after him was truly “nothin' but a heartache.”
18. Joey Lawrence
There was only one reason you tuned into Blossom -- and no it wasn’t for Six’s hats -- it was all about Joey Lawrence, the ultimate early ‘90s himbo -- that's he-bimbo.
In addition to being an actor, Joey was also a singer who released the New Jack swing album Joey Lawrence in 1993, and let’s be honest, if you grew up in the early '90s, there is probably a good chance there is a cassette single of “Nothin' My Love Can't Fix” in the back your closet.
17. Jonathan Brandis
Jonathan Brandis was almost as pretty as a girl as he was a boy in 1992’s Ladybugs, which was very confusing for the many teen girls who swooned over him while he was wearing a dress, and might have wondered what exactly that meant for them. Though every teen heartthrob in the '90s was obviously attractive, Jonathan was so pretty it was impossible to take your eyes off of him, even now. Looking at his posters felt like staring into the sun, almost too hot to touch.
16. Justin Timberlake
OK, let's be honest, the '90s were a really rough decade for Justin Timberlake -- and it wasn't just his ramen noodle hair. But somehow through all the bad hair, awkward photos, and terrible boy band clothes, his charisma and talent shone through.
15. Andrew Keegan
After his turn as a teen dad on 7th Heaven, Andrew Keegan was officially the first guy to truly give you pants feelings for DILFs.
What’s more, his part in 10 Things I Hate About You as the douche monster Joey also made it OK to have a thing for jerks. He had the ability to totally rock that older guy/bad boy vibe, but he was harmless enough where you could put his pictures on your locker without worrying that the principal might end up calling your parents.
14. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Joseph Gordon-Levitt would not reach peak hotness until about 2009, but he still gets points for being a funny and charming every teen on 3rd Rock From the Sun and 10 Things I Hate About You. JGL was the definitive cool skater kid next door of the mid-'90s, who gets extra points for having long hair, and enough self-confidence to be seen with it braided on national TV.
13. Freddie Prinze Jr.
With those puppy dog eyes and kissable lips, Freddie Prinze Jr. was really the one that was all that. He was the perfect combination of cute (OK, hot) and goofy, and certainly someone who didn’t seem to take himself too seriously -- just the type of guy you could take home to meet your parents.
You’re a lucky woman, Sarah Michelle Gellar, very lucky.
12. Brad Renfro
Brad Renfro was like a hotter, edgier version of Will Friedle -- the bad bitch’s Will Friedle. Your mom was always baffled as to why you were re-watching Tom and Huck for the eighth time, and it wasn’t because it was any good. It was because your friend had borrowed Apt Pupil, and you needed something to tide you over. Brad Renfro was the king of being amazing enough to make you to sit through an otherwise terrible movie.
What was there not to love about Usher? Smooth moves, catchy songs, and that face; it was the cherry on top of his talent sundae. And of course, "You Make Me Wanna..." was one of those jams that could always put a smile on your face.
Hanson gets high marks because there were three of them -- at an age when you were spending a lot of time with your friends talking about what famous celebs you liked, having a favorite Hanson brother was one of the things that defined your personality -- liking Isaac meant you like sophisticated, older guys, Taylor meant you were soulful, and Zac meant you were the life of the party. Having options meant that you could pick which brother was your Hanson brother -- and that made him all the more special.
9. Mark-Paul Gosselaar
There was no other reason to wake up early on Saturday mornings than to catch Mark-Paul Gosselaar on Saved by the Bell. Literally none. That is some serious teen star power, there. Sure, his Zack Morris was a probably a bit of a tool, but Mark was able to sell him with so much charm you couldn't help but swoon.
8. Will Smith
If Will Smith had been a girl in the '90s, you would have hated him, because he was good at everything. He was funny, smart, talented, and when he wasn’t making you laugh, he made sure that you knew that it was OK to cry.
7. Ryan Phillippe
Nobody made girls swoon harder in the late '90s than Ryan Phillippe. With the face of an angel and the body of Adonis, it is not hard to see why. Of course, his sexy portrayal of Sebastian Valmont in Cruel Intentions will remain a pivotal moment in many teen girls' sexual awakening.
6. Devon Sawa
Devon Sawa may not have been in many movies, but his turn in Casper was a defining moment in the budding sexuality of '90s tweens. Everyone remembers the first time they saw Devon Sawa walk down those stairs — as a real live boy! — and ask Christina Ricci to dance.
Say Devon Sawa's name to any woman in her late twenties or early thirties, and she will instantly remember this moment. Seriously, try it.
5. Joshua Jackson
Joshua Jackson is the Humphrey Bogart of ‘90s teen idols: his sexy points are earned almost entirely due to his personality. Even as a cherub-faced kid in The Mighty Ducks, he doesn’t have the most conventionally attractive face. He also suffered from many tragic haircuts during the run of Dawson’s Creek (looking at you, frosted-tips Pacey).
But dear God, what a personality. The fact that Katie Holmes’ Joey Potter impulsively got on a boat with Joshua Jackson’s Pacey Witter and just sailed around with him for the summer made total sense, because every teen girl in 1999 would have done the exact same thing. Joshua Jackson had swagger before there was a name for swagger; there was not a pair of pants he could not talk his way in or out of.
4. Jared Leto
Jared Leto was the bad boy boyfriend you always wanted but were too much of a wuss to go out and get. He was the epitome of that guy you were obsessed with in middle school or high school who was everything to you at the time and is probably now a bartender somewhere.
That, and he was seemingly unable to ever have a bad hair day.
3. Rider Strong
Rider Strong was THE hottest dude you could watch on a show that you could comfortably view alongside your parents. He was Jared Leto, but with a heart of gold, a sensitive and ambitious streak, and with even better hair. Plus, he had a name that sounded like summertime and the galloping hooves of ponies frolicking in a meadow. He was the guy at the center of every ultimate rescue fantasy: You were going to rescue him from loneliness, and in return, he would bring you on adventures, maybe teach you to steal for the hell of it, or at least how to smoke a cigarette.
And you could do all of this in your head without either of your parents being any the wiser during TGIF night. It was the perfect crime.
2. Leonardo DiCaprio
Leonardo DiCaprio was one of the very few teen idols in the '90s who absolutely transcended type -- it did not matter who you were or what kind of boys you liked, having a crush on him was inescapable. Even if being head over heels for some dumb celebrity made you feel guilty or stupid, you still had burning, tortured feelings for him. While his beautiful puppy eyes and thoughtful, boyish face helped a lot, he also took on a lot of roles -- Titanic, Romeo and Juliet, The Basketball Diaries -- where his characters seemed to be going through a lot of the same heartbreak and first times that the teens who loved him the most were also going through. He got us, man.
1. Jonathan Taylor Thomas
Jonathan Taylor Thomas was the Oprah of ‘90s teen idols. He was a ubiquitous star whose face was plastered on every personalize-able middle school surface in America, and yet he somehow still managed to seem approachable and human. Like Leonardo DiCaprio, you loved JTT no matter what kind of guy you were into. But what made him the greatest ‘90s teen heartthrob was that, unlike with Leonardo DiCaprio, you were never embarrassed to admit it. JTT was beautiful, smart, snarky, and effortlessly cool, and most importantly: He gave literally zero fucks. He had a beautiful face, but the attitude of a normal human, and so every time he made a witty comeback, you laughed and shrieked with your friends and shouted your love of him to the high heavens… at least until your mom told you to keep it down. JTT made ogling celebrities OK... even for the people who thought they were above ogling celebrities.