When it comes to child stars, it’s hard for any era to stack up against the 90s. It was a period that was filled to the brim with child actors making a splash in everything from Disney movies to family dramas and sitcoms.
From Mara Wilson to Jonathan Taylor Thomas, here are all the 90s stars you forgot about!
In 1991, Terminator 2: Judgment Day was the hottest movie of the year. The hotly-anticipated sequel, which saw Skynet send a Terminator back in time to kill future leader of the human resistance John Connor, starred a 14-year-old Edward Furlong in his first theatrical appearance. The movie was a smash hit, and Furlong followed it up with more major films including Pet Sematary Two and American History X.
Despite working consistently in the 90s, Furlong’s career momentum slowed significantly in the 2000s, with most of his projects going straight to DVD. His output was increasingly hampered by addiction problems and, in 2013, Furlong was ordered by a court to undergo domestic violence counselling, after a spate of arrests.
Though Jurassic Park is arguably closer to a horror movie than a traditional family film, it has always been popular with kids and adults alike. This is in part due to the awe-inspiring nature of the movie, but it helps for younger viewers to relate that the plot follows John Hammond’s grandkids for a significant portion of the runtime – including Ariana Richards as Lex Murphy.
Lex wasn’t Richards’ first role, as she also appeared in 1990 monster movie Tremors (plus 2001 direct-to-DVD sequel Tremors 3: Back to Perfection), but it remains her most iconic part today. As an adult, Richards pivoted from the cinematic arts to the fine arts, and she now works as a prolific portrait and landscape artist.
After starting out as a child actor on TV’s Dallas, Omri Katz went up in the world with the short-lived but well-loved TV series Eerie, Indiana. 1993 movie Matinee followed, before Katz landed the role he’s really remembered for: Max Dennison in Hocus Pocus (a part originally earmarked for Leonardo DiCaprio, who turned it down to make What’s Eating Gilbert Grape).
Hocus Pocus flopped on release (maybe releasing an autumnal movie in July wasn’t the smartest move?) but in the years since it’s become a perennial family favourite at Halloween. However, it proved to be Katz’s last movie. After taking several more TV roles he quit acting in the early 2000s, and he now makes a living running a cannabis company in Los Angeles.
Jonathan Lipnicki made his entertainment debut at just five years old, when he starred in Jerry Maguire alongside Tom Cruise and Renée Zellweger. Lipnicki’s adorable voice, mannerisms and blond hair made him an instant scene-stealer, which led to him starring in a whole spate of movies, from Little Vampires to Stuart Little.
After the early 2000s, Lipnicki stepped away from blockbuster family films, and instead switched his focus to voice roles and short films. He has also spent time training extensively in mixed martial arts, purely as a hobby and not with a mind to go professional, but he has said in interviews that he is “not saying no” to the idea of competing in MMA fights in the future.
Starting from the age of 13, Danica McKellar starred in The Wonder Years as girl-next-door Winnie Cooper, Kevin’s love interest and literal next-door neighbour for six seasons. When the show ended in 1993, McKellar, then aged 18, enrolled at the University of California, ultimately leaving with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, and only returned to acting as an adult.
Though she later said that she found the transition “difficult”, McKellar has had a steady and varied acting career since, getting a regular part on The West Wing, taking numerous voice acting jobs for Marvel and even starring in various Hallmark movies. McKellar has also published four educational books aimed at helping adolescents conquer the study of maths, the first of which became a New York Times bestseller.
By the age of 15, Orlando Brown already had a lengthy and varied sitcom career under his belt. By 2005, he had completed long-running stints on The Jamie Foxx Show, Family Matters, Two of a Kind and The Proud Family, and he rounded off this run by playing Eddie Thomas on hit teen show That’s So Raven.
However, Brown stepped away from the spotlight in 2006, and his personal life, rather than his professional one, soon became what was making the headlines. Throughout the 2010s, Brown was arrested repeatedly, first for driving under the influence and then again for failing to appear in court, following a domestic battery charge.
After debuting in Purple People Eater in 1988, Thora Birch had a string of hits throughout the 90s, from All I Want for Christmas to Hocus Pocus, Monkey Trouble and Alaska. Birch’s big break came in 1999, when she played Jane Burnham in the critically acclaimed American Beauty. She then starred in the cult flick Ghost World and horror hit The Hole, but after that her promising career seemed to falter.
In 2010, Birch was let go from a stage production of Dracula, after her manager father – reportedly an unnervingly constant presence at his daughter’s rehearsals – allegedly threatened another actor. Birch took a break from acting in 2012 that lasted until 2016. A comeback seemed to be on the cards following a turn in The Walking Dead, but trouble for Birch arose again when she unceremoniously left production on Netflix’s Wednesday in 2021 (Christina Ricci took her place).
If the 90s belonged to any child actor, they belonged to Mara Wilson. As well as the all-time literary classic Matilda, Wilson also spent the decade starring in Mrs. Doubfire, Miracle on 34th Street and A Simple Wish. She was hugely successful, performing at the 67th Academy Awards with Tim Curry and Kathy Najimy, winning a ShoWest Star of the Year Award and even appearing in stage productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Cinderella.
However, Wilson never really enjoyed film acting, and later said that “doing the same thing over and over again until, in the director’s eyes, you ‘get it right’, does not allow for very much creative freedom.” As an adult, she stepped away from film completely, instead only appearing in niche projects like horror podcast Welcome to Nightvale, in which she voiced the Faceless Old Woman Who Lives in Your Home. She also released an autobiography in 2016, called Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame.
Jonathan Taylor Thomas
Not all child stars manage to make the transition from adorable kid to gorgeous teen heartthrob, but that’s the trajectory that Jonathan Taylor Thomas had. In the 90s, JTT played Randy Taylor on Tim Allen’s Home Improvement and voiced young Simba in Disney’s The Lion King. His Disney work didn’t end there though, as in the mid-to-late 90s, Thomas also starred in Man of the House, Tom and Huck and I’ll Be Home for Christmas.
Despite endless spreads in teen magazines and legions of adoring fans, Thomas walked away from the entertainment world in 2005 and enrolled in Harvard University. There, he completed a degree in Philosophy and History, before spending a year abroad studying at St. Andrews in Scotland. He only returned to the spotlight in 2013, when he landed a recurring role on the American sitcom Last Man Standing, reunited with his Home Improvement co-star Tim Allen. He hasn’t been active in Hollywood since 2016.
Tatyana Ali started working professionally at just six years old, when she was offered a regular spot on Sesame Street. Around the same time, she also appeared on Star Search, before getting her big break in 1990 with the role of Ashley Banks in TheFresh Prince of Bel-Air. Alongside her acting career, Ali also successfully broke into the music world, with a certified gold debut album, Kiss the Sky, in 1999.
However, Ali also wanted to pursue an education alongside her music, and so she made time to attend the prestigious Harvard University, graduating in 2002 with a degree in African American Studies and Government. She has also continued to land recurring acting roles, recently appearing on CBS’s The Young and the Restless and BET’s Second Generation Wayans.
Melissa Joan Hart
Way before Riverdale and Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, there was another beloved teen show centred on a classic Archie Comics character. In 1996, Melissa Joan Hart brought Sabrina to life in ABC’s hit sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch, which ran until 2000. This show alone shot Hart into the spotlight, after she was primed for fame by her starring role in the Nickelodeon series Clarissa Explains It All.
Though her momentum stuttered as she entered adulthood, Hart eventually found a comfortable niche for herself, starring in Hallmark Christmas movies. The choice to pivot to festive family entertainment actually represented a full-circle moment for her, as her first-ever acting job was playing Amy in 1987’s Christmas Snow.
Californian actor Michael Oliver was only eight years old when he was introduced to audiences worldwide as Junior Healy, the adoptive son from hell in Problem Child. Though despised by critics, the raucous 1990 comedy was a big enough hit for Oliver to reprise the role in 1991 follow-up Problem Child 2 – but this did not launch him to a long-standing career.
Oliver’s career was derailed when his mother (also his manager) was sued by studio Universal on extortion charges, after she threatened to withdraw her son from Problem Child 2 unless they paid him $500,000. Oliver soon quit acting, and in 2015 said he had no regrets: “After having been thrust into the spotlight as a child, I appreciate some peace and quiet. I am grateful and always will be for the experiences.”
Thanks to his role as Peter Shepherd in 1995 family classic Jumanji, Bradley Pierce has been a familiar face to generations of viewers. His voice should also be familiar, as Pierce took the role of the adorable little teacup Chip in Disney’s 1991 animated smash Beauty and the Beast. These are just two of numerous credits Pierce clocked up as a child actor.
Although Pierce might not look so familiar as an adult, he has never stopped acting. However, he has largely eschewed live-action work in favour of voiceovers on cartoons and video games. Pierce is a divorced father of three, and in the wake of his old co-star Robin Williams’ death, the former child star has spoken openly about battling depression since his teenage years.
1991’s The Addams Family and its 1993 sequel Addams Family Values famously catapulted Wednesday Addams actress Christina Ricci to stardom, but things didn’t go quite the same way for Ricci’s screen sibling Jimmy Workman. Despite two appearances as Pugsley Addams, Workman only took another few minor roles before quietly retiring.
Workman continues to work in the film industry, but very much in a behind-the-scenes capacity: he’s now a transportation co-ordinator on film and television. Acting is still a big part of Workman’s family, however: he is the brother of actresses Shanelle Workman and Ariel Winter (Modern Family).
After a number of acting roles including Parenthood and TV’s Family Ties, Alisan Porter got her big break in the title role of 1991 John Hughes family comedy Curly Sue. Hopes were high that Curly Sue would prove as big a hit as early Hughes production Home Alone, but this did not come to pass, and Porter promptly disappeared from screens.
This did not mark the end of her career, however. From her late teens, Porter enjoyed a long and successful career in musical theatre, and made steps into a recording career. Porter really came back into the public eye in 2016 when she appeared on TV singing contest The Voice, in which she was ultimately named the winner.
Thanks to his appearances in Dick Tracy, What About Bob? and Hook, Charlie Korsmo was one of the most familiar young faces in film at the dawn of the 1990s. He didn’t stick with acting for long, though. Following his turn in 1998 teen comedy Can’t Hardly Wait, Korsmo left the film industry behind for very different pursuits.
After earning a physics degree from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Korsmo pursued a legal career, attending Yale Law School and working for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Republican Party. In more recent years he has made a return to acting, appearing in 2018 film Chained for Life.
After breaking through as Buckwheat in 1994’s The Little Rascals, Ross Bagley enjoyed a close association with Will Smith in the mid-90s. First, Bagley played Will’s young cousin Nicky in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air; next, he played the stepson of Smith’s Steven Hiller in 1996 blockbuster Independence Day.
Bagley’s acting career cooled off soon afterwards, and aside from 2015 horror movie Gnome Alone he hasn’t made any further film appearances in recent years. He’s a California State University graduate, has served an internship with a company owned by Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, and according to his Instagram he also works as a realtor and DJ.
Dante Basco broke into acting with minor roles in TV’s The Wonder Years and the Michael Jackson movie Moonwalker, before stealing the show as Rufio, leader of the Lost Boys in Hook. He continued to work in film and television throughout the 90s and 2000s, but rarely in work that attracted the same level of attention.
A lot of Basco’s work has been as a voice actor in animation, most notably with a key role on Avatar: The Last Airbender, plus appearances on Star Wars Rebels, Ultimate Spider-Man and Robot Chicken. In 2017, Basco started a Kickstarter campaign to make a prequel exploring the origins of Rufio, but this did not come to pass.
Tia and Tamera Mowry
Identical twins Tia and Tamera Mowry first broke into showbiz singing with girl group Voices, before breaking off on their own to appear in sitcom Sister, Sister. Popular among younger viewers, Sister, Sister ran from 1994 until 1999, after which the twins continued to pursue acting work independently of one another.
The Mowry sisters have reunited on screen since Sister, Sister, first with the Twitches movies for the Disney Channel, and later with reality TV series Tia and Tamera. In more recent years, Tamera made an appearance on TV’s The Masked Singer, whilst Tia has published a series of cookbooks.
Alongside Fred Savage and Danica McKellar, Josh Saviano was a familiar face to 90s TV audiences on The Wonder Years. A few years after the show ended, a bizarre urban legend emerged that the Paul Pfeiffer actor had grown up to become shock rocker Marilyn Manson. While this was patently untrue, Saviano has indeed forged a very different career path.
After studying political science at Yale, Saviano became a lawyer, and in 2018 he co-founded Spotlight Advisory Group. Still, Saviano hasn’t left acting behind completely, having appeared in a few episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit between 2014 and 2016.