The term heartthrob is most often thrown around often to describe young, attractive male actors and the implication is that most of their fame is thanks to their wildly good looks. Most of these heartthrobs eventually fade from the spotlight (think ’90s babe Jonathan Taylor Thomas), but some are able to find an identity outside of their heartthrob status by taking on more ~mature~ roles. The transition can’t be easy, especially considering the fact that most critics may have already come to conclusions about their acting ability and persona once they’ve been regulars on Tiger Beat and J-14, for example.
Heartthrobs who become serious actors have serious talent. Some had their first touch of fame in the ’90s, others before, and some even after. Enjoy the following gallery of 17 former teen heartthrobs who found success as serious actors with staying power.
1. Milo Ventimiglia
*Swoon* From his days as the brooding Jess on Gilmore Girls to the dad we all know and love on This Is Us, Milo Ventimiglia has been making us blush for a long time and it’s not looking to stop anytime soon. But while he was purely a teen heartthrob on a popular show that had audiences hooked without much critical acclaim on Gilmore Girls, his dad role on the Emmy Award winning This is Us proves that his acting skills are pretty impressive.
2. Jared Leto
Jared Leto first came on our radar with the underrated teen show My So-Called Life in the mid-’90s. Fans were blown away by his cool demeanor and gorgeous blue eyes. But to our surprise, Jared Leto was more than a pretty face and is actually a super talented actor and musician. He won an Academy Award for his role as a transgender woman in Dallas Buyers Club. And he’s been the lead singer of the band Thirty Seconds to Mars. It’s all a far cry from the teen fandom that surrounded him when he first started acting.
3. Mark-Paul Gosselaar
Saved by the Bell was a teen staple in the early ’90s and Zack Morris was the coolest kid around. Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who had to dye his hair blonde for the role, became the #1 crush to every girl who watched the show each Saturday morning. He took a short break from acting before returning to TV on NYPD Blue and later starred as a lawyer on Franklin and Bash. Zack Morris definitely grew up!
4. Ryan Gosling
Are there people out there who haven’t seen The Notebook? That movie put former Disney Mouseketeer Ryan Gosling on the adult acting map but it didn’t stop him from appearing in the pages of teen magazines and earning his reputation as a swoon-worthy young actor. In the years since, Gosling has starred in many critically acclaimed movies including Lars and the Real Girl, The Big Short, and La La Land. He’s killin’ it (and still too cute for words).
5. Will Smith
We all know the iconic Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song and knew Will Smith as a goofy guy on a sitcom. Then he blew up. He became one of the biggest movie stars of all time and was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Muhammad Ali in Ali. He’s been in some of the biggest movies of the last few decades.
6. Mark Wahlberg
The orginal bad boy. You probably know Mark Wahlberg as the dad in the new Transformers flicks. But let’s never forget he got his start as a Calvin Klein underwear model. He started acting instead, worked his way up, and is now one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood. Quite a feat considering he was a also rapper using the name Marky-Mark and that wasn’t exactly cool or well done.
7. Tom Cruise
He was a total teen heartthrob way back in the early ’80s. Tom Cruise got his start with Risky Business and paid his dues on the cover of all the teen magazines. His evolution from young actor to Hollywood’s biggest star, to the face of Scientology has been incredible and odd to watch. But at heart, he was the a teen actor with a young following. Heartthrob for life.
8. Chad Michael Murray
Chad Michael Murray is a millenial girl’s ultimate crush. He charmed us all in early 2000s movies like A Cinderalla Story and Freaky Friday. And could we ever forget the masterpiece that is One Tree Hill? Never. Since his teen hearththrob status, he’s moved on to more adult television roles in Agent Carter and the movie Outlaws and Angels. He’ll always be Lucas to us.
9. James Franco
James Franco got his big break as an actor in the canceled-too-soon series Freaks and Geeks. He followed up that role with the teen movies Never Been Kissed, Whatever It Takes, and the Spiderman franchise. And alas, his not-too-serious heartthrobby status was cemented. But then things changed. He got all serious. James Franco played James Dean in a TV movie and started booking more serious roles. Now, he does a good mix of dramas and comedies.
10. Rob Lowe
Rob Lowe is an original 1980’s brat pack member and probably a vampire considering he hasn’t aged a day in 30-odd years. He starred in ’80s classics St. Elmo’s Fire and The Outsiders. And hasn’t slowed down since. After he did the heartthrob thing (and got his stuff together in rehab — good for you, Rob!), Mr. Lowe returned to acting in The West Wing and appeared in Parks and Recreation, which — sure — wasn’t exactly serious, but we think it proved his acting chops anyways.
11. Kurt Russell
The entire time you’ve been alive, Kurt Russell has been old enough to be someone’s grandfather. But that doesn’t make him any less attractive and a lifelong member of the teen heartthrob club. Kurt Russell started acting as a child and had a long contract with Disney beginning in the 1960s. He had a long Disney career as their main teen star — making young ladies of the ’60s and ’70s swoon. He started taking on more adult and serious roles after that, becoming the huge Hollywood star that all know today in movies like Death Proof, The Hateful Eight and The Fast and the Furious franchise.
12. Ashton Kutcher
This heartthrob was known for playing Kelso on the teen comedy, That ’70s Show. Now he is known for his charity work and has taken on dramatic roles. He portrayed Steve Jobs in a recent biographical move and has definitely proved he is more than a prety face.
13. Josh Hartnett
Josh Hartnett graced the covers of all the teen magazines in the early 2000s as he took on teen roles in movies like The Faculty and The Virgin Suicides when he was a bonafide heartthrob. He starred in teen romance movies, but when he became the young pilot in the massive movie Pearl Harbor, it was clear he was making the turn to more renowned flicks. Most recently starred in the cult-favorite horror TV show, Penny Dreadful.
14. Robert Pattinson
Robert Pattison was everywhere after the Twilight movies made him an international heartthrob. After doing a few-post Twilight films, he took a much deserved break from fame. He returned trying avoid a similar frenzy that happened during his time as that vampire. He does more indie films now. In May of 2014 when two of his films premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, it was obvious that RPatz had finally broken from the Twilight shackles as his acting performance garnered rave reviews.
15. Shane West
Shane West starred in one of the best teen movies of all time, A Walk to Remember with co-star Mandy Moore. He did a few other teen movies around the same time. Then, he grew up and found a way to have his career mature with him. He played a doctor on ER and was also on the spy drama Nikita on the CW. He also tried his hand at the whole musician thing as a lead singer in a punk band called Jonny Was, then as the guitarist touring with Germs. That’s pretty hot.
16. Channing Tatum
Can you believe that Step-Up came out 13 years ago? Way back when we were given the gift of Channing Tatum and his sexy dance moves. He went on from there to star in the teen classic, She’s the Man which skyrocketed him to the heartthrob status he holds today after all those hunky shirtless scenes. But now he’s expanded his audience and has reached some critical acclaim with recent movie, Foxcatcher, The Hateful Eight, along with other serious acting roles. Thankfully, he still dances for us.
17. Leonardo Dicaprio
After the success of both Romeo + Juliet and Titanic in the late 1990s, Leonardo Dicaprio‘s face was everywhere on every magazine making teen girls squeal. He’s a total hottie and definitely did the whole teen circuit for awhile. And while Titanic was certainly critically acclaimed, many still type cast Leo as just a ~heartthrob~. In fact, many wonder if that’s why it took him so long to FINALLY win an oscar. After what seemed like forever, Leonardo Dicaprio finally won an Academy Award (after several nominations) for his role in The Revenant. TBH, though, he’ll always be remembered as that cute blonde heartthrob in all the teen magazines to a whole generation.