We all remember our favorite Hollywood stars of the 1990s and early 2000s, who we thought we would remain movie staples forever. Many of them have moved on prompting many of us to ask, “What happened?” Thankfully, we’ve tracked down 25 of them, and you might be surprised to see what they’ve been up to since leaving show business on the back burner.
1. Cameron Diaz
Cameron Diaz’s rise to prominence happened after the success of her very first on-screen appearance, starring opposite Jim Carrey in 1994’s The Mask. The performance earned her significant recognition, and her place as one of the public’s favorite Hollywood actors was ensured thanks to her roles in films like There’s Something About Mary and Gangs of New York.
In a 2019 issue of People, a source close to the star said, “While she was always in the spotlight, she was never comfortable in that role. It was stressful, and over the years it took a toll on her. She needed a break.” Since then, Diaz has been living a “low-key” life with her husband, former Good Charlotte band member Benji Madden. In January 2020, the couple excitedly announced that their first child, a daughter, had been born.
2. Katherine Heigl
Katherine Heigl landed the starring role in the hit films Knocked Up (2007) and 27 Dresses (2008). Those, accompanied by her leading role in Grey’s Anatomy (which earned her a Primetime Emmy Award for Best Actress), put Heigl on top of the Hollywood pile. Easily a Hollywood favorite, she became one of the highest-earning actresses of her time.
So it may be surprising that Heigl hasn’t appeared in more films, considering her list of successes. It seems as though the Emmy Award winner has opted to focus more on family rather than work. Heigl and her husband of over 10 years have adopted two children, and in December 2016 Heigl gave birth to a son, no doubt making her one busy mama.
3. Catherine Zeta-Jones
The star of numerous films which not only stole the box offices but also defined cinema in her era, Catherine Zeta-Jones’ exit from acting was most likely a huge upset to all her loyal fans. Not to mention it was quite a surprise, particularly in light of the accolades Zeta-Jones received from films like Chicago and Traffic.
But for Zeta-Jones it seemed that staying close to family was more important than staying in the spotlight. After her husband of almost 20 years, Michael Douglas, was hit with a cancer scare, Zeta-Jones understandably wanted to remain as close to him as possible. She admonished, “You realize precious moments are something you can’t take for granted.”
4. Sarah Michelle Gellar
It seemed as though the late 1990s could do Sarah Michelle Gellar no wrong. After killing it in the star role of Buffy Summers in the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gellar went on to grace the screen in Cruel Intentions and, later, appeared in popular horror films like The Grudge and I Know What You Did Last Summer.
While it may seem as though she is no longer quite as active in Hollywood, Gellar is still working as hard as ever. In 2015, the film favorite launched a company called Foodstirs, which works to teach kids and get them excited about baking, and even sells easy-to-follow recipes and baking kits for them to enjoy.
5. Mara Wilson
Former child actress Mara Wilson, best known for playing the brilliant and magically-gifted title character in the 1996 film Matilda, found that auditions dried up once she started growing up. Not everyone is able to successfully transition from child acting to adult acting. But rather than act out or turn to vices, Wilson has found a new artistic outlet.
After attending New York University, Wilson began writing and appearing on podcasts. Her main focus, however, was on storytelling. In 2013 she published an article on Cracked.com in which she discussed her experiences as a young actress. In 2016 online writing turned to paper, and Wilson’s autobiographical book, Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame, appeared on bookshelves.
6. Adrian Grenier
Best known for playing the lead role of Vincent Chase in the Entourage series, Adrian Grenier has since turned his attention to bigger (and greener) issues. After appearing in over 100 episodes of the hit HBO series from 2004 to 2011, Grenier decided to dedicate his life to environmental activism.
Grenier began by working to develop an app called EcoHero, which aimed to make consumers more environmentally conscious by informing them of the ecological impact of whatever product they were buying. He then founded the food organization SHFT, which aims to help kids eat healthier while trying to connect them to the environment as well.
7. Meg Ryan
Described as magnetic and funny, Meg Ryan has been called “America’s Sweetheart” by numerous publications who fawned over her work in films like Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, and When Harry Met Sally. No doubt that Meg Ryan’s legacy as one of our favorite Hollywood stars would be difficult for any actress to step in to.
But Hollywood can be fickle. Ryan fell into disillusionment with the whole industry after becoming the center of negative tabloid gossip. After 2009, she refused roles for a solid six years before coming back to direct her own movie, Ithaca, starring herself and Tom Hanks. In follow-up interviews, Ryan proclaimed that she was happy to finally be in control of her career, describing herself as being in “first gear.”
8. Amanda Bynes
After having starred in a string of Nickelodeon hits, Amanda Bynes was trying to transition in to more mature films meant for adult audiences. Unfortunately, Bynes was hit with personal problems in 2011. She sent a tweet informing her fans of her intention to take a hiatus from acting.
Since then, Bynes has focused her attention on fashion, telling People magazine in a 2017 interview that she was very much enjoying her studies at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandise. But fans may not have to wait much longer to see this child star back on screen: in the same interview, Bynes hinted she may be seeking a return to television.
9. Megan Fox
Having appeared in one of the most financially successful film series of its time, it seemed as though Transformers film star Megan Fox could do no wrong. She was so popular in the summer of 2009 that media outlets and tabloid magazines agreed to challenge themselves, trying their hardest to pass one day without publishing a story about Fox.
For Fox, however, it seemed as though it was too much of a good thing. Reportedly sick of being typecast as the “girlfriend” character in nearly every movie she was in, Fox took a step back from Transformers to try and branch out. Things to appear to be working well; Fox has had roles in comedies The Dictator and New Girl, and has two upcoming roles in drama-comedies coming out in 2020 and 2022.
10. Carrie-Anne Moss
Bursting on to the scene after her role as Trinity in the Matrix trilogy, Carrie-Ann Moss went on to star in successive eerie hits like Memento and Disturbia. But Moss’ name was suddenly no longer being so prominently featured around Hollywood, leaving fans asking: so what happened? Bursting on to the scene after her role as Trinity in the Matrix trilogy, Carrie-Ann Moss went on to star in successive eerie hits like Memento and Disturbia. But Moss’ name was suddenly no longer being so prominently featured around Hollywood, leaving fans asking: so what happened?
While Moss is no longer starring in quite as many films, she has still found work in the science fiction television series, Humans. Additionally, she played the supporting character of Jeri Hogarth in the Netflix Marvel series Jessica Jones. For the most part though, Moss is focusing on her family and her personal lifestyle company, Annapurna Living.
11. Eddie Murphy
Anyone trying to rank the best comedy movies in history might find it difficult to leave an Eddie Murphy movie off the list. Having started off in his youth as a regular on Saturday Night Live, Murphy later entertained the masses with both his stand-up routines and his unforgettable roles in movies like The Nutty Professor, Shrek, and Coming to America.
It seems as though Murphy is feeling more accomplished than ever and is happy welcoming retirement. In a 2011 interview with Rolling Stones, Murphy acknowledged, “After all these years, I’ve done well and I’m cool. I feel comfortable in my skin, I’ve saved some paper, everybody’s healthy, my kids are beautiful and smart, doing different things, it’s all good.” Most recently, he produced and starred in 2019’s Dolemite Is My Name about a struggling ’70s actor-comedian.
12. Jessica Biel
Jessica Biel used to be one of Hollywood’s most sought-after actresses, starring in box office darlings like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Blade: Trinity, and Stealth. But as the 2000s turned in to the 2010s, Biel’s name appeared less and less on the billing for popular films.
It might’ve been love that took her attention away from Hollywood. Jessica Biel met singing sensation Justin Timberlake in 2007, and after five years, they got married in southern Italy in October 2012. Three years and a reportedly happy honeymoon later, the couple welcomed into their lives their firstborn. Like many other actors and actresses, Biel may have found she loved being a parent more than she loved being a movie star.
13. Elijah Wood
Once described by seminal film critic Roger Ebert as “the most talented actor in his age group in Hollywood history,” it seems surprising that we can’t find much of Elijah Wood these days. But when asking what happened to the Lord of the Rings star, the answer might surprise you.
Since taking a step back out of the spotlight, Wood has become heavily involved in charity work, specifically for the organization The Art of Elysium, giving sick children an opportunity to meet their favorite Hollywood stars. Not only that, but Frodo is spinning tracks: Wood has become a successful DJ and even owns his own record label, Simian Records.
14. Jessica Alba
Movie fans from the mid-2000s will no doubt remember seeing Jessica Alba’s face plastered on billboards and magazine covers from Los Angeles to New York and beyond. After getting her film breakthrough in the 2003 movie Honey, Alba showed off her range, appearing in everything from romantic comedies like Good Luck Chuck, to Sin City’s dark film noir.
Ultimately, Alba left the business because, as she said, she wants to be in control of her work. In an interview with ET Online, Alba reiterated, “If I could develop a film or a series for Netflix, that would be cool. Hollywood is finally allowing women to star more in action franchises, which is a passion of mine.”
15. Lacey Chabert
Lacey Chabert has had almost 150 acting credits in television shows, movies and even video games. So why does it feel like we haven’t seen her in awhile? After 2004’s Mean Girls, it seemed as though Chabert was going to have her pick of any project she wanted. It seemed what the actress really wanted though, was to take a step back from the spotlight.
Lately, Chabert has been one of the most popular actresses of the Hallmark Channel, appearing in numerous Hallmark Christmas movies. That, combined with her newfound love and importance of motherhood, means that while she may still work, Chabert doesn’t seem interested in becoming a big star.
16. Jack Nicholson
Considered by many critics to be one of the most versatile actors that Hollywood has ever seen, Nicholson made a name for himself playing anti-heroes and villains. His talent didn’t go unnoticed, and after 12 Academy Award nominations, Nicholson became one of the most nominated male actors in history.
As one of the public’s favorite Hollywood stars, within Tinseltown circles he has a reputation for throwing wild parties. But Nicholson has since decided to live a more relaxed and calmer life. In a Rolling Stone interview, the award-winning legend conceded that the time had arrived for him to give up partying and just enjoy the little things. He said, “whether you want it or not, that part of your life changes a bit.”
17. Jennifer Love Hewitt
Beginning her career as a child actress on the Disney Channel series Kids Incorporated, Jennifer Love Hewitt was able to transition in to successful adult roles, such as the 2001 film the Heartbreakers, or her lead role on the television series Ghost Whisperer, which ran from 2005 to 2010.
While Love Hewitt isn’t seen as commonly as she used to be in the ’90s and 2000s, she has still found roles on Criminal Minds (2014-2015) and 9-1-1 (2018-2019). Hewitt seems to have chosen the quiet life. In a People magazine interview, the former Ghost Whisperer star stated, “I want to be an independent woman who falls in love, finds a great partner for her lifetime, has kids and kind of does it all. I’d like to have it all.”
18. Gene Hackman
Having entered acting five years after his discharge from the Marine Corps in 1951, the now-mythical Gene Hackman enjoyed a career that spanned six decades and earned him numerous accolades. Among them were two Academy Awards, one for Best Actor following his role of Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle in the 1971 thriller The French Connection, and again in 1993 for his work in Unforgiven.
Since 2004, Hackman hasn’t starred in a single film or television role, seeming to prefer life as a retired legend. He hasn’t completely left entertainment behind though. Hackman provided narration for two documentaries, fairly unsurprising because of his passion for history. What’s more, Hackman is also a published author of not one, but five books taking place in various historical eras.
19. Macaulay Culkin
Children of the 1990s will instantly remember Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister in the Christmas classic Home Alone and its sequel Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. While this would arguably come to be Culkin’s defining role, the young actor also starred in classic movies of the era, like My Girl, The Nutcracker, and Richie Rich.
It seems this Hollywood star has chosen to step out of the spotlight in favor of launching his own comedy brand, which he named Bunny Ears. As a joke, Culkin posted an online poll on Bunny Ears, asking fans what he should change his middle name to. After votes were counted, Culkin followed through with his fans’ wishes, changing “Carson” to “Macaulay Culkin,” effectively now going by Macaulay Macaulay Culkin Culkin. To each his own!
20. Mike Myers
Mike Myers was one of the biggest film masters of the 1990s and one of moviegoers’ favorite Hollywood stars in his time. His films Austin Powers, Wayne’s World, and Shrek (and their sequels, of course) left audiences in stitches and equipped with an arsenal of new quotes that entered pop culture. So what could possibly make this all-star funny man want to give up his hard-earned Hollywood prestige?
After his enormous success, it seems as though Myers isn’t going to act in anything unless he’s 100 percent sure about it — a moment in his career that most actors only dream of achieving. He stated in an interview with GQ that he turns “virtually everything down.” Myers has written a book, Canada, his life in his home country in hilarious prose.
21. Mischa Barton
The British-born actress Mischa Barton achieved what many only dream of. After leaving her hometown of London and moving to New York, Barton trained with James Lapine and Tony Kushner, considered to be some of the most renowned stage directors at the time. From there she landed roles in films like Notting Hill, The Sixth Sense, and later the enormously-popular television series, The O.C.
After ending her role on The O.C., Barton returned to her roots in theater and also began developing her own successful handbag and beauty line. In fact, she even went back to London in 2012 and opened her own beauty store, called Mischa Barton Boutique.
22. Mira Sorvino
Growing up, it seemed as though there was nothing Mira Sorvino couldn’t do. Described as “fiercely intelligent,” Sorvino was discouraged by her father from going into acting and ended up graduating magna cum laude from Harvard before deciding to take on cinema. After her performance in the 1995 film Mighty Aphrodite, Sorvino walked away with an Academy Award to add to her list of accomplishments.
After a successful film career throughout the ’90s and early 2000s, Sorvino’s interests looked like they shifted from work in Hollywood to political activism. Since 2004, Sorvino has been affiliated with Amnesty International and later began serving as a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador to combat human trafficking.
23. Tobey Maguire
After six years of headlining major films like Seabiscuit, Brothers, and the wildly popular Spider-Man trilogy, Tobey Maguire appeared to decide he was ready for some time away from the spotlight. Rather than continue as a hit actor, Maguire took a seat behind the camera and started his own production company, Material Pictures.
Once characterized as “boyishly charming,” he’s now 44 years old, with a marriage of ten years and two kids. It wouldn’t be too surprising to hear that Maguire wanted a little less time on set and a little more time with the family. That said, he did happen to make a surprise appearance in the successful IFC miniseries, The Spoils of Babylon, in 2014.
24. Demi Moore
It might seem strange that iconic actress Demi Moore, a favorite Hollywood star and darling of the press throughout the 1980s and 1990s, would no longer be appearing regularly on the big screen. After the massive success of such films as St. Elmo’s Fire (1985), Ghost (1990), and If These Walls Could Talk (1996), it seemed all audiences want was more Moore, more.
But then, after 1997’s G.I. Jane, Moore appeared on screen less and less. That’s not to say she’s just sitting on a beach somewhere, enjoying her millions. The Emmy-nominated actress has been active in charities, fighting everything from animal abuse to disease. Most recently, in September 2019, Moore released her autobiographical novel, Inside Out, which became a New York Times bestseller.
25. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
Having worked together their entire life, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are just as recognizable by their Hollywood moniker, the Olsen twins. In 2004, by age 18, the two had accomplished more than just starring roles on shows like Full House. They took control of the company Dualstar, and by 2007 had become two of the richest women in entertainment.
Since then, the two have chosen to devote their talents to business rather than film and entertainment. Together, they have received enormous recognition for their work, particularly in fashion, and were named Womenswear Designers of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2012 and 2015.
26. Jack Gleeson
After starring as the reviled King Joffrey in the astronomically popular HBO series Game of Thrones, many might’ve expected a bright future for Irish actor Jack Gleeson’s film and television career. Ultimately though, Gleeson did not take advantage of the opportunity that many would die for. Why? Apparently he just isn’t interested in an actor’s lifestyle.
In an interview with The Irish Independent, Gleeson confessed, “When I started doing Game of Thrones perhaps the reality was made too real for me. The lifestyle that comes with being an actor in a successful TV show isn’t something I gravitate towards. I’d like to be an academic, a philosophy lecturer if possible. I’d do a Masters in Ancient Hebrew maybe, and a Ph.D. hopefully, if I get in.”
27. Phoebe Cates
Actress Phoebe Cates first made a name for herself in the classic 1982 coming-of-age film Fast Times at Ridgemont High. In the movie, Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Stacy Hamilton, an inexperienced teenager who is ready to dabble her feet in the world of dating. She heeds the advice of her uninhibited BFF Linda Barrett (played by Phoebe Cates) and winds up getting trapped in a love triangle as dramatic as could be.
But it seems the Hollywood hot shot has put acting on the backburner to focus on her husband, actor Kevin Kline, and their two kids. The last time she appeared on screen was in the 2001 film, The Anniversary Party, where she played the character Sophia Gold.
28. Taylor Lautner
Taylor Lautner first became a Hollywood heart-throb after playing Jacob Black in the Twilight saga. This role catapulted him to stardom almost overnight and helped him land a role alongside Taylor Swift in the 2010 rom-com, Valentines Day. The last film he appeared in was Run the Tide in 2016 and in 2018, his work in TV series Cuckoo came to an end.
So what has he been doing in recent days, then? Lautner has posted a slew of loved-up photos on Instagram with his new bae, Taylor Dome. Dome appears to be a nursing student and is apparently friends with his younger sister.
29. Sean Connery
Hollywood legend, Sean Connery is most recognized as the first actor to play James Bond. He starred in the role for a total of seven movies and has earned himself three Golden Globes, two BAFTA Awards, and one Academy Award over the years.
For such an impressive actor, it’s a shame we haven’t seen him much in recent years. Connery allegedly announced his retirement after wrapping up filming for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in 2003. However, in 2012, he voiced the character of Sir Billi in the animated adventure comedy of the same name. Is there a petition we can sign somewhere to bring him back to the screen?! Asking for a friend…
30. Matthew Fox
Actor Matthew Fox is best known for his television roles. He played Charlie Salinger on Party of Five and Jack Sephard on Lost. His role as Jack even got him Primetime Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award nominations. But fans of the Pennsylvania native haven’t seen him on screen since 2015.
Fox’s last time on screen was in the horror Western film, Bone Tomahawk, where he played Brooder. The film takes place at the end of the old west and centers around an old sheriff and his crew who are on a mission to rescue the town doctor from cannibals who live in caves. Creepy!