The 1990s is the decade known as the period that marked the end of the Cold War and contained advances in technology, including the internet. The ’90s brought significant developments in cinema and carried on traditional trends from the 1980s low-budget independent films that maintained their popularity throughout the decade. During the ’90s, full-length films were made to be displayed both on theater screens and smaller TV screens, featuring dialog with close-up scenes instead of wide-angle scenes made for theaters. Home videos rose in popularity and that market increased the total revenue for a film, frequently doubling its total income. The decade also cultivated the rise of independent cinema, and advancements in CGI-technology used in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Jurassic Park, Forrest Gump, and more.
The 1990s presented many incredible performances by actresses who made an impact in cinema and are still beloved and prominent in the present day. The best actresses of the 1990s have received widespread recognition and awards for their work on the big screen, portraying some of the most iconic roles in classic movies. From gracing us with their performances to standing the test of time and becoming cinema icons, here are the most popular actresses of the 1990s, ranked.
Update January 11, 2024: This article has been updated with even more great actresses from the 1990s, for those nostalgic for the decade as the new year has begun.
15 Susan Sarandon
Susan Sarandon began acting in 1970 with the drama film Joe, and has since received accolades and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her work spanning decades. Her filmography from the ’90s earned her Academy Award nominations for Best Actress for Thelma & Louise, Lorenzo’s Oil, The Client, and Dead Man Walking. During the Nineties, she also appeared in White Palace, Little Women, James and the Giant Peach, Stepmom, Anywhere but Here, and Cradle Will Rock. Sarandon received the Women in Film Crystal Award in 1994 and earned eight Golden Globe nominations, including for White Palace and Stepmom.
14 Alicia Silverstone
Alicia Silverstone made her film debut in The Crush in 1993, and was honored for her performance at the 1994 MTV Movie Award, earning the award for Best Breakthrough Performance. Silverstone then garnered more popularity starring in the music video for Aerosmith’s “Cryin”, in the film Clueless in 1995, and Batman & Robin in 1997. She received multiple nominations and awards for her amazing performance in Clueless and The Crush. She also recently got acclaimed for her role in the Netflix series The Baby Sitter’s Club as Elizabeth Thomar-Brewer. Alicia was one of the most famous romance movie actresses in the 90s and received praise for her performances over the years.
13 Cameron Diaz
Cameron Diaz made her debut beside Jim Carrey in the super popular comedy movie The Mask in 1994, which brought her immediately into the spotlight. The rest of the ’90s also saw her appearing in various movies, including She’s the One, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Very Bad Things, Being John Malkovich, and There’s Something About Mary. While Diaz would later reach new heights in the 2000s thanks to the Shrek franchise and Charlie’s Angels, it was the 1990s that set the tone for her career. Even though she has not appeared in any films since 2014, her many fans still love her and are waiting for her to return to the industry after her long hiatus.
12 Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie began acting alongside her father in 1982 and became popular during the Nineties. Her filmography during the decade included Cyborg 2, Hackers, Love Is All There Is, Mojave Moon, George Wallace, Playing God, Hell’s Kitchen, Playing by Heart, Gia, and Girl, Interrupted; which earned an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Jolie’s star would rise even higher in the 2000’s as she would become as well known for her charity work as her film career, but her breakout career in the 1990s set her down the path to becoming one of the biggest stars in the world.
11 Demi Moore
Demi Moore made her film debut in 1981 in Choices, and in that decade she became known as a member of the Brat Pack. Then, she became more popular throughout the ’90s. She appeared in some of the most popular films of the decade, including Ghost, A Few Good Men, Indecent Proposal, Disclosure, The Juror, G.I. Jane, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and more. Her performance in Ghost even earned her a Golden Globe for Best Actress, and she became the highest-paid actress in history for her performance in Striptease, for which she earned $12.5 million, an unprecedented salary at the time.
10 Kate Winslet
Kate Winslet’s debut was marked by her appearance in Dark Season, where she played the character of Reet and was fifteen years old. She found her breakthrough playing the role of Marianne Dashwood in the movie Sense and Sensibility in 1995. Even though she gets the most recognition for playing the role of Rose in the classic movie Titanic, she has been part of many other films and TV shows during the 90s. Her filmography during that time includes Heavenly Creatures, Jude, Hamlet, Hideous Kinky, Holy Smoke!, and Faeries. Winslet most recently appeared in Avatar: The Way of Water, where she played the character of Ronal.
9 Uma Thurman
Uma Thurman began her career in acting in the movie Kiss Daddy Goodnight, which came out in 1987. One of her most recognizable roles from the 1990s has to be Mia Wallace in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. This movie earned her various awards and nominations, including a nomination for the Academy Awards. The other movies of the decade that Thurman has been a part of include Mad Dog and Glory, Beautiful Girls, and Batman and Robin. Thurman’s career would rebound later when she collaborated with Tarantino on Kill Bill in the 2000’s but there was no denying in the 1990’s she emerged as one of the biggest stars of the decade with her Mia Wallace haircut still being a pop culture staple to this very day.
8 Winona Ryder
Winona Ryder made her film debut in Lucas in 1986, and became more popular during the ’90s with Edward Scissorhands, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Girl Interuppted and Little Women. Ryder was nominated for two Academy Awards during the decade; the first was for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Age of Innocence and then the following year, Best Actress for Little Women. Early in her career, she worked with some of the biggest directors, including Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Tim Burton. Combine all that with her relationship to star Johnny Depp and it was hard to escape Winona Ryder during the decade. She recently received huge critical acclaim and love for her role as Joyce Byers in the beloved Netflix series Stranger Things.
7 Drew Barrymore
Drew Barrymore achieved fame as a child actor in the 1982 film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2004. She has also received a Golden Globe Award, Screen Actors Guild Award, British Academy Film Award and seven Emmy Awards. During the ’90s, she starred in Poison Ivy, Batman Forever, Scream, The Wedding Singer, Home Fries, Ever After, Never Been Kissed, and more. Her role in Scream is certainly the most iconic of the decade, as the film used her star power to lure audiences into a false sense of security as she was front and center in the marketing, only to die in the films opening scene.
6 Michelle Pfeiffer
Michelle Pfeiffer’s acting career has spanned over four decades, and she became one of Hollywood’s most popular actresses during the ’90s, including being recognized as the decade’s sex symbol. During the ’90s, Pfeiffer starred in Batman Returns, Love Field, Frankie and Johnny, The Age of Innocence, Wolf, Dangerous Minds, Up Close & Personal, and more. She has received a Golden Globe Award, a British Academy Film Award, nominations for Academy Awards and a Primetime Emmy Award, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
5 Courteney Cox
You may know Courteney Cox as Monica Geller from the very hit 90s sitcom Friends, but that was not all she was a part of during the decade. She starred in many movies during the ’90s but got her main movie spotlight after starring beside Jim Carrey in the 1994 classic Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. In 1995, Cox became one of the main stars of the super popular slasher franchise Scream as Gale Weathers, who still remains one of the most iconic horror movie characters of all time. Cox has appeared as Weathers in the most recent Scream VI movie which came out in 2023.
4 Meg Ryan
Meg Ryan began acting in 1981 and became popular in the Nineties. Her filmography during the decade included Joe Versus the Volcano, The Doors, Sleepless in Seattle, When a Man Loves a Woman; French Kiss, Courage Under Fire, Addicted to Love, Anastasia, You’ve Got Mail, and City of Angels, among others. The 1990s were a major decade for romantic comedy, and the name most people though of first when they though of the genre was Meg Ryan.
3 Jennifer Aniston
Jennifer Aniston took the world by storm with her role as Rachel Green in Friends and became the darling of Hollywood during the mid-90s. She has appeared in movies like She’s the One, Dream for an Insomniac, Picture Perfect, Office Space, and many more. Aniston kept growing in popularity during the ’90s and 00s and has continued to star in various movie and TV roles across decades as her star power has become generational spanning as recent as her appearance on The Morning Show. Aniston has a very positive outlook toward life despite the ups and downs in her career and her personal life, which is inspiring to many women across the world.
2 Sandra Bullock
Sandra Bullock is an actress, producer, and the recipient of widespread recognition, nominations, and awards, including an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award. During the ’90s, Bullock appeared in Love Potion No. 9, The Vanishing, When the Party’s Over, While You Were Sleeping, A Time to Kill, Hope Floats, Practical Magic, and more. Bullock delighted audiences from her earliest film appearance as both a girl next door but also have a classic movie star allure. What is more impressive is that the 90s were not a peak for her but instead the first stepping stone as she became one of the most prominent actresses of both the 2000’s and 2010’s due to her fantastic performance in films such as Ocean’s 8, Gravity, and Bird Box.
1 Julia Roberts
Julia Roberts was one of the most popular actresses in the ’90s for her work in a variety of film genres and became the world’s highest-paid actress throughout the decade. During the ’90s, Roberts starred in Pretty Woman, Hook, Sleeping with the Enemy, The Pelican Brief, Something to Talk About, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Notting Hill, Runaway Bride, and more. You think of a movie from the 1990s and you are likely to think of Julia Roberts somewhere in there. She certainly earned the title of America’s sweetheart and would later go on to become an Academy Award winner in the following decade.