12:00 pm EDT, May 16, 2015

7 dorky celebrity crushes that grew up to be insanely hot

There’s a unique validation you feel when one of your silly celebrity crushes from fifteen years ago actually grows up into an awesome and talented (hot) human being.

I graduated high school over ten years ago, and during that period, due to limited factors – internet, intelligence, etc — I was nowhere near as educated about my favorite celebrities as teenagers are today. There was no social media, no video interviews, no first-hand interaction — just bad photoshoots and the same fake facts in magazines over and over again. We didn’t know our celebrities as well then as we do now. But that didn’t stop us from loving them.

Some of my biggest celebrity crushes of the late ’90s exploded into fame and never really looked back — people like Leonardo DiCaprio, Will Smith, and Justin Timberlake. But I’m not talking about that caliber of celebrity. I’m talking about the ones who were a bit less… cool. Not the A-listers of the time period, but the TV stars and teen movie actors, minor celebrities who ran the risk of being hot one moment and gone the next. It’s cool to discover that some of those people who we loved so much based on so little actually turned out to be really amazing, both in their work and in their personality.

Here are a few of my long-term faves — the ones that that I feel the most validated about having loved for ages. All of these guys were my celebrity crushes at least ten years ago and they have all totally leveled up career-wise, even if some of them had a bit of a lull in the middle.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

If you watched TV in the mid ’90s, you’ll remember 3rd Rock From The Sun, a popular sitcom about a family of aliens masquerading as humans. This is where I fell in love with a teenaged Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose character Tommy Solomon was the oldest and smartest of the aliens, trapped in the youngest body. His sarcastic and wise performance proved that he had something special early on, he helped create history by sharing the first gay kiss (with Topher Grace on That ’70s Show) on American prime-time TV, and his starring role in 10 Things I Hate About You cemented him as a nerdy-chic heartthrob.

However, Gordon-Levitt struggled with his teen celebrity and took a break from acting for several years. He then returned in a variety of unusual indie films before being cast in two big-budget Christopher Nolan movies, Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. JGL now balances life as an A-list actor with forays into directing, writing and producing, as well as hands-on management of HitRecord, his online collaboration company where he facilitates creative projects with a huge community of artists to whom he’s known simply as “RegularJoe.”

Seth Green

My crush on Seth Green pre-dates Oz from Buffy, that zen-like perfect were-boyfriend. It pre-dates the embarrassing but super-sweet Kenny Fisher (Can’t Hardly Wait is, FYI, the best ’90s teen movie.) It goes back to Scott Evil, the only good reason to watch any Austin Powers film. I can still recite the entire Jerry Springer skit from The Spy Who Shagged Me, probably because Scott’s blue hair was the hottest thing my thirteen-year-old self had ever seen. I would have married him in a heartbeat.

Seth Green was always super nerdy, and he was always super cool. He’s remained a hugely recognizable figure in the pop culture world, occasionally starring as a comedic character in feature films but mostly gaining success as a voice-over artist. He’s a regular on Family Guy and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and he’s a director, writer, co-creater and leading voice on Robot Chicken, an award winning Adult Swim sketch comedy show filmed in stop motion with action figures. Everyone who’s anyone knows that Seth Green is da bomb, which is why Robot Chicken has had an insane amount of celebrity guest stars — everyone from Daniel Radcliffe to Emma Stone to Bryan Cranston and Whoopi Goldberg.

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Chris Hemsworth

Raise your hand if you’re an Aussie and get to stake a claim in pre-Hollywood Hemsworth. Back in the day, this boy was the cutest thing to ever hit Summer Bay as high school hottie Kim Hyde in Australian soap opera Home and Away. I got the shock of my life in 2008 when watching the trailer for Star Trek and, lo and behold, there was little Kim Hyde up there in space! Little did we know just how much more space he’d be spinning through — he later landed the Thor gig and Australia now has a bonafide Avenger of our very own.

I’ve never been much of a soap fan, but I got weirdly caught up in his particular plot — the love triangle between Kim and his best friends Robbie and Tasha. I’m pretty sure I was shipping all sorts of things there before I even really knew what shipping was… and it’s always been super adorable to me that Hemmo actually auditioned for the nerdy Robbie character. Home and Away clearly knew what was up and instead gave him a “hunk” where he had to spend half his time with his shirt off… Ten years later and he’s People’s Sexiest Man Alive.

Elden Henson

We’re into pre-teen territory here. Anyone born in the ’80s was probably obsessed with The Mighty Ducks in their childhood — ice hockey is still one of the only sports I truly understand the rules of. Elden Henson played Fulton Reed, one of the Ducks’ signature “Bash Brothers” defensemen, a shy, alternative outsider who can’t skate and has some problems with aggression. He becomes fiercely loyal to team captain Charlie Conway (Joshua Jackson) and remains a complex lead character for all three movies, released between 1992 and 1996.

I never thought much about what happened to Fulton Reed until Mockingjay came out and Henson popped back into my life with a moving performance as Pollux, the Avox on Katniss’s propo team. He’s recently gained even more of my affection as Foggy Nelson, the heart and soul of Marvel’s Daredevil, and as his own sweet self, especially his gender-role-challenging experimentation with nail varnish and hairstyles! The Mighty Ducks are some of the coolest sports movies ever made and they stand the test of time to this day, and it’s awesome that Elden Henson is back on the scene and doing great work.

Ryan Reynolds

In 1999, the amount of pictures of Ryan Reynolds that I ripped out of magazines and stuck on my wall, closet and school books was genuinely embarrassing. I was a fan of his first big break, Two Guys, A Girl and a Pizza Place, but I was also just a fan of his face. He was the cutest TV star around and I was sure he’d become absolutely huge. He didn’t. Reynolds has had a decent career over the years, but nothing explosive. He’s done comedy, action and romance, even superhero duty (as DC’s Green Lantern.) It was all… okay. Nothing quite elevated him.

But Reynolds seems to have met his match in the Marvel Universe. He’s currently filming the highly anticipated Deadpool, reprising the role of Wade Wilson he played in X-Men Origins: Wolverine in an adaptation that promises to be more closely matched to the massively popular character’s self-aware state. Reynolds’ participation in the ridiculous promo for the movie, including his interactions on Twitter, are proving that he’s the perfect man for the job, and on the flip side, he’s honed his skills at serious drama – critics called Mississippi Grind, which premiered at Sundance, a career best. The age of Reynolds is upon us. Finally.

Paul Rudd

Okay, this one might not have ever been considered dorky. I can’t quite remember where I first experienced the beautiful miracle that is Paul Rudd — whether it was as Josh, the Knightley to Cher Horowitz’s Emma in Clueless, or as the naive and handsome suitor Paris in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet. Either way, he’s possibly the most attractive man in the world — a perfect combination of boyish and manly, radiating kindness, a gorgeous speaking voice, approachable, charismatic, sweet, fun… shall I stop? I’ll stop.

Apart from a few mere smile lines around his eyes, a gift to remember the beautiful experience that Paul Rudd’s life must be, Paul Rudd in 2015 looks exactly the same as Paul Rudd in 1995: that is, to say, perfect. How the hell has he done this? Seriously? How? What is this witchcraft? Like Ryan Reynolds, Rudd has had a consistent but not ground-breaking career, and like Reynolds, he’s about to become Marvel-superhero massive. Unlike Deadpool, I’m still not sure I’m 100% here for Ant-Man, but it doesn’t matter. I’m going to see it. It’s Paul Rudd. And if it ends up disappointing me, I’ll just go watch his episode of SNL with One Direction again.

James Van Der Beek

I was a Dawson Girl. In retrospect, part of me realizes that this was a mistake. If I watched Dawson’s Creek for the first time now, I’d definitely gravitate towards Pacey, who was troubled and charismatic and used humor as a defense mechanism. But at age 15, I was firmly Team Dawson Leery. Condescending tendencies, inappropriate romantic gestures, terrible blonde curtains and all. I was recently asked to explain myself and my choices on this matter, and the best answer I could come up with was “I didn’t like fun in high school.” But God bless James Van Der Beek, born March 8, 1977. Bless that glorious, powerfully-foreheaded man. No human being has ever made me feel more validated for my choices.

Naturally, as a teenage obsessee, I was a big fan of the actor as well as the character, and yeah, sure, Joshua Jackson turned out okay, but James Van Der Beek is a legend. He’s a regular participant in Funny or Die videos (including one in which he re-creates the “crying Dawson” gif along with a variety of other reaction shots) and he played a side-splitting parody of himself in the unfairly-cancelled Don’t Trust The Bitch in Apartment 23. He’s fantastically self-deprecating and tongue-in-cheek about his past, he’s hilarious on Twitter, and he’s doing genuinely good work on TV — he’s currently starring opposite Patricia Arquette in CSI: Cyber. He also got super hot — definitely grew into that bone structure.

Who’s your 10+ year celebrity crush — and have they leveled up?

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