Summit Entertainment/20th Century Fox
Throughout the history of cinema, many men have created desirable personas for themselves on screen. After all, part of being an actor is looking and acting appealing, especially when you're playing leading men. Some of these leading men have also ascended to stardom while they were still quite young. Though teenage heartthrobs are typically past their teen years, many are still in their early to mid-twenties as they catapult to fame.
Teenage heartthrobs can come in a variety of forms. Sometimes, they're hunky and conventionally attractive. Other times, they're more slight and sensitive. Whatever form they take, though, they make plenty people look up and take notice. They're too appealing to ignore. Here are 18 of the greatest teenage heartthrobs in cinema history.
Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the biggest teenage heartthrobs there's ever been. In Titanic, Leo is the ideal man. He's got sharp features, perfect '90s hair, and he plays a character who's kind and open and full of life.
As he's aged, Leo has become a serious actor and adopted the dad bod heartthrob aesthetic as well. His quest for an Oscar led him to take on punishing, un-sexy roles. As Jack in Titanic, though, Leo was pretty much everything you could ask for from a heartthrob. He had a winning smile, and in the late '90s, he really was the king of the world.
Robert Pattinson is one of the most interesting teenage heartthrobs on this list because he didn't really want the job. When he was jettisoned to international superstardom for playing Edward in Twilight, it never seemed like he relished his fame.
In the years since, it's allowed him to take on interesting, challenging roles in a variety of projects as he tried to break away from the Twilight typecast. He may no longer be the heartthrob that he once was, but he's proven that he can actually be a great actor. Being a heartthrob never really suited him, anyway. He's better off as an actor who's slightly less famous, slightly weirder, and trying things out of the eyes of the mainstream.
James Dean had one of the shortest acting careers ever, but he made quite an impact on cinema history. In Rebel Without a Cause, he plays a teenager who's struggling to get by. It's a role that allowed Dean to look tortured, but even his tortured expression couldn't hide his iconic good looks.
James Dean was a teenage heartthrob for an era of beatniks. His jacket, his hair, his posture — all of it suggested a guy who just didn't care very much. It made him an avatar for an entire generation dealing with overbearing parents. That's why his legacy lasts, even to this day.
New World Pictures
You may not want to bring James Dean home to meet your parents, but you definitely don't want to bring Christian Slater. Christian rose to prominence after playing the dastardly anarchist at the center of Heathers. From there, he made a name for himself by weaponizing his good looks to hide a dangerous interior.
Of course, part of Christian Slater's appeal comes from the fact that he seems so dangerous. When you look at him, it seems like anything could happen. He could break your heart or kill your family. He's not just a bad boy. He's capable of real, terrible harm.
Physically, Patrick Swayze is a damn-near perfect man. He's strong but quiet. He seems to wield immense power, but that doesn't mean he's always using it. In Dirty Dancing, Patrick also proves that he knows how to move.
Although the movie is almost solely about dancing, Dirty Dancing never suggests that Patrick Swayze is feminine for knowing how to move his hips. In fact, it only makes him sexier. Of course, the signature lift is what takes Patrick's sexiness to the next level. Nobody puts Baby in a corner, and nobody can suggest that Patrick Swayze wasn't one of the sexiest actors of the '80s.
New Line Cinema
The love story at the center of The Notebook is meant to be epic, and Ryan Gosling sells that better than anyone. He's gorgeous, but he's can also look like a wounded puppy when he wants to. In The Notebook, he's both awkward and flustered and entirely romantic.
That unassuming persona didn't stick with him for long. Eventually, everyone knew how hot he was. He could no longer pretend that he wasn't the most attractive man in the room, so he decided to lean into that. In The Notebook, though, it was like we were meeting this future movie star for the very first time.
Zac Efron is so pretty. He skyrocketed to teen stardom on the back of the Disney Channel movie High School Musical when he was still quite young and scrawny. Unlike some of the men on this list, Zac actually looks like a kid in the first HSM.
With that perfect, floppy hair that was so on-trend in the mid-aughts and his dynamite basketball moves, it was clear that High School Musical had endeared him in the minds of many impressionable young people. As he's aged, he's gotten more chiseled, but no less attractive. Like a fine wine, Zac has gotten even better with age, and he was already pretty good.
Twilight actually spawned two teenage heartthrobs. Because Bella, the series teen protagonist, is torn between two men, Taylor Lautner rose to stardom alongside Robert Pattinson. Of the two, Lautner is the much more conventionally attractive. He's muscular, and he's got a smile that's worth its weight in gold.
Taylor hasn't found as much success as his co-stars since the franchise ended. Even so, he still possesses a legion of loyal followers who believe that Jacob should have ended up with Bella and not her half-vampire daughter in a creepy, weird twist. Taylor may not have gotten the girl in the end, but he got to be a heartthrob, and that's worth something.
Tom Cruise has had such a long acting career that it's easy to forget he was once a drool-worthy young guy. In Top Gun, the power of Tom Cruise as a movie star is on full display. Although he's not a tall man, he certainly strikes a figure, and for an entire generation, he was the number-one marquee idol.
Part of Cruise's appeal is how distinct his physical appearance is. He's handsome, but not exactly conventionally so. He looks like a little guy who's nevertheless quite tough. Throughout the years, he's given plenty of swoon-worthy performances. Nothing will ever top Top Gun, though.
Buena Vista Pictures
Heath Ledger is another teenage heartthrob who seemed largely uninterested in being one. Although he certainly an attractive man, following 10 Things I Hate About You, Heath took on roles that seemed to prove how serious he was as an actor.
Even so, you can't star in a hit teen rom-com and expect that you won't have your share of fans. Heath's shaggy, unkempt appearance and distinct presence made him a heartthrob unlike any we had ever seen. His work following that, and culminating in The Dark Knight, proved that Heath Ledger was much more than just a pretty face.
Paul Rudd may not feel like a true-blue teenage heartthrob. After all, today he's largely known for his roles in comedy. In Clueless, though, Paul is the object of the protagonist's desire, and with very good reason.
When you look at him objectively, Paul Rudd is a pretty attractive guy. That's the side of him that gets brought out to great effect in Clueless. He's got sharp features and terrific hair, and it doesn't hurt that he doesn't seem to age. Although he eventually transitioned into comedy, Paul Rudd was once a teenage heartthrob. What's more, he deserved that designation as much as anyone on this list.
20th Century Fox
Ansel Elgort ushered in an era of quieter, more sensitive heartthrobs with his work in The Fault in Our Stars. Instead of rage or anger, Ansel plays a cancer patient with sadness and longing. He's both grateful for the time he's been given, and hungry for so much more.
The sensitivity of the role that made him a teenage heartthrob is matched by his features, which are subtle. He's got full lips, wispy hair, and a round face. What's more, he's got a delicate, toothy smile that is hard to resist. Ansel doesn't win you over by being mysterious. It's his charm that makes him irresistable.
The singular image of a man outside your window with a boombox. That image will always be connected to John Cusack, and for that reason alone, he deserves a spot on this list. John personifies a certain era of Hollywood romantic lead. He's the quiet boy who is romantic to a fault and may do things that are kind of creepy to win your attention.
For some, these actions, especially in the context of a movie, are swoon-worthy. For others, they may seem problematic. Whatever you think about them, John Cusack was the best example of an earnest, maybe creepy guy who wants to love the girl of his dreams.
The most recent entry on this list is also one of the most relentlessly charming. In To All the Boys I've Loved Before, Noah Centineo proves that he's a star. He's insanely tall, and he's got enough charm to prove he's worthy of any girls' affection. He's also got one of the most attractive voices in the business.
Noah is sentimental and sweet, but part of his charm is that he seems so eager to fall in love with you. He's not creepy — he tries to hide how much he loves you, but he ultimately fails. He's charming, thoughtful, and completely romantic.
Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club is the baddest of all bad boys. He comes from a broken home, he wears a trench coat, and he doesn't care that he's stuck in detention. He's also smarter than he lets on, and he can be incredibly clever as well.
There's a reason this movie closes on an image of Judd pushing his fist into the air. Although the movie has five teen leads, it's Nelson's character that makes the biggest impression. He's rebellious in all the right ways, and that makes it very easy to fall under his spell. He makes the good girls go bad. His character hasn't aged the best, but the Brat Pack was basically taking over the world in the '80s for a reason.
Will Smith has charisma draining out of his ears. Although he first turned heads as a rapper and then on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, it was Independence Day that proved he was a movie star. Not only does Will look the part, but it's also clear that no one will ever be as charming as he is in any movie ever again.
Throughout his career, he's been known for creating characters that are almost impossible to hate. He's got a smile that lights up whole buildings. Once Will Smith starred in one movie, it was clear that he was going to take over the whole game for a generation.
Sony Pictures Classics
Timothée Chalamet is the epitome of the caring, sensitive heartthrob. In Call Me By Your Name, he's cultured and smart, and his attitude is one of openness and joy. He's the kind of posh, beautiful boy that is all too easy to fall head over heels for.
He's scrawny, but he doesn't seem to mind that. Neither do we. This quality adds to his charm instead of detracting from it. He looks like a real teenage boy, except one that's almost unrealistically beautiful. It also helps that he's an undeniably great talent. Although he's still young, Timothée may very well be the whole package.
Orlando Bloom is so pretty that nothing else about him really matters. With the one-two punch of Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean in the early 2000s, Orlando proved that there was no heart he couldn't melt.
With his dazzling smile, perfect long hair and sharp features, he was an ideal man. Can he act? Not very well, but it really doesn't matter. He's a marquee idol in the truest sense. He's great on screen because he's so easy to look at. When you're trying to be a movie star, having looks like that is more than half the battle.