Lester Burnham, Kevin Spacey
Then: Spacey's career began in theater, where he met his mentor, Jack Lemmon, during a production of Eugene O'Neill's 'Long Day's Journey into Night.' Fittingly, it was when the two appeared together in the 1992 movie adaptation of David Mamet's 'Glengarry Glen Ross' that Spacey's film career took off. He earned his first Academy Awards win four years later in the Best Supporting Actor category for his unforgettable turn as the duplicitous Roger "Verbal" Kint in 'The Usual Suspects.' 'American Beauty' marks his second Oscar victory.
Now: Spacey continues to perform on stage and screen. Most recently he's been earning rave reviews for his work on the drama series 'House of Cards,' which is currently available on Netflix Instant.
Carolyn Burnham, Annette Bening
Then: Playing an uptight real estate broker/domineering wife and mother, Bening earned her second Academy Award nomination, this time in the Best Actress in a Leading Role category. Her first came in 1991 in the Best Actress in a Supporting Role category for her work in the Stephen Frears' crime drama 'Grifters.'
Now: She's gone on to be nominated twice more, both times in the Leading Role arena. In 2005, Bening was chosen for her performance of a charismatic 1930s stage actress in 'Being Julia.' Then in 2011, she was a serious contender for her portrayal of a cuckolded lesbian in Lisa Cholodenko's dramedy 'The Kids Are All Right.' However, she lost to fellow frontrunner Natalie Portman, who played a deranged ballerina in 'Black Swan.' Earlier this year, Bening appeared in Sally Potter's critically heralded coming-of-age drama 'Ginger & Rosa.'
Jane Burnham, Thora Birch
Then: An established child actress who had starred in movies like 'Hocus Pocus,' 'Monkey Trouble' and 'Now and Then,' Birch displayed a new level of maturity—not to mention some skin—in this adult drama, playing the angst-ridden teenager enchanted by the bizarre boy next door.
Now: Though Birch has continued to act, 'American Beauty' is still her best-known performance. A close second would probably be her portrayal of dedicated outsider Enid in the movie adaptation of alternative comic 'Ghost World,' in which she starred opposite Scarlett Johansson and Steve Buscemi. In 2012, she fronted Ash Christian's family dramedy, 'Petunia.'
Then: Before Bentley showed us the beauty found in a plastic bag, he starred in the lesser-known drama 'Three Below Zero' and snared a small role in the 1998 Oprah Winfrey vehicle 'Beloved.'
Now: Last year Bentley played a sadistic game-maker in the wildly successful action-adventure blockbuster 'The Hunger Games.' Next up, he'll be playing Larry Marchiano, the second husband of porn star Linda Lovelace, in a biopic about her life, titled 'Lovelace.'
Angela Hayes, Mena Suvari
Then: Prior to playing the loud-mouthed teenager who recklessly flirts with her best friend's father, Suvari landed small parts in a string of films including the murder mystery 'Kiss the Girls,' the quirky indie comedy 'Slums of Beverly Hills' and the raunchy sex comedy 'American Pie,' which premiered just months before 'American Beauty' opened.
Now: In 2004, Suvari reconnected with 'American Beauty' screenwriter Alan Ball and landing a recurring role on his HBO series 'Six Feet Under.' She's also reunited with her 'American Pie' co-stars in 'American Pie 2,' 'American Reunion' and 'Loser,' an Amy Heckerling comedy in which Suvari starred opposite Jason Biggs.
Col. Frank Fitts, USMC, Chris Cooper
Then: Though Cooper had been working in film and television since 1987, he first won notice in the 1996 John Sayles drama 'Lone Star,' for which he scored an Independent Spirit Award nod, among other honors. But his harrowing and horrifying portrayal of the repressed and deadly Colonel Fitts proved a tipping point in his career.
Now: Roles in high profile movies like 'The Patriot' and 'The Bourne Identity' followed. In 2003, Cooper was not only nominated for his first Oscar, but also won in the Best Actor in a Supporting Role category for the experimental crime drama 'Adaptation.' He continues to be an admired performer, whatever the genre. In 2011, he delighted audiences as the cantankerous tycoon villain of 'The Muppets,' in which he performed a perfectly absurd rap number.
Barbara Fitts, Allison Janney
Then: 1999 was a major year for Janney since she offered fantastic supporting performances in three memorable movies. There was 'American Beauty,' of course. But also, she played the wacky school guidance counselor in the hit teen comedy '10 Things I Hate About You' as well as a promiscuous but kind-hearted white trash woman in the blisteringly funny mockumentary 'Drop Dead Gorgeous.' Aaron Sorkin's White House drama series, 'The West Wing,' also premiered in 1999. Janney was an integral part of the show's cast and success, and ultimately earned four Golden Globe nominations for her work there.
Now: Still a coveted cast member, Janney has won acclaim for her performances in the Oscar-winning comedy 'Juno,' the Spirit Awards-nominated 'Life During Wartime' and the Oscar-winning drama 'The Help.' Look for her later this year in Lynn Shelton's indie drama 'Touchy Feely,' which recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
Buddy Kane, Peter Gallagher
Then: Though he made his film debut in 1980 with the Bob Marcucci biopic 'The Idolmaker,' Gallagher didn't break through until 1989, when he starred opposite James Spader and Andie MacDowell in Steven Soderbergh's 'Sex, Lies, and Videotape.' From there he earned roles in Robert Altman's 'The Player,' Tim Robbins' 'Bob Roberts' and the Coen Bros' 'Hudsucker Proxy.'
Now: From 2003-2007, Gallagher was an indispensable part of the cast of the TV drama series 'The O.C.' Since that show wrapped, he has gone on to earn recurring roles on the Showtime comedy 'Californication,' the FX drama 'Rescue Me' and espionage-centered series 'Covert Affairs.' Last summer, he played the greedy villain in the dance-driven musical 'Step Up Revolution.'
Jim Olmeyer, Scott Bakula
Then: Before he played one half of the Burnham's gay neighbor couple Jim & Jim, Bakula was a television star best known for headlining the critically heralded time-traveling adventure series 'Quantum Leap.'
Now: In 2001, Bakula fronted another sci-fi adventure show, this time 'Star Trek: Enterprise,' which ran for four seasons. He continues to work predominantly in television. Following the cancellation of his short-lived drama series 'Men of a Certain Age,' Bakula snagged a recurring role on the final season of 'Desperate Housewives' as a long interest for Marcia Cross' character Bree.
Then: The son of actors Jason Robards and Lauren Bacall, Sam Robards began his career as an actor in theater in the early '80s. He made his film debut with a small role in the 1982 comedy 'The Tempest.' By the time he played the other Jim in 'American Beauty,' he was an established character actor with roles in James Bridges' 'Bright Lights, Big City,' Clint Eastwood's 'Bird' and Ted Demme's 'Beautiful Girls' to his credit.
Now: Robards continues to work on stage and screen. In 2002, he earned a Tony Award nomination for his part in the production of Arthur Miller's 'The Man Who Had All the Luck.' He's recently scored recurring roles on the HBO drama 'Treme,' and the teen-centered soap opera 'Gossip Girl.'
Next: 'Dead Poet's Society' Cast Today