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When Dazed and Confused hit theaters in 1993, it wasn't a huge success; the film only grossed $8 million. But 20 years later, the high school comedy – set on the last day of class in 1976 at fictional Lee High School in Austin, Texas – is considered a cult classic, and helped launch the careers of mega-stars like Ben Affleck and Matthew McConaughey. "The whole movie lived or died with the cast," director Rick Linklater told PEOPLE at an Austin Film Society anniversary party for the film in Texas recently. "They were just such a great young bunch of actors with a lot of energy and humor."
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Then: Affleck tackled the role of angry soon-to-be super-senior Fred O'Bannion, who took pleasure in paddling freshmen during Lee High School's annual hazing ritual. "Ben could get pretty scary when he was in character," costar Wiley Wiggins recalled.
Now: Do we even need to go there? He's an in-demand actor, two-time Oscar winner (most recently for Argo), father of three and husband to actress Jennifer Garner. "Nothing Ben has accomplished in the past 20 years has surprised me, at all," Linklater said of the star's success.
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JOEY LAUREN ADAMS
Then: Adams played Simone Kerr, girlfriend of Lee High School's star football player, and had a blast with her costars. "We were exploring Austin, drinking and being typical 20-year-olds," she said at Wednesday's party. "But we were also writing. We were such rebels – we'd go down to the hotel lobby in our pajamas and write scenes."
Now: She reunited with Affleck for 1997's Chasing Amy, played Jennifer Aniston's best pal in 2006's The Break-Up, and has also dabbled in writing and directing.
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Then: The actor played David Wooderson, an older guy who hadn't quite moved on from high school. "The film kind of took off to another level when Matthew came aboard," Linklater said. "You could tell that [he] was someone special," Wiggins added.
Now: Also a father of three – and recently married to longtime love Camila – the former Sexiest Man Alive has found success in dramas, rom-coms and comedies. According to Linklater, McConaughey decided to skip law school in favor of acting after filming Dazed.
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Then: The Ukrainian model-actress had a small role in the film as hippie Michelle Burroughs. But off-screen was another story: at just 16, she married Dazed costar and on-screen beau Shawn Andrews, then 21, only to have her mom annul the marriage a few months later.
Now: Married to director Paul W.S. Anderson and mom to daughter Ever, 5½, Jovovich has found success mainly in action films, starring in the Resident Evil series.
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Then: At just 23, the Texas native had a super-quick, uncredited cameo as "girl in blue pickup truck," seen funneling a beer through a bong at a nighttime party.
Now: Though she scored major acting awards for her work in films like Chicago, Cold Mountain and Nurse Betty, her most commercial success has come as the leading lady in the Bridget Jones series.
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Then: Newcomer London landed the role of rebellious football star Randall "Pink" Floyd. "With the majority of the cast, this was their first film. Others had been working since they were little kids," Linklater said. "But I didn't treat anyone any differently than anyone else."
Now: Finding numerous TV and film roles after Dazed, married in 2011 and playing the good guy to troubled twin brother Jeremy, London made headlines in January when he got into a messy bar brawl in Scottsdale, Ariz.
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Then: Posey seemingly had a ball playing Darla Marks, a hazing-happy cheerleader who nailed one-liners like, "Wipe that face off your head, b---h." Of her time on set, she told PEOPLE, "We'd shoot from 4 p.m. to 6 a.m. When we'd wrap we'd go eat breakfast burritos. Then we'd go to sleep and wake up at 4 p.m. and do it again."
Now: The actress is still a cult-film queen, earning laughs in movies like Best in Show (2000) and A Mighty Wind (2003) while juggling a steady stream of TV roles.