Happy Birthday, Gabrielle Union! See the Coolest Photos From Her Early Days of Stardom

The 'Bring It On' star turns 51 on Oct. 29

<p>SGranitz/WireImage; J. P. Aussenard/WireImage; SGranitz/WireImage</p> Gabrielle Union

SGranitz/WireImage; J. P. Aussenard/WireImage; SGranitz/WireImage

Gabrielle Union

Though she turns 51 today, Gabrielle Union still looks like the glamorous 20-something-year-old who stepped onto the scene in the '90s!

Before she became a mom, an A-list actress and a trailblazing activist, the Nebraska native was a Hollywood up-and-comer making her name around town. By the time she met her husband Dwyane Wade in 2007, Union was a well-known face on big and small screens, thanks to her roles in classic teen flicks like Bring it On, She's All That, 10 Things I Hate About You and Being Mary Jane.

In honor of her 51st birthday, here's a look back at some of Union's coolest throwback photos.

Bright Smile

<p>Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty</p> Gabrielle Union

Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty

Gabrielle Union

Union first appeared on screens in 1993, when she nabbed a minor role on an episode of Family Matters. The star-to-be went on to make cameos on hit series like Saved by the Bell and Moesha. By 1996, Union had secured a spot on The WB's 7th Heaven, playing recurring character Keesha Hamilton until 1999.

Film Debut

<p>Paramount Pictures Corp.</p> Gabrielle Union

Paramount Pictures Corp.

Gabrielle Union

Union broke onto the big screen in 1999, when she played popular girl Katie Darlingson in the teen rom-com She's All That.

On-Screen Icon

<p>Maximum Film / Alamy</p> Gabrielle Union, Larisa Oleynik and Andrew Keegan in '10 Things I Hate About You'

Maximum Film / Alamy

Gabrielle Union, Larisa Oleynik and Andrew Keegan in '10 Things I Hate About You'

For her next big flick, Union shared the screen with Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Andrew Keegan and Larisa Oleynik in the coming-of-age classic,10 Things I Hate About You.

The movie remains a favorite for fans and for Union herself, who played Chastity Church in the 1999 rom-com. In 2021, the actress and her stepdaughter, Zaya Wade, reenacted a scene from the movie on TikTok. In the cheeky clip, Zaya says Chastity's lines and Union replies as her character's on-screen BFF Bianca Stratford, played by Oleynick.

Bringing It

<p>Moviestore/Shutterstock</p> Gabrielle Union


Gabrielle Union

The young talent scored her breakthrough role when she starred as cheerleading captain Isis in the unforgettable comedy Bring It On in 2000. Looking back over 20 years later, the superstar told PEOPLE she wished she'd taken more liberties with the character.

"I was given carte blanche to create Isis from the ground up," Union said. "And what I did was put a muzzle on her."

In the movie, her character confront's Kirsten Dunst's character for stealing moves from Isis' team, the East Compton Clovers. Union said she wanted Isis "to offer" in the scene, however she was disappointed with the result.

"I thought that was being the bigger person," Union told PEOPLE in 2021. "But instead, I wasn't giving full voice to the frustration and harm that cultural appropriation causes. I didn't allow her to be as angry and disappointed and frustrated as she should have been."

All Dressed Up

<p>J. Vespa/WireImage</p> Gabrielle Union

J. Vespa/WireImage

Gabrielle Union

In the earlier days of her career, Union proved to be the picture of Y2K style at every red carpet event. She wore sequins and embellished jeans at the premiere of Bring It On.

Angelic Performance

<p>CBS via Getty</p> Gabrielle Union

CBS via Getty

Gabrielle Union

That same year, Union joined the cast of the medical drama City of Angels during its second season. In her role as Dr. Courtney Ellis, she shared the screen with the likes of Viola Davis, Vivica A. Fox and Maya Rudolph.

It Girl

<p>SGranitz/WireImage</p> Gabrielle Union


Gabrielle Union

In her knit pink top and shiny gray pants, Union continued her stylish streak at the Young Hollywood Awards in June 2000.

Growing Up

<p>J. P. Aussenard/WireImage</p> Gabrielle Union

J. P. Aussenard/WireImage

Gabrielle Union

The stunning starlet looked fabulous as ever at an Essence Hollywood Issue party in 2001, the same year she split from her first husband, NFL player Chris Howard.

In January 2023, Union remembered her relationship with Howard on an episode of Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard, calling it "dysfunctional from day one."

"In our first marriage, neither one of us felt like the marriage should get in the way of our dating," the Love & Basketball star explained, adding that she "felt entitled to infidelity" while they were together.

Thinking Pink

<p>SGranitz/WireImage</p> Gabrielle Union


Gabrielle Union

Union arrived in style at the premiere of 2001's Get Over It, which featured her Bring It On costar Kirsten Dunst.

Going Glam

<p>SGranitz/WireImage</p> Gabrielle Union


Gabrielle Union

Union wowed in hot pink for her first appearance at a BET Awards ceremony in 2002. While she wasn't nominated in any categories back then, the actress went on to score nominations for best actress for the following three years. She earned consecutive nods for BET Awards for five consecutive years for her roles in Being Mary Jane, Top Five, Think Like a Man Too as well as The Birth of a Nation.

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