Dunst's mother Inez, an artist and former gallery owner, takes her 3-year-old daughter to auditions. Dunst's first gig, a cereal commercial, leads to a contract with Ford Modeling Agency.
Dunst makes her feature film debut as Mia Farrow's daughter in Woody Allen's short in New York Stories. She's also cast as Tom Hanks' daughter in The Bonfire of the Vanities. The following year, her mother moves Dunst and her younger brother, Christian (right), to San Fernando Valley, Calif. In 1995, Inez files for divorce from Dunst's father, Klaus. "I am very close to my dad, too," Dunst tells PEOPLE. "I don't feel I've suffered from divorce."
With more than 100 commercials under her belt, Dunst, 12, stars opposite Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in Interview With the Vampire. Her portrayal of the scheming young bloodsucker Claudia earns her a Golden Globe nomination and an on-screen kiss with Pitt. Later that year, she appears in Little Women, with Winona Ryder and Claire Danes
At 13, Dunst is named one of PEOPLE's 50 Most Beautiful People. Little Women director Gillian Armstrong says to PEOPLE, "There's something deep happening in Kirsten's eyes, a special quality all the really big stars have." Dunst says to PEOPLE, "I'd like to grow up and be beautiful. I know it doesn't matter . . . but it doesn't hurt."
At 14, Dunst takes a more serious turn in her recurring role in the NBC drama ER. She plays a homeless runaway befriended by George Clooney's Dr. Doug Ross. That same year, she stars alongside Robin Williams in the blockbuster Jumanji, which grosses more than $100 million at the domestic box office.
In Sofia Coppola's directorial debut The Virgin Suicides, Dunst stars as a Lux, a rebellious and sexually-charged teen. Her performance gains her respect from critics and fans alike. The film follows a family of beautiful teenage sisters, doomed as if in a fairy tale, who cast their erotic spell on the local boys (including Josh Hartnett).
May the best moves W-I-N! Dunst stars as the determined yet perky high school cheerleader captain Torrance in the infectious teen comedy Bring It On. Although she's the cool kid on screen, she says her own high school experience was different. "I was never considered cool," Dunst says to PEOPLE. "I was even a cheerleader, but I didn't like cheerleading. I did that to be cool. It all seems so silly now."
At 19, Dunst moves out of her mother's San Fernando Valley home and into her own two-and-a-half-bedroom house in the Hollywood Hills. "I just wanted my own place and my own space," she tells PEOPLE, refuting claims of a separation from her mother, who helped guide her career.
Dunst takes a darker role in Crazy/Beautiful opposite Jay Hernandez. This is her sexiest material to date, playing a mentally unstable daughter of a wealthy congressman. When Dunst watches a commercial for the film with shots of her dancing provocatively in a Jeep spliced with road signs reading "Slippery When Wet," she's less than pleased. "I was so embarrassed," she tells PEOPLE. "How horrible and cheesy." The studio later yanks the spots. In 2002, she continues to grow up on film, playing William Randolph Hearst's mistress in The Cat's Meow.
Dunst plays the red-haired, girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson in Spider-Man opposite Tobey Maguire and Willem Dafoe. The movie grosses more than $400 million, and Dunst reprises her role in the sequels. She's also named one of PEOPLE'S 50 Most Beautiful for the second time.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): WENN; Alan Levenson/Getty; Francois Duhamel; Michael Ginsberg/Orion Pictures; Kobal Collection/Wireimage; GLOBE; Everett Collection; COLUMBIA PICTURES/EVERETT