Stardom is a fleeting phenomenon. So often, performers arrive on the scene with a splash and hit the big time with meaty roles that maximize their strengths – only to find an aftermath of dribbling TV gigs and bit parts in B-movies. It’s nothing to be ashamed of; hell, it’s been happening for over a century, as silent stars John Gilbert and Buster Keaton could painfully attest to when the arrival of talkies lessened their appeal. The occurrence of daily star swaps appear so often that it’s easy to forget they ever happened – or, even worse, that random episode of CSI or NCIS that sports a washed-up actor as a suspect. That’s the real rock bottom.
Fortunately, given the age we live in, the internet is ripe with rediscovery of the past. Ferris Bueller memes and gifs of Ducky from Pretty in Pink singing “Try A Little Tenderness” have adorned many a Tumblr post over the last few years, rekindling a love of The Brat Pack and really anything having to do with the awesome ’80s. This very list is a prime example of that nostalgia machine at work. So, without further ado, these are the sportos, the motorheads, geeks, bloods, wastoids, and dweebies that have come and gone before audience’s very eyes.
Here are Screen Rant’s 15 Movie Actors Who Peaked In The ’80s.
15. Judd Nelson
Judd Nelson will always be John Bender to movie fans. The Breakfast Club (1985) bad boy, steeped in denim and topped off with a bandana that became it’s own mini-fad, captivated guys and gals alike with his charismatic insults and whip-smart comebacks. Everyone knew a guy like Bender, but rarely were they a closet sweetheart with slick basketball moves to boot. This superstardom mushroomed into follow-up outing St. Elmo’s Fire (1986), showcasing the matured, yuppie version of Nelson’s persona to impressive results. As the elder statesmen of the group, and arguably the most popular Brat Packer besides Molly Ringwald, Nelson was a household heartthrob.
But as the decade came to a close with muddling efforts like From the Hip (1986) and Relentless (1989), Nelson’s signature schtick began to wear thin. Critics applauded his attempt to stray from teen stuff and attempt grittier efforts like Blue City (1986) or the aforementioned Relentless, but the results proved underwhelming at best. By the time the 90s rolled around, Nelson’s only respite was through bit parts in New Jack City (1991) and Airheads (1994), a big step down from the Simple Minds spokesman that brought the 80s to a fist-raising high point.
14. Dolph Lundgren
Dolph Lundgren’s demise was to be expected. He wasn’t a very good performer, nor did he have tremendous control over anything except his physique; leaving a career as a supporting guy a little outlandish to expect. To make matters worse, the role that made Lundgren a star, as the robotic Russian boxer Ivan Drago, all but sealed his fate as a one-trick pony – a blonde, B-version of Arnold Schwarzenegger with the resume to back it up. Universal Soldiers aside, the Swedish bodybuilder took the direct-to-DVD route by the time the decade was done.
That being said, Lundgren’s 80s were a kick-ass time of guilty pleasures and fanboy freakouts. Rocky IV (1985) made him a star overnight, and the performer wasted no time churning out critical stomping grounds like Masters of the Universe (1987) and Red Scorpion (1989). Lundgren’s acting chops didn’t exactly bring down the house, but his status as an icon of the era was enough to make them instant cult classics. Topped off with a take on The Punisher in 1989, the poor reception and likewise box office was enough to eventually obliterate this titan of muscle. It was brief, and a little ugly in spots, but it was plenty of fun while it lasted.
13. Sean Young
Sean Young was everywhere in the 80s. Seriously. For every film she anchored with a lead performance (The Boost), there were a handful of bit parts that slipped between the cracks (Stripes, Wall Street) of pop culture memory. Unjustly so, as the former model’s stature and onscreen conviction led to many a memorable part – be they comedy (Young Doctors in Love), sci-fi (Dune), or whatever one could qualify Cousins (1989) as. But Young’s talents would go on to find their greatest outlet in the crime genre, where massive hits Blade Runner (1982) and No Way Out (1987) enabled full use of her timeless glamour.
The former picture, in particular, offered up the actress’ finest work to date: a smoky, mysterious Joan Crawford come to life that went toe-to-toe with Harrison Ford’s Deckard in several scenes. That Young’s career eventually went the parody route with Fatal Instinct (1993) and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994) turned out to be a loaded gun – one that capitalized on the times but left her sunk soon afterwards. From the real deal to a pale imitation, it was a direction she was unable to shake even when playing it straight in junk like 1995’s Mirage.
12. Andrew McCarthy
Immortalized as the guy that Molly Ringwald chose over Jon Cryer’s Ducky, Andrew McCarthy (Blaine?!) was The Brat Packer you could take home to mother. Instant fame and fortune arrived in the wake of Pretty in Pink (1986), painting the soft-spoken actor as a nice guy alternative to bad boy stunners like Rob Lowe and Judd Nelson. No earrings, bandanas, or saxophones, just a wrinkled collar and a jittery smile. But hey, the public ate it up, and the string of St. Elmo’s Fire (1986), Less Than Zero (1987), Mannequin (1987), and Weekend at Bernie’s (1989) made McCarthy arguably the biggest male star of the group. Whether a result of his vanilla demeanour or simply good luck, the actor rode this wave of teen success clear on through to the 90s, where an imminent drought dried up the whole thing.
Following in Nelson’s shaky footsteps, McCarthy assembled a collection of dramatic performances in the new decade; most of which, including Year of the Gun (1991) and Dead Funny (1994), didn’t do too hot. This lack of charisma since been pushed to the back-burner for a career as a TV director on Gossip Girl and The Blacklist – the latter of which reunited him with Pretty in Pink co-star James Spader.
11. Carl Weathers
Granted, Carl Weathers has popped up in Happy Gilmore (1996) and Little Nicky (2000) since, but both pale in comparison to what he had going in the 80s. Weathers came into the decade a star on the back of motormouth boxing champ Apollo Creed. Sly Stallone’s opponent, quickly turned alley in Rocky III (1982) and IV (1985), was a perfect showcase for the actor’s limited skills: trash-talk, bravado, and a whole lot of slick charm. And even after Apollo’s bell was rung by fellow entry Dolph Lundgren, the former NFL player kept things rolling with an appearance opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in the instant classic Predator (1987).
By the time starring role Action Jackson arrived in 1988, Weathers had solidified himself as one of the all-time action supporting actors. Granted, such a niche specialty was bound to run out, and the magic spell that bottled Weathers in the 80s had been all but used up by the time 1992’s Hurricane Smith hit the scene. It’s any wonder he turned to Adam Sandler and Arrested Development for comedic rescue. It’s okay though, Apollo Creed still gets a pass.
10. Ally Sheedy
In contrast to peer Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy was the oddball-next-door. Given generic girlfriend roles in early films like WarGames (1983) and Bad Boys (1983), she always held her own through a presence that wasn’t easy to pinpoint. But, to her credit, the New York actress dovetailed this demeanor into a decade for the ages. The one-two punch of The Breakfast Club (1985) and St. Elmo’s Fire (1986) were huge for all that participated, but it was arguably Sheedy who capitalized the most with follow-up appearances in Blue City (1986), Short Circuit (1986) and a lead role in the Cinderella story Maid to Order (1987). Each time out, her unconventional looks and ernest persona (even as a wacko in The Breakfast Club) kept her near and dear as the most accessible of The Brat Pack girls.
But, similar to Ringwald, the end of the 80s brought about the end of Ally Sheedy. High Art (1998) notwithstanding, the final decade of the century spelled one forgettable outing after another, lacking the charm that made her a star in the first place and instead offering stale delivery with the scripts to match.
9. Steve Guttenberg
Doesn’t Steve Guttenberg seem like a nice guy? No joke, just a real salt-of-the-earth hombre down to hang out and shoot the breeze about why Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol (1987) was so bad. As such, Steve defied the whole “nice guys finish last” idiom in the 80s, with a laundry list of hits to prove it. Arriving on the scene, like so many others, through 1982’s Diner, Guttenberg quickly got to work milking a hit franchise (Police Academy) in the midst of smashes like Cocoon (1985), Three Men And A Baby (1987) and their respective sequels.
Never one to be confused for a world class performer, the former commercial actor played the same likable schlub in each movie – thing is, he did it so well no one seemed to mind. Even flicks like Short Circuit (1986) proved big enough to establish a cult following in subsequent years. Unfortunately, those same years haven’t been too kind to Guttenberg as a result. When the biggest blips on a recent filmography consist of Zeus and Roxanne (1997) and a rogues gallery of crap like Meet the Santas (2005) and Private Valentine: Blonde & Dangerous (2008), it’d be foolish not to admit the falloff. Here’s hoping he can nab a spot as an NCIS suspect or something. Poor guy looks sad.
8. Sigourney Weaver
Sigourney Weaver had the triple crown of stardom at one point in the 80s. She was killing the comedy game through her boys-only breach of the Ghostbusters series (1984, 1989), while knocking around 1988 fare like Working Girl and Gorillas in the Mist in her spare time. Blessed with dagger-sharp features and an independent streak calling to mind the bite of Katherine Hepburn, the actress flashed seemingly infinite range onscreen – especially when James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) entered the mix. As Ellen Ripley, the hardass forced to take on extra-terrestrial evil, Weaver established the ultimate female action hero, complete with coiffed hair and a catchphrase for the ages. By the time we get to critical darlings like The Year of Living Dangerously (1982), Sigourney’s stretch seems almost laughably good.
As with all hot streaks, however, the flame smothered over by the mid 90s, with poorly received Alien sequels (1992, 1997) and muddling efforts from former masters dominating her once impressive resume. Occasional success through Galaxy Quest (1999) and Avatar (2009) have been pleasant surprises, though neither are really a result of Weaver’s former starpower. For fans, she’ll always fall between Ripley and Dana Barrett. Or Zul, depending on how you roll.
7. Tom Berenger
Ruggedly handsome and reminiscent of a young Paul Newman (he even played Butch Cassidy in a TV special), Tom Berenger made the jump from soap operas to big screen success in the matter of a few short years. A stern contrast to the teen sensations that were sweeping the nation, his quiet ascent to the top through The Big Chill (1983), Eddie & The Cruisers (1983), and Major League (1989) came through snagging roles that perfectly played to his hardened exterior. Similar to Newman in that even the most surface level of characters were treated with vivid texture, Berenger’s action-packed side stuff also scored big with The Dogs of War (1980), Someone To Watch Over Me (1987), and Shoot to Kill (1988).
The latter film, casting the scowled actor as a hateful bigot, shared many a similarity with Berenger’s defining role in Platoon (1986). As the devil perched upon Charlie Sheen’s shoulder, his menacing Sergeant Barnes went on to net him stardom and an Oscar nomination. Since then, the fallout has been severe, and aside from cheap rehashes of Barnes for the Sniper series and a supporting spot in Inception (2010), Berenger has become an AWOL actor in Hollywood.
6. C. Thomas Howell
Berenger’s fall from grace may have been swift, but that’s nothing compared to the vanishing act that C. Thomas Howell pulled off by the end of the 80s. Dude was everywhere in the era of jheri-curls and Madonna, stealing many a teen heart as the pensive Ponyboy Curtis in The Outsiders (1983). Leading a cast of future superstars (Tom Cruise, Diane Lane, Patrick Swayze), the star-making role provided just enough navel-gazed sensitivity to make Howell a milquetoast heartthrob (yes, another one). Girls definitely weren’t bringing Dallas (Matt Dillon) home, so Ponyboy seemed the next best thing. Copycat parts like Red Dawn (1984), The Hitcher (1986), and Soul Man (1988) rolled in as a result, and the soft-spoken C. Thomas snatched them up in quick succession.
None of these films broke new ground for the actor, but as the advent of new stars quickly showcased, there wasn’t much new ground to be broken. Howell hocked a career as a tentative rebel for a direct-to-DVD dynamo, where highlights default to “mockbuster” buffoonery like H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds (2005) and The Da Vinci Treasure (2006). One can only guess as to how be nabbed a part in The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), but hey, good for him. To paraphrase the equally forgotten Ralph Macchio, “stay working, Ponyboy.”
5. Corey Feldman
Along with late partner-in-crime Corey Haim, Corey Feldman couldn’t have been a star in any other decade. For proof, check out the stuff he’s done in the past twenty years: Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV (2000), Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys (2004), and most awkwardly, a pair of ill-advised Lost Boys sequels that do little to honor the 1987 original. Granted, plenty of guys fall from grace, but Feldman’s head-bobbing bro-ness just didn’t translate well to adulthood come the gnarly 1990s. Like, at all. The victim of overbearing parents who pushed their son to hit it big, Feldman nevertheless solidified his place as an 80s icon a few times over.
The role call of classics that this young dude assembled is staggering: Gremlins (1984), The Goonies (1985), Stand by Me (1986) and The Lost Boys being among the most fun-filled films of the decade. Backed by Haim team-ups License to Drive (1988) and Dream a Little Dream (1989), Feldman pretty much ruled teen nation with an iron-clad fist. It didn’t hurt that he could charm a pearl out of an oyster; with a rock & roll demeanor that would just as soon kill vampires as he would cheer on Tom Hanks in The ‘Burbs (1989). Feldman’s career may be a shell of his former success, but what a fun shell it turned out be.
4. Molly Ringwald
Simply put, there was no Brat Pack without Molly Ringwald. As the red-headed muse of director John Hughes, the young actress was a pop culture phenomenon on the strength of her teenage triple crown: Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), and Pretty in Pink (1986). Slightly varied in social status, these three roles pushed the idea of Ringwald as the “it” girl of the era; complete with more charm than true acting chops. But no one cared. In fact, the actress’ down-to-earth appearance proved her greatest asset with the masses, who sympathized through forgotten birthdays and embarrassing younger siblings. Hughes was definitely onto something, and this overt favoritism dovetailed into The Pickup Artist (1987) and For Keeps (1988) – the latter of which earned Ringwald her highest critical marks to date.
So what happened? The same thing that always does: time and taste. Ringwald’s youthful exuberance didn’t carry the same weight in adult parts like Malicious (1995) and Cowboy Up (2001), leaving the occasional TV appearance as little more than a chance to say, “hey look, it’s Molly Ringwald!” Granted, she had a fun cameo in Not Another Teen Movie (2001), but that’s not exactly something to brag about.
3. Kathleen Turner
Kathleen Turner’s Hollywood demise has proven one of the sadder descents in recent memory. Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 1992, the former A-lister’s activities were severely restricted, leading to lost roles and agonizing pain as a result. That the admirable actress was eventually able to recover and appear in various films (The Virgin Suicides) and TV shows (Law & Order, Californication) is a testament to not only her strong will, but the talent she can wield when given an opportunity to shine. As such, nothing can compare to the brilliant run of films that began her career in the 1980s, rivaling the greatest actresses of all time. She was that good.
Seducing her way across the screen in 1981’s neo-noir Body Heat, Turner embarked on a string of films that run like a reel of the decade’s biggest hits: Romancing The Stone (1984), Prizzi’s Honor (1985), Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), and The War of the Roses (1989). Each complete with varying performance demands, and each met with acting chops that never cease to impress over thirty years later. The fact that she appeared most recently in Dumb and Dumber To (2014) is all but confirmation that it’s best to remember her by her 80s heyday.
2. Chevy Chase
Remember the last worthwhile Chevy Chase movie? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. It’s been more than a movie minute since the SNL icon was a somebody besides the old guy from Community. In terms of big screen success, such a search requires a dip in the Hot Tub Time Machine (cameos which haven’t helped much) to the almighty 80s – before Chase’s less-than-stellar reputation as an actor got out. Once that word broke, it seemed the only gigs he was able to book were Vacation cash-ins and painfully unfunny outings like The Karate Dog (2004) and Funny Money (2006). It’s a real bummer coming from a guy who rivaled alumni like Bill Murray and Steve Martin in his 80s prime.
Actually, it’s a three-way coin-toss as to which SNL member had the biggest cinematic decade, especially with Chase’s resume of Seems Like Old Times (1980), Caddyshack (1980), Fletch (1985), and Three Amigos (1986) illuminating the way. Each outing scored huge with the box office, who seemingly couldn’t get enough of the actor’s dunce capped charm. That’s not even taking into account the gargantuan National Lampoon’s Vacation films (1983-89), which provided Chase with the iconic part of try-hard family man Clark Griswold. The sky was the limit during this ten year run, so maybe it was unreasonable to expect anything but a drop-off in the years that followed. We just didn’t realize how severe the drop-off was going to be.
1. Mickey Rourke
Stallone and Schwarzenegger were great, but make no mistake, Mickey Rourke was the coolest cat of the 80s. Everything about him screamed charisma; be it the whispered voice, the smug New York demeanor, or the pin-up looks that retained their tough edge. His audition for The Actor’s Studio so impressed Elia Kazan that he said it was “the best performance he had seen in 30 years” – a compliment that proved pretty apt in early roles like Body Heat (1981) and Diner (1982). Intermingling a James Dean’s gift for tenderness while mixing in a dash of interior outrage, Rourke toppled a slew of performances starting with Rumble Fish (1983) and carrying through to The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984), Year of the Dragon (1985), and Barfly (1987).
Critics praised, while sultrier outings 9 ½ Weeks (1986) and Angel Heart (1987) made Rourke the chic sex symbol of the era. And then like that, in the blink of an eye, or the gust of a punch, it all went away. The actor opted for a career in boxing come the 90s, triggering a series of passed up roles (Tombstone, Pulp Fiction) and botched surgeries that ruined his Hollywood reputation indefinitely. Some redemption has surfaced, most notably through the Sin City films and a marvelous performance in The Wrestler (2008), but the damage done is irreversible. Mickey Rourke is the embodiment of an actor who peaked in the 80s.
What other actors have passed their hey-day? Let us know in the comments!
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