27 Actresses In Truly Iconic '80s Movie Roles

Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice.
(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

The 1980s gave us some of the most iconic films of all time. Whether it was big-time franchises that took off, such as the Indiana Jones films (which is getting a fifth movie), or stand-alone teen dramas, there were so many amazing characters that are iconic to this day, and that includes the powerful actresses who carried them. 

From badass women to scenes that have stood the test of time, here are some of the actresses with some truly iconic roles from '80s movies. 

Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Molly Ringwald - Multiple (The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink, Sixteen Candles) 

To me, Molly Ringwald has always been the queen of the '80s, due to her being a part of the “Brat Pack,” a group of young actors who often appeared in many teen movies. Molly Ringwald, however, was one of the many that blew up. 

Her biggest roles that many people remember her from in the '80s were playing Sam Baker in Sixteen Candles, Andie Walsh in Pretty in Pink, and her huge role as part of The Breakfast Club cast, playing Claire Standish. Talk about some of the most iconic '80s roles. 

Sigourney Weaver in Alien.

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Sigourney Weaver - Ellen Ripley (Alien)

Talk about a badass icon. Sigourney Weaver blew people away with her iconic portrayal of Ellen Ripley in classic sci-fi horror film, Alien. From the moment she blasted those monsters away, I’m pretty sure we all fell in love with how tough Ellen was and how she’d do anything for her family. While Alien technically released in 1979, Weaver reprised the role for the 1986 sequel, Aliens

Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, and Robert MacNaughton in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Drew Barrymore - Gertie Taylor (E.T.)

While Drew Barrymore may be known more for her roles in romantic comedies, she started off in the sci-fi world as a child actress, playing Gertie Taylor in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. I’m pretty sure no one could forget her screaming at the alien when she first saw him. 

Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Winona Ryder - Lydia Deetz (Beetlejuice)

While Winona Ryder has certainly made a name for herself, appearing in movies like Edward Scissorhands and starring in the TV show, Stranger Things, Winona Ryder first started making strides in the 1980s with her role as Lydia Deetz in the Beetlejuice cast

Not that long after, she also played another iconic role as Veronica in the black comedy, Heathers, showing her versatility as an actress.  

Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface.

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Michelle Pfeiffer - Elvira (Scarface)

Michelle Pfeiffer has had a career that has expanded into all types of genres, from superhero movies to drama, but one of her first breakout roles ever was playing Elvira in the mob movie, Scarface, where she played a trophy wife that gets tangled up into the schemes of the criminal world. If you’re a fan of mob movies, this is certainly one of those characters you can’t forget. 

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Star Wars.

(Image credit: Lucasfilm)

Carrie Fisher - Princess Leia (Star Wars)

She’ll always be our princess. Carrie Fisher, while she first portrayed Princess Leia Organa in Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977, she would reprise it again in both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, becoming an inspiration for little girls everywhere. Who says you have to be a man to be a commander? Princess Leia was the best one there was. 

Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Glenn Close - Alex Forrest (Fatal Attraction)

Glenn Close started off her career in supporting roles, but it wasn’t until Fatal Attraction that she truly shined as a leading lady, where she portrayed Alex Forrest, a woman who becomes obsessed with a man after an affair. 

For her portrayal, she was nominated for an Academy Award, showing just how talented she is and how lowkey terrifying Close was in this role. I don’t want her following me around. 

Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

Whoopi Goldberg - Celie (The Color Purple)

Before her time on The View, Whoopi Goldberg played some major movie roles, appearing in films like Sister Act and Ghost, but one of her most iconic roles was from the 1980s when she portrayed Celie in the critically-acclaimed film, The Color Purple.

Her performance was her breakthrough role in Hollywood and is unforgettable, and now years later, she’s one of the few recipients of an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony wins). It’s amazing how this one portrayal really changed her life forever - in a good way.   

Jessica Lange in Tootsie.

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

Jessica Lange - Julie Nichols (Tootsie)

While people of more recent generations might know Jessica Lange from her amazing acting in the Ryan Murphy series, American Horror Story, Lange was Hollywood’s darling back in the '80s, and one of her most iconic roles was playing Julie Nichols in Tootsie. 

This romantic comedy is great for many reasons, following a man who decides to cross-dress in order to get work again in the acting world, but Lange as Julie has always been an amazing pick and her acting is superb. She even won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role. 

Kathleen Turner in Peggy Sue Got Married.

(Image credit: Tri-Star Pictures)

Kathleen Turner - Peggy Sue (Peggy Sue Got Married)

In this great romantic comedy, Kathleen Turner starred as Peggy Sue, a woman who travels back in time and somehow finds a way to fix her marriage with her high school sweetheart in the future. 

Peggy Sue Got Married is a great movie, and features a fun performance from Nicolas Cage, but the real star that keeps the show going is Kathleen Turner as Peggy, showing that sometimes, true love is meant to be, giving girls hope for love everywhere they go. 

Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice.

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Meryl Streep - Sophie (Sophie’s Choice)

You want to talk about one of the most iconic actresses ever, Meryl Streep certainly fills that role. One of her most known roles ever, for which she won an Academy Award, was Sophie’s Choice. Streep starred as Sophie, a young mother who had to make a devastating choice that affects her for the rest of her life. 

Sophie’s Choice is a movie you really only need to watch once, but once you see it, you’ll never forget it. And Meryl Streep is fantastic in it as always.  

Sally Field in Steel Magnolias.

(Image credit: Tri-Star Pictures)

Sally Field - M’Lynn Eatenton (Steel Magnolias)

Sally Field has also done some incredible films, but one of her most known is Steel Magnolias, where she played M’Lynn Eatenton. The film takes place in a small Southern town and shows the close friendship between several women, and what happens when one of them passes. 

Field was spectacular in her role, acting as the main mother figure in the film and creating moments that have stuck with me for the rest of my life. Also, her and Julia Roberts character, Shelby, have some of the best chemistry I’ve seen in a long time. 

Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally...

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

Meg Ryan - Sally Albright (When Harry Met Sally…)

Meg Ryan has always been a queen of rom-coms and has done some awesome movies, but one of my personal favorites was her role  in When Harry Met Sally… where she played Sally Albright, alongside comedian Billy Crystal. 

While there are plenty of funny scenes from this movie that have stood out to me over time, I don’t think anyone can forget that diner scene once you watch it - and the “I’ll have what she’s having” right after. You just can’t get over it. Iconic in every way. 

Jamie Lee Curtis in The Fog.

(Image credit: AVCO Embassy Pictures)

Jamie Lee Curtis - Multiple (Halloween 1 & 2, Prom Night, The Fog)

A scream queen for the ages. While Jamie Lee Curtis had made her big screen breakthrough with Halloween in 1978, she continued to stay in horror films for several years after. Not only did she reprise her role in Halloween II, but she also appeared in Prom Night as well as The Fog. 

I think I’ve learned one thing from this talented actress - you just can’t kill Jamie Lee Curtis in a horror movie. She always comes back. 

Linda Hamilton in The Terminator.

(Image credit: Orion Pictures)

Linda Hamilton - Sarah Connor (The Terminator)

You want to talk about badass? Sarah Connor in The Terminator was the epitome of that. Portrayed by Linda Hamilton, this gun-slinging leader was the protagonist of the first two Terminator films and showed just how badass she was. Showing no fear, Sarah Connor was the hero we all needed, and only Linda Hamilton could properly bring her to life.  

Elisabeth Shue in The Karate Kid.

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

Elisabeth Shue - Ali Mills (The Karate Kid)

While Ali Mills in The Karate Kid wasn’t a part of the action and fighting, no one can deny that she wasn’t a huge reason as to why the feud between Daniel and Johnny even started, all because they were both into the same girl. Ali was played by Elisabeth Shue, who gained prominence for the role in the film and later went on to reprise the role again in Cobra Kai on Netflix. 

Shue also had the starring role in Adventures in Babysitting, which further cemented her as an iconic '80s star. 

Karen Allen in the Raiders of the Lost Ark.

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Karen Allen - Marion Ravenwood (Raiders Of The Lost Ark)

We have to have another badass on here. Karen Allen was the first woman beside the legendary Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Using her sexuality and wit against all her enemies, she was able to outsmart them all and keep up  with Indiana no matter the cost. 

She was the definition of a survivor and no damsel in distress, and thank God Karen Allen fought for that. 

Dolly Parton in 9 to 5.

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Dolly Parton - Doralee Rhodes (9 To 5)

“Working nine-to-five - what a way to make a livin’.”

Not just a great Dolly Parton song, but also a great movie, in 9 to 5, Parton plays Doralee Rhodes, a woman who, along with her coworkers, decides to get even with their horrible boss, and oh my God is she funny. 

Parton is already a fantastic country singer, but seeing her act in a comedic role is always something else. Trust me, if you haven’t seen it, go and watch the film. Doralee is a hoot and is definitely one of the most iconic comedic roles out there. 

Heather Langenkamp in A Nightmare on Elm Street.

(Image credit: New Line Cinema)

Heather Langenkamp - Nancy Thompson (A Nightmare On Elm Street)

The horror films of the '80s were something else, but A Nightmare on Elm Street was one of the kings, including its protagonist, Nancy Thompson, played by Heather Langenkamp. 

While constantly trying to figure out ways to beat Freddy Krueger, Thompson constantly outran the monster, right up until the very end, cementing herself as a scream queen - that is until Freddy finds his way back to her. 

Jodie Foster in The Accused.

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Jodie Foster - Sarah Tobias (The Accused)

Jodie Foster had done plenty of roles before this, but one of her most iconic roles from the 1980s was playing Sarah Tobias in The Accused, earning her an Academy Award win for her portrayal of a victim of sexual assault, showing her skillful acting. It wasn’t long after this that she started blowing up in Hollywood again, and received another nomination through The Silence of the Lambs in 1992.  

Phoebe Cates in Fast Times at Ridgemont High

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Phoebe Cates - Linda Barrett (Fast Times At Ridgemont High)

Linda Barrett was plastered onto the walls of every single college boy's dorm in the 1980s and you can’t change my mind. Phoebe Cates, who portrayed Linda in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, was an iconic role, and I know you all remember that pool scene. Since the 1982 film, Cates had become a star and booked many more roles right after. 

Julia Roberts in Mystic Pizza.

(Image credit: The Samuel Goldwyn Company)

Julia Roberts - Daisy Araújo (Mystic Pizza)

Before she became a leading lady in romantic comedies in the 1990s, Julia Roberts had a couple of breakthrough performances in the 1980s. One of which was her portrayal of Daisy Araujo in Mystic Pizza, a film about three friends with their respective love interests. 

Not only was Roberts put on the map due to this role, but her chemistry with Adam Storke’s character, Charles, always makes me return back to the film years later. 

Nicole Kidman in Dead Calm.

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Nicole Kidman - Rae Ingram (Dead Calm)

Nicole Kidman became a household name in the 1990s a bit more, but prior to that, she broke through the scene with her role in the Australian psychological thriller film, Dead Calm, playing Rae Ingram. 

All I can say is that I understand why Kidman got more roles after her part in this film, because she rocks the psychological horror genre.

Lea Thompson in Back to the Future

(Image credit: Universal)

Lea Thompson - Lorraine Baines-McFly (Back To The Future)

I mean, we all know about Lorraine in Back to the Future, but man, I just love her so much, and only Lea Thompson could bring that to the screen. Her interactions with Marty when she was younger are some of the funniest stuff ever, and of course, you just have to love the fact she thinks his name is Calvin Klein because of his underwear. Gets me every time. 

Jennifer Beals in Flashdance

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Jennifer Beals - Alexandra Owens (Flashdance)

You’ll be singing “What a Feelin'’” after watching this feel-good film. You could never quite forget Jennifer Beals as Alexandra Owens in Flashdance, a young woman who’s trying to prove her worth as a dancer. 

That one scene of her dancing at the end alone makes her an icon, but there’s so much more to this movie than that, including that iconic water-drop scene at the very beginning. 

Daryl Hannah in Splash.

(Image credit: Buena Vista Distribution)

Daryl Hannah - Madison (Splash)

While I grew up with Daryl Hannah in the Kill Bill movies, she was iconic first for her portrayal of Madison in the romantic comedy, Splash, a mermaid who falls in love with a human, played by Tom Hanks. 

I mean, you have to love Splash if you love '80s movies, and Hannah was certainly a star in it, showing amazing chemistry with Tom Hanks and making us all wish we were a mermaid when we were little. Heck, I still wish I was now. 

Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing

(Image credit: Vestron Pictures)

Jennifer Grey - Frances Houseman (Dirty Dancing)

Okay, be honest - we all wanted to be Frances in Dirty Dancing, i.e. “Baby.” Watching Jennifer Grey as Frances, dancing with Patrick Swayze, has to be one of the most iconic roles from the '80s. 

You never put Baby in a corner - but thankfully, you never have to with this film, because she shines. 

There are so many amazing roles out there that are memorable beyond belief and so amazing, but these are just some of the best one from the '80s that truly stand the test of time. Now if you don’t mind me, I’m going to go and watch the Star Wars saga again and see Carrie Fisher boss around Harrison Ford like the queen she is.  

Alexandra Ramos
Content Producer

Big nerd and lover of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire. Will forever hate season eight. Superhero and horror geek. And please don't debate me on The Last of Us 2, it was amazing!