The 1980s gave birth to some of the most iconic movies of all time and turned dozens of actors into international superstars and box office heavyweights. Names like Michael J. Fox, Holly Hunter, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Whoopi Goldberg are just a handful of great ‘80s actors who made an impact on movies, and pop culture in general, in one way or another.
But with time, some of use have forgotten what the heroes and villains of those beloved ‘80s movies and TV shows have been up to in the decades since they made their mark on the world. Well, not any longer, as we have put together a rather comprehensive list of those familiar faces and what they’ve been up to all these years.
Throughout the 1980s, Whoopi Goldberg proved time and time again that she was a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood, receiving multiple accolades and awards for movies like The Color Purple and Jumping Jack Flash. Even though she is not in as many high-profile movies as she was in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Goldberg has remained a major player in show business as one of the hosts of the long-running daytime talk show The View, with a major role in the 2021 adaptation of The Stand, and in the Amazon original series Harlem.
The Karate Kid, Adventures in Babysitting, and Back to the Future Part II, are just a few iconic ‘80s movies Elisabeth Shue appeared in throughout the early stages of her career. The Academy Award and Golden Globe nominee (1995’s Leaving Las Vegas) is still doing what she does best all these years later, with a collection of movies and TV shows including Greyhound, The Boys, and most recently, Cobra Kai, in which she reprised her beloved character, Ali Mills.
Judd Nelson, the Brat Pack member who made a name for himself with his portrayal of bad boy with a heart of gold John Bender in The Breakfast Club, has remained just as busy in the decades since he became an undeniable heartthrob. More recently, Nelson has provided voice work for animated series like Transformers: Power of the Primes and Ben 10: Omniverse, and appeared in movies like Dead Water and Girl in the Basement. He is set to appear in the upcoming remake of The Most Dangerous Game, per Deadline.
Michael J. Fox
There are few actors who can match the talent, charm, and likability of Michael J. Fox, and with movies like Back to the Future, Teen Wolf, and The Secret of My Success, it’s hard to deny that. Despite being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1998, Fox remained busy in film and television throughout the first two decades of the 21st Century with appearances on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Scrubs, and his own sitcom The Michael J. Fox Show. However, Fox stepped away from acting in November 2020 due to ongoing health issues, per The Hollywood Reporter.
Between 1984 and 1986, Molly Ringwald appeared in Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink, all of which are arguably some of the best ‘80s movies. Ringwald’s success continued through the ’90s, into the 2000s, and even today with roles in romantic comedies like The Kissing Booth franchise, Creepshow, and Riverdale, on which she portrays Mary Andrews.
In the 1980s, Chevy Chase went from Saturday Night Live stand-out to one of the biggest box office draws with Caddy Shack, Fletch, and the National Lampoon’s Vacation franchise, to name only a few. All these years later, Chase remains a major star in the world of comedy with shows like Community and a list of movies that includes The Last Laugh, The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee, and Panda vs. Aliens.
Anthony Michael Hall
Michael Anthony Hall appeared in some of the biggest movies of the 1980s, including National Lampoon’s Vacation, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Weird Science, those final two coming out just months apart. Hall is just as busy these days with appearances in movies like the 2021 horror flick Halloween Kills and a list of TV shows that includes Riverdale, The Blacklist, and The Goldbergs.
Throughout the 1980s, Holly Hunter found success with a variety of roles, including standout performances in Raising Arizona, Broadcast News, and End of the Line, all of which came out in 1987. Over the years, Hunter has continued to bring characters to life in movies like The Big Sick, The Incredibles franchise, and multiple TV shows like The Comey Rule, Mr. Mayor, and Succession, to name only a few.
Emilio Estevez had only appeared in two of his father’s movies — Badlands and Apocalypse Now — by the time the 1980s kicked off, but he would be a major Hollywood force by the time the decade wrapped up, thanks to roles in The Outsiders, The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire, and Young Guns. Estevez has spent much of the past decade-and-a-half writing and directing various film and television projects, but he did return to the small screen in 2021 to reprise his role of Gordon Bombay in the Disney+ series The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers.
Rob Lowe became one of the biggest heartthrobs of the 1980s thanks to appearances in The Outsiders, St. Elmo’s Fire, and several other iconic movies. In the years since then, Lowe has found tremendous success on television, including shows like The West Wing, Parks and Recreation, and most recently, 9-1-1: Lone Star, a series he has led since its inception in 2020.
In the 1980s, Val Kilmer played an assortment of roles in movies like Top Secret!, Real Genius, Top Gun, and Willow, carving a place out for himself in the annals of Hollywood greats. That success would follow Kilmer throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, but the talented actor would face a major challenge later on when he was diagnosed with throat cancer, a battle that would end with him losing the ability to speak. Despite that, he released the heartfelt and enlightening documentary, Val, in 2021.
Whether he was making us cry in The Outsiders or leaving us on the edges of our seats in The Karate Kid, Ralph Macchio gave it his all in the 1980s, turning out a number of box office hits. Since 2018, Macchio has once again been playing Daniel LaRusso, though instead of on the big screen, Cobra Kai is leg sweeping the competition on Netflix.
In the final two years of the 1980s, Winona Ryder made a name for herself with stellar performances in Beetlejuice, Heathers, and Great Balls of Fire!, and she has really not stopped since. Since 2016, Ryder has been one of the biggest stars of the Netflix series Stranger Things, which is slated to return for a fourth season at some point in 2022.
The fifth and final member of The Breakfast Club cast to be featured on this list, Ally Sheedy was a massive star in the 1980s with movies like WarGames, St. Elmo’s Fire, Short Circuit, and several others. Sheedy’s most recent film appearance came in 2016 with a cameo in X-Men: Apocalypse.
In the 1980s, Matt Dillon starred in movies like The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, Drugstore Cowboy, and nearly a dozen others, cementing his place as one of the most prolific actors of the decade. Dillon hasn’t really slowed down all that much since then, with his most recent projects including titles like Land of Dreams, Capone, and Wes Anderson's mysterious upcoming movie, Asteroid City.
Jennifer Grey will always be remembered as Frances “Baby” Houseman in Dirty Dancing, a role that capped off an impressive run that also included Red Dawn and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. More recently, though, Grey has been in movies like Untogether and Bittersweet Symphony as well as several TV shows including Dancing with the Stars (which she won), The Conners, and a three-episode arc on Grey’s Anatomy.
Jennifer Beals became an international sensation upon the release of Flashdance in 1983, and she hasn’t really slowed down since then. Over the course of the past few decades, Beals has made appearances in successful movies and TV shows, including Swamp Thing, The L Word: Generation Q, and the Star Wars upcoming series The Book of Boba Fett for Disney+.
All the Right Moves, Red Dawn, Back to the Future, Howard the Duck, and Back to the Future Part II are just some of the movies that featured Lea Thompson in the 1980s, a decade that would kick off one hell of a career. Thompson has remained busy over the years and has even directed her fair share of projects. This list includes everything from The Goldbergs to Stargirl, and Mom to Young Sheldon, with multiple others in-between.
Even though he was recast in Back to the Future, Eric Stoltz had and impressive run in the 1980s with Mask, Some Kind of Wonderful, and Say Anything…, to name only a few. That run of successes continued as the years went by and eventually turned into work for Stoltz behind the scenes, including directing credits on shows like Law and Order, Glee, and Madame Secretary, and movies like Class Rank and Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk.
Lou Diamond Phillips
Lou Diamond Phillips will probably always be remembered for his performances in La Bamba and Stand and Deliver, and rightfully so, but the talented actor has made several other contributions over the years. Recently, Phillips has landed roles on Longmire, Blue Bloods, Fear the Walking Dead, Prodigal Son, and multiple other projects in film and television.
Mary Stuart Masterson
Mary Stuart Masterson, who would go on to lead movies like Fried Green Tomatoes and Benny and Joon in the 1990s, found success in the 1980s in Some Kind of Wonderful, Chances Are, and Immediate Family, to name only a few. Following a 13-year absence from the big screen, Masterson returned in 2017 with As You Were, which she followed up with Skin and Daniel Isn’t Real. More recently, Masterson had a main role on the ABC legal drama, For Life.
The 1980s were good to Kevin Kline, who appeared in The Big Chill, Silverado, Cry Freedom, and A Fish Called Wanda (a role that earned him an Academy Award), though the good times never really stopped for the versatile actor. In 2021 alone, Kline appeared in Here Today, The Starling, The Good House, and continued to provide the voice of Mr. Calvin Fischoeder on the hit animated series Bob’s Burgers. Still no word on a Dave sequel, though.
Sean Astin made his film debut in The Goonies in 1985, and his career has been one of the most consistent in Hollywood ever since. The past 35-plus years have seen him show up in Rudy, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and countless other successful movies. His television career is just as impressive, with everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Stranger Things, and Supergirl to Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Adrienne Barbeau kicked off the 1980s with appearances in three of the best John Carpenter movies — The Fog, Escape from New York, and The Thing (she was the voice of the computer and only woman in the cast) — as well as other classics like Creepshow and The Cannonball Run. In recent years, Barbeau has appeared in TV adaptations of Swamp Thing and Creepshow, as well as American Horror Stories and Cowboy Bebop.
Jerry O’Connell gave an unforgettable performance as Vernon “Vern” Tessio in Rob Reiner’s Stephen King adaptation Stand By Me in 1986, one that people still talk about 35 years after the fact. O’Connell has remained quite busy over the years, with multiple animated films that have seen him voice Superman. On top of that, he has been featured on The Big Bang Theory, Carter, Star Trek: Lower Decks, and even his own daytime talk show, Jerry O’.
In the 1980s, Corey Feldman became one of the most dependable young actors, with movies like Gremlins, The Goonies, Stand By Me, The Lost Boys, and The ‘Burbs. Over the years, Feldman has appeared in countless movies, TV shows, and documentaries, with his most recent appearance being in the 2021 slasher 13 Fanboy, in which he plays a version of himself. He has also written a series of albums, including the 2021 release, Love Returns.
The 1987 release of Can’t Buy Me Love instantly made Patrick Dempsey a household name, and he hasn’t let go of his place in pop culture since. Whether it’s with Grey’s Anatomy or Enchanted (which has a sequel, Disenchanted, on the way), Dempsey has remained a dreamy leading man on the big screen and small screen alike, and it doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere anytime soon.
Between the Police Academy movies, Cocoon, and Short Circuit, it’s safe to say that Steve Guttenberg had a nice run in the 1980s, and lucky for him (and us), the hits never really stopped coming. In recent years, “The Gut” has balanced between comedy series like The Goldbergs and legal dramas like Roe v. Wade, with all kinds of other work to boot, including a 2020 appearance on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
Zach Gilligan’s run in Hollywood started with a little 1984 movie called Gremlins, which he followed up with Nothing Lasts Forever and Waxwork to close out the decade. Since then, Gilligan has appeared in countless film and TV roles, and even appeared as his Gremlins character (alongside Gizmo) in the Mountain Dew Super Bowl commercial.
Michael Winslow, also known as The Man of 10,000 Sound Effects, had an insane record in the 1980s, appearing in Spaceballs, Police Academy, Gremlins, and multiple other timeless classics. Winslow has continued to share his talents with the world in the decades since breaking out as one of the most talented beat-boxers around. In 2021, he even appeared on America’s Got Talent.
This may appear to be an exhaustive list of iconic '80s actors, but this is barely scratching the surface. Who knows, maybe we'll make another list of all the stars we forgot, or perhaps touch on those big names of the 1990s.
Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.
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