Boy howdy, the 1980s were a real scene! Everything was “bad” which meant “good” but if you wanted to be “fresh” you used “dope” slang that moms and dads couldn’t understand! If you were a dude, you put on your acid wash jeans and your Member’s Only jacket and got together with the fellas and listen to some Whitesnake while leaning against a Trans-Am in the parking lot of the local movie theater trying to act like you weren’t looking at the “fine” girls. If you were a dudette, you wore your best leg warmers and jelly shoes as you sipped Coca-Cola through a straw and looked over your heart shaped sunglasses at the “rad” boys.
And who was it that taught the kids of the 80s to be cool? Who did they look to for instructions on being hot and cool and all the things that mattered back when Reagan was demanding people tear down walls? Doy to the max, reader! It was obvs (which is slang for obviously if you’re “illin”) TV and movie stars!
But these days, it can be hard to remember who the hottest and most talented actors and actresses of the 1980s were – we’re talking about a decade that ended nearly 30 years ago now! There’s been enough time that if Marty McFly went back 30 years today, Back to the Future would have already come out! As fellow time-travelers Bill and Ted would say, “whoa!” Don’t fret! We’re here to help you remember all the glamor of the stars of the 80s with this handy-dandy list of 20 of the hottest celebs of the decade. So grow out your chest hair, put on some shoulder pads and dig in!
20. Phoebe Cates
We’re going to get some of the obvious ones out of the way real quick, and when we’re doing a list of iconic 1980s stars, on the top of the obvious list is Phoebe Cates.
Phoebe Cates is one of the most talented actresses of the 80s, and we could beat around the bush and talk about how amazing she is in Gremlins, or how she showed off her dramatic chops working alongside Michael J. Fox in Bright Lights Big City, but we all know why she’s here – it is one of the most memorable moments of the 1980s, if not of film in general and it happened in 1982.
Phoebe Cates’ nude scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High isn’t the only reason the movie is a classic, but it is one of them. That moment, which was captured in slow motion (much to the joy of just about every teen boy in the universe) has been studied and obsessed over by pretty much everyone who loves movies and many people who don’t. Can you blame them?
19. Michelle Pfeiffer
Michelle Pfeiffer was supposed to become a huge star in 1982 when she took the lead role in Grease 2, the sequel to one of the biggest musicals of all time. Instead, Grease 2 was a giant bomb (though it has gained a cult following over the last few years). In 1983, she played Elvira Hancock in the Al Pacino classic Scarface, giving the nine people it took to write “Uptown Funk” a line for the hit song (I’m not making that up nine people wrote that song).
In 1985, Pfeiffer gained a whole bunch of young fans when she starred in Ladyhawke alongside Matthew Broderick and Rutger Hauer. While the movie failed at the box office, it was a constant on cable, finding its fans there.
Pfeiffer hit the big time with 1987’s The Witches of Eastwick where she more than held her own against acting giants like Susan Sarandon, Cher, and Jack Nicholson. In ’88, Pfeiffer had the one-two punch of Married to the Mob and Dangerous Liaisons.
18. Lisa Bonet
While every other actress was dressing like a fitness model or a preppy kid, Lisa Bonet burst onto the scene looking like someone who would fit in better with the next decade. Her bohemian style with big hats, scarves as belts, and baggy jeans made the oldest of the fictional children of Bill Cosby really stand out.
Bonet had the added value of being a great actress. It was clear that playing second or third fiddle on The Cosby Show wasn’t going to be enough for her, and when she made the sexy Angel Heart with Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro, word around town was that Cosby freaked out – this was back when Bill was a beloved clean cut family man and not accused of drugging and raping multiple women – and wanted her off the show. Still, Bonet was too popular to keep off TV, so she was given her own show, A Different World. She ended up leaving that show over creative differences. Bonet was always way cooler than the 80s.
17. Molly Ringwald
Molly Ringwald, on the other hand, was exactly what the 1980s wanted. The young redhead who was something of a muse for teen comedy king John Hughes had the chops to play the spoiled rich girl or the self-reliant poor girl, but in either case, you were gonna have a crush on her.
Over the course of three years, Ringwald starred in three classic teen movies; Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink, solidifying her as the girl every girl saw a bit of themselves in. In 1987 she got top billing in The Pick-Up Artist, which considering her co-star was Robert Downey Jr., these days that seems inconceivable.
After she quit working with John Hughes, Ringwald’s career never hit the same highs, but she’s stayed plenty busy over the years. These days she gets to be the mom of the most famous teenager of all, Archie Andrews, on Riverdale.
16. Kelly LeBrock
Kelly LeBrock only made two movies in the 80s, but she’s still on this list – that is how iconic those movies are.
Amazingly, the model turned actress pretty much played the same role in both of her 80s movies. In The Woman in Red, she was the perfect woman that not very good looking Gene Wilder becomes obsessed with and in Weird Science, she is the perfect woman those nerdy kids Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith build on their computer.
Was LeBrock typecast? Yes. But we need to be honest, she isn’t a very good actress. What she excels at is being sultry and seductive, and both these movies really play that up. While The Woman in Red has fallen out of the public consciousness, Weird Science will forever find fans. After all, what nerdy teen sitting at his computer doesn’t fantasize of the perfect woman exploding into their room and showing them just how much fun life can be?
15. Heather Locklear
Heather Locklear may well have been the hardest working actress on TV in the 80s. From 1982 to 1986, she co-starred on two of the biggest shows on TV, Dynasty and T.J. Hooker. While filming both shows at the same time, she also popped up on The Love Boat, Family Feud, Battle of the Network Stars, and Tales of the Unexpected, and she still found time to be in the hit film Firestarter with Drew Barrymore.
Where Kelly Le Brock was the perfect woman to fantasize about, Locklear was the girl everyone wanted to marry. She was fun, cute, and someone you could bring home to the parents. The world was shocked when TVs good girl married Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee, though almost every movie from the 80s taught us that the good girls like bad boys.
14. Winona Ryder
Winona Ryder hit it big right as the 80s were getting ready to end, but between Beetlejuice and Heathers she would set up the styles and cool factor for the following decade.
Making her debut as the nerdy friend to Corey Haim in 1986’s Lucas, Ryder was clearly the most talented actor in a movie that had the aforementioned Haim, Jeremy Piven, Courtney Thorne-Smith, and Charlie Sheen in it. In 1988, Ryder would work with Tim Burton for the first time playing Lydia the goth teen who befriends some dead people in her new home. If all the boys didn’t start crushing on Ryder then, they would when they saw her later that same year in Heathers.
13. Lea Thompson
For some reason when people think of big name actresses from the 1980s, Lea Thompson often gets forgotten, but look at her resume and you’ll see that she’s in some major flicks from the time. Back to the Future is obviously the biggest one, and the one that made many of us forever crush on the actress, but by 1985 Thompson had already made a big mark in film.
In 83 Thompson co-starred in All the Right Moves with Tom Cruise. She followed that up by fighting off commies alongside Charlie Sheen and C. Thomas Howell in Red Dawn. After Back to the Future, Thompson took on the hardest role in her career when she had to act like she was sexually attracted to a duck in Howard the Duck.
In John Hughes’ Some Kind of Wonderful, which is pretty much a remake of Pretty in Pink, Thompson is the beautiful rich girl that Eric Stoltz is into before he realizes that the equally beautiful Mary Stuart Masterson is totally into him.
12. Daryl Hannah
Few actors have as varied a resume as Daryl Hannah has for the 1980s. From cult classic sci-fi with Blade Runner to family friendly comedy with Splash, to romantic comedy with Roxanne to high-end drama with Wall Street to dramedy with Steel Magnolias, Hanna has something for everyone.
And despite being one of the best actors of her generation, Hannah, while constantly working, has had trouble getting the respect she deserves. How many other people can work alongside Tom Hanks, Michael Douglas, Mickey Rourke, Steve Martin, Charlie Sheen, and Sally Field in some of their most loved movies and not just hold their own, but steal scenes from them? Lucky for us all, Quentin Tarantino gave Hannah one of her most iconic roles when he cast her as Elle Driver in Kill Bill.
11. Kathleen Turner
Of all the women on this list, Kathleen Turner stands out for two reasons – she is sexy in a very mature way and she’s the only one to voice a cartoon character that many of us still have a thing for.
When I say sexy in a mature way, I don’t mean that she’s older than the others, I mean that she has that sexiness that comes from knowing who you are and what you want. With movies like Romancing the Stone and Peggy Sue Got Married, Turner not only showed off her comedic chops, but what it was to be naturally seductive. Her voice alone could melt the heart of any man, which is exactly what Who Framed Roger Rabbit showed the world when she voiced Jessica Rabbit.
10. Michael J. Fox
Where Kathleen Turner was all about mature sexuality, Michael J. Fox was the poster-boy for teen romance. The actor came to fame by making conservatism look cool on Family Ties before playing the insecure poor punk kid who goes back in time in Back to the Future.
When Fox tried to show the world that he could be more than a teen idol, it took a fair amount of convincing. While 1987’s The Secret of My Success was a hit with audiences, critics really weren’t into it. 1988’s Bright Lights Big City wasn’t a hit with critics or audiences, and while Sean Penn got lots of praise for Casualties of War, Fox was left out of the awards talk.
While Fox never became the giant movie star many of us know he should have been, there is no doubt that he has left his mark on film and television, both in the 80s and in the decades that have followed.
9. Melanie Griffith
Part of Hollywood royalty, Melanie Griffith had been on the scene for a while before she hit the big time with Brian De Palma‘s Body Double in 1984. She followed the sexy thriller by co-starring with Jeff Daniels and Ray Liotta in the quirky action comedy Something Wild before becoming a household name and Academy Award nominated and Golden Globe winning actress with Working Girl.
In between all that, Griffith fit in the cult classic Cherry 2000 where she plays the hard as nails tracker hired to hunt down replacement parts for a sexbot that has malfunctioned. The movie is real weird.
Recently, one of Griffith’s earliest films, Roar, was released in the US for the first time. The movie, which took eleven years to make, is famous for having 70 members of its cast and crew suffer serious injuries during filming, mostly from the live predatory animals used in the making of the movie.
8. Kim Basinger
You can’t think 1980s without thinking about the amazingly talented and beyond gorgeous Kim Basinger. She is one of the best remembered Bond girls for her role in Sean Connery’s final 007 film, Never Say Never Again. After that, Basinger redefined sexy with 9½ Weeks, she showed the world just how funny she could be with Blind Date, and she proved herself by acting with Robert Redford in The Natural as well as Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton in Batman. Hollywood did push reality a little too far when they tried to convince us that she was a regular looking girl (but secretly an alien) who fell for Dan Aykroyd in My Stepmother’s an Alien, but no actor has a perfect resume.
7. Jamie Lee Curtis
Jamie Lee Curtis became the most famous horror actress of all time when she starred in Halloween in 1978, but the 80s were where she really made her mark on the genre. In 1980 alone, Curtis starred in The Fog, Prom Night, and Terror Train.
By 83, Curtis was looking to show the world that she was more than a scream queen when she starred alongside Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places. In 1985 she would work with John Travolta in Perfect. While the movie is pretty terrible, it is hard to ignore just how amazing Curtis looks in it. In 1988 Curtis got to show the world just how amazingly talented she is when she co-starred in the classic comedy caper A Fish Called Wanda with Michael Palin, John Cleese, and Kevin Kline.
6. Harrison Ford
How great was Harrison Ford in the 1980s? He was so good that we still get excited for him to show up in a movie even though he hasn’t starred in a good one in seventeen years when he was trying to kill the next person on this list in What Lies Beneath.
But how can we not get excited for Han Solo? How can we keep our giddiness down for Indiana Jones himself? Ford’s honest yet sarcastic delivery and boyish grin made us all want to wear fedoras (don’t do it, you can’t pull it off like he can). His cooler than everyone in the galaxy attitude made us want to be him over the dude who had a laser sword and could move objects with his mind!
5. Tom Cruise
The term “the women want him and the men want to be him” may well be about Tom Cruise who was, without question, the biggest movie star of the 1980s (and the 90s. Heck, he’s still doing great today!).
1983’s Risky Business turned Cruise into a household name, and throughout the decade he kept getting bigger with films like The Color of Money, Cocktail, and Top Gun. Before the decade ended, Cruise showed everyone that he was more than a charismatic pretty face by starring in Rainman and Born on the Fourth of July.
A specific scene in All the Right Moves surely lead to many a teen girl wearing out their VHS copy of the movie – rumor has it that if you pause at just the right time, you can see Tom’s… risky business… if you will.
To this day, Cruise’s dancing in a dress shirt and tightie-whities scene from Risky Business is endlessly recreated by teens who are home alone for the first time right up to Kobe Bryant and Heidi Klum doing it for a Guitar Hero commercial.
4. Kevin Costner
There wasn’t much call for every man actors in the 80s, unless you were making a comedy about poor kids fighting rich kids. It was a decade full of beefy dudes like Sylvester Stallone and cutie-pies like Andrew McCarthy. For guys like Kevin Costner, there didn’t seem to be roles out there.
And at the start of the decade, Costner felt it. He was cut out of the now classic The Big Chill in 1983 and spent the next couple of years starring in movies no one saw. Then came the late 80s, and Costner’s career went into overdrive.
In 1987 he starred in The Untouchables, holding his own against actors like Sean Connery and Robert De Niro. He followed that up with Bull Durham, marking his first big baseball movie. Straight after Bull Durham, Costner hit a grand slam and ended the decade with Field of Dreams, setting him up to be one of the biggest stars of the 1990s.
3. Tom Selleck
Out in the multiverse, there is a version of Earth where everything is exactly the same except for one detail – Tom Selleck is Indiana Jones.
In 1980, Selleck became one of America’s biggest TV stars when his show Magnum P.I. hit the airwaves and women around the country saw his thick mustache and chest hair. What viewers didn’t know was that shortly after Selleck signed on for the starring role, he was offered the lead in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Sadly for Selleck, the producers of Magnum P.I. didn’t want to share their star and work around the film’s schedule, and that was how the role of Indiana Jones went to a different actor who we’ll discuss later.
Still, Selleck can’t complain too much. Magnum P.I. ran for eight seasons and 158 episodes. The show was so popular that when he and the producers decided to end it by killing Magnum at the end of the seventh season, fan outrage forced them to make one more season to show that the Hawaiian shirt wearing detective wasn’t dead after all.
2. Patrick Swayze
I can’t bring up Red Dawn and not follow it up with the man who every teen girl ended up crushing on in 1987 when he showed off his sweet dance moves in Dirty Dancing.
Even before he had the time of his life, Patrick Swayze was having a pretty good decade. He starred in Francis Ford Coppola‘s The Outsiders, lead the Wolverines in Red Dawn, was a major character in the hit TV mini-series North and South (as well as it’s sequel) and kicked butt in the hockey classic Youngblood. Swayze and his amazing hair would rip the throat out of the decade by closing it out with 1989’s Roadhouse.
When the actor signed up to play a motivational speaker and closeted pedophile in the indie classic Donnie Darko, he shocked everyone when he showed up to film the 80s set movie with a trunk full of his actual clothes from the decade.
1. James Spader
James Spader first came to the attention of teenage girls when he played the rich jerk Steff in Pretty in Pink. Even though he was such a meanie in the movie, his good looks and talent couldn’t be ignored. He once again played second fiddle to Andrew McCarthy‘s giant eyes in the classic (even though it kinda stinks) Mannequin.
Spader kept getting secondary or tertiary roles in iconic films, acting alongside such notables as Robert Downey Jr., Charlie Sheen, and Diane Keaton before finally getting the recognition he deserved in 1989 with Steven Soderbergh‘s indie classic Sex, Lies, and Videotape.
These days Spader and his silky smooth voice thrill TV viewers on The Blacklist while he makes time for movies like the billion dollar grossing Avengers: Age of Ultron and Academy Award winning Lincoln. Spader has also shown off his comedic chops with a reoccurring role on The Office.
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