10 Actors Who Were Only Popular in the 1980s



Actors get their big break and get the audience they always wanted. The limelight is warm and welcoming, marking the start of their career in show business. Actors become well-known for their roles or characters. The danger of stardom is typecasting. Actors become a product of their time or movies. Viewers recognize actors in iconic films, but for actors, it was just another character to play.

The 1980s were an era of original cinema that continued the trend of blockbusters in action, comedy, drama, fantasy, horror, science fiction, and thrillers. Films were not only original, but easily marketable with their high-concept plots. The draw for audiences was stories that were approachable and relatable. Actors had the luxury to become either a diamond in the rough or a dime a dozen in the 1980s.

Anthony Michael Hall

Anthony Michael Hall in The Breakfast Club
Universal Pictures

Anthony Michael Hall was a prominent character actor in teen films directed by John Hughes. He was the geek in his early years. The coming-of-age comedy Sixteen Candles saw him impress his fellow geeks by betting and creeping his way into getting the interest of high school girls. He also created an artificial woman in Weird Science. Hall’s most well-known role, however, came in The Breakfast Club, where he and his classmates admit to having peer pressure and living up to their parents’ expectations.

Dan Aykroyd

Dan Aykroyd in Ghostbusters 1200x630 jpg

Columbia Pictures

Dan Aykroyd was a sketch comedy veteran of Saturday Night Live in the late 1970s before taking on comedic film roles. He later turned his SNL sketches Coneheads and The Blues Brothers into movies. Aykroyd also worked with fellow comedians Chevy Chase and Eddie Murphy in Spies Like Us and Trading Places, respectively. He gained recognition for writing the 1984 horror comedy Ghostbusters and starring as the ghost-catcher Dr. Raymond Stantz.

Daryl Hannah

ROXANNE [1987] Daryl Hannah
Columbia Pictures

Daryl Hannah grew up watching movies, using the outlet to combat her isolation and develop her talents in the performing arts. One of her early roles was in the 1983 slasher The Final Terror. She went on to become a household name, starring as a mermaid in the romantic fantasy comedy Splash with Tom Hanks. Hannah’s demure and gentle performances in Roxanne and Steel Magnolias also won over audiences.

Debra Winger

Terms of Endearment (1983) Debra Winger
Paramount Pictures

Debra Winger was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family. She took up acting at age 18 after recovering from a cerebral hemorrhage due to a car crash. Her first prominent role was in Urban Cowboy, with John Travolta as the independent Sissy, a role she received BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for. Winger would earn more nominations as a leading lady in An Officer and a Gentleman and Terms of Endearment.

Related:James Gunn Is Talking To Big Name Actors About Joining The DC Universe, One Contender Reveals

Gene Hackman

Mississippi Burning (1988) Gene Hackman
Orion Pictures

Gene Hackman left his family home at age 16 to join the United States Marine Corps. He briefly studied journalism and television production through G.I. Bill assistance before pursuing his acting career in California. His performances in off-Broadway plays gained him traction in films, including his Academy Award-winning role in The French Connection. By the 1980s, Hackman was in both supporting and leading roles, including Hoosiers and Mississippi Burning.

Related: RoboDoc: The Creation of RoboCop Trailer Teases In-Depth Look at the 80s Classic

Jessica Lange

Columbia Pictures

Jessica Lange made her film debut in the 1976 remake of King Kong, winning the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year. She starred in another remake with Jack Nicholson in 1981, The Postman Always Rings Twice, where her performance was again praised. Lange would win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and a Golden Globe the following year in Tootsie.

Mandy Patinkin

Inigo Montoya smiling at his opponent
20th Century Fox

Mandy Patinkin began his acting career on the stage in New York City. He won a Tony Award in 1980 for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical in the Broadway play Evita. He later starred in the historical drama Ragtime as a street artist and the romantic musical drama Yentl as a Jewish yeshiva student. Patinkin’s most famous role was as the swordsman Inigo Montoya in the 1987 fantasy adventure comedy The Princess Bride.

Mia Farrow

Orion Pictures

Mia Farrow was exposed to theatrics beginning at age two, which culminated in her first leading role in the 1968 psychological horror Rosemary’s Baby. She continued to be a regular actor on stage and the silver screen, most notably in films directed by Woody Allen. She had a decade-long relationship with the director, appearing in 13 of his films, like Broadway Danny Rose and Hannah and Her Sisters.

Shelley Duvall

Shelley Duvall as Wendy in the movie The Shining
Warner Bros.

Shelley Duvall got her start in Robert Altman films due to her sunny disposition and unique physique. She received critical acclaim for improvised scenes in 3 Women and earned the Best Actress Award at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival. She became Olive Oyl in the adaptation of Popeye and the perturbed Wendy Torrance in the horror classic The Shining in 1980.

William Hurt

William Hurt as Edward Jessup in Altered States
Warner Bros.

William Hurt studied at the Juilliard School and was a stage actor throughout the 1970s. His breakout role was in the 1980 science fiction film Altered States, where he played an obsessed scientist studying other states of consciousness. Hurt’s popularity grew with the neo-noir film Body Heat, his Oscar-winning performance in Kiss of the Spider-Woman, and the romantic comedy Broadcast News.

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