10 Movie Stars Who Could Only Have Made It Big In The 80s

Fame is a strange and often fickle thing. One minute something’s totally en vogue, then the next thing you know it’s already yesterday’s news. As such, some people who achieve stardom find that it’s short-lived, and even those who are able to maintain a certain level of celebrity usually wind up being synonymous with the era in which they first got famous.

So it is that when we reflect on the movies of the 80s, we remember the actors who really made their mark in that era, and in their own way defined the personality of that decade. These were the years in which we wanted our entertainment bright, loud, in your face and larger than life, and we needed actors who, in some way, embodied those qualities.

Some of the following actors are still big names now, others have largely sunk into obscurity – but each in their own way demonstrates what it was to be an 80s movie star.


10. Judge Reinhold

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There aren’t many stars who reached such heights then plummeted to such depths quite so spectacularly as Judge Reinhold did in the 80s. After taking key supporting roles in the smash hits Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Gremlins and Beverly Hills Cop, Reinhold seemed to be pretty much a made man.

However, thanks to the under-performance of his first star vehicle, Vice Versa, and widespread reports of entitled prima donna behaviour, Reinhold’s profile fell rapidly in the 90s, beyond a recurring role in the Santa Clause movies.

9. Chuck Norris

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The big screen tough guys of the 70s tended to be a morally ambiguous bunch, but by the 80s things were far more clear-cut. Everyone wanted straight-up good guys who were hard as nails and didn’t suffer fools. Enter Chuck Norris: military veteran, martial arts champion and future father of a thousand memes.

Norris famously fought Bruce Lee in 1972’s Way of the Dragon, but he didn’t achieve action hero status in his own right until he signed up with the notorious Cannon Films in the 80s, with whom he made such bullet-ridden romps as Missing in Action, The Delta Force and Invasion USA.

8. Kelly LeBrock

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Born in New York but raised in London, Kelly LeBrock had already enjoyed a successful modelling career before she broke into film in a big way, playing two of the most memorable fantasy women of the 80s: the title character of The Woman in Red, and computer-generated dream girl Lisa in Weird Science.

These two roles made LeBrock one of the most recognised actresses around, yet they were the only films she made in the 80s. She took her third acting role in 1990’s Hard to Kill, opposite her then-husband Steven Seagal, and she’s only made sporadic film appearances since.

7. Michael Winslow

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Any would-be movie star needs some distinctly special quality that sets them apart from the competition, hopefully carving out their own unique niche. There weren’t many other actors in the 80s – or indeed ever – who had quite so distinct a selling point as Michael Winslow, otherwise known as The Man of 10,000 Sound Effects because of his uncanny knack for imitating all manner of sounds.

The actor exploited the skill set to the fullest as Larvell Jones in the Police Academy movies. Winslow was the only actor to star in all seven entries in the comedy series (plus its spin-off TV sitcom), but sadly his career didn’t have much life beyond that.

6. Lucinda Dickey

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There’s no more sure-fire way to short-lived stardom than making a movie that cashes in on a brand new trend of the day. Cannon Films did this with their cheap and cheerful street dance movie Breakin’ (aka Breakdance: the Movie) and its hastily produced sequel Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, both of which starred dancer-turned-actress Lucinda Dickey.

Dickey was briefly Cannon’s go-to girl, also taking the lead in the bizarre action-horror Ninja 3: The Domination. However, she would only make one more film – slasher movie Cheerleader Camp – before retiring from acting.

5. Rodney Dangerfield

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It’s not too common for actors to become movie stars around the time they hit 60, but that was how things turned out for Rodney Dangerfield. The American stand-up comedian had been telling jokes for a living for almost 20 years when he took his first film role in Caddyshack, which earned him a new generation of fans.

Dangerfield went on to take the lead in two more popular 80s comedies, Easy Money and Back to School. After that, he generally took smaller bit parts and returned to stand-up, before passing away in 2004.

4. Grace Jones

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Few stars in the 80s were quite so larger-than-life than Grace Jones. After making a name for herself in modelling and music, she broke into film in the 80s, co-starring in Conan the Destroyer and – most memorably – appearing alongside Roger Moore in his last James Bond movie, A View to a Kill.

Comedy-horror Vamp followed, but beyond that Jones mostly went on to appear in smaller independent films, aside from a role opposite Eddie Murphy in 1992’s Boomerang.

3. Rob Lowe

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With his classic good looks and none-more-80s hair and dress sense, Rob Lowe was the premier pin-up boy of the Brat Pack generation. Standout roles in popular dramas St. Elmo’s Fire and About Last Night didn’t hurt (even if the former saw him awarded a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor).

However, Lowe never quite managed to break through to major leading man status – and his chances of ever doing so were pretty much ended in 1988, when he was infamously embroiled in a sex tape scandal.

2. Molly Ringwald

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Another key member of the Brat Pack, Molly Ringwald was in some ways an 80s anomaly. In an era when out of this world glamour and beauty seemed to be treasured above all else, the young actress conveyed down-to-earth relatability like few others. Her performances in John Hughes movies Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink spoke to a generation.

However, after falling out with Hughes and turning down a number of major movies (notably Pretty Woman and Ghost), Ringwald gradually disappeared from the limelight.

1. Arnold Schwarzenegger

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If we’re talking larger-than-life figures who could only have made it in the 80s, there’s no way we can go without mentioning Arnold Schwarzenegger. With his thick accent, hard-to-pronounce surname and somewhat stilted acting style (hinging largely on his ability to deliver a good one-liner), no one would have thought the former bodybuilding champion stood a chance of making it in the movies.

However, thanks to such hits as Conan the Barbarian, Commando, Predator and above all else The Terminator, the Austrian Oak became the biggest movie star of the era, paving the way for further blockbuster success in the 90s, before his even more astonishing move into politics as two-time Governor of California.