For the last three decades, the 80s have had a stranglehold on all things pop culture. It’s gobbled up nostalgia like so much Pac-Man and for good reason. It might be the last decade to actually have a distinct personality. From the memorable (albeit pretty terrible) clothing, to the groundbreaking music and iconic video games, the 80s had it all but no piece of entertainment left a bigger impact on pop culture than movies. It was the decade that gave birth to the modern blockbuster, introduced us to the last great auteurs and was arguably the last time studios took chances. It was a glorious time that produced a ton of classics and within those classics, iconic characters that have stood the test of time. So put on your leg warmers or best Michael Jackson outfit, it’s time to countdown the best characters the decade had to offer.
This is the 100 Greatest 80’s Characters Of All Time.
50. Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger) | Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Known by many names (the Cimmerian, the Destroyer, the Barbarian) and many occupations (thief, warrior, gladiator, king), Conan is the ultimate literary character. Robert E. Howard created him to be the perfect protagonist, he’s physically flawless, can win any fight and has no weaknesses. He’s a hulking, kill happy behemoth that slaughters every man that gets in his way and lays every woman he sees. He’s more ferocious than Wolverine, more capable than Bond and makes Batman look like a pussy.
He’s the kind of character you create for books (and later comics) because you can do whatever you want on the page. You can describe and/or draw whatever you want because you’re not beholden to realism. Which makes the casting of Arnold Schwarzenegger all the more perfect. Considering that there was someone walking around on planet Earth that had the same physical dimensions, is insane enough but the fact that he actually was badass, makes his casting amongst the most perfect of all time. Howard wrote Conan for Schwarzenegger to play, he just didn’t know it.
49. Vizzini and Fezzik (Wallace Shawn/André the Giant) | The Princess Bride (1987)
The Princess Bride is full of characters who toe the line between hero and villain. One character who is firmly on the villain side is Vizzini, played brilliantly by Wallace Shawn. He’s an outlaw who kidnaps Princess Buttercup. He’s best known for his catchphrase “inconceivable” which he utters whenever he sees the Dread Pirate Roberts is still on his tail.
Meanwhile, Fezzik is someone who toes the line in the beginning, but later becomes a hero. This was one of André the Giant’s few film roles, yet he nails every scene he’s in. His strength is outmatched by few but Dread Pirate Roberts. While Fezzik does have more screen time than Vizzini, both of their best scenes occur opposite the Dread Pirate Roberts. In the event of a future 100 Greatest Movie Scenes from the 1980s list, I’ll nominate Dread Pirate Roberts outwitting Vizzini, Fezzik, and Inigo Montoyo right now.
48. H.I. McDunnough (Nicolas Cage) | Raising Arizona (1987)
The Coen Bros. have two gears in which they operate and they could’ve be further apart in tone if they tried. They either make suspenseful crime thrillers or dumb as shit comedies — there is no in between. They like populating half of their cinematic output with the dumbest characters imaginable and while it would be a hard fight to determine which character is the best, H.I. McDunnough is easily the most mentally incompetent. Wanting to make his infertile wife (Holly Hunter) happy, H.I. decides to steal another couple’s baby and in doing so, sets off a chain of events both hilarious and insane. A perfect vehicle to showcase Nic Cage’s tremendous abilities, H.I. grants him the freedom to go as outlandish as he wants without it being a detriment to the film because when you’re playing a character this dumb, it’s impossible to go too over the top.
47. Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) | Say Anything… (1989)
The wannabe kickboxer with a strong aversion to all things processed (he doesn’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career), Lloyd Dobler is defined by his one grand gesture of love but as iconic and memorable as the boombox over the head scene is, he has far more to offer than a Peter Gabriel song. His courtship of Diane (Ione Skye) and their subsequent relationship, is the best in any rom-com ever. He’s such a great guy (He takes her to parties, teaches her to drive and they never get into fight ever) that the film has to wedge in some melodramatic subplot involving her father embezzling money in order for them to break up for the clichéd third act declaration of love to work. The film doesn’t have the balls to have him slip up even slightly because even it knows he’s perfect.
46. Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) | The Karate Kid (1984)
After moving to a new town with his mother, Daniel has a tough time adjusting to his new life. After getting beat up by the local bullies he is rescued by maintenance man Mr. Miyagi. This begins his training under Mr. Miyagi in the art of karate. He only has a few months to master his training in order to beat his rival Johnny Lawrence at the All Valley Under-18 Karate Championships tournament. After countless illegal moves by members of Cobra Kai, Daniel lands a solid swan kick and wins the tournament. It’s an iconic shot, and one that is still remembered to this very day.
Oh, and who else thinks it’s extremely hilarious that after all those “wax on, wax off” lessons, Daniel ends up owning a car dealership. Coincidence? I think not!
45. Khan (Ricardo Montalban) | Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Initially appearing as a villain in the episode ‘Space Seed’ of the original show, Khan proved to be so popular among fans, that the creators brought him back without hesitation. After an exile to a dying planet goes disastrously wrong, Khan seeks revenge against the ones responsible: Kirk and the USS Enterprise. The Khan\Kirk relationship is a painfully on the nose reference to Moby Dick with Khan as the revenge plagued captain and Kirk as the object of his obsession. It’s all very cliché but Montalban sells every scene. He makes you believe every line of dialogue, regardless of their believability because he says everything with authority and sincerity. This is the closest we’ll ever get to Shakespeare in space.
44. The Predator (Kevin Peter Hall) | Predator (1987)
It speaks volumes of the Predator’s badassitude that it takes 5000 pounds of testosterone and steroid infused meat to take him down. Originally intended as a vehicle to showcase Jean-Claude Van Damme’s kickboxing abilities, the production quickly realized that that was a terrible idea. Van Damme hated being in the suit and the creatures design at that time was less predator and more mutated bug. After they fired Van Damme for either being too short or being too much of an asshole on set (sources differ), they scrapped all the designs and cut Stan Winston a check for 1.5 million dollars. The end result is the second greatest alien ever made. Every aspect of its design is iconic. From the silver mask, to the tendrils/dreadlocks, expanding mouth, to its bulky ass armband, the predator is a masterclass in special effects and is one of the coolest creatures in cinema history.
43. Batman (Michael Keaton) | Batman (1989)
Superman may have been the first superhero to truly light up the box office, but Batman was the one to make them stick around. It cannot be said enough how Tim Burton revolutionized Batman for a new generation. His darker, highly stylized take on the caped crusader has become synonymous with the DC Comics franchise ever since. A lot of Michael Keaton’s Batman (and Batman and its sequel in general) can be found in the highly acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series. Keaton’s take on the character is still looked at as one of the definitive versions of Batman. Every successor to the cape and cowl has honored what Burton and Keaton brought to the world’s greatest detective, and have tried to take their own iteration in new directions. Because it’s impossible to top this take on Batman. It’s definitive.
42. E.T. | E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
For a couple of hours, you’ll believe aliens exist. Spielberg managed to do the impossible and make an animatronic puppet feel real. He would accomplish the same feat almost a decade later with Jurassic Park, but the audience’s reactions between E.T. and the T-Rex are what separates these characters. In Jurassic Park, we stared in awe at seeing dinosaurs fully realized on the big screen and were genuinely terrified seeing the T-Rex make lunch meat out of the supporting cast. But with E.T., we were able to connect with him on an emotional level. We laughed as he learned about human culture, and marveled at his powers. We cheered as Elliot and him escaped the clutches of the government, and cried when he almost died. We treated E.T. as if he was just like us; a real human being. And that is what makes the film work on so many levels. If the audience didn’t believe in E.T. then we had no reason to care about his journey. Luckily, everything clicked into place and we were treated with one of Spielberg’s best stories.
41. Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch) | Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1980/1983)
If one was to be cynical, they could easily accuse Lucas of creating Boba Fett simply to sell more merchandise, but while he is the most toyetic character in existence, his coolness outweighs his uselessness. Let’s be honest, Boba Fett really doesn’t do a whole helluva lot within the franchise. He pops up in the animated segment of the Holiday Special, kinda sorta sasses Darth Vader in Empire, and then falls into a giant tentacled space vagina in Jedi. The Ewoks do more shit and they were literally created to sell expensive teddy bears to children.
The original plan was for Fett to be one of the major baddies of the last film but since Lucas decided to scrap that idea, his entire arc became truncated. He’s barely a character but there’s a reason people are still obsessed with him years and years later: he looks cool as fuck. He’s got a jet-pack and a cape and rockets and the whole nine yards. Kids don’t care what a character does, all they care about is if they look cool doing it so that they have something to imitate on the playground the next day. Kids didn’t imitate Luke Skywalker and they sure as hell didn’t want to be him either. Or at least, the cool kids didn’t.
What do you think of the selection so far? Who are some of your favorite 80’s characters? Maybe they will show up further on the list!