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.
70. Scott Howard (Michael J. Fox) | Teen Wolf (1985)
Who knew all it took to become the most popular kid in town was to transform into a teen wolf? Teen Wolf, shot before Back to the Future but released after, tells the story of Scott Howard as he navigates typical high school problems. The girl he likes won’t give him the time of day and the basketball team he plays for is the worst in the league. All of that changes when he accidentally lets his inner teen wolf out to play. Now the girls can’t get enough of him and his basketball team is climbing to be #1.
Despite the film centering on a teen wolf, 1985 was the year of the fox. Family Ties was one of the highest viewed programs on television, Back to the Future was #1 at the box office, and Teen Wolf was riding that wave. Literally… Scott was surfing those waves to U.S.A.
The film may not have the same level of awareness as it once did to younger generations, but it did launch a multi-media franchise consisting of a sequel, an animated series, and a recent live-action reimagining on MTV. The character has also gone on to appear in other series mostly in the form of a joke. It may not be the best legacy for a character, but it’s a legacy nonetheless.
69. Josh Baskin (Tom Hanks) | Big (1988)
Josh Baskin, tired of being told he can’t too this or that because he is too little, has only one wish: to be big. That wish comes true thanks to some voodoo machine and the next morning he awakens as a young adult. However, he quickly realizes that being big isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. On the run with no one to turn to but his best friend who is in on his secret, Josh ends up in the city. Still a kid at heart, an executive of a toy company sees Josh playing in a toy store and gives him an upper level position in the company. Now he has the money to truly live out his fantasy of being an adult. He also ends up catching the eye of a colleague (Elizabeth Perkins).
Eventually, Josh loses his childhood innocence and begins attacking more and more like an adult even brushing off his best friend who finds out how he can become little again. Big is a great film about not coming-of-age too soon with Tom Hanks’ boyish ’80s charm making us believe that he is actually a kid trapped in the body of an adult. As we all find out sooner of later, being an adult isn’t easy, but Hanks made it look like child’s play.
68. Baby (Jennifer Grey) | Dirty Dancing (1987)
“Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”
I recently got a chance to rewatch Dirty Dancing on the big screen and damn was it better than I remembered. The story, the characters, the dancing were all phenomenal. Patrick Swayze may have made everyone swoon back then, but it’s Jennifer Grey’s Baby that keeps the film centered. It’s her heart and selflessness attitude that forms the backbone of Dirty Dancing and has Swayze’s Johnny fall for her. Baby makes everyone believe in themselves, so when Johnny tells her father not to be put Baby in the corner he’s actually saying to not like selfless acts go unnoticed. Because of Baby, everyone at Kellerman’s was able to have the time of their lives.
67. Eddie Valiant and Roger Rabbit (Bob Hoskins/Charles Fleischer) | Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Bob Hoskins doesn’t get enough credit for his performance in this film. He completely sells every interaction he has with an animated character; you never once feel like he’s talking to negative space. Compare that to Cool World, another film that mixes live action with animation that came out four years later and it’s night and day. Pitt never feels like he’s even in the same room with any of the characters, his eye line is all over the place and even when it matches, you never feel anything. If it wasn’t for Hoskins’ performance, you wouldn’t buy that these cartoons are real and if you didn’t buy that, then the film just doesn’t work, period.
Having him just interact with characters would’ve been enough but to pair him with the hyper active Roger Rabbit (Charles Fleischer), is a stroke of genius. Valiant is a no-nonsense film noir-ish private detective who barely cracks a smile and Roger is an annoyingly loud chatterbox who cannot stop trying to be funny. Pairing two opposites together isn’t anything new but few pairs are as diametrically opposed as these two are, which creates nothing but cinematic gold.
66. Zod (Terence Stamp) | Superman II (1980)
Before Thanos wiped out half of the MCU with merely a snap and Joker brought chaos and destruction to Gotham, Zod was there. Modern audiences are spoiled when it comes to Earth ending characters; every superhero film released now has armageddon level stakes but there was a time when all a villain had to do to seem intimidating was to make the President his bitch. Wanting more than mere revenge (he was sent to the Phantom Zone after all) and world domination, Zod won’t be satisfied till he completely subjugates Superman to his will. That’s all he wants, to make Kal-El kneel before him. It’s a power play far more menacing and badass than most typical supervillain motivations and plans.
65. Otto (Kevin Kline) | A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
The first (and sometimes only) thing most people say about this film, is the fact that Kevin Kline won the Oscar for his performance in it. Since there’s so little examples of comedic performances taking home the gold, people tend to remember when it happens, but unlike Tomei’s win for My Cousin Vinny, it’s a fact with no negative connotations associated with it. People remember it not because it’s baffling but because it’s well earned. Every single thing Kline does in this film is hilarious. Including but not limited to: the french fry interrogation, the eating of a certain titular fish and his Wile E Coyote capacity for withstanding copious amounts of bodily harm. Otto is one of the great cinematic buffoons and he steals the film from everyone in it, which is impressive considering it stars the two best members of Monty Python.
64. Jack Walsh and Jonathan Mardukas (Robert De Niro/Charles Grodin) | Midnight Run (1988)
After the release of Meet the Parents, Hollywood sent De Niro nothing but comedy scripts for damn near a decade. The fact that he was funny, was a revelation to them and they wanted to immediately capitalize on this new found discovery. But if they were paying attention, they could’ve shoe horned his ass into tons of comedies for at least ten years before Meet the Parents came out. Because anyone with functioning ears and eyes who saw Midnight Run, already knew he had major comedic timing. His rapport with Grodin in this is magical. The pair make for one of the best comedy duos ever and their chemistry blows most other duos out of the water. And that’s including both buddy cop films and any love story involving two people falling in love. Ironic considering there’s at least five rom-coms that I can think of off of the top of my head that have the exact same premise and not one of them comes close to matching the pitch perfect pairing of De Niro and Grodin. What I’m saying is this, the chemistry between them in this is so good, it’s better than most chick flicks and that’s a genre who is dependent on the leads having chemistry.
63. Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) | Wall Street (1987)
Gordon Gekko is the human embodiment of greed. He’s a fast-talking snake oil salesman that lives to buy any stock regardless of the legalities and sell garbage stock to unsuspecting victims. He’s the personification of a piece of grapefruit in a fruit salad. Seemingly innocuous at first, he slowly sours everything around him until the only thing left is rotten. All he cares about is the bottom line and he’ll break as many rules and destroy as many lives as it takes to keep him, and his fellow business associates filthy, stinking rich. Making money is winning and getting that W is all that matters. Because that’s what America does: it wins. Gordon Gekko is a winner and because he’s so good at winning, He’s still a role model to stockbrokers and wall street tycoons to this day.
62. Chucky (Brad Dourif) | Child’s Play (1988)
Instead of playing it safe and producing another formulaic slasher film, Tom Holland and Don Mancini decided to shake things up by foregoing the typical mask killer route in favor of a animated killer doll. On paper, it sounds absolutely absurd but thanks to some pretty decent puppetry and a Jack Nicholson-on-cocaine sounding Dourif, it works. There’s something inexplicably terrifying about something unnaturally small trying to kill you. Whether it’s due to the uncanny valley effect, an aversion to Nicholson or a phobia of things that remind one of Cabbage Patch kid, Chucky has been terrorizing audiences for almost 30 years with no signs of stopping.
61. Harry and Sally (Billy Crystal/Meg Ryan) | When Harry Met Sally… (1989)
This movie already took home the #1 spot in our previously published Top 50 Greatest Romantic Comedies of All Time, and now its two leads have made a respectable, if not somewhat low, placement on this list. When Harry Met Sally… is a story about friendship, specifically if a man and a woman can be friends, and just friends. The movie rightfully states that all men would have sex with their female friends if given the chance. It’s what stops Harry and Sally from being friends when they first meet. However, after two more chance encounters they finally develop a friendship that is able to surpass the “I’d sleep with you if I had the chance”. That’s rare. More so, it’s a sign that the friendship is so strong that each side does not want to risk jeopardizing it.
Of course, if you’ve seen the movie you know that they do end up sleeping together and falling in love. It sort of walks back the whole “males and females can just be friends” part the film seemed to be telling the audience, but who cares, the film is great. Bill Crystal and Meg Ryan bring so much to the characters of Harry and Sally and make them feel real. You never once question that you are watching the film. Instead you feel like you are catching a glimpse into the life of these two characters. You can relate to their heartbreaks and triumphs, and be happy for them when they do finally get together. Harry and Sally are the type of people you want in your friend circle.
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!