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.
80. Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) | Fatal Attraction (1987)
In world of hook up apps such as Tinder and Grindr, the scariest thing imaginable is a stage five clinger. A one night stand that doesn’t get the hint. I don’t know what the scale is to define the stages of clinginess but if constantly bombarding you with annoying texts and phone calls constitutes a stage five, Alex Forrest is a stage one hundred clinger. To be fair, she was used by Michael Douglas’s philandering yuppie penis and she has every right to get angry at being discarded but the scene with the bunny kills any sort of sympathy you have for her. She started off as a tragic victim of lust and ends the film a monster consumed by obsession. Swipe left.
79. Carl Spackler (Bill Murray) | Caddyshack (1980)
Bill Murray has been a constant mainstay in Hollywood since the eighties, but it was that decade where he was really able to shine as a comedian. Ghostbusters, Stripes, Tootsie, and Scrooged all utilized that classic deadpan humor that made Murray famous. Carl Spackler at a glance is a different sort of role for Murray. The character is more aloof and constantly has his heads in the clouds (note the “Cinderella story” scene). I don’t think this is anywhere close to being Murray’s best role, but the character (along with Dangerfield’s Al) is definitely the highlight of the film. And we should expect nothing less from Murray.
The gopher he hunts looks ridiculously fake though, even for eighties standards.
78. Michael J. ‘Crocodile’ Dundee (Paul Hogan) | Crocodile Dundee (1986)
My mind has a hard time separating the fictional Crocodile Dundee and the real life Steve Irwin. Both were Australians that captivated American audiences in the late 20th century and gave Australia an injection of tourism and/or fame. However, while Irwin was an actual zookeeper and wildlife expert who seemed like one of the nicest and humblest men in the world before his death in 2006, Dundee is quite the opposite. He’s a bushman and crocodile hunter who has become sort of a local legend in his parts. He knows how to handle himself against less than respectable folk. A lot of what made Crocodile Dundee work came from actor Paul Hogan (who also had a hand with the script), and while the sequels never managed to live up to the success of the first one (hot take: I prefer the sequel to the original), Hogan’s Dundee still makes them worth the watch.
And always remember, that’s not a knife. This is a knife.
77. Herbert West (Jeffery Combs) | Re-Animator (1985)
Herbert West gives new meaning to the term “mad scientist.” His pursuit to bringing the dead back to life is so insane, he makes Frankenstein a pillar of mental stability by comparison. West is a terrible human being but since Combs’ performance is so delightfully madcap, you can’t help but to love him. Which is quite impressive considering he kills the same cat three times, creates a headless rape monster and subjects his roomate/lab assistant and his girlfriend to a litany of nightmare scenarios. And through all of it, he’s completely unfazed. Not even walking in on a severed head about to perform cunnilingus provokes more than some casual sarcasm. He’s a brilliant unflappable sociopath who just can’t stop creating zombies. He’s Frankenstein by way of Chuck Jones. Cthulhu might be Lovecraft’s most iconic creation but West — because of Combs’ performance — is his best.
76. Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) | Heathers (1989)
Less of a character and more of a “whole ass mood”, Veronica Sawyer is one of the fundamental building blocks of goths and is the poster child of a specific style so unique, it doesn’t even have a name. While she doesn’t necessarily fit the criteria of either a goth or a punk, her “fuck it” attitude, as well as her relationship with JD (Christian Slater), separate her from just about every other teen girl of the 80’s. She goes from being one of the most popular kids in school, to a murderer to an almost terrorist, all while never really growing as a person or learning a valuable lesson. She’s the female Ferris Bueller but cooler in every conceivable way.
75. Linderman (Adam Baldwin) | My Bodyguard (1980)
If movies of the 80s were to be believed, there was nothing more terrifying than high school. Every single one of them was a warzone and every bully was a switchblade carrying psychopath, just waiting for their next victim. It’s this belief the film My Bodyguard is built upon. Or rather playing against because while it does mythologize the school bully, it does it in a realistic way. Linderman is a school legend, a big, hulking kid who allegedly killed his brother, raped a teacher, hit a cop, every kind of horrible crime a teenage kid could come up with because teenage kids did come up with them.
He’s a bully who’s mythology was created and manipulated by other bullies to extort weaker kids but when one of the potential victims (Chris Makepeace) decides to team up with him to take on the other bullies, you find out that not every legend is true. The “bully who turns out to be a great guy once you get to know him” trope has been in everything from Rushmore to 10 Things I Hate About You but My Bodyguard not only created it, it did it the best.
74. Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) | Rocky IV (1985)
Equal parts propaganda and machismo fantasy, Rocky IV is the perfect time capsule of the 80’s. It’s absurd, self indulgent, and is damn near nothing but montages but fuck is it not fun. America needed Stallone to end the Cold War and he did it the only way he knew how: by beating it the fuck up. If Stallone was going to be the stand in to represent everything great about America, there needed to be someone bigger and badder to represent mother Russia. Enter: Dolph Lundgren. A mountain of a man, he is a force to be reckoned with and even though he only has nine lines of dialogue throughout the entire movie, you know each and every one of them.
73. Gertie (Drew Barrymore) | E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
In a film that makes you believe E.T. is real, one actor outshines the rest of the cast. Barrymore was just seven when E.T. hit theaters and it brought her worldwide fame. Gertie’s interactions with the extra-terrestrial are both wholesome and quite real since director Steven Spielberg told Barrymore that E.T. was actually real. It was actually a clever move on the director’s part as it brought Barrymore’s acting up to a whole other level that only Henry Thomas’ Elliot matched. These two children offer such a range of emotion that even you begin to believe that E.T. is actually alive (and dammit do we want him to stay on Earth with the children!).
Gertie offers us some of the best scenes (and screams). One that pops to mind is when she is trying to show her Mom E.T. after they come home from school and work, but the Mom is too busy putting away groceries to notice. It’s a brief moment, but one that showcases the pure innocence that is Gertie. Is it too much to suggest that Gertie is still Barrymore’s best role to this date? I’ll let you tell me otherwise in the comments.
72. Duckie (Jon Cryer) | Pretty in Pink (1986)
We’ve all been Duckie at some point in our lives. I’m not talking about the clothes or the Otis Redding impression, but the fact that we have probably been in love with a close friend. Duckie is crazy for his best friend Andie, and stops at nothing to make this point known. The Otis Redding impression may be the most well known scene from PiP, but if you look at the expression on Andie’s face when Duckie is doing it and all you can do is receive secondhand embarrassment. It’s enough to make one cringe, but I can’t help but sympathize with Duckie. I too have fallen for female friends and gone out of my way doing over the top gestures to make them notice me in a new light. The problem is that you have to be true to yourself and not the man you think she wants.
If there’s one thing Duckie should be known for, it’s his quirkiness. Salon released an editorial back in 2016 discussing the trouble with Duckie. However, it highlighted how “without Duckie as a supporting character in Pretty in Pink, we would have no children-of-Duckie as the main characters of Juno, Perks of Being a Wallflower, Paper Towns and Dope.” Duckie may not be the best guy, but he helped create a whole new character type that we still see on film today. And to me that’s more important than having a chance to date ’80s Molly Ringwald.
71. Audrey II (Levi Stubbs) | Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Landing somewhere between Faust and a retelling of the old Monkey Paw fable, Little Shop of Horrors involves a timid man named Seymour (Rick Moranis) teaming up with an alien plant in order to get his heart’s desire but the problem is, Audrey II is carnivorous, so he needs a constant supply of fresh blood to stay alive. It’s a gruesome devil’s bargain that spirals out of control but since Audrey II is voiced by Levi Stubbs — a man who’s voice is so velvety smooth, you run the risk of getting pregnant every time you hear it — you kind of hope the devil wins this time. And if you’ve ever seen the Director’s Cut, he does. He’s a mean green mother from outer space and he’s baaaaaad.
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!