Top 10 Decade Defining Actors of the 1980s

Written by Sean Harris They were more than acceptable in the ‘80s; they were extraordinary! Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the top 10 Decade Defining Actors of the 1980s! For our series on the Top 10 Decade Defining Male Actors Per Period, we’ve made our choices based on a combination of their commercial success, their box-office scores, their productivity, their awards and how they helped set the tone and raise the standard in Hollywood for the era. Special thanks to our users Ceione Pafford, movielover459, Shehab Essam and Andrew A. Dennison for submitting the idea through our Suggestions Tool at WatchMojo.comSuggest
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Written by Sean Harris

Top 10 Decade Defining Actors of the 1980s


They were more than acceptable in the ‘80s; they were extraordinary! Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 Decade Defining Actors of the 1980s!

For our series on the Top 10 Decade Defining Male Actors Per Period, we’ve made our choices based on a combination of their commercial success, their box-office scores, their productivity, their awards and how they helped set the tone and raise the standard in Hollywood for the era.

#10: Bill Murray
1950 -

After making his mark on “Saturday Night Live” in the ‘70s, like his fellow comedy mainstay Chevy Chase, Bill Murray’s film career really took off in the ‘80s. His portrayal of cult writer Hunter S. Thompson in “Where the Buffalo Roam” set his cool, classy tone, and parts in box office hits like “Caddyshack” and “Tootsie” cemented his reputation. What he’ll really be remembered for, though, is “Ghostbusters.” As Dr. Peter Venkman, Murray wisecracked his way to greatness. He appeared in little else during the decade, but he’d made mark enough to achieve continued success!

#9: Dustin Hoffman
1937 -

Hoffman first caught our attention two decades before this one, as a love-struck youngster in “The Graduate.” But for him, the ‘80s proved to be a high point among high points in a glittering film career! He led whilst Bill Murray supported in “Tootsie,” and he earned an Oscar nomination for it. He was also part of Sidney Lumet’s all-star cast in “Family Business.” His most notable role, however, was as Raymond Babbitt in “Rain Man.” As Tom Cruise’s autistic brother, he portrayed the condition with respect, loyalty, and sheer brilliance!

#8: Bruce Willis
1955 -

Former private investigator, Bruce Willis, turned to acting in the ‘80s, and aren’t we glad of it! After winning an Emmy for his role in the TV show “Moonlighting,” he broke onto the big screen with some uncharacteristic roles in “Blind Date” and “Sunset.” But then he performed an inspired change of direction, when he played one-liner wielding, reluctant hero, John McClane. “Die Hard” set an all-new standard for action movies, and Willis was the modern archetype of an action hero! Yippee-ki-yay!

#7: Michael Douglas
1944 -

Action-adventure romantic-comedy, “Romancing the Stone” is what announced Michael Douglas into the ‘80s consciousness. Opposite Kathleen Turner, he proved himself as leading-man material, and provided director Robert Zemeckis with his first box-office success. However, it was in 1987 that he truly followed his father, Kirk, into Hollywood history. “Fatal Attraction” was the second-highest grossing film of the year, and for his role as Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street,” he did what his Dad couldn’t do: he won the Academy Award for Best Actor!

#6: Sylvester Stallone
1946 -

Sly Stallone introduced himself to the world in the ‘70s with “Rocky,” and the following decade he cemented his reputation as the toughest of group of tough guys that included the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme and more. In the ‘80s, Stallone’s role alongside Michael Caine in “Escape to Victory” proved his on-screen presence (if not his soccer ability!), “Rocky” kept fighting, and a second movie-franchise was born with 1982’s “First Blood.” He’d taken his persona out of the boxing ring, and into the warzone. The ‘Italian Stallion’ quickly became Hollywood’s heavy artillery!

#5: Arnold Schwarzenegger
1947 -

Way before he was a face of American politics, Schwarzenegger was ‘Arnie,’ the heroic body of many an action movie! He first gained mainstream notice as a silver-screen strongman in “Conan the Barbarian.” Many were of the opinion that his acting ability was not as honed as his abdominal muscles, but Arnie fended off his critics by starring in one of the biggest movies of the decade; “The Terminator.” He proved far from wooden as the cyborg assassin, even if his lines did amount to less than 100 words!

#4: Harrison Ford
1942 -

Missing out on our podium, but dominating ‘80s cinema, Harrison Ford is probably best remembered for his fantastic franchises. As Han Solo, he first starred in “Star Wars” in 1977, and followed that up with “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” in the ‘80s. Not content with one multi-movie leading-role, Ford would starred in three blockbuster Steven Spielberg pictures, as Indiana Jones that decade, as well. Throw in leading roles in acclaimed movies like Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” and you see why Ford’s at number four!

#3: Eddie Murphy
1961 -

After finding fame as a cast member on TV’s “Saturday Night Live,” Eddie Murphy’s transition into film was highly anticipated, and expertly executed. His first feature-length, “48 Hours,” was a hit, and when he paired up with fellow SNL alum, Dan Aykroyd, for “Trading Places,” his comic credentials were mounting up! A role as tough-talking joke machine Axel Foley in “Beverley Hills Cop” also propelled him to humorous highs, and two further sequels – one of which fell in the 1980s!

#2: Michael J. Fox
1961 -

He was famous in the ‘80s, but he was famous for the ‘50s! Michael J. Fox played one of the iconic characters of the decade when he stepped into Marty McFly’s Nikes for “Back to the Future.” The sequels were equally successful and splendid, but the actor is more than a one mega-trick pony. After his big break came on the small screen as “Family Ties”’ young Republican Alex P. Keaton; “Teen Wolf” showed he was the baby-face of the decade, and “Casualties of War” proved he was five star acting material.

Before we unveil our pick for Decade Defining Actor of the 1980s, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Patrick Swayze
1952 - 2009
- Steve Martin
1945 - Matthew Broderick
1962 -
- Judd Nelson
1959 -
- Emilio Estevez
1962 -
- Charlie Sheen
1965 -

#1: Tom Cruise
1962 -

“Risky Business” is thought of as his breakthrough movie, and it ensured that working with Tom Cruise would be anything but ‘risky’ from then on. A stellar name in cinema for over three decades now, the impact he had in his first ten years was unrivalled. With “Top Gun” he flew further up the acting ladder, and with “Born on the Fourth of July” he picked up his first major award, a Golden Globe for ‘Best Actor.’ Setting the standard for a glittering career, Cruise controlled Hollywood, in the ‘80s and that’s why he’s our top pick.

Do you agree with our list? Which 1980s actor did we forget? For more box office Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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