Top Best Actors of The 1980s Revealed

The 1980s was a decade that introduced us to some of the most iconic actors and actresses in the history of cinema. From action heroes to dramatic powerhouses, the 1980s gave birth to a new generation of talented performers who left an indelible mark on the industry.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the top 10 actors of the 1980s, celebrating their unforgettable performances and the impact they had on the world of film. From influential male actors to legendary actresses, these individuals shaped the decade with their talent and charisma. Let’s dive in and explore the memorable movie stars of the 80s.

Key Takeaways:

  • The 1980s introduced us to some of the most iconic actors and actresses in history.
  • Top actors of the 1980s left an indelible mark on the film industry.
  • These actors showcased their talent and versatility in a variety of roles.
  • Their performances continue to be celebrated and remembered today.
  • The 1980s was a defining decade for the careers of these actors.

Denzel Washington

Denzel Washington is an accomplished actor who had his Hollywood debut in the 1981 film “Carbon Copy”. Although he is widely known for his more serious roles, such as Malcolm X and Robert McCall in “The Equalizer”, Washington also showcased his comedic skills in “Carbon Copy” as the character Roger Porter. This role demonstrated his versatility as an actor, captivating audiences with his ability to seamlessly transition between genres.

Washington’s talent and range were further highlighted in his role in the TV show “St. Elsewhere”, where he portrayed Dr. Philip Chandler. This performance earned him critical acclaim and solidified his status as a respected actor in the industry.

One of the defining moments in Washington’s career came with his Academy Award-winning performance in the film “Glory” (1989). In the movie, he portrays Private Silas Trip, a formerly enslaved man who fights with the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment during the American Civil War. This powerful portrayal earned Washington the Best Supporting Actor Oscar and established him as one of the most talented actors of his generation.

Washington’s performances in the 1980s solidified his reputation as a versatile and exceptional actor. Whether he was playing serious or comedic roles, he captivated audiences with his talent and commitment to his craft.

Film/TV Show Year Awards/Nominations
“Carbon Copy” 1981 N/A
“St. Elsewhere” (TV Show) 1982-1988 N/A
“Glory” 1989 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger emerged as one of the biggest stars in the action genre during the 1980s. Despite English not being his native language, Schwarzenegger captivated audiences with his charismatic presence and larger-than-life performances. Known for his muscular physique and memorable catchphrases, Schwarzenegger became an iconic figure in Hollywood.

“I’ll be back.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

Schwarzenegger’s breakthrough roles in films like Conan the Barbarian and The Terminator showcased his ability to command the screen with his intense physicality and undeniable charisma. These films propelled him to the A-list status, making him one of the highest-grossing stars of all time during the 1980s.

His portrayal of Conan, an epic fantasy hero, established him as a formidable leading man, while his role as the relentless cyborg assassin in The Terminator solidified his status as an action star.

Arnold Schwarzenegger 1980s Filmography

Film Year Role
Conan the Barbarian 1982 Conan
The Terminator 1984 T-800
Predator 1987 Dutch
Commando 1985 John Matrix
Running Man 1987 Ben Richards

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s star power during the 1980s paved the way for his successful career in both action and comedy genres. He remains a beloved figure in the entertainment industry and a cultural icon.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise is a renowned actor who rose to stardom in the 1980s with his impressive film career. Known for his versatility and captivating performances, Cruise took on a range of roles that showcased his talent and solidified his status as one of the top actors of the decade.

One of Cruise’s most iconic films from the 1980s is Top Gun, where he played the role of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a naval aviator. The film’s action-packed sequences and Cruise’s charismatic portrayal of Maverick made it a massive hit and further propelled his career.

Tom Cruise

Film Year
Top Gun 1986
Rain Man 1988
Born On The Fourth of July 1989

Another significant film in Cruise’s 1980s filmography is Rain Man, where he starred alongside Dustin Hoffman. Cruise’s portrayal of Charlie Babbitt, a self-centered individual who embarks on a cross-country journey with his autistic brother, showcased his dramatic range as an actor.

Cruise’s performance in Born On The Fourth of July earned him critical acclaim and his first-ever Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. In the film, he played the role of Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic, highlighting his ability to delve into complex characters and deliver powerful performances.

Robin Williams

Robin Williams, one of the most beloved actors of all time, made his big film debut in the 1980s and left an indelible mark on the industry. He burst onto the scene with his role as Popeye in the 1980 film “Popeye,” showcasing his comedic genius and unmatched energy on-screen.

Williams also gained recognition for his television show “Mork and Mindy,” where he played the lovable and eccentric alien Mork. The show became a massive hit and further solidified his status as a comedic talent.

However, it was Williams’ performances in dramatic films that truly demonstrated his range and depth as an actor. In 1982, he starred in “The World According to Garp,” a film adaptation of John Irving’s novel, tackling a more serious and complex role. Williams received critical acclaim for his portrayal of T.S. Garp, showcasing his ability to bring both humor and vulnerability to the character.

Another iconic role came in 1989 with “Dead Poets Society,” where Williams portrayed John Keating, an English teacher who inspires his students to follow their passions. This performance showcased Williams’ ability to capture the hearts of audiences and earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

Robin Williams 1980s

Robin Williams’ talent and versatility made him a force to be reckoned with in the 1980s film industry. Whether it was his comedic timing, dramatic prowess, or ability to capture the essence of a character, Williams left an enduring legacy on the silver screen.

Anthony Hopkins

Anthony Hopkins emerged as one of the most renowned actors in Hollywood during the 1980s. His brilliant portrayal of Dr. Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of The Lambs” remains one of his most iconic performances to date. This psychological thriller catapulted Hopkins to new heights of fame and earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor.

Before his breakout role, Hopkins had already proved his talent and versatility in films such as “The Elephant Man” and “The Bunker.” In “The Elephant Man,” he played the compassionate Dr. Frederick Treves, showcasing his ability to convey deep emotion and complexity through his characters.

In “The Bunker,” Hopkins portrayed Adolf Hitler in a gripping and haunting manner. His portrayal perfectly captured the sinister and disturbed nature of the infamous dictator.

Throughout the decade, Hopkins continued to take on a range of challenging roles, including playing the titular character in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” His ability to transform into diverse characters demonstrated his undeniable talent and commitment to his craft.

Anthony Hopkins’ performances in the 1980s showcased his exceptional acting skills and set him apart as one of the industry’s most respected and accomplished actors.

As the years went by, Hopkins continued to mesmerize audiences with his incredible performances, earning him numerous awards and accolades. In 2021, Hopkins made history as the oldest actor to win an Academy Award for Best Actor, receiving the honor for his remarkable portrayal of an aging man facing dementia in the film “The Father.” This victory solidified his status as an acting legend.

Anthony Hopkins

Film Role Awards
The Silence of The Lambs Dr. Hannibal Lecter Academy Award for Best Actor
The Elephant Man Dr. Frederick Treves
The Bunker Adolf Hitler
The Hunchback of Notre Dame Quasimodo

Jack Nicholson

Jack Nicholson is widely regarded as one of the best actors of his generation, and the 1980s were a defining period for him. His iconic role in “The Shining” solidified his reputation as one of the best horror actors of all time. Nicholson’s performances in “Prizzi’s Honor,” “Reds,” “The Witches of Eastwick,” and “Ironweed” further showcased his versatility and talent.

Jack Nicholson
Film Year
The Shining 1980
Prizzi’s Honor 1985
Reds 1981
The Witches of Eastwick 1987
Ironweed 1987

Michael Douglas

Michael Douglas had a remarkable career in the 1980s, starring in several critically acclaimed films that solidified his status as one of the top actors of the decade. Known for his versatility and captivating performances, Douglas left a lasting impression on audiences with his roles in movies such as “Romancing the Stone,” “Wall Street,” “Fatal Attraction,” and “The War of the Roses.”

Douglas’s portrayal of Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street” was especially noteworthy, earning him an Academy Award for Best Actor. The film, directed by Oliver Stone, delves into the high-paced and cutthroat world of finance, with Douglas delivering a captivating performance that showcased his range and talent.

Another notable film in Douglas’s 1980s repertoire is “Romancing the Stone,” a thrilling adventure-comedy that paired him with Kathleen Turner. The movie was a commercial success and further highlighted Douglas’s ability to tackle diverse genres and captivate audiences with his on-screen presence.

“Fatal Attraction” is yet another iconic film that showcased Douglas’s acting prowess. In this psychological thriller, he played a married man who becomes entangled in a dangerous affair, ultimately leading to disastrous consequences. Douglas’s performance in “Fatal Attraction” was a tour de force, further cementing his position as one of the decade’s top actors.

Lastly, “The War of the Roses” demonstrated Douglas’s ability to captivate audiences in a dark comedy. Directed by Danny DeVito, the film tells the story of a divorcing couple engaged in a bitter and chaotic battle over their home. Douglas’s portrayal of a successful lawyer torn between love and revenge was both compelling and memorable.

Overall, Michael Douglas’s performances in films like “Romancing the Stone,” “Wall Street,” “Fatal Attraction,” and “The War of the Roses” solidified his status as one of the most talented and versatile actors of the 1980s. His range, charisma, and ability to portray complex characters have made him a true icon of the era.

Michael Douglas

Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson established himself as a prominent international star in the 1980s with his remarkable performances in a range of films. From action-packed adventures to gripping dramas, Gibson’s talent and on-screen presence captivated audiences worldwide.

Mad Max

Gibson’s breakthrough role came in the iconic post-apocalyptic film “Mad Max” in 1979, which was followed by its highly successful sequels. His portrayal of the fearless and resourceful Max Rockatansky showcased his ability to command the screen and earned him widespread acclaim.

The Bounty

In 1984, Gibson demonstrated his versatility in the historical drama “The Bounty,” where he portrayed Fletcher Christian alongside renowned actors like Anthony Hopkins. The film delved into the infamous mutiny on the HMS Bounty, showcasing Gibson’s ability to excel in more complex and character-driven roles.

The Year Of Living Dangerously

Gibson’s talent for dramatic performances was further highlighted in “The Year Of Living Dangerously” (1982), where he starred alongside Sigourney Weaver. Set against the backdrop of political turmoil in Indonesia, the film showcased Gibson’s ability to portray nuanced emotions and captivate audiences with his powerful and emotional portrayal.


In 1981, Gibson delivered a compelling performance in the war drama “Gallipoli.” The film, directed by Peter Weir, explored the World War I campaign of the same name and the impact it had on the lives of soldiers. Gibson’s portrayal of a young Australian soldier embodied the resilience and sacrifice of those involved in the conflict.

Mel Gibson

Throughout the 1980s, Mel Gibson’s versatility as an actor shone through in films like “Mad Max,” “The Bounty,” “The Year Of Living Dangerously,” and “Gallipoli.” His on-screen presence and ability to portray a wide range of characters solidified his status as one of the most prominent and respected actors of the decade.

Harrison Ford

Harrison Ford is an iconic actor who had a prominent presence in the 1980s film industry. Known for his memorable roles, Ford captured the hearts of audiences with his performances in popular franchises such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

As the charismatic Han Solo in the Star Wars franchise, Ford brought a unique charm and roguishness to the character, becoming one of the most beloved space adventurers of all time. His portrayal of Indiana Jones in the original trilogy solidified his status as an action hero, combining wit, intelligence, and a sense of adventure.

In addition to these legendary roles, Ford also showcased his versatility in the sci-fi classic Blade Runner. His portrayal of Rick Deckard, a retired police officer hunting down rogue androids, further demonstrated his exceptional acting skills and contributed to his influential 1980s film career.


Who are the best actors of the 1980s?

The best actors of the 1980s include Denzel Washington, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise, Robin Williams, Anthony Hopkins, Jack Nicholson, Michael Douglas, Mel Gibson, and Harrison Ford.

What notable films did Denzel Washington star in during the 1980s?

Denzel Washington starred in films such as “Carbon Copy,” “St. Elsewhere,” and “Glory” during the 1980s.

Which iconic action star emerged in the 1980s?

Arnold Schwarzenegger became an iconic action star in the 1980s with roles in films such as “Conan the Barbarian” and “The Terminator.”

What are some of Tom Cruise’s notable roles in the 1980s?

Tom Cruise had diverse roles in films like “Top Gun,” “Rain Man,” and “Born On The Fourth of July” during the 1980s.

What was Robin Williams’ breakthrough role in the 1980s?

Robin Williams made his big film debut in the 1980s with the lead role in “Popeye” and gained recognition for his TV show “Mork and Mindy.”

Which memorable character did Anthony Hopkins portray in the 1980s?

Anthony Hopkins portrayed the memorable character Hannibal Lecter in the film “The Silence of The Lambs” in the 1980s.

In which iconic horror film did Jack Nicholson star in during the 1980s?

Jack Nicholson starred in the iconic horror film “The Shining” during the 1980s.

Which films contributed to Michael Douglas’ success in the 1980s?

Michael Douglas had a successful career in the 1980s with films like “Romancing the Stone,” “Wall Street,” and “Fatal Attraction.”

What films helped Mel Gibson rise to international stardom in the 1980s?

Mel Gibson rose to international stardom in the 1980s with roles in films such as “Mad Max,” “The Bounty,” and “The Year Of Living Dangerously.”

Which iconic characters did Harrison Ford portray in the 1980s?

Harrison Ford portrayed the iconic characters Han Solo in the “Star Wars” franchise and Indiana Jones in the original trilogy during the 1980s.