14 '80s Actors Who’ve Stuck Around Longer Than You Realized

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Vote up the stars with surprising staying power.

Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Andrew McCarthy – these are just some of the '80s actors who are synonymous with the decade that gave fans movies like Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club

Though their movies may be frozen in time, these actors are anything but. Unlike ‘80s stars who seemed to disappear, many of the most popular actors of the 1980s went on to have long careers in Hollywood. Some found steady work on long-running television shows, while others embraced new challenges and found artistic purpose behind the camera. A surprising number of them went on to become writers and directors. 

These actors didn’t let their early success define them. Instead, they used it as a foundation to build careers that will last a lifetime.


  • Alan Ruck Has Been A Hollywood Mainstay For Forty Years Now And Has Found A New Audience Thanks To 'Succession'
    Photo: Ferris Bueller's Day Off / Paramount Pictures

    Appearing in a movie like Ferris Bueller's Day Off is the type of golden egg that most actors can only dream of. With his performance as Cameron in the film, Alan Ruck has a signature role that people still reference to this very day.

    Ruck's career didn't end with Ferris Bueller's Day Off though, and he has enjoyed consistent work well into the 21st century. After appearing in '90s projects like Speed and Spin City, Ruck has most recently found success on the prestige show Succession. “I've been waiting for a show like this for more than 30 years, something that's ostensibly a drama but is really twisted and funny,” he told The Guardian in 2021.

  • Lou Diamond Phillips Never Went Away And Has Been In More Television Shows Than You Can Count
    Photo: La Bamba / Columbia Pictures

    Starring in signature films like La Bamba and Stand and Deliver, Lou Diamond Phillips secured recognition as one of the brightest stars of the '80s. 

    More recently, Phillips has made the most of the many TV projects humming in Hollywood, working on everything from Prodigal Son to Family Guy and Blue Bloods. He even has directed episodes of shows such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Fear the Walking Dead.

    Phillips is also broadening his horizons. In 2020, he published his debut novel Tinderbox, a sci-fi story. 

  • Andrew McCarthy Became An In-Demand TV Director Due To His Work On 'Orange Is the New Black'
    Photo: Pretty in Pink / Paramount Pictures

    The 1980s birthed the so-called “Brat Pack,” a group of young actors who appeared in generation-defining movies like St. Elmo's Fire and Pretty in Pink. Andrew McCarthy just so happened to have appeared in both films, making him an indisputable member of the pack.

    For a long time, he wasn't comfortable with that designation, as he explained to The Hollywood Reporter in 2022:

    Well, I recoiled from the title. I found it pejorative and dismissive. When people are in their late teens, early twenties, they're just trying to define who they are. Your life is this blank slate to be written upon, and suddenly, it felt like it was defined for me in a way that didn't seem to have anything particularly to do with me on a personal level. So I felt disempowered by it in that way, and I felt powerless to do anything about it. 

    Since the 1980s, McCarthy has found a way to take ownership of his career and how Hollywood sees him. He became a writer and editor for National Geographic magazine, and director for a variety of shows including Orange Is the New Black and Grace and Frankie.  

  • Judd Nelson Pivoted To Voice Work, Television Movies, And 'Empire'
    Photo: The Breakfast Club / Universal Pictures

    Teen movies are synonymous with the 1980s, and they helped make actor Judd Nelson's career. He starred in classics like St. Elmo's Fire and The Breakfast Club. Indeed, Nelson cherished his experience working on The Breakfast Club with director John Hughes. As he told AV Club in 2016:

    Breakfast Club was great because we had a real rehearsal, and we shot primarily in sequence. I thought that was going to be how movies were done. I didn't really know how lucky we all were. We had a director that liked actors. I didn't know that was going to be rare.

    In the 21st century, Nelson has pivoted to acting outside of films. Specifically, he has done voice work for shows like Phineas and Ferb and acted in television productions like Santa Jr. and Empire

  • Elisabeth Shue Reworked Her Career With 'CSI' And 'The Boys'
    Photo: Adventures in Babysitting / Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

    Elisabeth Shue played crucial roles in celebrated '80s classics like The Karate Kid, Adventures in Babysitting, and Cocktail. Yet Shue has also found a home on the small screen, winning main roles on CSI, The Boys, and On the Verge

    What defines her career in the 21st century? In a word: gratitude. Shue shared with The Columbus Dispatch in 2012, “I'm very grateful to be working. I'm always grateful. And the older you get, you get more grateful and appreciative.” 

  • Debra Winger Pivoted to Television In Shows Like 'The Ranch,' 'Patriot,' And 'Mr. Corman'
    Photo: An Officer and a Gentleman / Paramount Pictures

    Debra Winger began the 1980s with a bang. Her breakthrough role in Urban Cowboy earned her awards buzz and paved the way for her appearance in other hits like An Officer and a Gentleman and Terms of Endearment. In 1995, however, she made the decision to step away from Hollywood and pursue other interests, like farming and getting involved with politics.

    Since then, Winger has resumed acting. Most notably, she was in 2008's Rachel Getting Married. She's also found work on television. Her roles on The Ranch, Patriot, and Mr. Corman have enabled her to work alongside Ashton Kutcher and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, both of whom – like Winger – first made a splash in Hollywood well before they were 30.