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10 Forgotten Movie Stars since the 1980s

Updated on August 30, 2017

How many movie stars have you forgotten?

Movie stars come and go. One day they’re stellar and the next waiting on tables in Fresno, California.

Why is that? Hollywood is fickle and so is the American public, you might say. Everything changes too, of course. Fashion, trends and preferences wax and wane and technology alters much along the way. For instance, in the 1920s and ’30s, many stars couldn't make the transition from silent films to talkies.

And then there’s the aging process, which changes everybody, eventually. Some rise in spite of it, taking on roles meant to be played by older people, while others simply grow too old to work or succumb to physical or mental disorders, at times with tragic results, such as the demise of actor and comedian Robin Williams.

Please keep in the mind, this list is in no particular order. It would be very difficult to show the most forgotten movie star. Also, it only includes movie stars who began their careers (with credited roles) no longer ago than the 1980s.

Please keep reading!

Culkin at 34
Culkin at 34

1. Macaulay Culkin

Macaulay Culkin is the quintessential child star whose career faded after entering adulthood. First appearing in movies at the age of eight, Culkin’s first major acting role was in Uncle Buck with John Candy in 1989. Of course, Culkin’s greatest success as an actor was when he starred in Home Alone in 1990. For this role Culkin received many accolades and awards, including an American Comedy Award for Funniest Actor in a Motion Picture. And Culkin kept making movies and appearing on TV shows into the 2000s, and this included a hosting gig on SNL, though for no role did he garner the kudos or critical success he achieved in starring in Home Alone. Then, in 2004, Culkin was busted for possession of marijuana and prescription drugs and received a suspended sentence. Will Macaulay star in another movie? Only the god of child actors may know.

2. Calista Flockhart

Calista Flockhart has appeared in many movies but perhaps her greatest claim to fame was starring in the TV series Ally McBeal from 1997 to 2002, for which she won three prestigious awards. Flockhart also had a successful stage career, playing, among other important parts, Laura in a Broadway production of the Glass Menagerie in 1994; she also played Natasha in Anton Chekov’s Three Sisters. But Flockhart had major roles in movies too, particularly Quiz Show, Drunks, Pictures of Baby Jane Doe, The Birdcage and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. These days, perhaps Flockhart’s new leading role is being the wife of longtime actor Harrison Ford.

3. James Spader

James Spader began his movie acting career by playing introverted, nerdy, eccentric and/or domineering people in movies such as Pretty in Pink, Sex, Lies and Videotape, Bad Influence, Stargate, Crash, 2 days in the Valley, The Music of Chance and Secretary. But from 2004 to 2012, Spader disappeared from the movie scene, appearing in only a couple of forgettable movies, though he made a breakout performance of sorts in Lincoln. Now well into middle age, Spader no longer has the looks of a leading man. However, his superb acting ability has earned him starring roles in such TV shows as The Office and the Blacklist.

4. Lea Thompson

Lea Thompson was one of the top young actresses back in the 1980s. With her pretty, girl-next-door looks, her major claim to fame was appearing in the Back to the Future trilogy; she also starred in All the Right Moves, Red Dawn, The Beverly Hillbillies, Spacecamp, Casual Sex? and Howard the Duck. Incidentally, as a teenager, Thompson was a professional ballerina, but when Mikhail Baryshnikov said she was beautiful but “too stocky,” she retired and became an actress. Interestingly, in the early 2000s, Thompson starred in several Broadway plays. But her days of starring in major motion pictures appear to be over. Basically a TV actress in present times, Lea has nevertheless had a sensational career.

5. Corey Feldman

Corey Feldman began his acting career at the age of three, appearing in a McDonald’s commercial, and his acting career certainly exploded from that point. In the early 1980s, Feldman acted in over 100 TV commercials and numerous TV shows. Feldman’s movie career began with a small part in Time after Time. Over the years, he appeared in many horror movies such as The Goonies and Gremlins. Then Feldman began playing troubled teenagers in movies such as Stand by Me and The Lost Boys, the latter of which with Corey Haim. When acting in the same movie, they became known as the “Two Coreys.” Unfortunately, like many child stars, Feldman struggled with drug addiction and, in his earlier years, became the victim of pedophilia, a subject about which he has been candid. Corey Feldman still appears in movies but mainly the low-budget, quick-buck variety.

6. Meg Ryan

Meg Ryan started her acting career working in soap operas, small budget films and Burger King commercials. Then she made When Harry Met Sally in 1989, which began her dominance as America’s best actress in romantic comedies, particularly when playing the role of the ingénue. Who can forget the part in the movie when Ryan feigns having an orgasm as Billy Crystal looks on? Ryan continued making top-grossing movies like Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail throughout the 1990s. But in the 2000s and beyond her movies haven’t been near as popular. These days, Ryan no longer plays the romantic lead in movies - when she makes movies, that is, which isn’t very often; instead, she has segued into TV.

7. Val Kilmer

In the early 1980s, Val Kilmer began his acting career in the theater. Then he transitioned to acting in movies, his first role in Top Secret! Kilmer’s acting career quickly took off at this point; he appeared opposite Tom Cruise in Top Gun in 1986, a film that grossed over $300 million, thereby catapulting Kilmer to stardom. Into the 1990s, Kilmer enjoyed a succession of impressive leading roles, playing Jim Morrison in The Doors (1991); Doc Holliday in Tombstone (1993); Elvis Presley in True Romance (1993); Batman in Batman Forever (1995); and Willem de Kooning in Pollock (2000). One may wonder: How many Hollywood actors have played a more prestigious array of characters? But nowadays Kilmer has been relegated (or relegated himself) to acting in lesser movies with paltry budgets and self-centered themes.

8. Demi Moore

At 16, Demi Moore dropped out of school and pursued a career in acting, but first she appeared fully nude in Oui magazine in 1980. Afterward, Moore’s acting career jumped into overdrive when she appeared in the comedy, Blame It on Rio in 1984. (One casting director called Moore the next Karen Allen.) One of Moore’s most memorable and popular roles was playing Molly Jensen in Ghost, which became the biggest grossing film of 1990. Interestingly, by the middle 1990s Moore had become the highest paid actresses in Hollywood, making over $10 million per picture. Unfortunately, age and bouts with substance abuse have eroded Moore’s acting skills and the movies she now makes wouldn’t appear on many top ten lists.

9. Bridget Fonda

Perhaps Bridget Fonda never was a household name in American movies, but the other names in her family might qualify. Bridget Fonda is the granddaughter of Henry Fonda, the daughter of Peter Fonda and the niece of Jane Fonda. Anybody remember those names? Anyway, Bridget’s acting career began – well, sort of - at the age of five when she played a hippie child in her daddy’s film, Easy Rider (1969), though her role had no lines and was uncredited. Bridget’s adult acting career began with the film Aria in 1987. Perhaps the best movies in which Bridget acted were The Godfather Part III, Single White Female, Point of No Return and Jackie Brown. But in 2003 Bridget was badly injured in a car crash and hasn’t appeared in movies or TV since 2002.

10. Ralph Macchio

It could be said that Ralph Macchio hasn’t been a movie star since he made the Karate Kid movies in the 1980s. At this point, Macchio was a teenage heartthrob, his photo appearing in teen magazines such as Tiger Beat and 16. (Macchio was actually in his twenties when he made the Karate Kid trilogy.) However, Macchio continued acting in meaningful films – Crossroads (1986), My Cousin Vinny (1992), Naked in New York (1993) and, more recently, Hitchcock (2012). And Macchio continues acting in movies and has made many TV appearances on shows such as The Outer Limits, Ugly Betty and Dancing with the Stars. Nevertheless, it seems that if you mentioned the name Ralph Macchio to someone, he or she would probably ask, “Who?”

Please leave a comment.

© 2014 Kelley Marks


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    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      3 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, lrdl3535. Regarding those fading stars, the movie possibilities seem to disappear, while the stars' faces and bodies wrinkle or bloat. Oh well. Later!

    • lrdl3535 profile image

      Richard Lindsay 

      3 years ago from California

      I remember these stars and all the movies they were in. It's a shame that they are all put on the back burner these days. To bad the industry can't find good parts for them. Well written post.

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      3 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, Greensleeves Hubs. Yes, when nobody wants these movie stars anymore, they can always become accountants or run for president. Later!

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      3 years ago from Essex, UK

      It must be very difficult for film stars (also sports stars or pop stars) who have grown up with an adoring following fawning over them, to suddenly feel rejected and unwanted. Some must be quite bewildered by their fall from top billing, and perhaps it's not surprising that some take a downward descent in their personal lives. That is always sad to see.

      Perhaps they should be philosophical about it. There are thousands of actors - many vastly more talented than some film stars - who never get the lucky break and never rise above obscurity. Perhaps any who achieve their 15 minutes of fame should just enjoy it while it lasts. And there will always be the round of TV interviews, book signings, fan conventions, as well as TV soaps, celebrity game shows etc etc to fall back on!!

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      just found this fantastic site, it brings back so many memories from when i was a kid watching the westerns. never really thought about how many of these great folks are gone until now, kinda of sad reading about them but on the other hand it brought back memories of long ago.

      thank you very much for this site.

      take care.


    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      4 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, Breanne Ginsburg. I like writing about movie stars, past and present. Although some on this list aren't making movies anymore, many are involved in TV work. Since there's so much of that, how could they not find work? Later!

    • Breanne Ginsburg profile image

      Breanne Ginsburg 

      4 years ago

      You mention a lot of great actors and actresses. I especially love Lea Thomson from Back to the Future and now watch her in Switched at Birth. Also, Calista Flockhart was great in The Birdcage! Meg Ryan was also a great actress (now she isn't in much) and while I'm not in love with Demi Moore, I do think she's great in Ghost. Good article!

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      4 years ago from California

      Yes, I remember Landau and Palance, both of whom made comebacks of note. If any of these people makes a similar one, I'll probably take him or her off the list and find another victim. Ha! Later!

    • MystMoonstruck profile image


      4 years ago from Illinois

      You're welcome.

      I'm a film buff who is more than 60 years old. One major thing I learned is this: Don't count anyone out. I learned my lesson twice over after seeing "Without Warning" in the 1980s; I figured that Martin Landau and Jack Palance had hit their low point. How could they go lower?! Then, some time later, first Palance then Landau won OSCARS!! *whew*

      Sometimes people would be very surprised to look at filmographies of "forgotten" actors. Some direct and/or produce while others moved to stage work. You never know till you check out IMDb! *smile*

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      4 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, MystMoonstruck. Molly Ringwald! I'd forgotten about her! See how that works. Thanks. I may put her on the this list, which could grow considerably if I so choose. Later!

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      4 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, Edna and Earl. I've enjoyed many of the movies shown on this list as well. Later!

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      4 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, oldiesmusic. Drug use has certainly ruined many acting careers, particularly among the child stars. Later!

    • MystMoonstruck profile image


      4 years ago from Illinois

      I can't agree that these are forgotten. not even by those who aren't true film buffs. Many of their movies remain highly popular, and their names are instantly recognizable by the average person. Simply not working very often doesn't mean forgotten. Why not Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Timothy Hutton, Phoebe Cates, etc.?

    • Edna and Earl profile image

      Edna and Earl 

      4 years ago from The Cliffs of Insanity

      Karate Kid trilogy, Batman Foever, Kate & Leopold, Goonies, Back to the Future, Stargate. I own favorite movies with 6 out these 10 actors! They may have lost popularity but I "see" them on a regular basis. Great Actors that I would love to see in more roles.

    • oldiesmusic profile image


      4 years ago from United States

      What a sad fate for many of these stars -- drugs and marijuana are mostly the culprit. They're really talented and had a lot of going on for them, they wasted it, really. Interesting hub.


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