15 Supporting Actors Who Made the '80s

By: Heather Seebach
When it comes to 1980s movies, everyone remembers leading men like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Eddie Murphy, Kurt Russell, and so on. Great as they were, some of the best performances of that decade came from actors whose names you probably don’t know. No doubt you know their faces, though. The phrase, “Hey, it’s that guy!” was invented for men such as these. They were villains, assholes, corporate sleaze balls, and occasionally cops, scientists, and store clerks. These character actors truly made the decade what is was. Now, here are 15 of the greatest:

15. Robert Davi

Davi is often typecast as greasy mobsters and drug lords thanks to his dark Italian looks and...shall we say...Edward James Olmos-esque skin. He played many memorable roles in the 80s including Die Hard, The Goonies, License to Kill, and Action Jackson. With rugged, off-beat looks, Davi made a great villain and even today, he remains one of cinema's go-to tough guys.

14. William Zabka

You know Zabka as the asshole bully from almost every 80s movie with an asshole bully. He was Johnny Lawrence in The Karate Kid and its first sequel. He played similar bullies in Back to School and Just One of the Guys. And he returned as another jock meathead in European Vacation. Zabka cornered the market on high school assholes in the 80s, and we love him for it.

13. Victor Wong

Unofficially known by you and your friends as "that old Asian guy with the eye", Victor Wong is most recognized for his roles as eccentric old wise men in films like Big Trouble in Little China, The Golden Child, and The Last Emperor. And in Tremors (technically not an 80s film but right on the border), Wong was the one who gave the Graboids their name.

12. David Warner

Peter Griffin once pondered, "What was the name of the bad guy from TRON?" Well, the answer to that question is David Warner, who played Sark/Ed Dillinger. The actor also did a slew of other 80s sci-fi films, including Waxwork, Time Bandits, and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. If you still haven't figured out why you know this Brit actor's face - the answer is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze.

11. James Hong

Before he was the "Cartwright" maitre d' on Seinfeld or Kung Fu Panda's dad, James Hong had the movie market cornered on Asian mastermind villains in the 80s. Where Victor Wong was the creepy little sage, Hong was the cool, calculating type in movies like Blade Runner, The Golden Child, and of course, as David LoPan in Big Trouble in Little China. He also appeared in many comedies, including Airplane!, Revenge of the Nerds II, and Vice Versa.

10. Tom Noonan

Tom Noonan may be best recognized from his role as the stocking-headed killer in Manhunter (the precursor to Silence of the Lambs), but his most beloved role is no doubt as the Frankenstein monster in 80s classic, The Monster Squad. Noonan, who specialized in creepy, also had roles in FX, Wolfen, and as the main villain in Robocop 2 (another technically-90s-but-might-as-well-be-80s flick). 

9. Keith David

You might not know his name but you know Keith David's rumbling voice and gap-toothed grin. In the 80s/early 90s, this bad-ass was a common sight in John Carpenter films (They Live, The Thing) but he also had memorable roles in PlatoonMarked for Death and Men at Work. If you ever find yourself in some cheesy 80s action flick, David is definitely the man you want on your side.

8. William Atherton

William Atherton practically invented the term douche bag in the 80s. He was the quintessential representation of the word (as a derogatory term, that is, not a hygienic product). In Die Hard, he was the guy who exposed John McClane's wife on television, thus practically handing her to the terrorists on a platter. In Real Genius, he was Val Kilmer's smarmy physics professor. And in Ghostbusters, he was the EPA suit who forced the Ghostbusters to shut down their power grid, thus unleashing hundreds of angry spirits upon New York City. Like I said - douche bag. But Atherton was awesome at it.

7. Robert Picardo

Sure, he was on some Star Trek show, but Robert Picardo was everywhere back in the 80s. He made his debut as Eddie Quist, the serial killing werewolf in The Howling. He was also in Innerspace, The 'burbs, Explorers, Legend, Back to School, and Gremlins 2: The New Batch. And guess who was the voice of Johnny Cab in Total Recall? Yep, Robert Picardo. This man should be a household name!

6. Al Leong

Rounding out the holy trinity of 80s Asian villains (along with Victor Wong and James Hong) is Al Leong. He represents the tougher, more ass-kicking side of Asian baddies. Like the other two, he appeared in Big Trouble in Little China. Leong also had roles in *deep breath* Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, They Live, My Science Project, Twilight Zone: The Movie, and Action Jackson. And who could forget his portrayal of Genghis Khan in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure?

5. Tom Atkins

Every horror fan knows Tom Atkins thanks to his contributions to numerous cult classics, but to the average film goer, the name does not ring a bell. Atkins starred in such favorites as Night of the Creeps, Maniac Cop, The Fog, Creepshow and Halloween III: Season of the Witch. He also appeared in Lethal Weapon and Escape from New York. It is no wonder why, among genre fans, there is the man, the mustache, the legend - Tom Atkins.

4. Dick Miller

Every 80s baby knows this face. His credits include Gremlins, The Terminator, Explorers, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Chopping Mall, The Howling, Night of the Creeps, Innerspace and The ‘burbs. He had some leading roles but many of his appearance were small. In three of the movies listed above, he portrayed a different character named Walter Paisley - one a janitor, one a bookshop owner, and one a diner owner. Dick Miller is a true cinema legend.

3. Vernon Wells

This intimidating-looking Aussie has appeared as villains in Commando ("Let off some steam, Bennett!"), Weird Science, Innerspace, and The Road Warrior. He's one of the decade's best badasses and surprisingly versatile, too. His filmography is not as expansive as Dick Miller or Tom Atkins, but Wells left a big impression with every role.

2. Ronny Cox

Ronny Cox nailed the role of a corporate asshole, didn't he? He fit just as well into the role of a police officer (i.e., Beverly Hills Cop) but he was at his best when he was a slimey suit, like OCP President Dick Jones in Robocop, or Vilos Cohaagen in Total Recall. Who else but Cox could deliver a line about corn flakes and make it sound so evil?

1. Michael Ironside

Like some of the others topping this list, Michael Ironside's film repertoir may not be all 80s hits and cult classics. But Ironside was the inspiration for this list because what he did he did so well, and to this day I still squee when I see him on-screen. I did it during Terminator: Salvation and again recently with X-Men: First Class. He always was and always will be badass. I love his pseudo-Jack-Nicholson looks and intense eyes. He was fantastic as the villain, Richter (alongside Ronny Cox) in Total Recall, and as Darryl Revok in Scanners. In the 80s, he also appeared in Top Gun, Prom Night 2, and Visiting Hours.

There you have it. Who are some of your favorite character/supporting/lesser-known actors from the 1980s/early 1990s? Please do share!

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