Acting for America: Movie Stars of the 1980s

Acting for America: Movie Stars of the 1980s

Acting for America: Movie Stars of the 1980s

Acting for America: Movie Stars of the 1980s


A captivating cast of 1980s power and talent--John Candy, Tom Cruise, Robert DeNiro, Clint Eastwood, Sally Field, Harrison Ford, Michael J. Fox, Mel Gibson, Goldie Hawn, Jessica Lange, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sissy Spacek, Sylvester Stallone, Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver, Bruce Willis, and the "Brat Pack"--stars in the drama of this decade. Acting for America focuses on the way these film icons have engaged in and defined some major issues of cultural and social concern to America during the 1980s.

Scholars employing a variety of useful approaches explore how these movie stars' films speak to an increased audience awareness of advances in feminism, new ideas about masculinity, and the complex political atmosphere in the Age of Reagan. The essays demonstrate the range of these stars' contributions to such conversations in a variety of films, including blockbusters and major genres.


Robert Eberwein

Rarely do we perceive the significance of everything that’s happening as we live through a given historical moment. While I was aware of major historical events and trends that are mentioned in these pages, it would be misleading to say that I entirely “got” the decade of the 1980s as I experienced it. I didn’t understand all its complex issues or ramifications any more than any of us comprehend fully the period we’re living in right now. More complete knowledge and fuller understanding are, inevitably, retrospective. But watching the films now that were made at a time we lived through uncomprehendingly can be a prime source of information in this regard.

Some of the actors and actresses to be discussed here were already visibly established stars before the 1980s; for example, Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford had achieved success and prominence in the 1970s. Some had already won or been nominated for Oscars: Robert De Niro, Sally Field, Goldie Hawn, Sylvester Stallone, and Meryl Streep. Others had begun to make impressions or be noticed: John Candy, Mel Gibson, Jessica Lange, Steve Martin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sissy Spacek, and Sigourney Weaver. the rest were all new to the screen, and rose to varying levels of prominence after their first appearances in the 1980s: Tom Cruise, Michael J. Fox, members of the Brat Pack, Eddie Murphy, and Bruce Willis. While these major stars are important for obvious reasons such as their talent (signaled by the number of nominations and awards) and power at the box office (measured by theatrical grosses and salaries), it’s important to understand that their star images were realized in the unique context of this particular decade.

Historical Background

While a number of important political events occurred in the 1980s, we must be cautious about suggesting that any one of them . . .

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