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The Real Hero From 32 '80s Movies

 Wicket from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
Wicket from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

You can typically tell who is meant to be considered the “hero” of a movie by identifying the title role or looking at the top-billed cast member. However, there are many ‘80s movie characters who often go overlooked for the pivotal role they play in bringing things to a satisfying conclusion. We took a deeper look at some of the best movies of the 1980s, identified who we believe is the real hero, and decided to give them the credit they deserve.

Ke Huy Quan as Short Round in Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom
Ke Huy Quan as Short Round in Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom

Short Round (Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom)

While many like to criticize Raiders of the Lost Ark by claiming Indiana Jones' actions have no bearing on the plot, it is more surprising that Harrison Ford's intrepid archaeologist gets more credit for defeating the Thuggee Cult than he really deserves in the sequel. If not for Short Round (Academy Award winner Ke Huy Quan in his debut role) freeing Indy from their captors' spell, 1984's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom would not have had the happy ending the bleak thriller so thankfully concludes on.

Reginald VelJohnson in Die Hard
Reginald VelJohnson in Die Hard

Sgt. Al Powell (Die Hard)

In arguably the greatest action movie ever made (let alone one of the best Christmas movies), 1988’s Die Hard, as John McClane (Bruce Willis) is single-handedly warring against violent thieves invading Nakatomi Plaza, his only real ally at ground zero is Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson). At the very end, the L.A. cop actually ends up taking out the last of Hans Gruber’s (Alan Rickman) goons, Karl (Alexander Gudunov), with the first shot he gained the courage to take in years.

Charlie Sheen in Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Charlie Sheen in Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Boy In Police Station (Ferris Bueller's Day Off)

At the end of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, the title character (Matthew Broderick) probably would have gotten caught without help from his sister, Jeanie (Jennifer Grey), who would not have been willing to help if she hadn't met Charlie Sheen's character at the police station. Not to mention, despite his off-putting appearance, the unnamed teen gives off a more genuine and endearing aura than the central character of John Hughes's 1986 classic.

Crispin Glover in Back To The Future
Crispin Glover in Back To The Future

George McFly (Back To The Future)

When Marty McFly's (Michael J. Fox) plan to get his future mother, Lorraine (Lea Thompson), and father, George (Crispin Glover), to fall in love goes awry courtesy of Biff (Tom Wilson), George gains the courage he needs to knock the ruthless bully out himself. This ensures that Marty will one day be born and changes his family's fate for the better at the end of the 1985 time travel movie masterpiece, Back to the Future.

Jeff Cohen as Chunk in Goonies
Jeff Cohen as Chunk in Goonies

Chunk (The Goonies)

Out of the entire Goonies cast — a stunning who’s who of future A-listers, including Sean Astin and Josh Brolin — it is Chunk (Jeff Cohen) who has the most memorable and inspiring character arc. He goes from being the butt of every joke to the one who helps rescue his buddies from The Fratellis (with help from Sloth, of course).

Kathleen Turner in Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Kathleen Turner in Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Jessica Rabbit (Who Framed Roger Rabbit)

In 1988’s groundbreaking fusion of live-action with animation, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Jessica Rabbit (voiced by Kathleen Turner) assures private eye Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) that she is not bad, but “just drawn that way.” She goes on to prove that her words ring true by becoming a pivotal role in Valiant’s effort to clear her husband (Charles Fleischer in the title role) for murder.

Dennis Dun in Big Trouble in Little China
Dennis Dun in Big Trouble in Little China

Wang Chi (Big Trouble In Little China)

Kurt Russell may get top billing and his character, Jack Burton, may kill Lo Pan (James Hong) by the end, but did you ever notice that is really his only heroic act in 1986's Big Trouble in Little China? His Chinese-American best friend, Wang Chi (Dennis Dun), is the one who makes the smartest decisions and kicks the most butt in John Carpenter's cult-favorite fantasy that is lauded for its predominantly Asian cast at a time when such representation was scarce.

Carrie Henn and Sigourney Weaver in Aliens
Carrie Henn and Sigourney Weaver in Aliens

Rebecca "Newt" Jorden (Aliens)

Aliens may have solidified Sigourney Weaver's Scream Queen status and made a heroic icon out of her character, Ellen Ripley, but the most courageous and resourceful character in James Cameron's 1986 sci-fi sequel has to be Carrie Henn as Newt. The young girl manages to survive on a planet overrun with Xenomorphs all by herself before the arrival of a crew of marines, who also might not have survived as long as they did without her tips and tricks.

George Carlin in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure
George Carlin in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

Rufus (Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure)

If you think about it, the plot of 1989’s Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure is not so different from The Terminator, which makes George Carlin's Rufus the sci-fi comedy's own Kyle Reese. The time-traveler ensures a bright future by helping the titular messianic duo (Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter) at every turn, including in 1991’s Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey when he disguises himself as Pam Grier’s character, Mrs. Wardroe, to let them into Battle of the Bands.

Ewoks from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
Ewoks from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

The Ewoks (Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi)

There are many Star Wars fans who see the Ewoks as nothing but a cheap  gimmick to attract younger audiences to the franchise. Whether or not that is true, the cute, cuddly warriors were pivotal to the Empire's downfall at the end of 1983’s Return of the Jedi.

The Grandpa saying
The Grandpa saying

Grandpa (The Princess Bride)

In 1987’s The Princess Bride, there is no real doubt that Westley (Cary Elwes), Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), and Fezzik (Andre the Giant) are the heroes of the enchanting, action-packed fairy tale. However, to us, the hero of the whole movie is Peter Falk's character, who takes the time to visit his ill grandson (Fred Savage) and read to him the story within the story.

Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner
Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner

Roy Batty (Blade Runner)

The main protagonist of 1982’s Blade Runner is, of course, Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard, but his job as a cop assigned to retire Replicants makes him a better qualifier for the villain of the story. It is Roy Batty's (Rutger Hauer) bid to try to give artificial humans like himself a chance at a better, longer life that makes him the real hero of Ridley Scott's groundbreaking, futuristic noir.

Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis) in Trading Places
Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis) in Trading Places

Ophelia (Trading Places)

After losing everything as part of an experiment to make him poor and give his job to the impoverished Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy), hot shot investor Louis Winthorpe (Dan Aykroyd) crosses paths with a street walker named Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis). While she was initially hired by Clarence Beeks (Paul Gleason) to make life even worse for him, she takes him in, cares for him, and attempts to help him get back on his feet, making her the true hero of 1983’s Trading Places.

Ernest Borgnine in Escape from New York
Ernest Borgnine in Escape from New York

Cabbie (Escape From New York)

One of Kurt Russell’s most iconic roles is Snake Plissken — a hardened criminal tasked with rescuing the President (Donald Pleasance) from a penal colony that used to be Manhattan in a dystopian 1997 in John Carpenter’s 1981 cult favorite, Escape from New York. The only incarcerated individual who is selflessly willing to help the anti-hero complete his mission in time is Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine’s Cabbie, whose own taxi ends up being Snake’s escape vehicle.

Martin Sheen in Wall Street
Martin Sheen in Wall Street

Carl Fox (Wall Street)

Oliver Stone’s 1987 drama Wall Street chronicles the rise and fall of ambitious stockbroker Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), as a result of taking orders from the devil on his shoulder: the ruthless Gordon Gecko (Academy Award winner Michael Douglas). If only he had listened to the angel on his shoulder — his father and the moral center of the story, Carl (Sheen’s real-life father, Martin Sheen) — he might not have wound up behind bars.

Madge Sinclair in Coming To America
Madge Sinclair in Coming To America

Queen Aoleon (Coming To America)

In Coming to America, Akeem’s (Eddie Murphy) chances at a life with his true love, Lisa McDowell (Shari Headley), are almost ruined by his father, King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones), if not for the support of his mother, Queen Aoleon, who we assume talked sense into her husband offscreen. Her tender-hearted performance and truly majestic presence in the 1988 comedy makes us sad that the late Madge Sinclair could not reprise the role in 2021’ Coming 2 America.

Sherman Howard in Day of the Dead
Sherman Howard in Day of the Dead

Bub (Day Of The Dead)

Never did a horror fan have any reason to feel empathy or admiration for a zombie until writer and director George A. Romero introduced “Bub” in 1985’s Day of the Dead. Played by Sherman Howard, the reanimated corpse displays an unusual level of intelligence, endearing human characteristics, and a strong compassion for his handler, Dr. Matthew Logan (Richard Liberty) which drives him to seek vengeance on his murderer and the film’s true villain, Capt. Henry Rhodes (Joseph Pilato).

Bill Murray in Caddyshack.
Bill Murray in Caddyshack.

The Gopher (Caddyshack)

As far as we are concerned, anyone who proves to be a source of frustration for Judge Smails (Ted Knight) is on the side of heroism in the classic 1980 comedy, Caddyshack. That being said, absolutely no one gets under that man's skin like the Gopher who lives underneath Bushwood Country Club and makes burrows in the golf course grounds wherever he goes.

Chevy Chase and Randy Quaid in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Chevy Chase and Randy Quaid in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Cousin Eddie (National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation)

When Eddie (Randy Quaid, reprising his role from 1983’s Vacation) arrives at the Griswolds’ house unannounced, Clark (Chevy Chase) believes his holidays are destined for disaster. He is right, but his otherwise annoying and absent-minded cousin is responsible for very few of the uproarious mishaps in 1989’s National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. In fact, he really comes through at the end when he brings Clark’s boss, Frank Shirley (Brian Doyle-Murray), to the house, where he becomes ultimately convinced to give Clark the bonus he deserves.

Vincent D'Onofrio in Adventures in Babysitting
Vincent D'Onofrio in Adventures in Babysitting

Dawson (Adventures In Babysitting)

We are not just including Dawson, Vincent D’Onofrio’s garage mechanic character from 1987’s Adventure in Babysitter, because he happens to look like one of Marvel Comics’ iconic depiction of Thor. Then again, if not for that striking resemblance, he might not have been coerced into giving Chris Parker (Elisabeth Shue) a $5 dollar discount for her car repair by young Sara Anderson (Maia Brewton) who calls him her hero.

John Kapelos in The Breakfast Club
John Kapelos in The Breakfast Club

Carl (The Breakfast Club)

The character who forever changed the way high schoolers perceive their custodial employees was Carl (John Kapelos) from 1985’s The Breakfast Club, who has a bit of a heart-to-heart with the nearly sadistic Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason). We like to think that the janitor's defense of the students in detention that day got through to the uptight teacher so, by the time he reads their letter at the end of John Hughes’ quintessential teen dramedy, he may have seen them in a new, more sympathetic light.

Dianne Wiest in Footloose
Dianne Wiest in Footloose

Vi Moore (Footloose)

In Guardians of the Galaxy, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) refers to Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon) as the hero of Footloose for bringing the joys of dancing back to the small, conservative town of Bomont. However, there is one character from the 1984 classic of equal (or even greater) importance that he should have also mentioned: Vi Moore (Dianne Wiest), who breaks her long silence and ultimately convinces her strict preacher husband, Shaw (John Lithgow), to give the town’s youth the freedom the dance.

Tom Hanks and Jared Rushton in Big
Tom Hanks and Jared Rushton in Big

Billy Francis Kopecki (Big)

In 1988’s Big, when 13-year-old Josh’s (David Moscow) wish to be a grown-up mysteriously comes true, turning him into Tom Hanks, the only one coming to his aid (after some convincing) is his best friend, Billy (Jared Rushton). He tries to be there to get his buddy through his strange situation in any way he can, even helping him get a job, but when Josh starts act a little too grown-up, it is Billy who brings him back down to Earth, reminding him it is time become his real self again.

Michael McKean in Clue
Michael McKean in Clue

Mr. Green (Clue)

Determining the real hero of Clue depends on which ending of the 1985 board game-inspired whodunit you consider canon. The conclusion we like to settle on reveals that Mr. Green (Michael McKean) is an undercover FBI agent, which he announces after shooting Wadsworth (Tim Curry), who also turns out to be the real Mr. Boddy.

Bruce Spence and Mel Gibson in The Road Warrior
Bruce Spence and Mel Gibson in The Road Warrior

The Gyro Captain (The Road Warrior)

Things between Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) and a fellow loner known only as The Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence) get off to a rough start in the second installment of George Miller’s Mad Max franchise, released as The Road Warrior in the States. However, the gyrocopter pilot comes to see the hardened former cop as a great teammate, later rescues him from a near-fatal accident, and assists him in his race to bring the rig to the Oil Refinery compound.

Melinda Dillon in A Christmas Story
Melinda Dillon in A Christmas Story

Mrs. Parker (A Christmas Story)

There are countless cinematic mothers, especially from the 1980s, who deserve more credit than they receive, and the quintessential example has to be Melinda Dillon’s role in 1983’s A Christmas Story. The classic moment when she keeps her son, Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley), out of trouble with The Old Man (Darren McGavin) after his tussle with Skut Farkus (Zach Ward) is just one way she shows her loving devotion to her family and undisputedly earning the honor to be called a hero.

Cab Calloway in The Blues Brothers
Cab Calloway in The Blues Brothers

Curtis (The Blues Brothers)

The heart and soul of the best movie based on Saturday Night Live characters, The Blues Brothers, is Cab Calloway's Curtis, who served as a father figure for the titular siblings, introducing them to music in their youth. Not to mention, he motivates them to attend a church service that ends up giving them the idea to put the band back together to save the orphanage.

Michael Palin in A Fish Called Wanda
Michael Palin in A Fish Called Wanda

Ken Pile (A Fish Called Wanda)

It comes as a surprise to see the stuttering, accident-prone goof, Ken Pile (Michael Palin), take down the true antagonist of 1988’s A Fish of Wanda, Otto West (Oscar winner Kevin Kline). To avenge the death of his beloved fish, Ken runs over Otto with a steamroller when he is stuck in cement, seemingly putting an end to his career in thievery, until we discover at the end that he survived the ordeal. Nonetheless, to see Ken get even with his enemy is one of the hit comedy’s most satisfying moments.

Otto from Airplane!
Otto from Airplane!

Otto (Airplane!)

When food poisoning incapacitates the entire piloting staff on a commercial flight, former fighter pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays) is asked to help bring the also ill passengers to safety, but he is not the only one equipped for the job. Lest we forget, a great deal of the classic 1980 spoof movie, Airplane! sees an inflatable automatic pilot — aptly named “Otto” — at the helm of the aircraft.

Ronny Cox as Lt. Bogomil in Beverly Hills Cop
Ronny Cox as Lt. Bogomil in Beverly Hills Cop

Lt. Andrew Bogomil (Beverly Hills Cop)

When Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) first blows into town in 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop, he immediately comes at odds with Lt. Andrew Bogomil. However, because the Detroit detective helps Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and Taggert (John Ashton) take down local traffickers while he is supposed to be on vacation, he fabricates a story to cover for him and helps smooth things out with Inspector Todd.

Cindy Morgan as Yori in Tron
Cindy Morgan as Yori in Tron

Yori (Tron)

In 1982’s Tron, Flynn (Jeff Bridges) and the title character (Bruce Boxleitner) might have never managed to take down the Master Control Program without the help of Yori (Cindy Morgan). She gives Tron the chance to get pivotal information from his user outside the grid after convincing a guard named Dumont to let him.

Tim Robbins in Top Gun
Tim Robbins in Top Gun

Merlin (Top Gun)

At the end of 1986’s Top Gun, Maverick (Tom Cruise) is still reeling from the death of his best friend, Goose (Anthony Edwards), which distracts him from his current aerial battle. Luckily, Merlin (Tim Robbins) is in the other seat and helps bring him back to Earth, leading him to victory.

So, next time you watch a flick and think you know who the real hero is, think again.