The Best, the Beautiful, the Only…Ghostbusters

It’s been just over three months since Sony Pictures Entertainment released the first North American trailer of Ghostbusters (2016) on YouTube. Since then the preview has garnered more than 33.6 million views, 250,608 “likes,” and 872, 947 “dislikes.”*

To put this in perspective, 20th Century Fox’s teaser trailer for the 2015 reboot of the Fantastic Four received 17.5 million views, 71,285 “likes,” and 20,239″dislikes.” That means roughly 78 percent of viewers responded favorably to Fantastic Four while the same percentage responded negatively to the new Ghostbusters trailer.

The reason I bring this up is because Fantastic Four is considered by several prominent critics and aggregate review websites as one of, if not the, worst movies of 2015.

Now at the end of the day these are just previews, and one could argue that perhaps 20th Century Fox was just better at making a good trailer that ultimately failed audience’s expectations. Or it could mean that Sony’s new Ghostbusters movie is going to be an unequivocal ammonia-wrenched bowl of donkey piss so reviled that it will go down in history as a film that failed before it even got off the ground all the while puking on the grave of one of the great comedy screenwriters of all time.

Ghostbusters_cover

Original artwork from 1984

It could be that. And in fact, it will almost certainly be that. Based on the 4 minutes and 51 seconds of official North American preview of Ghostbusters (2016) there can be no doubt Hollywood has finally gone too far. Sony Pictures, and Paul Feig and Katie Dippold, and everyone involved in this dumpster fire have begun plucking at the last of a handful of unsoiled cinematic masterpieces all in the name of profit. What’s most disheartening about this entry is it doesn’t even bother to honor the original; it rides on the coattails of what came before and aggrandizes itself for getting a pig in a dress and calling it the prom queen.

Now before anyone goes off, I am going to state it for the record: my negative attitude for this film has nothing to do with the all-female reprisal. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I don’t get it. Is it supposed to be a political statement? If you’re going for a philosophical point, wouldn’t it make more sense to have a gender-mixed team? Maybe a homosexual Ghostbuster? The LGBT-community is woefully lacking in prominent film roles; wouldn’t that be more reflective of the makeup of our society?

But I digress, they’re all women. Who cares?

Well, apparently a lot of people. As it turns out I’m not the only one who is sick of seeing Hollywood bilk every last cultural milestone of my generation into a bloodless shell of itself. Take it from a guy who is an even bigger Ghostbusters fan than I am.

For those of you who don’t know who James Rolfe is, he is a filmmaker and critic better known as The Angry Video Game Nerd of the popular eponymous web series. If his rhetoric seems a little similar to the writing on Retrobacktive, it’s not coincidence. Rolfe was a huge influence on the tone and direction of this blog; the idea being to create a literary version of his website, Cinemassacre. Rolfe is a wunderkind when it comes to interpreting allegory and was an early practitioner of celebrating films indelible to Gen X’ers.

Recently, however, he was skewered online by opponents who called his “non-review” of Ghostbusters (2016) as “sexist.”

Watch the video again if you need to, but at no point does Rolfe make any reference to the female cast of Ghostbusters (2016) other than to say it’s the only way to differentiate this version from the 1984 original. There isn’t a shred of sexism in that review, but there is plenty of defiance and somehow this has been interpreted as misogyny.

And this is what’s sinking Ghostbusters (2016) into an even deeper level of cinematic excrement. Based on the “polarized” reactions (i.e. wanton hatred) from online reviewers, Sony is aware they are sitting on a potential time bomb. So the filmmakers and cast have sunk to the lowest denominator and conjured up a preemptive excuse for the movie’s likely failure: blame it all on misogyny.

That’s right, if you don’t like Ghostbusters (2016) then you must hate women. That’s the only reason to dislike this film. Well, I’ll admit any picture starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and Leslie Jones is a strong reason to dislike it. Wiig and McCarthy have made careers out of one-dimensional characters who lost any semblance of charisma years ago. And Jones is in the process of dismantling Saturday Night Live one awkwardly unfunny sketch at a time. So yes, I’ll will stand out on a limb and say the cast has something to do with it. But being a women doesn’t mean you get a pass from criticism. Funnier women could have been cast; it wouldn’t have saved the film because a Ghostbusters remake is already a bad idea, but it couldn’t make it any worse.

Still not convinced this isn’t misogyny talking? Let’s look at another Internet icon’s take on the trailer:

Danika Massey, better known as Comic Book Girl 19, preceded Rolfe’s video by a couple of months, but to much quieter fanfare. Is that because she’s a woman? Sort of, in so much as there’s nothing for anyone to attack. She made an apt video that summarized what most Ghostbusters fans were thinking. She even goes so far as to tell us not to go see the new movie. All Rolfe said was he wasn’t going to see the new movie. Well, take from that what you want, but both reviews share the sentiment most moviegoers are feeling: Ghostbusters (2016) is going to suck. And if you want to know who I most directly blame for this upcoming pile of bear shit, I’ll tell you. It’s Bill Murray.

Okay, so not really Bill Murray. It’s impossible to be angry at Bill Murray. But in a way Murray, and the rest of the original Ghostbusters creative team, converged to create a media vacuum that brought Paul Feig’s imminent disaster to life. In order to grasp its origins we need to go back almost 30 years.

The success of the original Ghostbusters film led to the creation of a spinoff animated series for ABC called The Real Ghostbusters. The Real Ghostbusters aired for seven seasons beginning in 1986, and was an instant hit. Based on continued interest in the franchise, Columbia Pictures pressured Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis to come up with a script for a second movie. Aykroyd and Ramis had gone on record stating that the intention was to create a conclusive film with the first Ghostbusters, and that a second shouldn’t be made. Murray, likewise, was against a follow-up as he has been plainly dismissive of sequels throughout his career, stating in a 1988 New York Times story, “The reason most people do sequels is greed. But if you do it for business reasons, you should be put to death.”

In a rare act of concession, Murray, as well as Ramis, Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Rick Moranis, Sigourney Weaver, and director/producer Ivan Reitman, returned to make Ghostbusters II.

Released 27 years ago today, the film was a commercial success, but fell short among critics. Even the actors involved seemed to be aware that the original spark had fizzled. Murray noted in a 2012 interview with David Letterman, “It’s hard. Even the second ‘Ghostbusters‘ wasn’t as much fun for me as the first one. It’s hard to make a sequel.”

It was clear to everyone that the original Ghostbusters was lightning in a bottle. They tried again; it didn’t work. All was forgiven. Best to leave well enough alone, and move on.

Somewhere around 1995 Aykroyd gets this idea for a new Ghostbusters movie. It’s called Ghostbusters: Hellbent and it centers around the team entering a parallel New York that resembles a hellish version of their own. There’s no telling what inspired Aykroyd to come up with this new Ghostbusters story after the critical disappointment of Ghostbusters II, but the plot seems to share some elements with the very first Ghostbusters script Aykroyd wrote in the early 80s.

By this point Murray was a well established comedic star. Harold Ramis moved behind the camera and became a successful director. Aykroyd, however, had hit a slump. Failed big budget vehicles like Nothing but Trouble and Coneheads virtually sidelined Aykroyd into smaller, character roles. Some were commendable (My Girl; Feeling Minnesota), but his bankability was depleted. It’s all speculation, but in this case it may have been Aykroyd chasing down Hollywood.

One laudable story arc in Ghostbusters: Hellbent was a proverbial passing of the torch. The script called for an older, haggled Ghostbuster team (Aykroyd, Murray, Ramis, and Hudson) to train and hand down the mantle to a group of young cadets. Ramis stated in a 1999 Entertainment Weekly article, “dream plan is that Danny and I would produce it, I would direct it, and we would recruit some newer, younger, popular Ghostbusters to star.”Alas, the studios weren’t buying it (literally) as production costs for such an elaborate film were seen as too high.

Despite the transitional plot point in Ghostbusters 3, Murray remained disinterested, and by 2004 rumors of a third film petered out. Ramis revived interest a year later when he suggest in an InFocus magazine interview that he would like to cast Ben Stiller in Ghostbusters 3, but little came of his comment. Four more years passed before an interview in the Guardian Guide found Aykroyd speaking emphatically about the new Ghostbusters film.

By this time the big joke had become that Murray would only reprise his role as Peter Venkman if the writers “kill me off in the first reel.” Well evidently this only drove Aykroyd’s, Ramis’, the studio’s, whomever’s fervency because Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, writers and producers for The Office brought in to work on a GB3 treatment, actually came up with a story line where Murray’s character is killed off and comes back as a ghost. Even Murray remarked “well, that’s clever anyway” in a ComingSoon.net interview.

But nothing came of it. Murray held out. And for years the back and forth went on. Aykroyd told reporters in almost every interview he did that the new movie would go into production…soon. And Murray consistently declared disapproval. Eventually Aykroyd and Ramis decided it would be best to move on without Murray. Said Aykroyd in a 2011 interview with Dennis Miller, “The concept is much larger than any individual role and the promise of Ghostbusters III is that we get to hand the equipment and the franchise down to new blood.”

Well it turns out a big draw to the concept is one individual. In a 2012 interview with IGN Aykroyd said Ghostbusters 3 was in “suspended animation,” production had stalled, and that they couldn’t recreate the Venkman character without Murray’s approval. It seemed without Murray’s star power, there was no interest in a third Ghostbusters movie.

This should have put it all to rest. But here’s where my frustration with Murray kicks in. Just two months later at a Cubs game, a reporter for a local news affiliate, WGN, asks Murray about involvement in a second Ghostbusters sequel. Murray’s response: “Well, it’s a possibility…”

Really? After years of lambasting Aykroyd and Ramis for pushing the project, steadfast in his objection to a third film, Murray tells the world “It’s a possibility.” It’s by no means committal, but it appears it was enough to reignite the flames. Aykroyd seemed spurred on in suggesting the door was always open for Murray to return to the role.

Shortly after his Cubs-game comment, Murray appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman. Pressed about his interest in GB3, Murray said, “Well, I think… we’ll try again. I always drag my feet on it.” I’m sorry, over 15 years of saying “no” is dragging your feet? I’d hate to see how long it takes Bill Murray to buy a car.

Perhaps Murray was just tired of answering the question: will he or won’t he? Maybe Aykroyd had finally warn him down. Or still yet it could he was in perennial jest with the world, ambivalent to his professional direction but happy to puppeteer his fans and colleagues emotions because they made it so easy for him.

By the end of 2013 only two things were certain about Ghostbusters 3: it involved a passing of the torch to a new generation, and Aykroyd really wanted to make this picture. Sadly it would not be Bill Murray who would have final say. On February 24, 2014, Harold Ramis died from complications with vaculitis at his home in Chicago. Any hope of a full Ghostbusters reunion was gone. And though Ramis’ involvement in any future Ghostbusters entry would have been downplayed in light of his illness, fans the world over realized the gravity of the situation. It was time to let it go.

Of course when there’s money to be made, who cares about things like desecration, exploitation, and greed? Certainly not Hollywood. Hence Ghostbusters (2016), a film that in four minutes and 51 seconds of preview pays no homage to the genius that came before it. Nope. We’re just gonna slap together some slick CGI, toss in a few caricatures, throw in a cheap cameo for blanket nostalgia (seriously, Murray, you came back for this?!), and bam, you have the definition of modern cinema: a gutless, vapid cesspool of timidity and impossibly low standards that intrigues audiences only by how low it can sink.

At the end of the day, I’m not really mad at Murray for stalling so long, or anyone else from the original production, even Aykoryd who championed the idea long after it should have crumbled. But I’m with James on this one. This movie is going to be a 35-foot-long, 600-pound pile of shit. I won’t see it. Instead of buying a ticket I’m going to use my money to buy a new copy of the original on Amazon, and encourage discerning fans – and from the looks of it there are many – to throw their own Ghostbusters (1984) viewing parties on July 15.

 

*As of this writing.

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AFI: Eighties-ized: 100 Years… 100 Stars!

In 1999, the American Film Institute released its list of the top 50 screen legends of the 20th century (25 male and 25 female movie stars were included). Keeping up with Retrobacktive’s 80s-themed AFI series, this countdown showcases the top ten male and top ten female actors whose rise to stardom reached heights of unparalleled glory in the 1980s.

Some ground rules: Each actor had to have released one major motion picture before 1985; television roles do not count. Credit is not based solely on award nominations, but a collective overview of accolades, box-office draw, and cultural relevance (i.e. performances still referenced in current media).

Opening this series are…

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Bill Murray as Dr. Peter Venkman

Bill Murray as Dr. Peter Venkman

Bill Murray – Before denouncing Retrobacktive’s countdown based upon Bill Murray’s (relatively) low entrance,remember: A) he still made it on here, and B) there was a solid four-year period between 1984 and 1988 where Murray remained virtually absentee from Hollywood. It’s impressive he made the list considering his disappearance for over a third of the decade. But Ghostbusters is also impressive. As is Caddyshack. And Scrooged. And he’s Bill Freakin’ Murray. Signature Role: Dr. Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters.

Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn.

Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn.

Sissy Spacek – When it takes more than one hand to count someone’s Oscar nominations for leading roles, her inclusion on any screen legends’ list hardly needs justification. While no longer courting the limelight, Spacek was a perennial Academy Award nominee during the 80s, capturing four nominations between 1980 and 1986; she won in 1980 for her role as Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter. Signature Role: Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter. 

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Emilio Estevez – The de facto leader of the Brat Pack, Estevez eschewed the stage moniker his father adopted in favor of his familial surname. His characters, however, reflected less of his heritage but a great deal of range, from an L.A. slacker-turned-repossession-agent to a bumbling cop to a legendary outlaw. Estevez had a knack for playing against type, a quality that helped set him apart from his MTV-generational colleagues. Signature Role: William H. Boney in Young Guns.

Sean Young – If going bat-shit crazy is a common theme among 80s film stars (read further along), it fits to start early with the most literal example. Young, who was originally cast in Tim Burton’s Batman, was cut from the film after breaking her arm, and replaced by Kim Basinger. When it was revealed that Burton’s much-anticipated follow up, Batman Returns, would include Catwoman, Young made her intentions for the role clear by appearing on talk shows (unscheduled) in a home-made Catwoman costume. Burton was either unimpressed or scared… or both. Michelle Pfeifer was cast instead, and Young’s once promising career began a rapid decent into obscurity. But she did star in Blade Runner, which almost makes up for it. Signature Role: Rachael in Blade Runner.

Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley

Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley

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Eddie Murphy – In the early 80s, Saturday Night Live had fallen from being a breeding ground for young, comedic talent to a direction-less parody of its former self. The only ray of light to emerge from this era was Eddie Murphy. Though a regular cast member on SNL from 1980 to 1984, Murphy’s popularity rapidly spilled over into the world of film with his debut in the 1982 cop-buddy pic 48 Hours. A year later, Murphy starred alongside Dan Aykroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis in Trading Places. The success of this film made Eddie Murphy a household name, and ultimately led to his starring role in Beverly Hills Cop after Sylvester Stallone dropped out. Beverly Hills Cop was the biggest film of 1984, and skyrocket Murphy to worldwide acclaim. It was followed up with a further string of hits that included The Golden Child, Coming to America, and Beverly Hills Cop II. Like many of his peers, Murphy’s career has been alluvial since the 80s, though he has found recognition among a new generation as the voice of Donkey from Shrek. Signature Role: Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop.

Demi Moore – While her heyday was arguably the 90s, Moore managed to establish herself quickly as the “It” girl of the Brat Pack’s female collective. Despite her association with the group, Moore remained something of an outsider, which ultimately proved strategic in maintaining success past the Brat Pack’s popularity. Nothing, however, could save her from Striptease. Signature Role: Debbie Sullivan in About Last Night…

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Sylvester Stallone – No one can argue the string of duds Stallone put out in the 90s, but in the 80s he was the closest thing Hollywood had to John Wayne. There isn’t a single role between 1980 and 1989 where Sly doesn’t play an overt, brooding tough guy (yeah, even Rhinestone, when you think about it). It became laughable as an eventual caricature, but not many actors can pull off lines like “You’re a disease. And I’m the cure” with such plausible sincerity. His collective body of work during the 80s is not only prolific, but upon reexamination quite good. Crazy as it may sound, Stallone just may have been ahead of his time. Signature Role: Rocky Balboa in… well, any of ’em.

Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa in Rocky III.

Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa in Rocky III.

Meryl Streep – To be fair, Meryl Streep almost did not make this list. As a more than reasonable contender for the title of greatest living actor, Streep transcends an acme of success restrained to one decade. But then you gotta think Silkwood, Ironweed, Out of Africa, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, A Cry in the Dark, Sophie’s Choice, the endless nominations, and the indelible legacy she built during the 1980s. She may be a timeless icon of cinema, but it’s hard not to look at a filmography from the 8os and not think, Damn, what wasn’t this woman not in? Signature Role: Sophie Zawistowski in Sophie’s Choice.

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Mel Gibson – Imagine this: you help propel the most successful movie ever produced in your adoptive home country to global acclaim; you play the lead in the greatest “buddy-cop” movie ever made – a sub-genre that would dominate the action film arena for the next two decades; then you make Braveheart; then you go insane. Who cares? You’re still Mad Max. Time and lucidity may not have been so kind to Gibson, but as arguably the most popular leading male in the 80s, there’s a lot Mel can be forgiven for. Just not Air America. Signature Role: Max Rockatansky in The Road Warrior.

Kim Catrall – Acting chops are irrelevant (though her’s are fine). Catrall cemented her legacy in the hearts of every Gen Y boy by bringing life (pun intended) into the world’s sexiest mannequin. While Mannequin didn’t win over critics, it provided the indelible fantasy of being locked in a department store playland at night with a beautiful woman. In addition to Mannequin, Catrall played numerous vixen-like characters in movies such as Porky’s, Police Academy, and Big Trouble in Little China. Signature Role: Emmy Heshire in Mannequin.

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Michael Keaton – Controversy abounded when Keaton was selected to play Bruce Wayne/Batman in Tim Burton’s live-action production of the famous DC Comics character. At the time, Keaton was known for his comedic fare in films such as Mr. Mom and Gung Ho. The casting proved fruitful as Batman broke many opening-weekend box office records, with Keaton’s quirky portrayal particularly lauded. Keaton’s star continued to rise, not only based upon his nuanced performances, but also for his reputation as one of the most charismatic guests on television talk shows. Signature Role: Beetle Geuse in Beetlejuice.

Whoopi Goldberg – Surprisingly, Whoopi Goldberg is something of a late-comer to the 1980s film scene – though she made the 1985 cutoff. It was, however, this year that her prowess as a serious actor was put on display in The Color Purple, which earned Goldberg an Academy Award nomination. But it was the string of comedic hits to follow that made Whoopi a household name, including Jumping Jack Flash and Burglar. And of course, there’s her EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony awards collection). Signature Role: Terri Doolittle in Jumping Jack Flash.

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Patrick Swayze – A tragic loss by any standards, Swayze left a void in Hollywood that will likely never be filled. In the 80s, Patrick Swayze was all things to all audiences. A dashing heartthrob in Dirty Dancing; the baddest bouncer on the planet in Road House. He at once charmed and dazzled female moviegoers yet impressed male viewers with his restrained toughness. It is a rare quality demonstrated by an elite few in cinema; Swayze undoubtedly earned his rank among the likes of James Dean, Paul Newman, and Robert Mitchum. Signature Role: Dalton in Road House.

Kathleen Turner – She wasn’t bad; she just sounded that way. Kathleen Turner may have worked hard to steer herself from being typecast as a femme fatale, or the embodiment of Gen X’s Lauren Becall, but with the most sultry voice in cinema, and a film debut that would make Rita Hayworth blush, Turner was primed to be one of the decades biggest stars. She found multiple award nominations for her work in films such as Prizzi’s Honor, Romancing the Stone, and Peggy Sue Got Married. Despite her promising career, Turner quickly fell out of the spotlight in the early 1990s, owed to a debilitating struggle with rheumatoid arthritis, severe alcoholism, and a reputation for being difficult to work with. Since then Turner has remained active in theater, television, and working in support of Planned Parenthood of America. Signature Role: Matty Walker in Body Heat.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger – There may have been no bigger star in the 80s than Arnold, literally. The former Mr. Olympia made his feature film debut in the campy Hercules in New York goof-fest. But it wasn’t until 1981’s live-film adaptation of Conan the Barbarian when Arnie finally got the starring role that put him on the action-film map. And from there the future Californian governor dominated the breakout film genre of the decade. Signature Role: T-800 Model 101 in The Terminator.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator

Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator

Molly Ringwald – Emilio Estevez may have been the Brat Pack’s leader, but Molly Ringwald was undoubtedly Brat Pack auteur John Hughes’ fair-haired child in the 80s. Ringwald served as the cornerstone of the seminal 80s actors collective, portraying standout characters in The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink. Widely considered the greatest teen star of all time, Ringwald’s ubiquitous Hollywood presence waned in the 90s, but her career eventually came full circle after landing the role of mom Anne Juergens on ABC Family’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Signature Role: Andie Walsh in Pretty in Pink.

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Michael J. Fox – In an earlier post, Retrobacktive named Michael J. Fox the definitive actor of the 80s. But a significant component of Fox’s universal popularity was his deft portrayal of conservative yuppie Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties. Following AFI’s exclusive cinematic theme, Fox’s Emmy-winning television work is omitted from consideration, yet that only holds the Canadian actor at the number two spot. Fox effortlessly transitioned his small-screen career into cinema stardom with the runaway success of Back to the Future. Audience pleasing leads in The Secret of My Success and Bright Lights, Big City also contributed to Fox’s meteoric rise. Though stricken with Parkinson’s Disease since the early 90s, Fox has continued to maintain a successful presence on television, though his last major film release was over 16 years ago in The Frighteners. Signature Role: Marty McFly in Back to the Future.

Sigourney Weaver – The six toughest words from any 80s movie: “Get away from her, you bitch!” And if you think it would have held the same guttural authenticity with any other actor, remember this: Weaver was actually nominated for an Academy Award for her role in Aliens. That’s right; she carried a grizzly sci-fi action romp to the stuffy 80s Oscar party. If that weren’t enough, she also played the female lead in the greatest 80s movie, Ghostbusters. Then there’s Working Girl, and Gorillas in the Mist, which earned Weaver Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress awards at the 1988 Golden Globes, the first person to ever win both in the same year. Signature Role: Ellen Ripley in Aliens.

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Tom Cruise – If a Gen kid (a “Gen” is either a member of Generation X or Y, and comprise the youth of the 80s) could create a cinematic soundtrack to accompany his or her autobiography, you might hear kitschy lines from Tom Cruise at every moment. Virtually every film from the first decade of Cruise’s career is culturally poignant in some way. From his early roles in The Outsiders, All the Right Moves, Risky Business, and Legend, to maturing work in The Color of Money, Rain Man, and Top Gun. Cruise then capped off the decade with a shining performance as paralyzed Vietnam vet Ron Kovic in Born on the Fourth of July, earning his first Golden Globe award for Best Actor and first Academy Award nomination. While his personal life has comprised a generous portion of his celebrity for the past 20 years, Cruise’s popularity at the box office has never waned. In 2012, he was still the highest paid actor in Hollywood. Signature Role: Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in Top Gun.

Phoebe Cates – She has never been nominated for an Oscar. And her filmography is modest compared to many of her contemporaries. But remembering the 80s is more than just picking the “biggest” people and moments from it (okay, it’s sorta that); it’s about remembering! Put yourself back in that time and try to recall who or what was on everyone’s mind. Certainly Gremlins. Despite its controversial content, the film was a huge success. But if your memory needs further jogging, go find a music file for The Cars’ “Moving in Stereo.” Play it. What comes to mind? If you’re a guy over the age of 30, it’s one scene from one film in particular. Is this worthy of the number one spot on this list? No. But Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Gremlins is! Signature Role: Kate Beringer in Gremlins.