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The Top 20 Pop Culture Icons of the '80s. Part 1 (1-10)

The 1980s was a great decade. It was the last decade before the massive boom in technology that the 1990s would bring. In an era, where there was no internet or social media we seemed to get along just fine. These icons stayed on our television screens and some we even paid to go see. With so many great people to choose from, I've narrowed it down to 20. This list will not be in order from the greatest to the least. We'll go in first name alphabetical order as we pay tribute to the 20 most iconic entertainers and athletes from the '80s. Let's go!


1. Arnold Schwarzenegger

You must've been living under a rock if you never saw any of Ah-nold's '80s films. He became a national story in the 1970s. Originally from Austria, he came to the United States and became arguably the greatest body builder ever. From that fame, he transitioned into an action film star. Only Sylvester Stallone could match him in that genre. He starred in classic movies such as, "Conan the Barbarian", "Conan the Destroyer", "Commando", and the "Predator." In 1984, he starred in, "The Terminator", as an cyborg killing machine. This film solidified Schwarzenegger as a major box office attraction. Arnold has gone on to even be the governor of California, but it was his 1980s run that made him an icon for all ages.


2. Bill Cosby

William "Bill" Cosby, was an icon long before the '80s. In the 1960s, with his clean and non threatening style of humor, he was able to break through the racial barriers of that time. In the '70s he starred in movies, commercials, and his own Saturday morning cartoon, "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids." In 1984, he became America's favorite dad with his sitcom, "The Cosby Show." Centering on his life as an doctor, he was a married father of five. The show was an instant smash. It had an impressive run of being the number one show in the ratings for five straight years. The show displayed a loving family environment with two educated and intelligent parents in full control of their children and home. Cosby also wrote best selling books and performed in comedy concert films, in the '80s. He was the television star of the decade.


3. Brooke Shields

Brooke Shields started her career as a child model. At the tender age of 14, she was the youngest fashion model to appear on the cover of Vogue magazine. In 1980, she starred in "Blue Lagoon", which was very controversial at the time. There were several nude scenes in the film, in which teenagers were the stars. In '81, she starred in "Endless Love." Though still a teenager, these films made her a sex symbol. She was also featured in those classic Calvin Klein jeans commercials. Towards the mid part of the decade, she took time away from her career and attended Princeton University. Shields, also attended several award shows with friend, Michael Jackson. Though not a constant the entire decade, her beauty, influence, and star power gets her on this list.


4. Eddie Murphy

Eddie Murphy was the biggest and most successful comedic actor of the 1980s. Period. He rivaled other stars such as Arnold, Stallone, Tom Cruise, and Harrison Ford at the box office. He was the first comedian to reach rock star status. He was introduced to us on "Saturday Night Live." He'd go on to star in, "Trading Places", 48 Hours", "Coming To America", and "Beverly Hills Cop." "Beverly Hills Cop" was the movie that took him from rising star to mega star. For years, it was the highest grossing rated R film of all time! Riding his success high, he even had a top 10 pop song! A gifted impressionist and comedian, though vulgar, his star power was undeniable. He was able to crossover in ways that his mentor, Richard Pryor couldn't. He influenced every young Black comic after him. There were a few flops in the decade, "Golden Child", anyone? Mostly, there was unforgettable laughs that made Murphy an all time great.

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5. Harrison Ford

Harrison Ford was the man in the 1980s. His relationship with George Lucas led him to be cast in the original "Star Wars" trilogy. Playing Hans Solo, he became a star. He also starred in one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time, "Blade Runner", in 1982. His role as Indiana Jones, skyrocketed him into an '80s icon and all time icon as well. The first installment, "The Raiders of the Lost Ark", released, released in 1981 was a mega success, finishing as the top grossing film of that year. The next release, "Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom", premeired in 1984. Just as the previous film had done, it became a world wide smash. It would go on to gross over $300 million dollars. In 1989, the third installment was released and was widely popular as well. Between the "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" franchises, films starring Ford grossed well over a billion dollars in the decade. Harrison Ford was arguably the most popular leading man of the '80s.


6. Hulk Hogan

No matter if you loved, hated, or couldn't have cared less about professional wrestling, you knew who Hulk Hogan was. During his run in the '80s, he took pro wrestling from being a niche and regionalized form of sports entertainment and made it mainstream. The Hulkster, was everywhere. His character was so believable, that he became a hero to children. Always dressed in his trademark red and gold, he became a world wide attraction. His charisma played well with fans of all ages and his matches sold out arenas and even stadiums. His match at "Wrestle-Mania lll", against Andre the Giant, set an indoor record for a sporting event. It was performed before an audience of over 90,000 people at the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit, Michigan. In the '80s, pro wrestling reached its peak in popularity, thanks to Hulk Hogan.


7. Larry Bird

Nicknamed, the "Hick from French Lick." Larry Bird rivaled Magic Johnson as the best basketball player of the 1980s. The rivalry helped renew interest in the NBA, before that point it was never wildly popular. A superb shooter and passer, Bird had the ability to make his teammates better. During the '80s, Larry Bird led the Boston Celtics to championships in 1981, 1984, and 1986. He also won the league's MVP award for three years straight starting in '84-86. He also defeated Johnson head to head in 1984. You can't think of basketball or sports in general in the decade without thinking about Larry Bird.


8. Madonna

Madonna was the most popular and influential female artist of the '80s. If not for Michael Jackson, she would've been the most popular, period. Her music fit the era so perfectly. It was upbeat, colorful, and danceable. She performed well on the pop and r&b charts. Her landmark album, "Like a Virgin", released in 1984, would go on to sell over 13 million copies worldwide. It's one of the greatest albums of the decade. Having a great pop sense for her market, she released hit after hit. Madonna was always evolving. The way she dressed and wore her hair influenced women and girls. Fearless and successful, very few could compete with Material Girl.


9. Magic Johnson

Earvin "Magic" Johnson was the best basketball player of the '80s. He was arguably the best athlete in any sport during that 10 year span. He lived up to his nickname. A highly skilled player, he would dazzle fans and frustrate opponents with his skill. He was known for his no look passes to teammates and his clutch performances. He led the Lakers to five NBA championships and winning two league MVP awards. He beat his closest rival Larry Bird, twice in '85 and '87 on his way to the titles. There simply was no other like him. With his charisma, big smile, and flashy showmanship, he personified Los Angeles and the 1980s.


10. Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson, along with Harrison Ford brought good looks along with the tough guy characters that they portrayed. Starring in, "Mad Max" in 1979, he would go on to make two highly successful sequels, "The Road Warrior" (1981) and the third installment, "Mad Max Beyond The Thunderdome" (1985). These films established him as a leading man in America. Later in the decade, he would team with Danny Glover, for the buddy cop franchise, "Lethal Weapon." The first one was released in 1987, becoming a huge hit. The success of this first classic would result in a sequel, released in 1989. Gibson would have continued success as an actor and director. He was consistent and bankable throughout the decade.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


matthew on December 13, 2019:

i love bill cosby he did nothing wromg like me

Noah on July 28, 2019:

Michael Jackson?

He’s only the king of pop and most other genres

Why would he be here?

Skrrrrrrrrrt on July 11, 2019:


Sagar on February 27, 2019:

Pop icons of 80s and no Michael Jackson

mdigiddy on October 24, 2017:

hi m.o.s,

I'm going to an 80's party and I didn't know what to dress up as. I looked, and looked, and looked, and I found you and all my problems are solved. you are the coolest :). thanks a lot.


Man of Strength (author) from Orlando, Fl on June 25, 2013:

Hi Vibe,

Thanks for stopping by. I glad you enjoyed it. Be sure to check out part 2 as well. Thanks.

vibesites from United States on June 25, 2013:

Nice article, friend! I was born pretty late in the 80s, so I was too young to remember. Though it makes me feel I'm nostalgic about this hub. Good work. :)

Man of Strength (author) from Orlando, Fl on June 25, 2013:

Oh yeah, I just finished part 2.

Man of Strength (author) from Orlando, Fl on June 25, 2013:

Thanks Cat,

Yes, those were the good ol days. An a kid, I was a big wrestling fan. My dad would take me to the matches. We saw Hulk Hogan and all the greats from that era. I can't even stomach it now. It was always fake, but it's pure nonsense now. I like the pic I chose for Madonna, in her natural hair color. I loved Arnold as well and Bill Cosby at age 75 is still doing standup comedy. It's amazing that 30 years have gone by so quickly.

Cat from New York on June 25, 2013:

How could I not love this? I think most of the people you talked about are still around today, doing well and still producing, but gosh, they look so different; talk about taking me back!

Ah-nold! lol That's too funny, yes... I grew up with him, the movies you listed and 'Twins' with him and Danny DeVito, which we owned on tape... that was definitely a different role, but it was quite funny.

Hulk Hogan! Remember the days when WWF was real, or at least we thought it was? They've just turned into soap operas now! I remember taking Sunday baths and getting out to watch wrestling with my brothers and all the iconic wrestles of the 80's.... remember all the action figures?

This is great... I'm pinning it with my 'Remember the 80's and 90's' collection!

Up and a bunch of other stuff :D


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