Today’s kids grow up watching classic animations like Ben 10 and Transformers. To be honest, even these cartoons were watched by the generation, and are no longer fashionable. Kids today are most likely to be spending their time in front of their iPads on YouTube Kids or playing interactive games. However, for anyone that was growing up around the last few decades of the 20th century, such luxuries were not available. Instead, kids at that time used to sit around a small screen in their living rooms for digital entertainment.
Being kids, the only thing they were allowed to watch on TV were other kids. As a youngster, there is a certain connection that you develop with kids the same age as you. Therefore, it is not surprising that we came up with the concept of child stars not long after the introduction of social media. Shows like Grange Hill and Fun House quickly earned themselves a child fan base that loved the little stars. These stars were more or less the spirit of the show for the kids. Making friendships and teaching silly but important lessons, their innocent smiles and adorable acts had both the kids and the adults in their grasp.
However, acting careers aren’t always so easy for youngsters. Keep in mind that even though it might seem like a simple TV show to you, for the kids, it may require a whole day of working and acting. They often tend to struggle to live their lives normally. Especially in the previous century, a full-time acting career for kids caused them to lack behind on many other important activities – like attending school or spending time with toys. Some of them were still eager to continue their career, and we know them today for their successful performances, like Joaquín Phoenix, Danica McKellar, and Robert Downey Jr.
Unlike today’s performances where advanced systems have made things a lot easier for child stars, in the 80s, fitting into your role and perfectly playing it, was a much greater challenge. Due to this, kids that did choose the film industry were naturally more ambitious and eager to do their job right. This undoubtedly gave them a larger group of admirers and left a lasting impression on film enthusiasts until almost four decades later.
With that said, here are our top 5 picks of the child stars of the 80s who were the highlight of the decade.
The Olsen Twins
If there was ever a pair of 3-year-olds that took away the breath of the audience by their sheer performance, it was the Olsen twins. The TV generation constituting of the 80s and the 90s was widely defined by the presence of Mary-Kate Olsen and her twin Ashley Olsen. They easily caught the eyes of the US nation and presented to the world the potential of performance present in children as young as they were. As young as nine months, Mary and Ashley Olsen were cast on the ABC sitcom Full House to share the role of Michele Tanner.
Using their initial success, the Olsen twins decided to go big. Their company, Dualstar, produced a large number of TV films and direct-to-video releases that featured the girls. These included projects like Holiday in the Sun, Passport to Paris, and Billboard Dad. From early childhood, they were considered celebrities in their own right. However, like with many other kid stars, they moved away from acting and decided to pursue fashion and modeling.
Their earlier fame as the best child actors most certainly helped them in their adulthood careers. According to Forbes, the twins were the eleventh richest women in the entertainment industry, having a net worth of $100 million. Mary and Ashley Olsen inspired a whole generation of youngsters to seek their potential in acting and are still remembered as marvels in the history of the film industry.
Steven Spielberg’s film ET the Extra-Terrestrial wouldn’t be as successful as it was without the heart-melting scenes of Drew Barrymore. She is famous for coming from a family with an extensive history in the world of acting. She was adorable, silly, and smart, a fact that seemed to attract the world’s attention towards her like a magnet.
Eventually, she got the attention of Hollywood, leading her to perform in larger projects such as the Jeff Bridges drama See You in the Morning, Irreconcilable Differences, and the horror/sci-fi film Firestarter. In John Willis’ Screen World, Vol. 36, she is listed as one of the twelve “Promising New Actors of 1984.”
Born in the city of New York, she was the daughter of Burton Eugene “Burt” Lane, a well-known acting coach, and Colleen Farrington, a nightclub singer. With the ideal family to guide her into the film industry, Lane developed a liking for acting from a very young age. She first appeared on stage at the age of six. The Cherry Orchard and Medea are some of her first works. These later assisted her in performing for higher budget projects. What really got the public’s attention was her brilliant role as Lauren King, in 1979’s A Little Romance by director George Hill.
Continuing her career as one of the best young actors in the industry, Lane also took part in some of the top-rated films like the Rumble Fish and The Order. Her consecutive victories led her to be featured by magazines all over the world. Time commented on her career by declaring her the “new young acting sensation.” Even when the 1983 comedy film National Lampoon’s Movie Madness failed to receive much positive recognition from the audience, Lane’s character Liza was acknowledged for its noteworthy performance.
For anyone who was in their early teens in the 80s, Danica McKellar was a definite child celebrity. She was most famous for her role as Winnie Cooper, the future lover of Kevin Arnold, on ABC’s The Wonder Years. Continuing for six seasons and ranking as one of the top-rated shows of its time, it was a must for fans to connect with McKellar as a real-life character.
Following her success, she was cast in several other TV shows like How I Met Your Mother and King of the Hill. Her iconic emotional performances and a natural aptitude to connect with her viewers have sketched her into the heart of the 80s audience.
Soleil Moon Frye
Soleil Moon Frye’s career kicked off at the age of 7, when she played as Penelope in NBC’s Punky Brewster, in the early 80s. For four seasons, she was the fans’ favorite young character, especially of the kids.
She is also known for her roles in other popular TV shows like Friends and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. She also starred in the horror/monster film Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings. Later on, she would direct two of her own movies: Sonny Boy and Wild Horses. Finally, she was also the host of Home Made Simple on the cable channel Oprah Winfrey Network.