During the 1980s and 90s of the last century a giant crop of young, or very young male actors began appearing in major films made in Hollywood, or on location by Hollywood. They were the replacements for the suddenly elderly chaps (Tracy, Peck, Granger, Ferrer, Gable, Stewart, MacRea etc.) some of whom had been making movies in the late 1930s; for example John Wayne, who played a character called ‘John Wayne’ in more than a hundred pictures until his death of cancer. Sometimes half a dozen of these youngsters appeared together in very small parts in films like Dead Poets’ Society, White Squall, The Outsiders or School Ties.
By the year 2015 two or three had become super-stars, getting millions of dollars in films with their name above the title because they are so bankable. Some have vanished into obscurity, mainly because they never managed to change from ‘leading young man’ to ‘middle-age attraction’. One (Swayze) died absurdly young; another is more or less permanently in a wheelchair (Fox). The passing of Time has of course been the leading factor in their lives. Their attractive youth is frozen for ever on Video/DVD/Blueray, but now many are fat-cheeked, heavy-bellied, balding fifty-somethings. Hollywood has, as it always has, passed most of them by.
Here is a sometimes surprising list:
Christopher Atkins (The Blue Lagoon etc.) now 55. Vanished, though he was a mega-attraction.
Kevin Bacon (now 57, and therefore one of the oldest of those bright young people, he chooses to play mostly bad men. He is such a good actor that he spends a lot of time on the stage, where acting is quite, quite different my dear from acting in movies.
Christian Bale (English, now a Hollywood super-star aged 41 – discovered by Spielberg (Empire of the Sun) as a child actor)
Matthew Broderick (now 53 is mainly a stage actor, with his own company; he first made an impact in a strange medieval tale called Ladyhawke, in which he stole every scene from the co-stars Michelle Feiffer and Rutger Hauer, and even kept his end up well in scenes with the upstaging English actor Leo McKern).
Edward Burns (now 47, small, powerful parts; very good in a small role in Saving Private Ryan)
Tom Cruise (now 53, super-star and co-producer, one or two flops, mostly a great success; first appearance in films like Legend, Taps and the excellent Risky Business).
Matt Damon (now 45; super-star of films like the Bourne trilogy. Relaxed in taking third or fourth billing in semi-character parts (Saving Private Ryan). He relies on good health and quiet living and will probably last into old age as a star. By the way, he is also an Oscar-winning scriptwriter)
Johnny Depp (now 52, deservedly a super-star, an actor capable of playing any part, highly intelligent and always convincing).
Vin Diesel (now 48, still waiting for stardom but always a good actor)
Matt Dillon (now 51; moving effortlessly into middle-aged character acting from the juvenile lead)
Michael J. Fox (now 54, suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, often in a wheelchair, he is the star of innumerable Back to the Future movies)
Brendan Fraser (now 55, seems to have grown rather large, now rarely seen)
Ethan Hawke (now 45; very reliable actor perfectly capable of carrying a picture, could well become a super-star if his agent chose better scripts. One of his recent films, a romance, was an absolute stinker (Before Sunrise).
Philip Seymour Hoffman (now 48, another actor who has moved smoothly from juvenile leads to major character acting; he has almost super-star status; is possibly the best actor Hollywood has)
Timothy Hutton (now 55; son of successful film actor Jim Hutton, Timothy seems to have vanished)
Robert Sean Leonard (now 46; a sincere and sensitive actor, another one who appears few times, except on TV)
Rob Lowe (now 51; went from huge popular leading juve to tremendous TV success in the West Wing maxi-series, and his own production company. He has astutely written a best-selling autobiography that spares no-one, especially Hollywood producers, who annoyingly wanted him naked in their ghastly films)
Ralph Macchio (now 54); the star of all those Karate Kid movies and very little else. He was one of the most promising of the new young stars, but is now obscure)
Edward Norton (now 56; perhaps one of the very best actors in the film business; endlessly creative).
Chris O’Donnell (now 45; was excellent in a near two-hander with Al Pacino – Scent of a woman – not an easy task. He grows older faster than all the rest.
Brad Pitt (now a super-star, now 51, he surprised a lot of cinemagoers by knowing perfectly well how act in films with experts such as Anthony Hopkins and Peter O’Toole (Meet Joe Black and Troy respectively).
Ryan Phillippe (now 41; he appears surprisingly few times. In private life looks burned-out)
Dennis Quaid (now 61; he transferred from handsome juvenile to middle-aged character actor with effortless ease. Looks like making it to old character actor. Intelligent and careful with scripts.
Keanu Reeves (now 51, the best-looking of the lot, this actor chooses scripts well, and will move into middle-aged character parts with a problem. His looks enabled him to appear in a dozen very popular pictures like Speed, Youngblood, Pointbreak, My Private Idaho and Matrix and few duds like Little Buddha and Bram Stoker’s Dracula – it wasn’t. He even tried with Shakespeare, doing moderately well in Much Ado about Nothing.
Christian Slater (now 46; made a strong impact appearing with Sean Connery in virtually his first film, a medieval fantasy; he was very good acting as a ‘goodie’ with baddies Mr Cruise and Mr Pitt in Interview with a Vampire), mostly because he looked infinitely more wicked and more vampirish than either Cruise or Pitt.
James Spader (now 55; always a fine actor, he has become a reliable character actor. He managed to appear with Jack Nicholson, Christoper Plummer and the wondrous Michelle Feiffer and not seem to be part of the furniture in a film called Wolf.
Patrick Swayze (now unfortunately dead; if Patrick had lived and not died young he would have been 63. He was a marevllously athletic actor, trained as a dancer. He could do comedy as well as straight drama, and danced even better than Travolta, in Dirty Dancing. A great loss to the movie business.
My apologies to those who were young in the Eighties, and do not appear in my list. There were so many ‘promising youngsters’.