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C. Thomas Howell Movies: 6 of Our Favorite Films from the 1980s Heartthrob

In the 1980s, C Thomas Howell quickly became a teen idol for his charming good looks, acting talent and memorable movie roles. From his iconic role as Ponyboy in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders (1983) to his most recent part as politician Casper Weinberger in Reagan (2024), Howell has portrayed every kind of character you can imagine.

three boys looking tough
Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon and C. Thomas Howell in The Outsiders (1982)Getty

The actor explained how his crazy his life became after just a few years in the industry, noting, “Having worked with Spielberg and Coppola by the time I was 14 or 15 years old, things changed pretty significantly.”

Howell has over 200 acting credits to his name, and here, we take a look back at a small segment of his credits with some of C Thomas Howell’s very best 80s movies.

1. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982): C Thomas Howell Movies

Believe it or not, this major blockbuster was the first acting credit to Howell’s name. Starring alongside Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore, Howell portrayed their older brother Tyler in the film. He shared what it was like to star in a classic Spielberg film.

Shooting E.T. was such a spectacle… It was probably the most covert and undercover project I’ve ever been a part of. I never got to read the script. Every day I was just handed a couple of pages and was told to learn that sequence for the next day. They didn’t want the script getting out.”

2. The Outsiders (1983)

Possibly one of his most iconic roles to date is that of Ponyboy Curtis in The Outsiders. Considering this was only his second acting role, it was amazing he landed the lead in this classic film. The actor starred alongside Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise and Matt Dillon.

Yeah, that was just an opportunity of a lifetime,” Howell shared. “But I was so young that I probably didn’t appreciate how big the opportunity was… I didn’t really know who Francis Ford Coppola was, or what he meant to the business. Working with him was an amazing experience… I’m so proud to have played Ponyboy Curtis.”

3. Grandview, U.S.A. (1984): C Thomas Howell Movies

Starring alongside Patrick Swayze and Jamie Lee Curtis, Howell is Tim Pearson, a boy on the verge of his high school graduation who wants nothing more than to change the course of his future. But being stuck in Grandview, U.S.A might make that more complicated than he thought.

While this 1984 film may not be considered a fan-favorite of Howell’s work, it certainly was memorable with a stellar cast. The mixed reviews were overshadowed by stars and its sweet ending.

4. Red Dawn (1984)

A group of teenagers are set on saving their town from invading forces pushing America to the verge of World War III. Howell plays Robert Morris alongside Swayze’s Jed Eckert and Lea Thompson’s Erica Mason.

One of the highest-grossing films of the year, Red Dawn was also the first to be released with a PG-13 rating.

5. Secret Admirer (1985): C Thomas Howell Movies

Howell teamed up with his E.T. costar Dee Wallace in Secret Admirer, but this time he played the actress’ son. Howell plays Michael, who has been in love with Deborah Ann (Kelly Preston) for years, but doesn’t know his best friend, Toni (Lori Loughlin), loves him too.

“I had no idea what I was doing in a lot of those movies I did… I was just sort of handed a gift at a young age,” Howell said about starring in the film.

6. The Hitcher (1986)

Starring in The Hitcher was a turning point for Howell. The R-rated film follows Jim Halsey, a young man who escapes a murderous hitchhiker, but ends up being stalked by the man and framed for his crimes.

Howell explained that after years of teenage roles, this was a game-changer for his career. “The Hitcher was my first step toward adult roles, and the experience of that film is what really made me want to do it for life… and I’m so thankful for that role. That experience is one of my favorite experiences in my career, and it’s also one of my favorite films.”

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