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Nancy Allen Has Stepped Away From the Spotlight — Learn What the ‘Carrie’ and ‘RoboCop’ Horror Queen Has Been Up To

She left the film industry and dedicated herself to helping others


In the ’70s and ’80s, Nancy Allen was one of the ultimate scream queens, and served up memorable performances in stylish genre movies like Carrie, Dressed to Kill and RoboCop. With her big blue eyes, sweet expression and wavy blonde mane, Allen had a girl-next-door quality, while also bringing a compelling savviness and sass to all her roles, whether she was playing a high school mean girl, a sex worker or a cop.

Allen has mostly retired from acting and we’ve missed her presence. Here’s a look back at her early days and what she’s been up to in recent years.

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Becoming a horror movie muse

Nancy Allen was born in the Bronx in 1950. She originally trained to become a dancer, but soon switched to acting, and had her first role playing Jack Nicholson‘s date in the 1973 film The Last Detail.

In 1976, Allen had her big break playing Chris Hargensen, the popular mean girl who terrorizes the title character in the horror classic Carrie. The film would prove pivotal in both her personal and professional life, as she married its director, Brian De Palma, in 1979.

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The actress in 1978
Nancy Allen in 1978Harry Langdon/Getty

Allen became De Palma’s muse, and starred in three more of his films, Home Movies (1979), Dressed to Kill (1980) and Blow Out (1981). While Home Movies was a comedy, Dressed to Kill and Blow Out were both thrillers in which Allen memorably played charismatic women at the center of twisty and paranoid plots, and are considered some of both the director and the actress’ best work.

Allen and De Palma divorced in 1984, but she still holds the work they did together in high regard.

'Blow Out' stars Nancy Allen and John Travolta in 1981
Blow Out stars Nancy Allen and John Travolta in 1981Filmways Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty

In 2015, she told The Wall Street Journal, “It’s not uncommon to have directors work again and again with actors. The benefit of that is you really get to know, you kind of get to read each other. You know what the director is trying to say, and the director knows how to get the best out of the actor. So you get a bit of a shorthand. I don’t think being married had that much to do with it as much as that he knew how I operated and how to get the best out of me as an actress, as he did with other actors he’d work with again and again.”

Nancy Allen in 'Dressed to Kill' 1980
Nancy Allen in Dressed to Kill (1980)Orion Pictures corporation/Filmways Pctures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty

Allen’s movies with De Palma weren’t her only notable early works. She also starred in the 1978 movie I Wanna Hold Your Hand, a comedy about Beatlemania that was the debut of Back to the Future and Forrest Gump director Robert Zemeckis. She then acted in Steven Spielberg‘s historical comedy 1941 in 1979.

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Nancy Allen the sci-fi franchise star

In the late ’80s, following a string of unsuccessful films after her De Palma projects, Allen had one of her highest-profile roles, as no-nonsense police officer Anne Lewis in the prescient 1987 sci-fi classic RoboCop.

RobCop is widely regarded as one of the greatest genre movies of the ’80s, and Allen’s character is a stellar example of a strong female character in a violent and macho world, but the actress admitted that she originally had doubts about the movie and disliked its title.

The actress during the filming of 'RoboCop' 1987
Nancy Allen during the filming of RoboCop (1987)Orion Pictures Corporation/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty

As she recalled in an interview with The Guardian, “I picked it up, thinking it was going to be garbage, but I couldn’t put it down. It was smart, funny, political and told the hero’s story with heart and soul. There was no doubt in my mind it was going be a really good movie. And the character of Anne called to me. My father was a cop so I knew who those people were, and how important their partner is, because your life can depend on them. I had to do it.”

Allen reprised her role in RoboCop‘s two sequels in 1990 and 1993, and is one of the only actors to have appeared in all three films.

The actress in 1989
Nancy Allen in 1989Harry Langdon/Getty

What has Nancy Allen been up to lately?

In the ’90s, Allen moved into TV work and starred in the very first Lifetime movie, Memories of Murder, in 1990. She appeared in other TV movies during the decade, and showed up in episodes of Touched by an Angel and The Outer Limits.

Allen acted in a number of low-budget movies as the decade continued, and had her last notable film role in the 1998 caper Out of Sight, in which she played a small part as a housekeeper who gets caught up in a crime plot.

Nancy Allen in 1992
Nancy Allen in 1992Dianna Whitley/Getty

Allen then appeared in episodes of The Division and Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit in the ’00s. Her final credited role to date is in the 2008 horror movie My Apocalypse, though the indie film was originally shot in 1997 and shelved for over a decade.

Since then, Allen has appeared in a variety of documentaries on the horror genre, and she’s dedicated her life to helping others. After her I Wanna Hold Your Hand and 1941 costar and friend Wendie Jo Sperber was diagnosed with cancer, Allen helped her start WeSPARK, a charity dedicated to supporting those fighting the disease, in 2001.

Nancy Allen in 2023
Nancy Allen in 2023Corine Solberg/Getty

Sadly, Sperber passed away in 2005 at just 47. Allen has been the Executive Director of WeSPARK since 2010, and honors her late friend every day through her work. In an interview, she said of her work with WeSPARK, “That is what my life is dedicated to. I’m there, I run it. I’ve created the whole program format… I fund raise. It is my life’s work.”

Nancy Allen’s current work is worlds away from the suspenseful films she’s most known for, but we think the fact that the former horror icon has stepped away from the spotlight to help support those in need is a beautiful thing.

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