5 Forgotten Breakout Roles of Virginia Madsen

Virginia Madsen is a television and film actor with an impressive list of credits who has been in the business since the early 1980s. Best known for her highly-acclaimed performances in the 2004 drama, Sideways and the classic horror film, Candyman (1992) she is now a regular on the popular TV series Designated Survivor. While she is a recognized face in Hollywood now, some of early work might not be so well known. Here are 5 forgotten breakout roles of Virginia Madsen that deserve a second look.

Fire With Fire (1986)

Virginia Madsen
Fire With Fire, 1986 © Paramount Pictures

Her first leading role and one that caught the attention of many in the industry, she stars as Lisa Taylor, a Catholic school girl who falls in love with a rebellious young man named Joe Fisk (Craig Sheffer), interred at a juvenile delinquent’s facility. Both are bound by strict rules that forbid interaction with the opposite sex so naturally, the two decide to break free and make a life on the run. What could go wrong?

Madsen makes a memorable first impression floating on a lake in a lacy white dress, working on a photography assignment as Fisk runs through the woods being chased by peers in a training exercise. The movie is a solid romantic drama with Madsen earning many fans for her alluring and charming turn as a young lover searching for happiness, and it’s easy to see why she was on the verge of something great. She is a stunning beauty but also a well-developed character that Madsen really gives some edge. A great performance.


Dune (1984)

Virginia Madsen
Dune, 1984 © Universal Pictures

This science fiction epic, based on the Frank Herbert book of the same name, is often considered a cinematic disaster, blamed on its screenplay and muddled direction by David Lynch, but whatever the opinion of the film as a whole, few found fault with the performances. Among the large ensemble cast, Madsen plays Princess Irulan, the narrator of the film and appears only as the bookends, but is a radiant light in the bleak tone of the film, which actually holds up better as the years pass.

Madsen doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but even still, with a cast of many recognizable names, she makes a memorable appearance in an important role as the film literally opens on her big, mesmerizing  green eyes and beautiful face. It instantly captivates and grips our attention, even if it is expositional narration. We watch and listen with great expectation as Madsen details the coming story, and while the film doesn’t quite live up to the standard she sets, she is one the high water marks in the movie as a whole.


Slam Dance (1987)

Virginia Madsen
Slam Dance, 1987 © Island Pictures

Madsen gets third billing in this erotic thriller about a political sex scandal that draws in a hapless cartoonist who got involved with the wrong woman, and yet she is only one seen on the theatrical poster. Starring Tom Hulce and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, the movie is an under-seen and under-rated little gem that is gritty, dark and very well-acted that earned more praise for its production design and direction, though Wayne Wong, the director tried to get his name removed from the final product after too much meddling from the studio.

Madsen plays Yolanda, a blonde bombshell who has herself photographed in a revealing outfit with some very important men. When the images are mailed to C.C. Drood (Hulce), a man who cheated on his wife with Yolanda, things get out of hand. Madsen is the heart of the story, even if she doesn’t have a lot of talk time, but when she is on screen, she fires things up in a steamy, sharp turn as a woman at the center of trouble. Watch this movie.


Creator (1985)

Virginia Madsen
Creator, 1985 © Universal Pictures

The oddball story of a Dr. Harry Wolper (Peter O’Toole), an eccentric medical professor who spends much of his time working on a plan to reanimate his dead wife, who passed away in child birth some thirty years earlier sounds like a cheesy horror film but is instead a charming and heart-warming story about love and acceptance itself. Madsen is a supporting character with a pivotal part in a movie that was a minor theatrical release but got heavy rotation of pay-cable channels, earning it some cult status.

Madsen is Barbara, the young and attractive love interest of Boris (Vincent Spano), the equally young pre-med student who becomes Wolper’s lab assistant and confidant in the project. Madsen is vivacious, easily winning in a small part that makes for one of the most impressive in the film as her character becomes instrumental in the arc of Dr. Wolper. Sentimental and touching, it’s also a funny and inventive little film that really needs a bigger audience.


Electric Dreams (1984)

Virginia Madsen
Electric Dreams, 1984 © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

As personal computer technology burst onto the scene in the 1980s, it was inevitable that screenwriters would find ways to humanize them, and in this romantic comedy, that love comes in the form of a desktop hard drive. When Miles Harding (Lenny Von Dohlen) buys his first computer and all the accessories that come available, a freak accident involving a massive download and a bottle of Champagne bring his PC to life. It’s not long after that it develops actual human emotions and becomes enamored with the new girl in the next apartment, someone Miles himself has some interest.

READ MORE: A closer look at the classic 80s computer film Electric Dreams

Madsen plays Madeline, a talented cellist who becomes caught in a love triangle of sorts as she at first doesn’t realize that a lot of what’s happening centers around Edgar, the name the computer gives itself. A genuine product of the times, it met with mixed reviews but has since become a fan favorite for its quirky but ultimately charming story and influence on later films. Madsen is again, the life of the show and puts on an energetic and engrossing performance that makes it easy to see why anyone would have dreams of her at all.

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  1. Carrie Warner December 31, 2016

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