TOP 10: Billy Zabka Roles

May 18, 2024

BY Bob Erlenback

The 1980’s as a decade was known for creating some of the most iconic films in history, many of which left indelible marks on the fabric of pop culture for generations. We recently discussed some of these flicks in our Best 80’s Teen Film episode, which is a total hoot, if you haven’t listened. In addition to the films, the 80’s defined some of the most iconic movie tropes. The nerd, the jock, the girl next door, and of course the bully — just to name a few. Many times, the actors playing these roles became inextricably linked to these tropes, for better or for worse. 

One of those actors who fell victim to this phenomenon was Mr. William Zabka, commonly known as “Billy.” This towhead dreamboat was every teen girl’s (and some boy’s) fantasy crush, despite being repeatedly cast as “the bully.” He was excellent at it, which led to Zabka spending most of his career fighting back against this typecasting, until utlimately embracing it later on. He is a literal 80’s icon. So, we decided it was time for the Great Pop Culture Debate to give Billy his flowers by putting up for your consideration the Top 10 Billy Zabka Roles.

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10. Various Voices in “Robot Chicken” (2013)

We love it when an actor is in on the joke and leans into it.  Zabka is one of those actors, and is not afraid to take on unique projects for himself. In “Robot Chicken,” not only did he offer his voice to multiple characters in this parody series, he was able to poke fun at himself by reprising and lampooning one of his iconic roles discussed later on this list.

9. Scott McCall in “The Equalizer” (TV Series, 1985-1989)

TV dramas have a record of being kind to Billy. They often provided an opportunity for him to demonstrate his acting outside of the stereotypical bully role, which we love to see for him. “The Equalizer was no exception.” Zabka and his resplendent mane appeared in multiple episodes of this crime drama series.

8. Ruben in Shootfighter: Fight to the Death (1993)

As one of the leads for this feature, Zabka again showcases his martial-arts skills in this action-packed film about underground fighting. This film is deliciously late 80’s/early 90’s (not to be confused with “good”). Don’t believe me, watch the trailer. There is a tagline for this film: “I’ll tear your heart out.”  If you like fighting and a shirtless quasi-mulleted Zabka, this bud’s for you.

7. Greg Larson in Python (2000)

Turning to a creature feature, Zabka attempts to demonstrate his versatility as an actor in horror and science-fiction genres. He plays Sheriff’s Deputy Greg Larson, who I’d welcome at any wedding shower. This film also features C-list dreamboat of that moment, Casper Van Dien.  Rotten Tomatoes gave this film…no rating. 😬

6. Greg Larson in Python II (2002)

Yep, they made two of them.  Girl gotta eat, right?

5. Frank in Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

This supporting role is an iconic wink to Zabka’s 80’s film roots.  This is how I imagine the movie pitch going:

Director: It’s about a hot tub that is also a time machine that can travel to the 80’s.

Studio Exec: I’m not sure boys, 80’s nostalgia is played out.

Director: We have Billy Zabka.

Studio Exec: Is a Spring release too soon?

4. Greg Tolan in Just One of the Guys (1985)

In this gender-bender teen comedy, Zabka plays Greg Tolan, another classic 80’s bully.  Coming right off his Karate Kid success, it likely cemented his status as the go-to actor for such parts during this era. Footnote: This is a film where he was PEAK Zabka beefcake!  Google the images, they are basement flooding.

3. Chas Osborne in Back to School (1986)

What kind of role does Zabka play in this film? You guessed it! As the bully Chas Osborne, he again portrays a memorable antagonist in this Rodney Dangerfiled comedy.  Another bully who can totally get it.


Honorable Mention: National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985)

Zabka is barely in this film, and barely says a word. He is solely used for eye candy. And boy is he. See: Audrey’s wall poster of Zabka with abs of glory!

1. It’s a TIE: Johnny Lawrence in The Karate Kid (1984) and  “Cobra Kai” (2018-present)

You may think this is a cheat.  They are technically the same character. However, Johnny is at quite different stages of his life. The 1984 portrayal was Zabka’s breakout role as the main antagonist in the classic martial-arts film that established him as a memorable figure in 80s cinema. This role featured some of the most brutal bullying ever committed to film, and one could argue it defined the trope.  

The “Cobra Kai” portrayal allowed Zabka to breathe new life into Johnny Lawrence via the hit TV series, exploring the character’s redemption and complexities decades after the original film.

Did we forget your favorite William Zabka role? Drop it in the comments!

For more GPCD pop-culture Top 10 lists, click here!

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