Keep your eyes open.
From gremlins to Chucky dolls to all kinds of masked mass murderers, the 1980s were a great decade for things that go bump in the night. But no cinematic icon made people more afraid to go to bed back then as much as Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street, a killer who attacked his victims only after they fall asleep.
And what a killer Krueger was! He wore a Fedora, a red and green striped sweater and a terrifying pair of knife gloves. Even scarier, he had a sense of humor and a personality. This wasn’t a silent killer like Halloween's Michael Myers or Friday the 13th's Jason Voorhees, but a smart-aleck who taunted victims—“I’m your boyfriend now, Nancy!”—before doing away with them.
The first Nightmare on Elm Street was an instant hit when it debuted in 1984, making over $25 million worldwide. That’s a big deal, considering director Wes Craven only had a budget of about $1 million to work with for the movie. Not only did Nightmare spawn several sequels, a TV show and a remake, but the film also went on to launch Craven’s career as the “master of horror.” The filmmaker went on to write and direct movies like The People Under the Stairs, Vampire in Brooklyn and the first four Scream films before passing away in 2015.
As Halloween approaches and you gird yourself for a Nightmare on Elm Street rewatch, find out more about what the Nightmare franchise's cast is up to these days. And keep reading to find out which member of the Sheen acting dynasty turned down a role in the original film, which A-lister got his big break as a result, which actress sang with Bob Dylan, and who was so proud of her work on the film she even produced a documentary about it.
Nightmare on Elm Street Cast Then and Now
Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson
Langenkamp was the linchpin of the original film as Nancy, the teenager who attracted Freddy Krueger’s attention. Nancy wasn’t a shrinking violet of a teen girl, either; at the end of the movie, she realizes that she has to stand up to Krueger if she wants to stand a chance at getting out of her dreams alive.
Langenkamp was happy to keep returning to the franchise after the original Elm Street was released. In fact, she returned for the third film in the franchise, as well as the kinda-sequel, standalone film New Nightmare in 1994, where she played herself in ‘the real world,’ which is also breached by Krueger. She also executive-produced and narrated the documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy in 2010.
With the return of Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie Strode and the Halloween franchise, Langenkamp said she’d like to play Nancy again. “If Nancy could fight Freddy one last time, I would really like that,” Langenkamp told Collider in 2022. “Gosh, I'd love to see a future in that."
Today, Langenkamp is married with two children and owns a special effects company that has worked on films like 2011’s Cabin in the Woods.
John Saxon as Lt. Donald "Don" Thompson
Saxon played Nancy’s dad in the movie, who's also a policeman. By the time A Nightmare on Elm Street came along, Saxon had already appeared in the Bruce Lee classic Enter the Dragon.
After Elm Street, he continued to have a healthy acting career, most notably on the 1980s TV soap operas Dynasty and Falcon Crest, spending eight to nine years on each. He also appeared in such shows as Murder, She Wrote and Melrose Place. Saxon passed away in June 2020 in Tennessee at the age of 83 due to complications from pneumonia.
Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger
None of A Nightmare on Elm Street's legendary horror-franchise status would have been possible without Englund, who made a legend of Freddy Krueger. The bright, blue-eyed actor once revealed that it takes about four hours of makeup work to transform him into Krueger, and after that, “there’s nothing left of Robert Englund."
Of course, he couldn’t really shake the character after he played it so many times—but Englund didn’t really try to. He even stepped in for the two-year-long television series Freddy's Nightmares (1988-1990). He last played Krueger in Freddy v. Jason in 2003. After Krueger, Englund has kept working, continuing to seek out roles in the horror vein. However, he’s stepped out of his comfort zone a few times; for example, voicing The Riddler and the Vulture in the animated Spectacular Spider-Man. He’s also appeared on TV shows Supernatural and he’s even played the part of the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera in 1989, although that one was a horror remake.
While no one can really take Englund's place, Oscar-nominated actor Jackie Earle Haley did take on the role of Freddy in the 2010 A Nightmare on Elm Street remake, which also starred Rooney Mara and Kellan Lutz. That's seemingly fine by Englund, who has said he's done with Freddy, mostly due to age. "I'm too old to do another Freddy now," the actor (who's now 75) said in 2017. "If I do a fight scene now it's got to be real minimal because I can't snap my head for eight different takes and different angles. My spine gets sore. I can still be mean and scary, but I'm mostly relegated now to sort of Van Helsing roles, old doctors."
Johnny Depp as Glen Lantz
Before he became one of the biggest Hollywood stars on the planet, Depp had been trying to make it as a rock star, even opening once for Iggy Pop (although Pop reportedly called him “a little turd”). It was Depp's buddy Nicolas Cage (maybe you've heard of him?) who encouraged him to turn to acting instead. A Nightmare on Elm Street marked Depp's first time in a feature film; in fact, Depp's role as Glen Lantz (Nancy's boyfriend) was supposed to go to Charlie Sheen, but the actor reportedly wanted too much money for the job.
Craven thought Depp was “greasy and pale and sickly,” but he included his head shot in a pile of them that he showed to his daughter and her friend; the two girls chose Depp out of all of them. “I said, ‘Are you serious?’ He looked like he needed a bath,” Craven recalled in an interview. “They both said, ‘He’s beautiful.’” Depp also had a brief cameo in the 1991 franchise installment Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare.
Depp went on to be seen on the small screen in 21 Jump Street before taking the leap to film, where he’s had a long career. He’s appeared in, among other films, Edward Scissorhands, Donnie Brasco and Pirates of the Caribbean, which earned him an Oscar nomination. His personal life hasn’t gone so swimmingly; he has two children and has recently been dealing with a very messy defamation lawsuit with ex-wife and actress Amber Heard. It has even affected his work; just days after losing his defamation case, he was asked to resign from the third film in the Fantastic Beasts franchise. These days, while also complaining about cancel culture, he's been working on an animated TV mini-series called Puffins with plans to star as King Louis XV in a film by French director Maïwenn in 2023.
Ronee Blakley as Marge Thompson
Nancy’s mom was played by Ronee Blakley, who also appeared in such projects as the 1987 vampire film A Return to Salem's Lot and 1990's Murder By Numbers. However, she seems to have largely pivoted to music; she got a deal with Elektra records and even toured with Bob Dylan, singing backup during the star’s Rolling Thunder Revue concert tour.
Amanda Wyss as Tina Gray
Wyss’ first break was in the 1982 comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High. After A Nightmare on Elm Street, where she played Nancy’s friend, she was seen in films like Silverado and Better Off Dead. Wyss has done a considerable amount of television as well, showing up on shows as varied as Cheers, Charmed, Highlander, The Rookie and Dexter.
Jsu Garcia (Nick Corri) as Rod Lane
Poor Rod, suspected of his girlfriend’s murder, was played by Jsu Garcia (who went by the name Nick Corri at the time). Garcia went on to appear in some high-budget films with big stars: working with Mel Gibson in 2002's We Were Soldiers, Arnold Schwarzenegger in Collateral Damage and Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston in Along Came Polly, where he played a salsa dancer. Today, he’s a partner in the production company Scott J-R Productions. and is slated to appear in Miracle Underground, a fictionalized account of the Chilean minors saga in 2023.
Charles Fleischer as Doctor King
In the original Nightmare, Nancy goes to see a sleep doctor, played by Fleischer, who isn’t very helpful. A stand up comedian and actor, Fleischer is perhaps best known for being the voice of Roger Rabbit in the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? He has also been seen in Back to the Future 2. More recently, he's done voiceover work in TV, movies and video games, including Mozart in the Jungle, Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers, Rango and The Polar Express.