A small, delicate-looking, perky actress, Thompson studied dance as a child, and was dancing professionally by age 14; she won scholarships to the Pennsylvania Ballet, American Ballet, and the San Francisco Ballet. However, she felt she was too short to become a prima ballerina and gave up dance in favor of acting. After moving to New York she appeared in some 20 Burger King TV commercials, then debuted onscreen in Jaws 3-D (1983). Shortly thereafter she got her first important role, opposite Tom Cruise in the hit All the Right Moves (1983). She is best known for her multiple roles in the three Back to the Future movies; aside from those highly successful movies, she has not gone on to appear in any hit productions. She also appeared in the TV movies Nightbreaker (1989), Montana (1990), and the PBS playhouse co-production The Wizard of Loneliness (1988).