The show lasted just one season, but Parker's performance, as a shy teen who showed hidden depths, was critically well received.

In the three years that followed, she was cast in four films: the most significant being Footloose in 19's Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, co-starring Helen Hunt.

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The family later moved to Englewood, New Jersey, where Parker attended Dwight Morrow High School.

She was selected for a role in the new 1977–81 Broadway musical Annie: first in the small role of "July" and then succeeding Andrea Mc Ardle and Shelley Bruce in the lead role of the Depression-era orphan, beginning March 1979. In 1982, Parker was cast as the co-lead of the CBS sitcom Square Pegs.

In 1986, Parker appeared in the cult classic Flight of the Navigator, a Disney science fiction film.

The following year, she landed a starring role in the well-received film Honeymoon in Vegas, co-starring Nicolas Cage.

In 1996, she appeared in another Tim Burton-directed movie, Mars Attacks!

, as well as in The First Wives Club and The Substance of Fire, in which she reprised her 1991 stage role.

Parker made her Broadway debut at the age of 11 in the 1976 revival of The Innocents, before going on to star in the title role of the Broadway musical, Annie, in 1979. Story (1991), Honeymoon in Vegas (1992), Hocus Pocus (1993), Ed Wood (1994), The First Wives Club (1996), The Family Stone (2005), and Failure to Launch (2006).

She appeared in the 1984 films Footloose and Firstborn, and returned to Broadway in the 1989 play, The Heidi Chronicles. In 2012, Parker returned to television for the first time since Sex and the City, portraying Isabelle Wright in three episodes of the FOX series Glee.

She is currently starring in the HBO series, Divorce.