In case you are living under a rock, you probably have a favorite 80s movie, and chances are good John Hughes is to thank. He was one of the several people who owned cinemas in the 1980s. Sure, you might not recognize his face, but he was the director of The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and others.
The Cuban Revolution occurred in the 1950s. In April 1980, another mass wave of Cuban refugees to Florida began; over 125,000 Cubans made the perilous journey, often in overcrowded boats that were in danger of capsizing. Dozens of people died on the journey to find a better life for themselves and their families in America.
Scientists largely believed Mount Saint Helens, located in Washington State, to be a dormant volcano. However, an earthquake led to a massive eruption that caught the world off-guard in May 1980. Lava flows, pyroclastic flows, mudslides, and ash that rained down on the local area led to the deaths of 57 people.
The decade of the 1980s began with a new form of reporting that has since then become ubiquitous: cable news that broadcast 24 hours a day, seven days a week. CNN was the first cable news network (the letters CNN literally stand for Cable News Network), debuting on June 1, 1980. The first news anchors were the husband-wife duo, Lois Hart and David Walker.
The tennis match between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe in July 1980 became known as one of the greatest Wimbledon finals in history. Borg was the reigning tennis champion and won, and McEnroe was a relative newcomer who had charged his way up to the finals. Borg’s calm personality against McEnroe’s hot-headedness led to the competitors being known as Fire and Ice.
At the height of the Cold War, the 1980 Summer Olympics were held in Moscow, Russia. Sebastian Coe, a British runner, won a surprise upset in the 1500-meter final in what was considered one of the most memorable moments of that year’s games. He went on to British politics and put in the winning bid for London to host the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Poland was a country in the Soviet Union under communist rule, but workers scored a major victory in August of 1980. Lech Walesa organized a strike of shipyard workers in a bid to improve working conditions for people across the country. The strike led to the ability of workers to form unions so that they could collectively bargain for more rights and better working conditions.
In October 1980, Pac-Man debuted at video game arcades across the country and became an instant smash. The hungry little robot has to eat as many white dots as possible while avoiding the ghosts who will kill him. The game became so popular that within the first 15 months of its release, the parent company sold over 100,000 arcade units.
John Lennon, one of the Beatles, was shot and killed at the entrance of his apartment building in New York City on December 8, 1980. A police car rushed him to the nearby Roosevelt Hospital, but he had already passed away upon arrival. Mourners all over the world gathered together in New York City to lament the passing of one of music’s all-time greatest legends.
Everyone from the ’70s knows all about the popular show M*A*S*H, a Korean War-based sitcom. However, the finale episode aired in 1983. At the time, it had a record-breaker number of views: 125 million. It is still one of the most-watched finales for any TV series.
Bob Marley was the iconic musician who sang “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” He developed skin cancer on his toe in his early thirties, and by the time he was 36, it had spread to his vital organs and caused his untimely death. He died on May 11, 1981, and the world hasn’t been quite right since.
Beginning in 1986, the rap group NWA was a driving force on the hip-hop scene. In 1988, they released the album Straight Outta Compton. It was one of the first albums to receive the parental advisory sticker, which emerged in the 80s. The black-and-white label warns parents that the music contains explicit lyrics. The controversial rappers spoke about real-life situations that affected them.
On September 9, 1981, a massive blackout in New York City cut power to the New York Stock Exchange and the American Stock Exchange and also put the city’s subway system out of commission. New Yorkers had to walk home from work that day, many of them across very long distances. The blackout lasted for about four and a half hours.
On September 21, 1981, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, the hit 1960s duo known as Simon and Garfunkel, performed a reunion concert in New York’s Central Park. Half a million fans showed up for the concert, making it the largest gathering there up until that time. They played “Mrs. Robinson,” one of their all-time hits.
Sandra Day O’Connor made history when, on September 25, 1981, she became the first female justice to be appointed to the United States Supreme Court. She told NPR’s Fresh Air, “I felt a special responsibility … as the first woman. … It became very important that I perform in a way that wouldn’t provide some reason or cause not to have more women in the future.” Here she is with her husband, John, as Supreme Court associate justice Chief Justice Warren Burger swears her in.
Computers, which had previously taken up entire rooms and had to be operated by specially trained programmers, became accessible to the public when, in 1981, IBM launched the first personal computer, the 5150. Its retail value was $1500, over $4000 in 2022 dollars, and the machine weighed 25 pounds, considered lightweight at the time.
Bobby Sands, pictured here, was a member of the IRA. He had been imprisoned in Maze Prison in Belfast for an uprising against the British government during a period of upheaval known as The Troubles. When the British government removed the Special Category status of him and his fellow prisoners, he began a hunger strike that led to his and nine other deaths from starvation. Riots and more recruitment for the NRA followed against British troops in 1981 in Northern Ireland.
Who remembers watching a not-so-famous actor named Tom Cruise getting down and dirty to Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock & Rock hit? He donned only socks, underwear, and a button-down collared shirt as he lip-synched to Bob’s Seger’s Old Time Rock & Roll. The movie was Risky Business and the year was 1983.
John Belushi was a comedian who starred as one of the seven original cast members of NBC’s hit variety show, Saturday Night Live. He died on March 5, 1982, of a drug overdose after a decade on the show. In 2004, he was posthumously honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In the 80s, big hair ruled. Sure, it all began in the late 1970s, but by the following decade, the glam-metal scene was all the rage. Motley Crue, Poison, Ratt, and other big-hair bands teasted their blonde and brunet trusses as high as they could. Back then, it was popular for rock-n-roll bands to wear makeup, too! Some continue to rock the big locks, such as Bret Michaels!
The Hungarian professor Erno Rubik invented the Rubik’s Cube in the 1970s as the Magic Cube, and the toy was renamed the Rubik’s Cube in 1980. The iconic puzzle people solve by lining up all of the blocks of the same color on the same sides took off and became a staple of 1980s culture.
From September 16 until September 18, 1982, the Israeli Defense Forces surrounded a Palestinian refugee camp at Sabra and Shatila while right-wing Lebanese forces massacred as many as 3500 Palestinian refugees. The Israeli government took no action when the number of civilian casualties became clear and continues to institute laws that permit the murder of Palestinian civilians without penalty.
On October 1, 1982, Disney World in Florida opened its second park, the Epcot Center, which housed the iconic Spaceship Earth ride. Epcot was twice as large as the original Magic Kingdom Park. Forty years later, Epcot is one of four parks at Disney World and attracts thousands of visitors every single day.
On October 1, 1982, the first compact disc debuted, Billy Joel’s “52nd Street.” Compact discs offered an easier way to listen to music than vinyl records and cassette tapes, though they were prone to skipping and getting scratched. Digital music players in the 2000s eventually replaced them.
Margaret Thatcher, the “Iron Lady” of the United Kingdom, was campaigning for re-election when she released the Conservative Manifesto in May 1983. The manifesto promised to reduce unemployment through efforts that undermined the political power of trade unions. Fewer rights for workers should mean that more people get jobs, right?
In June 1983, NASA’s crew for STS-7 went for a week-long mission to deploy communications satellites into space. The staff was the first group of five astronauts to go on a mission together; previous missions had had fewer numbers. Ultimately, the STS-7 team perished in the Challenger explosion later in the decade.
The 80s had iconic moments from music and movies to television. The Oprah Winfrey Show debuted in 1986. It was the nationals newest talk show of the time, and a huge success. Who doesn’t remember the time she gave nearly everyone in the audience a brand new car! Oprah discussed serious topics as Americans let her in their living room every day. Oprah continues to be an icon well into the 2020s.
Before Beanie Babies took over in the 1990s, Cabbage Patch Kids dominated the 1980s. An art student named Xavier Roberts designed them back in 1977, and they became so popular during the 1980s that parents would literally begin fighting each other in the aisles of stores to get them.
In 1982, the actress Jane Fonda released her workout tape, The Jane Fonda Workout. In doing so, she helped spark a fitness craze that had everyday people buying spandex leotards and going to gyms to take exercise classes or use the equipment. Workout videos also became a popular way for people to get their hearts going at home.
Ethiopia, a country near the horn of Africa, experienced a devastating civil war and famine throughout the 1980s. In 1981, a drought began that became so severe that in March of 1984, the government of Ethiopia claimed that as many as five million people were at imminent risk of starvation.
March 6, 1984, began the longest and most severe strike in British history when approximately 187,000 miners engaged in industrial action (a strike) in an effort to prevent the closing of coal fields. Margaret Thatcher, then the prime minister, sought to decrease the power of trade unions, including the one that represented miners. The miners ultimately lost in the strike that lasted for an entire year.
The Winter Olympics in 1984 was a sight to see and perhaps one of the best parts was at the very beginning. Yugoslavian figure skater Sanda Dubravcic lit the Olympic flame. The opening ceremonies were held at the Kosovo stadium in Sarajevo. Seven National Olympic Committees sent athletes for the first time: Egypt, British Virgin Islands, Monaco, Puerto Rico and Senegal participated for the first time in the Olympic Winter Games. Finland’s Marja-Liisa HÃ¤mÃ¤lÃ¤inen, who won all three individual races in cross-country skiing, won the most medals in the Games.
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson go head to head as the Boston Celtics battle the LA Lakers in June 1984 for the NBA championship. The playoffs eventually went to all seven games, with the Celtics coming out on top. This intense showmanship only fueled their rivalry, which dated back to their college years.
On July 7, 1984, during Michael Jackson’s Victory Tour, he sported what has become the most sought-after piece of memorabilia associated with him, his white glove. It contains 50 lights that give it the appearance of being studded with diamonds, and in 2010, it sold for $190,000.
Actress and model Vanessa Williams won the Miss America pageant in 1984, crowning her the first African-American queen. It was a record-breaking moment for a woman of color to win the title. Unfortunately, she resigned that same year in July when Penthouse magazine planned to reveal unauthorized explicit pictures of Vanessa Williams. She lost her crown and her title, and was replaced by the runner-up, who was Suzette Charles from New Jersey. Would that happen in 2022?
In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman to be featured on a major-party ticket in a presidential election when she was the running mate for Walter Mondale. Ultimately, Mondale lost to Reagan, but Ferraro said of the experience, “This candidacy is not just a symbol, it’s a breakthrough. It’s not just a statement; it’s a bond between women all over America.”
This iconic 80s photo first appeared on the cover of National Geographic in June 1985. The 12-year-old girl, a Pashtun orphan, was in a refugee camp at the Afghan-Pakistani border. Sharbat Gula was the face of the magazine’s most successful cover photo, thanks to distinguished photographer Steve McCurry.
When MTV first came out in the early 1980s, it was pretty much just what the station’s name stood for – Music Television. The first MTV Awards was in 1984 when Madonna wore a wedding dress to perform her hit “Like a Virgin,” and Cyndi Lauper won the award for the best music video with her hit song “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”
There was a huge whodunnit in the 80s. And that was surrounding a popular soap opera called Dallas. In the 1980s, Dallas was the single most popular TV series throughout the decade. Its third season had a massive cliffhanger. Larry Hagman played the villain, JR Ewing and this catchphrase became infamous, even makings its way into the 1980 presidential election. In case you are wondering, the fourth season opened with the answer: it was JR’s scheming sister-in-law. Oh, since it was a soap opera, she was also his mistress and it ended in a fit of rage.
On January 20, 1985, Joe Montana was the quarterback who led the San Francisco 49ers to victory in the Super Bowl. He set several records in the game, including 331 yards of passing, and was named the team’s Most Valuable Player. Between 1982 and 1990, Montana helped lead the 49ers to four Super Bowl Victories.
In January 1985, a supergroup of 45 famous musicians came together to perform a concert that would raise awareness and funds for famine relief in Africa. Some of the names present included Bob Dylan, Diana Ross, and Michael Jackson. The musicians recorded the iconic song “We Are The World,” which has sold upwards of 20 million copies.
Hulk Hogan and Mr. T were two super tough guys of the 1980s, and in March of 1985, the super duo teamed up to host NBC’s Saturday Night Live. The event kicked off WrestleMania, a wrestling event produced by WWE. During the decade, Mr. T and Hulk Hogan made several other appearances together.
On April 10, 1985, the year after wearing a wedding dress to the very first MTV Music Awards, Madonna launched her “Like a Virgin” tour. The tour was styled after her first Billboard 100 hit, “Like a Virgin,” and The Beastie Boys opened her shows. Of course, Madonna went on to become an 80s icon and a music legend.
May 13, 1985, saw an armed standoff between police and the black-power group known as MOVE. In a move that caused Philadelphia to become known as the city that bombed itself, the police dropped C-4 bombs onto a house, causing it to go up in flames. Eleven people, including five children, perished in the event, and none of the officers involved faced charges.
TWA Flight 847, flying from Athens to Rome, was hijacked by terrorists on June 14, 1985. Many of the 153 passengers had to endure a 17-day ordeal of horrifying abuse, leading to the death of one American. The pilot of the plane showed such leadership over the passengers that he became widely regarded as a hero. Everyone was freed on June 30, 1985.
On September 2, 1985, a team of divers located the wreck of the Titanic, one of the most famous ships of all time. The wreck was 12,000 feet underwater off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, in the Atlantic. Ballard estimated in 2004 that 8,000 to 9,000 pieces of jewelry, porcelain, glasses and other relics had been removed by a legal salvage operation. The location of the Titanic is no longer a secret, and Ballard said submarines have bumped into it and landed on it, destroying its mainmast and damaging large areas of the deck.
31. A Volcanic Eruption Led To Heartbreaking Results
On October 13, 1985, the eruption of Nevado del Ruiz, a volcano in Colombia, erupted at night when residents nearby of the nearby town of Armero were sleeping. An estimated 20,000 people perished from the explosion and its aftermath. Rescue crews from around the world worked day and night to free people.
President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev shook hands at the Geneva Summit on November 19, 1985. It was the first time in eight years the two met for a conference. No agreements came from the two-day event, but the notion that these men even met civilly during Cold War tensions showed a positive future for international relation.
Many people alive in the 1980s remember where they were on January 28, 1986, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded as it was leaving the earth’s atmosphere. Reagan said in remarks to the country, “The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.”
In early 1986, Ferdinand Marcos led to the “people power” movement in opposition to the Philippine dictator. It garnered international attention and involved civilians protesting nonviolently in the streets. The movement became so strong that the dictator fled the country on February 25, 1986. Of all the revolutions of the time, the one in the Philippines was possibly the most peaceful.
On April 13, 1986, Jack Nicklaus won his sixth Masters. He was just 46 years young a the time, but still, the second-oldest to ever win a major golf tournament. Many people consider Jack Nicklaus to be the greatest golfer of all time. He has dozens of championship golf courses around the globe, and would Tiger a run for this money.
The nuclear plant at Chernobyl melted down on April 26, 1986, after a series of explosions. Thirty-two people died in the immediate blast, and upwards of two million experienced high radiation levels. In fact, the radiation from Chernobyl was 400 times more potent than that of the atomic bomb that exploded over Hiroshima.
The summer of 1986 marked the centennial of when France gifted the Statue of Liberty to the United States. The gift celebrated the centenary of American independence from France’s age-old rival, Britain, and Lady Liberty was a central figure in welcoming immigrants to the shores of New York City.
Fourteen people perished when a part-time postal worker in Oklahoma opened fire on August 20, 1986. The rampage was the first in a series of massacres by postal workers that led to the term “going postal” to describe a sudden rage that leads to homicidal actions.
That’s the phrase they shouted when the Boston Red Sox were up to three games to two during the 1986 World Series and the Red Sox’s first baseman missed the ball. The ball hit went right to Bill Buckner, but he misplayed the moment and allowed the New York Mets to win that game, which was game six. Basically, Buckner became the scapegoat for Boston losing the World Series, which last happened in 1918 at the time.
Halley’s Comet appears only once a generation, and the last time it passed by the earth was in October 1986. Comets are masses of gas, dust, and ice that shoot through outer space and burn off their contents through a glowing tail. Some appear regularly, including Halley’s Comet.
Throughout the 1980s, Iran and Iraq were locked in a bloody war. Desperate for weapons, Iran reached an agreement to buy some. It was part of a clandestine deal with some members of the Reagan administration and against the sanctions that the US had imposed on Iran due to the 1979 revolution. The money from the weapons sales would fuel Contras fighting in Nicaragua. The massive scandal nearly toppled the presidency of Reagan.
In October 1987, an 18-month-old girl, known to the world as Baby Jessica, fell down a hole in her aunt’s backyard and became trapped for three days, 22 feet underground. The incident changed the future of cable news, as millions of people remained glued to their televisions waiting for updates on the little girl. She was rescued after three days and made a full recovery.
October 19, 1987, became known as Black Monday because the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by more than 500 points in one day. Stocks began falling at the beginning of the day, and panic-selling caused them to drop precipitously as the day went on. The drop was the worst since 1914.
It’s true that Americans didn’t know much about the Iraq-Iran war in the 80s. However, by 1988, Iraq attacked a Kurdish minority with chemicals. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein called for the atrocities to stop the effort of the separatist Kurds. The grisly results came after Hussein deployed thousands of military men to the Kurdish regions. Eventually, the first Gulf War would begin.
In 1988, the Olympics where in Seoul, South Korea, and American diver Greg Louganis had the thud heard around the world. He was a star diver four years before at the Olympics in Los Angeles. However, this time, Louganis hit his head on the diving board in the middle of his complex routine. Although he still won the gold that year, everyone was a bit shocked by the bump.
Democratic presidential-hopeful Dukakis made a few wrong moves during his 1988 campaign. In this shot, you can see him in an armored tank as he visits a manufacturer for military equipment. CNN contributor Julian Zelizer said: “When the Republicans saw one of the images of the diminutive Dukakis popping out of an M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank with a helmet on, they almost popped the corks on the champagne.” The Bush’s featured this video in a negative TV ad questioning his ability and commitment to defend.
Speaking of Dukakis and Bush, just days after beating Dukakis, the US President-elect took a break to fish in the Gulf Stream in Florida. The year was 1988 and George HW Bush’s victory was quite overwhelming with 426 electoral votes to just 111 for Dukakis.
Remember how we said there was a famine in Ethiopia? Bob Geldof organized a massive music event to raise funds. Among the famous acts were Queen, Madonna, George Michael, David Bowie, and more. Live Aid was on July 13, 1985, and was dubbed the global jukebox as concerts in London and Philadelphia were held simultaneously. They reached over 1.9 billion people globally, which is amazing for that time.
During the last year of the decade, Exxon Valdez oil tanker spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil in the Arctic waters. It happened on March 24, 1989. The slick oil spread 500 miles from the original crash site, and affected over 1,300 miles of coastline. Considered the second-worst oil spill in America, Prince William Sound in Alaska is still feeling the effects today.
12. The Technology of the 80s Introduced the Game Boy
Nintendo launched Game Boy on April 21, 1989. This hand-held device revolutionized the gaming industry in an instant. Users could play anywhere; that is, if they have a working pair of batteries. The initial 300,000 units sold out for a retail price of $89.99 immediately, and over 118 million were sold throughout the years. That’s a lot of Tetris!
Here is another iconic photo from the 80s, which takes place in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. The man, who is unidentified, stands on Cangan Boulevard in an effort to block the military advancement. It was June 5, 1989, and thousands of people died the day before when Chinese soldiers fired on innocent civilians participating in a peaceful protest against the government. Students initiated the demonstrations as part of a democratic reform to end government corruption but only led to thousands of arrests and dozens of executions.
Sally K. Ride (May 26, 1951-July 23, 2012) became the first American woman in space in 1983. She was one of six women selected to enter the astronaut corps in 1978. While all six women flew on space shuttle missions, Ride was the first selected to go into space. With the advent of the space shuttle, NASA expanded astronaut selection from only pilots to scientists and engineers, and women became eligible for selection.
A 6.9-magnitude earthquake rumbled San Fran just as game three of the World Series started between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics on October 17, 1989. Known as Loma Prieta, the earthquake was the worst one since in the Bay Area since 1906. There was over $10 billion worth of damage and 67 people’s lives lost.
Who could forget the thrill ride that was the final dance scene in Dirty Dancing?. The intense chemistry between Johnny and Baby backed by the classic “Time of My Life” recorded by Billy Medley and Jennifer Warnes, inspired us to get out and dance. Oh, and that lift was pretty radical too.
Mother Teresa is known for being a champion of the poor as she worked tirelessly to help disenfranchised people in Kolkata, India. Her devotion to this cause lasted for nearly 50 years, and Mother Teresa earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. This Catholic nun had a major heart attack and received a pacemaker in 1989. She passed away in 1997, and was canonized as a saint in 2016.
Romanian citizens, like many other Eastern Europeans at the time, staged an anti-government protest. Gathering in Bucharest’s republican square on December 21, 1989, you can see this is an authentic picture with the date stamped from the snapshot. It was one day before the communist leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, would be overthrown during a violent revolution after 24 years as the country’s communist leader. His execution took place three days later and was televised.
Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate finally reopened on December 22, 1989, after nearly 30 years of division between West and East Germany. West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl walked through a tunnel army engineers made through a crossing point in the gate. He shook the hand of East German Prime Minister Hans Modrow, who made a speech about Brandenburg being a gate of peace.
So, someone thought it was a good idea to host the 1980 summer Olympics in Moscow, the capital of Russia. However, over 60 countries boycotted the events. It was the first time ever that the Olympic games were in Eastern Europe as well as within a socialist country. The United States led the boycott because of Russia’s presence in Afghanistan. The games only had 80 nations present, and had the smallest number of athletes since 1956 while the boycotting countries participated in the Liberty Bell classic.
On November 10, 1982, Leonid Brezhnev, the premier of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party, passed away, making him the last of the old guard to go. His regime was replaced by a newer guard that wanted reform and change. Mikhail Gorbachev’s reformist approach to communism ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
On March 25, 1982, the Canada Act passed. What did this mean for Canadians? Well, they become independent from the UK and could have parliamentary bills passed without British Parliament approval. Sure, the modern state of Canada was created back during the British North America Act of 1867, but it still forced British legislation to reign supreme. In the ’80s, Queen Elizabeth II and the then-current Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau signed the official document.
After watching this movie, we all wanted a gentle little alien friend. This classic movie stole our hearts when a troubled child summons the courage to help a friendly alien escape from Earth and return to his home planet. Made and released early in the Reagan years, E.T. exemplified a shift in America’s cultural values after the 1960s and 1970s, during which the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandals, and the Iran hostage crisis had convulsed the nation.