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Space Shuttle ColumbiaEnd of the Cold WarIran–Iraq WarSoviet War in AfghanistanFall of the Berlin Wall1983–1985 famine in EthiopiaLive AidIBM Personal ComputerChernobyl disaster
From left, clockwise: The first Space Shuttle, Columbia, lifts off in 1981; US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev ease tensions between the two superpowers, leading to the end of the Cold War; The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 is considered to be one of the most momentous events of the 1980s; In 1981, the IBM Personal Computer is released; In 1985, the Live Aid concert is held in order to fund relief efforts for the famine in Ethiopia during the time Mengistu Haile Mariam ruled the country; Pollution and ecological problems persisted when the Soviet Union and much of the world is filled with radioactive debris from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, and in 1984, when thousands of people perished in Bhopal during a gas leak from a pesticide plant; The Iran–Iraq War leads to over one million dead and $1 trillion spent, while another war between the Soviets and Afghans leaves over 2 million dead.

The 1980s (pronounced "nineteen-eighties", shortened to "the '80s" or "the Eighties") was a decade that began on January 1, 1980, and ended on December 31, 1989.

The decade saw a dominance of conservatism and free market economics, and a socioeconomic change due to advances in technology and a worldwide move away from planned economies and towards laissez-faire capitalism compared to the 1970s. As economic deconstruction increased in the developed world, multiple multinational corporations associated with the manufacturing industry relocated into Thailand, Mexico, South Korea, Taiwan, and China. Japan and West Germany saw large economic growth during this decade. The AIDS epidemic became recognized in the 1980s and has since killed an estimated 40.4 million people (as of 2022).[1] Global warming theory began to spread within the scientific and political community in the 1980s.

The United Kingdom and the United States moved closer to supply-side economic policies, beginning a trend towards global instability of international trade that would pick up more steam in the following decade as the fall of the USSR made right-wing economic policy more powerful.

The final decade of the Cold War opened with the US-Soviet confrontation continuing largely without any interruption. Superpower tensions escalated rapidly as President Reagan scrapped the policy of détente and adopted a new, much more aggressive stance on the Soviet Union. The world came perilously close to nuclear war for the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, but the second half of the decade saw a dramatic easing of superpower tensions and ultimately the total collapse of Soviet communism.

Developing countries across the world faced economic and social difficulties as they suffered from multiple debt crises in the 1980s, requiring many of these countries to apply for financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Ethiopia witnessed widespread famine in the mid-1980s during the corrupt rule of Mengistu Haile Mariam, resulting in the country having to depend on foreign aid to provide food to its population and worldwide efforts to address and raise money to help Ethiopians, such as the Live Aid concert in 1985.

Major civil discontent and violence occurred, including the Angolan Civil War, the Ethiopian Civil War, the Moro conflict, the Salvadoran Civil War, the Ugandan Bush War, the insurgency in Laos, the Iran–Iraq War, the Soviet–Afghan War, the 1982 Lebanon War, the Falklands War, the Second Sudanese Civil War, the Lord's Resistance Army insurgency, and the First Nagorno-Karabakh War. Islamism became a powerful political force in the 1980s and many jihadist organizations, including Al Qaeda, were set up.

By 1986, nationalism was making a comeback in the Eastern Bloc, and the desire for democracy in socialist states, combined with economic recession, resulted in Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika, which reduced Communist Party power, legalized dissent and sanctioned limited forms of capitalism such as joint ventures with companies from capitalist countries. After tension for most of the decade, by 1988 relations between the communist and capitalist blocs had improved significantly[2] and the Soviet Union was increasingly unwilling to defend its governments in satellite states.

1989 brought the overthrow and attempted overthrow of a number of governments led by communist parties, such as in Hungary, the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 in China, the Czechoslovak "Velvet Revolution", Erich Honecker's East German regime, Poland's Soviet-backed government, and the violent overthrow of the Nicolae Ceaușescu regime in Romania. Destruction of the 155-km Berlin Wall, at the end of the decade, signaled a seismic geopolitical shift. The Cold War ended in the early 1990s with the successful Reunification of Germany and the USSR's demise after the August Coup of 1991.

The 1980s was an era of tremendous population growth around the world, surpassing the 1970s and 1990s, and arguably being the largest in human history. During the 1980s, the world population grew from 4.4 to 5.3 billion people. There were approximately 1.33 billion births and 480 million deaths. Population growth was particularly rapid in a number of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian countries during this decade, with rates of natural increase close to or exceeding 4% annually. The 1980s saw the advent of the ongoing practice of sex-selective abortion in China and India as ultrasound technology permitted parents to selectively abort baby girls.[3]

The 1980s saw great advances in genetic and digital technology. After years of animal experimentation since 1985, the first genetic modification of 10 adult human beings took place in May 1989, a gene tagging experiment[4] which led to the first true gene therapy implementation in September 1990. The first "designer babies", a pair of female twins, were created in a laboratory in late 1989 and born in July 1990 after being sex-selected via the controversial assisted reproductive technology procedure preimplantation genetic diagnosis.[5] Gestational surrogacy was first performed in 1985 with the first birth in 1986, making it possible for a woman to become a biological mother without experiencing pregnancy for the first time in history.[6]

The global internet took shape in academia by the second half of the 1980s, as well as many other computer networks of both academic and commercial use such as USENET, Fidonet, and the Bulletin Board System. By 1989, the Internet and the networks linked to it were a global system with extensive transoceanic satellite links and nodes in most developed countries.[7] Based on earlier work, from 1980 onwards Tim Berners Lee formalized the concept of the World Wide Web by 1989. Television viewing became commonplace in the Third World, with the number of TV sets in China and India increasing by 15 and 10 times respectively.[8]

The Atari Video Computer System console became widespread in the first part of the decade, often simply called "Atari". 1980 Atari VCS port of Space Invaders was the first killer app. The video game crash of 1983 ended the system's popularity and decimated the industry until the Nintendo Entertainment System re-established the console market in North America. The hand-held Game Boy launched in 1989. Super Mario Bros. and Tetris were the decade's best selling games. Pac-Man was the highest grossing arcade game. Home computers became commonplace. The 1981 IBM PC led to a large market for IBM PC compatibles. The 1984 release of the Macintosh popularized the WIMP style of interaction.

Politics and wars[edit]

Cold War Map of Communist & Socialist countries in 1985


The most prominent armed conflicts of the decade include:

International wars[edit]

Invasion of Grenada, October 1983

The most notable wars of the decade include:

Civil wars and guerrilla wars[edit]

The most notable internal conflicts of the decade include:

Terrorist attacks[edit]

1983 Beirut barracks bombing

The most notable terrorist attacks of the decade include:


The most prominent coups d'état of the decade include:

Nuclear threats[edit]

The Israeli Air Force F-16A Netz '243' that was flown by Colonel Ilan Ramon during Operation Opera

Decolonization and independence[edit]

  • Following the decolonization and independence of the Commonwealth realms.
    • In 1982, Canada gained official independence from the United Kingdom with the Canada Act 1982, authorized by the signature by Elizabeth II. This act severed all political dependencies of the United Kingdom in Canada (although the Queen remained the head of state).
    • In 1986, Australia gained full independence from the United Kingdom with the Australia Act 1986, which severed the last remaining powers of the British government over the Australian government, including the removal of the privy council as the highest court of appeal. Australia retained the queen as head of state.
    • In 1986, New Zealand and the United Kingdom fully separated New Zealand's governments from the influence of the British Parliament, resulting in New Zealand's full independence with the Constitution Act 1986 which also reorganized the New Zealand government.
    • Independence was granted to Vanuatu from the British/French condominium (1980), Kiribati from joint US-British government (1981) and Palau from the United States (1986).
    • Zimbabwe becomes independent from official colonial rule of the United Kingdom in 1980.
    • Independence was given to Antigua and Barbuda, Belize (both 1981), and Saint Kitts and Nevis (1983) in the Caribbean; Brunei (1984) and Thailand formed a US-British government (1981) in Southeast Asia.

Prominent political events[edit]


U.S. President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev signing the INF Treaty, 1987
  • Ronald Reagan was elected U.S. president in 1980. In international affairs, Reagan pursued a hardline policy towards preventing the spread of communism, initiating a considerable buildup of U.S. military power to challenge the Soviet Union. He further directly challenged the Iron Curtain by demanding that the Soviet Union dismantle the Berlin Wall.
  • The Reagan Administration accelerated the War on Drugs, publicized through anti-drug campaigns including the Just Say No campaign of First Lady Nancy Reagan. Drugs gained attention in the US as a serious problem in the '80s. Cocaine was relatively popular among celebrities and affluent youth, while crack, a cheaper offshoot of the drug, was linked to high crime rates in inner cities during the American crack epidemic. [citation needed]
  • The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (1968) (PATCO) declared a strike on August 3, 1981, seeking better working conditions, better pay, and a 32-hour workweek. The strike caused considerable disruption of the U.S. air transportation system. Resolution came when Ronald Reagan fired over 11,000 striking air traffic controllers who had ignored his order to return to work, banning them from federal service for life. After seeking appeals, many of the controllers were re-hired while the FAA attempted to replace much of their air traffic control staffing. The remainder continued to be banned until President Clinton lifted the final aspects in 1993.
  • Political unrest in the province of Quebec, which, due to the many differences between the dominant francophone population and the anglophone minority, and also to francophone rights in the predominantly English-speaking Canada, came to a head in 1980 when the provincial government called a public referendum on partial separation from the rest of Canada. The referendum ended with the "no" side winning majority (59.56% no, 40.44% yes).
  • Military dictatorships give way to democracy in Argentina (1983), Uruguay (1984–85), Brazil (1985–1988) and Chile (1988–89). This marked the end of the Operation Condor for 30 years.


The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked the beginning of German reunification
Former president of Finland from 1956 to 1982. Funeral cortege of Urho Kekkonen in Helsinki, 1986
  • The European Community's enlargement continued with the accession of Greece in 1981 and Spain and Portugal in 1986.
  • In 1983, Bettino Craxi became the first socialist to hold the office of Prime Minister of Italy; he remained in power until 1987, becoming one of the longest-serving Prime Ministers in the history of Italian Republic. At the end of his presidency the Mani pulite corruption scandal broke up, causing the collapse of the political system.
  • Significant political reforms occurred in a number of communist countries in eastern Europe as the populations of these countries grew increasingly hostile and politically active in opposing communist governments. These reforms included attempts to increase individual liberties and market liberalization, and promises of democratic renewal. The collapse of communism in eastern Europe was generally peaceful, the exception being Romania, whose leader Nicolae Ceaușescu tried to keep the people isolated from the events happening outside the country. While making a speech in Bucharest in December 1989, he was booed and shouted down by the crowd, and then tried to flee the city with his wife Elena. Two days later, they were captured, charged with genocide, and shot on Christmas Day.
  • In Yugoslavia, following the death of communist leader Josip Broz Tito in May 1980, the trend of political reform of the communist system occurred along with a trend towards ethnic nationalism and inter-ethnic hostility, especially in Serbia, beginning with the 1986 Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts followed by the agenda of Serbian communist leader Slobodan Milošević who aggressively pushed for increased political influence of Serbs in the late 1980s, condemning non-Serb Yugoslav politicians who challenged his agenda as being enemies of Serbs.
  • There was continuing civil strife in Northern Ireland, including the adoption of hunger strikes by Irish Republican Army prisoners seeking the reintroduction of political status.
  • Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union in 1985, and initiated major reforms to the Soviet Union's government through increasing the rights of expressing political dissent and opening elections to opposition candidates (while maintaining legal dominance of the Communist Party). Gorbachev pursued negotiation with the United States to decrease tensions and eventually end the Cold War.
  • During the Revolutions of 1989, most of the communist governments in Eastern Europe collapsed. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 would be followed in 1990 by the German reunification.
  • The United Kingdom was governed by the Conservative Party under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the first female leader of a Western country. Under her Premiership, the party introduced widespread economic reforms including the privatisation of industries and the de-regulation of stock markets echoing similar reforms of U.S. President Ronald Reagan. She was also a staunch opponent of communism, earning her the nickname The Iron Lady.
  • Poor industrial relations marked the beginning of the decade; the UK miners' strike (1984–85) was a major industrial action affecting the UK coal industry. The strike by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was led by Arthur Scargill, although some NUM members considered it to be unconstitutional and did not observe it. The BBC has referred to the strike as "the most bitter industrial dispute in British history."[9] At its height, the strike involved 142,000 mineworkers, making it the biggest since the 1926 General Strike.[10]
  • In November 1982, Leonid Brezhnev, who had led the Soviet Union since 1964, died. He was followed in quick succession by Yuri Andropov, the former KGB chief, and Konstantin Chernenko, both of whom were in poor health during their short tenures in office.


  • Following the assassination of Park Chung-hee, South Korean president Chun Doo Hwan came to power at the end of 1979 and ruled as a dictator until his presidential term expired in 1987. He was responsible for the Gwangju Uprising in May 1980 when police and soldiers battled armed protesters. Relations with North Korea showed little sign of improvement during the 1980s. In 1983, when Chun was in Burma, a bomb apparently planted by North Korean agents killed a number of South Korean government officials. The June Democratic Struggle in 1987, a nationwide pro-democracy movement in South Korea, leads to democratic reforms, an end to authoritarian rule and democratic elections. After leaving office, Chun was succeeded by Roh Tae Woo, the first democratic ruler of the country, which saw its international prestige greatly rise with hosting the Olympics in 1988. Roh pursued a policy of normalizing relations with China and the Soviet Union, but had to face militant left-wing student groups who demanded reunification with North Korea and the withdrawal of US troops.
  • In the Philippines, after almost 20 years of dictatorship, Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos left the presidency and was replaced by Corazon Aquino through the "People Power Revolution" from February 22 to 25, 1986. This has been considered by some a peaceful revolution despite the fact that the Armed Forces of the Philippines issued an order to disperse the crowds on EDSA (the main thoroughfare in Metro Manila).
  • Democratization in South Korea and Taiwan, having lasted 42 and 27 years under the authoritarian regime since the end of World War II and the Korean War (including the lifting of martial law in Taiwan and the first direct presidential elections in South Korea).
  • The 1988 Summer Olympics were held in South Korea, the first time the country hosted them.


  • A widespread famine hit Ethiopia from 1983 to 1985, affecting 7.75 million people, killing around 300,000 to 1.2 million. 400,000 refugees left the country. Blame for the famine has been attributed to drought, Ethiopia's civil war, and policies taken by the Derg military regime.

Assassinations and attempts[edit]

Ronald Reagan
Anwar Sadat

Prominent assassinations, targeted killings, and assassination attempts include:

Date Description
April 12, 1980 William R. Tolbert Jr., 20th President of Liberia, is killed during a military coup. His death marks the end of Americo-Liberian rule in Liberia.[11]
March 30, 1981 Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States, was shot in Washington, D.C. by a mentally disturbed individual. Reagan's press secretary, James Brady, was also shot, along with a police officer and a U.S. Secret Service agent.[12]
May 13, 1981 Pope John Paul II is shot and wounded in Saint Peter's Square.[13]
August 30, 1981 Mohammad-Ali Rajai, 2nd President of Iran and Mohammad-Javad Bahonar, 48th Prime Minister of Iran, are both killed when a bomb explodes in Bahonar's office. Iranian officials alleges the bomb was planted by elements of the People's Mujahedin of Iran, though others allege the bombing was orchestrated by political rivals within the Islamic Republican Party.[14][15]
October 6, 1981 Anwar Sadat, 3rd President of Egypt, is assassinated at a military parade in Cairo.[16]
August 21, 1983 Benigno Aquino Jr., a longtime political opponent of Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos, is killed after landing in the Philippines after three years of self-imposed exile.[17]
October 12, 1984 Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, avoids being the target of a bombing at a hotel orchestrated by the Provisional Irish Republican Army. The blast does kill five including Anthony Berry, an MP and Deputy Chief Whip.[18]
October 31, 1984 Indira Gandhi, 3rd Prime Minister of India, is assassinated by her own bodyguards in response to the Indian Army's attack on Golden Temple to destroy Sikh Militant stronghold in Amritsar earlier in the decade.[19]
February 28, 1986 Olof Palme, Prime Minister of Sweden, is assassinated while walking home from a cinema in Stockholm.[20]
October 15, 1987 Thomas Sankara, 1st President of Burkina Faso, is assassinated in a coup organized by his former colleague, Blaise Compaoré.[21]


Natural disasters[edit]

1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens

Non-natural disasters[edit]

The space shuttle Challenger disintegrates on January 28, 1986
  • On April 25, 1980, Dan-Air Flight 1008 crashed on approach to Tenerife in the Canary Islands. All 146 people on board were killed.
  • On August 19, 1980, Saudia Flight 163 caught fire moments after takeoff from the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh. The flight quickly returned to the airport, but evacuation of the plane was delayed and all 301 people aboard died.
  • On July 9, 1982, Pan Am Flight 759 was forced down by a wind shear microburst, killing 153 people.
  • On June 2, 1983, an internal fire on Air Canada Flight 797 forced the plane to divert to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Ninety seconds after the plane landed and the doors were opened, flashover conditions developed and the plane's interior immediately became engulfed in flames, killing 23 passengers, including Canadian folk musician Stan Rogers.
  • On September 1, 1983, Soviet Union fighter jets shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007, which was carrying 269 people, none of whom survived.
  • In 1984, the Bhopal disaster resulted from a toxic MIC gas leak at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, killing 3,000 immediately and ultimately claiming 15,000–20,000 lives.
  • On May 29, 1985, the Heysel Stadium disaster occurred before the European Cup final in Brussels, Belgium, when a crowd crush led to 39 deaths and 600 injuries.
  • On June 23, 1985, Air India Flight 182, flight from Montreal Canada is blown up over Irish waters by a bomb placed in the luggage compartment. This was the deadliest act of aviation terrorism until the September 11 attacks of 2001.
  • On August 2, 1985, Delta Air Lines Flight 191 crashed on approach to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Texas. 137 people were killed while 27 survived.
  • Japan Airlines Flight 123, carrying 524 people, crashed on August 12, 1985, while on a flight from Tokyo to Osaka killing 520 of the people on board, leaving four survivors. This was, and still is, the worst single-plane crash ever.
  • On December 12, 1985, Arrow Air Flight 1285 crashed seconds after lifting off from Gander, Newfoundland. All 256 people on board, many of them U.S. servicemen returning home from duty overseas, perished.
  • On January 28, 1986, the NASA Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated 73 seconds after launch, killing all of the crew on board. This was the first disaster involving the destruction of a NASA space shuttle. A faulty O-ring was the cause of the accident.
  • On February 8, 1986 near Hinton, Alberta, Canada (west of Edmonton) a westbound Canadian National (CN Rail) freight train slammed head-on into an oncoming eastbound VIA Rail passenger train, resulting in twenty-six casualties & dozens of serious injuries. A judicial inquiry that followed concluded that the freight train crew failed to obey signals (which were working properly) & ran through the switch off a siding, back into the single main track. It was also noted that the crew of the freight train were possibly asleep on duty.
  • On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl disaster, a large-scale nuclear meltdown in the Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union, spread a large amount of radioactive material across Europe, killing 47 people, dooming countless others to future radiation-related cancer, and causing the displacement of 300,000 people.
  • On June 14, 1986, Fantasyland's Mindbender inside West Edmonton Mall, derails and kills 3 people, injuring one, and slams into a concrete post.
  • On August 31, 1986, Aeroméxico Flight 498 crashed after colliding with a private Piper Cherokee over Cerritos, California, killing everyone on both airplanes and several others on the ground. On the same day, the Soviet passenger ship Admiral Nakhimov sank after colliding with the bulk carrier Pyotr Vasev in the Black Sea, killing 423 people.
  • On May 9, 1987, an uncontained engine failure on LOT Flight 5055 caused an in-flight fire on board the airliner, which subsequently crashed, killing all 183 passengers and crew.
  • On August 16, 1987, Northwest Airlines Flight 255 crashed almost immediately after takeoff from Detroit Wayne Airport in Michigan, killing 156 people.
  • On November 28, 1987, a fire broke out on South African Airways Flight 295, eventually causing the aircraft to crash into the Indian Ocean. All 159 aboard were killed.
  • On December 7, 1987, 43 people were killed when an irate former USAir employee went on a rampage aboard PSA Flight 1771.
  • On December 20, 1987, the Philippine passenger ferry MV Doña Paz burned and sank after colliding with the oil tanker MT Vector. With an estimated death toll of over 4,000, this was and remains the world's deadliest peacetime maritime disaster.
  • On July 3, 1988, Iran Air Flight 655 was shot down by the U.S. missile cruiser USS Vincennes over the Strait of Hormuz, killing all 290 people on the plane. The event is one of the most controversial aviation occurrences of all time, with the true cause disputed between the Americans and the Iranians.
  • On December 21, 1988, an American passenger 747 airliner en route from Frankfurt to Detroit (via London and New York) Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb while it was flying over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing the 259 passengers and crew members on board and 11 people on the ground. This was the worst terrorist attack to have occurred on British soil.
  • On March 24, 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in Alaska's Prince William Sound spilling an estimated equivalent of 260,000 to 750,000 barrels of crude oil. Although not among the largest oil spills in history, its remote and sensitive location made it one of the most devastating ecological disasters ever. The after effects of the spill continue to be felt to this day.
  • On April 15, 1989, The Hillsborough disaster occurs during a FA Cup Semi-Final in Sheffield, England fatally crushing 96 football fans and injuring nearly 1,000 more.
  • On July 19, 1989, United Airlines Flight 232, carrying 296 people, suffered an in-flight engine failure and was forced to crash-land at Sioux City, Iowa. 185 survived, while 111 were killed when the plane burst into flames upon touchdown.

Science and technology[edit]

Medicine and biology[edit]

The 1980s had many fundamental advances in medicine and biology. The first surrogate pregnancy of an unrelated child took place on April 13, 1986, in Michigan.[6] The first genetically modified crops, tobacco (Nicotiana) plants were grown in China in 1988.[22]

Gene therapy techniques became established by the end of the 1980s, allowing gene tagging and gene therapy to become a possibility, both of which were first performed in human beings in May 1989 and September 1990, respectively.

Electronics and computers[edit]

Arcade and video games had been growing in popularity since the late 1970s, and by 1982 were a major industry. But a variety of factors, including a glut of low-quality games and the rise of home computers, caused a tremendous crash in late 1983. For the next three years, the video game market practically ceased to exist in the US. But in the second half of the decade, it would be revived by Nintendo, whose Famicom console and mascot Mario had been enjoying considerable success in Japan since 1983. Renamed the Nintendo Entertainment System, it would claim 90% of the American video game market by 1989. The 1980s are considered to be the decade when video games achieved massive popularity. In 1980, Pac-Man was introduced to the arcades, and became one of the most popular video games of all time. Also in 1980, Game & Watch was created; it was not one of the most well known game systems, but it facilitated mini-games and was concurrent with the NES. Donkey Kong, released in 1981, was a smash arcade hit and market breakthrough for Nintendo. Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3, The Legend of Zelda, and the Mega Man series would become major hits for the console.

The personal computer experienced explosive growth in the 1980s, transitioning from a hobbyist's toy to a full-fledged consumer product. The IBM PC, launched in 1981, became the dominant computer for professional users. Commodore created the most popular home computers of both 8-bit and 16-bit generations. MSX standard was the dominant computer platform in Japan and in most parts of Asia. Apple Computer superseded its Apple II and Lisa models by introducing the first Macintosh computer in 1984. It was the first commercially successful personal computer to use a graphical user interface (GUI) and mouse,[23] which started to become general features in computers after the middle of the decade. Electronics and computers were also at the forefront of the advertising industry, with many commercials like "1984" from Apple achieving acclaim and pop-culture relevance.[24]

Walkman and boomboxes, invented during the late 1970s, became very popular as they were introduced to various countries in the early 1980s, and had a profound impact on the music industry and youth culture. Consumer VCRs and video rental stores became commonplace as VHS won out over the competing Betamax standard. In addition, in the early 1980s various companies began selling compact, modestly priced synthesizers to the public. This, along with the development of Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI), made it easier to integrate and synchronize synthesizers and other electronic instruments, like drum machines, for use in musical composition.

High definition television (HDTV) of both the analog and digital variety were first developed in the 1980s though their use did not become widespread until the mid-2000s.

In 1981, Hayes Microcomputer Products started selling the Smartmodem. The Smartmodem paved the way for the modern modems that exist today, mainly because it was the first modem to transform what had previously required a two-stage process into a process involving only one stage. The Smartmodem contributed to the rise in popularity of BBS systems in the 1980s and early 1990s, which were the main way to connect to remote computers and perform various social and entertainment activities before the Internet and the World Wide Web finally became popular in the mid-1990s.

Information technology[edit]

  • During the decade Microsoft released the operating systems MS-DOS (1981), Windows 1.0 (1985), and Windows 2.0 (1987).
  • The CD - the most basic CD ("Digital Audio Compact Disc") was released in October 1982 for distribution and listening to digital audio, and at the time contained up to 74 minutes of music.
  • TCP/IP: ARPANET officially changed its main protocol from NCP to TCP/IP on January 1, 1983, when the new protocols were activated. The TCP/IP protocol will become the dominant communications protocol from then onwards, and would be used as the foundation on which the Internet would be based.
  • The GNU Project (1983). The Free Software Foundation (1985).
  • FidoNet - In 1984, FidoNet was launched, enabling BBS users to send private messages (e-mails) and public messages (in the forum) between all BBS systems that were connected to the FidoNet network, in addition to sending files to each other. The rise in popularity and availability of the Internet around the world around the mid-1990s eventually contributed to the irrelevance of FidoNet.
  • World Wide Web - In 1989, the British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee first proposed a project to his employer CERN, based on the concept of hypertext, to facilitate sharing and updating information among researchers. In mid-November 1989 he would develop the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the internet. In the coming years Berners-Lee developed the system which would later become the foundation of the World Wide Web.

Space exploration[edit]

The Space Shuttle Columbia seconds after engine ignition, 1981

American interplanetary probes continued in the 1980s, the Voyager duo being the most known. After making a flyby of Jupiter in 1979, they went near Saturn in 1980–1981. Voyager 2 reached Uranus in 1986 (just a few days before the Challenger disaster), and Neptune in 1989 before the probes exited the Solar System.

No American probes were launched to Mars in the 1980s, and the Viking probes, launched there in 1975, completed their operations by 1982. The Soviets launched two Mars probes in 1988, but they failed.

The arrival of Halley's Comet in 1986 was met by a series of Soviet, Japanese and European Space Agency (ESA) probes, namely Halley Armada.

After a six-year hiatus, American space flights with astronauts resumed with the launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia in April 1981. The shuttle program progressed smoothly from there, with three more orbiters entering service in 1983–1985. But that all came to an end with the tragic loss of the Challenger (STS-51-L) on January 28, 1986, taking with it seven astronauts, including Christa McAuliffe, who was to have been the first teacher in space. In full view of the world, a faulty O-ring on the right solid rocket booster allowed hot gases to burn through the external fuel tank and cause it to explode, destroying the shuttle in the process. Extensive efforts were made to improve NASA's increasingly careless management practices, and to make the shuttle safer. Flights resumed with the launch of Discovery in September 1988.

The Soviet program with cosmonauts went well during the decade, experiencing only minor setbacks. The Salyut 6 space station, launched in 1977, was replaced by Salyut 7 in 1982. Then came Mir in 1986, which ended up operating for more than a decade, and was destined to be the last in the line of Soviet space stations that had begun in 1971. One of the Soviet Union's last "superprojects" was the Buran space shuttle; it was only used once, in 1988.


The American auto industry began in the 1980s in a thoroughly grim situation, faced with poor quality control, rising import competition, and a severe economic downturn.[27] Chrysler and American Motors (AMC) were near bankruptcy, and Ford was little better off.[28] Only GM continued with business as usual. But the auto makers recovered with the economy by 1983, and in 1985 auto sales in the United States hit a new record. However, the Japanese were now a major presence, and would begin manufacturing cars in the US to get around tariffs. In 1986, Hyundai became the first Korean auto maker to enter the American market. In the same year, the Yugoslavian-built Yugo was brought to the US, but the car was so small and cheap, that it became the subject of jokes. It was sold up to 1991, when economic sanctions against Yugoslavia forced its withdrawal from the American market.

As the decade progressed, cars became smaller and more efficient in design. In 1983, Ford design teams began to incorporate aerodynamic styling to decrease drag while in motion. The Thunderbird was one of the first cars to receive these design changes. In 1985, Ford released the Taurus with a design that was revolutionary among domestic mass market automobiles.

General Motors began suffering significant losses in the late 1980s, partially the result of chairman Roger Smith's restructuring attempts, and partially because of increasingly dated cars. An example were customers who increasingly purchased European luxury cars rather than Cadillacs. In 1985, GM started Saturn (the first new American make since the Edsel), with the goal of producing high-quality import fighters. Production would not begin until 1990.

Chrysler introduced its new compact, front-wheel drive K-cars in 1981. Under the leadership of Lee Iacocca, the company turned a profit again the following year, and by 1983 paid off its government loans. A succession of models using this automobile platform followed. The most significant were the minivans in 1984. These proved a to be popular and they would dominate the van market for more than a decade. In 1987, Chrysler purchased the Italian makes of Lamborghini and Maserati. In the same year, Chrysler bought AMC from Renault laying to rest the last significant independent U.S. automaker, but acquiring the hugely profitable Jeep line and continuing the Eagle brand until the late 1990s.[29]

The DMC DeLorean was the brainchild of John DeLorean, a flamboyant former GM executive. Production of the gull-winged sports car began in Northern Ireland in 1981. John DeLorean was arrested in October 1982 in a sting operation where he was attempting to sell cocaine to save his struggling company. He was acquitted of all charges in 1984, but too late for the DeLorean Motor Company, which closed down in 1983. The DeLorean gained renewed fame afterward as the time machine in the Back to the Future film trilogy.

The imposition of CAFE fuel-mileage standards in 1979 spelled the end of big-block engines, but performance cars and convertibles reemerged in the 1980s. Turbochargers were widely used to boost the performance of small cars, and technology from fuel injection began to take over from the widely used application of carburetors by the late 1980s. Front-wheel drive also became dominant.

The Eighties marked the decline of European brands in North America by the end of the decade. Renault, Citroen, and Peugeot ceased importation by the end of the decade. Alfa Romeo would continue until 1993. Fiat also ceased imports to North America in the Eighties.


  • The early 1980s was marked by a severe global economic recession that affected much of the developed world.
  • Inflation peaked in the U.S. in April 1980 at 14.76% and subsequently fell to a low of 1.10% in December 1986 but then rebounded to 4.65% at the end of the decade.[30]
  • Finland's economy grew by almost the fastest pace in the world, which eventually culminated in the recession of the 1990s Finnish economy. In Finland, the 1980s were called the "Nousukausi", or "economic upswing".
  • International debt crisis in developing countries, reliance of these countries on aid from the International Monetary Fund.
  • Revival of laissez faire/neoliberal economics in the developed world led by the UK and US governments emphasising reduced government intervention, lower taxes and deregulation of the stock markets associated with an economic revival in the mid- to late-1980s. Consumers became more sophisticated in their tastes (a trend begun in the 1960s), and things such as European cars and designer clothing became fashionable in the US.[citation needed]
  • Brazil and Mexico suffers from a debt crisis in Latin America starting in 1982 under President João Figueiredo and Miguel de la Madrid. Economic problems worsened between 1979 and 1985 by firing and resignation of most officials of the Brazilian and Mexican government after the Diretas Já movement in 1984, and a failed response of emergency aid in the Mexico City earthquake just after the 175th anniversary of independence holiday in 1985. Tancredo Neves (later succeeded by José Sarney three months later) and Carlos Salinas de Gortari won a direct presidential election in 1985 marked the end of a 21-year military dictatorship, and a controversial presidential election in 1988 amid charges of voter fraud, bribery, corruption and other abuses of power.
  • Enactment of the Canada–United States Free Trade Agreement in 1989 to further establish a strong economic bond between the two prosperous neighbor countries of North America.
  • In the Soviet Union, the eleventh Five-Year Plan was initiated in 1981 during a period of economic stagnation that began in the late 1970s. The Plan was a near failure, as most of the targets were not met. With the ascent of Mikhail Gorbachev as General Secretary of the Communist Party, the twelfth Five-Year Plan sought to accelerate and restructure the Soviet economy through reforms to decentralize production and distribution systems.
  • Under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, China embarked on extensive reforms in the 1980s, opening the country's economy to the West and allowing capitalist enterprises to operate in a market socialist system. The corruption of Communist Party leadership was met by dissent from students and workers in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 which were suppressed by the People's Liberation Army.
  • The Solidarity movement began in Poland in 1980, involving workers demanding political liberalization and democracy in Poland. Attempts by the Communist government to prevent the rise of the Solidarity movement failed and negotiations between the movement and the government took place. Solidarity would be instrumental in encouraging people in other communist states to demand political reform.
  • The financial world and the stock market were glamorized in a way they had not been since the 1920s, and figures like Donald Trump and Michael Milken were widely seen as symbols of the decade. Widespread fear of Japanese economic strength would grip the United States in the '80s.
  • The "Black Monday" stock market crash on October 19, 1987, decreased the value of the Dow Jones Industrial Average by more than 22%, causing widespread secondary drops in world markets.
  • During the 1980s, for the first time in world history, transpacific trade (with East Asia, such as China, and Latin America, primarily with Mexico) equaled that of transatlantic trade (with Western Europe or with neighboring Canada),[31] solidifying American economic power.[32]
  • The Savings and Loan crisis and Keating five scandal.
  • The phrase Big Bang, used in reference to the sudden deregulation of financial markets, was coined to describe measures, including abolition of fixed commission charges and of the distinction between stockjobbers and stockbrokers on the London Stock Exchange and change from open-outcry to electronic, screen-based trading, effected by Margaret Thatcher in 1986.

Popular culture[edit]


Duran Duran
Duran Duran (top), Michael Jackson (bottom left) and Madonna (bottom right) were among the best-selling musical talents of the decade, all considered some of the most globally popular and culturally significant pop and R&B talents of the 1980s, pictured here in 1983, 1988 and 1985 respectively.
American rock band Chicago was known for several singles that achieved chart success in the 1980s, including "Hard to Say I'm Sorry", "Stay the Night", "You're the Inspiration", "Hard Habit to Break", "Along Comes a Woman", "Will You Still Love Me?", "I Don't Wanna Live Without Your Love", and "Look Away".

In the United States, MTV was launched and music videos began to have a larger effect on the record industry. Pop artists/bands such as Duran Duran, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Prince, Cyndi Lauper and Madonna mastered the format and helped turn this new product into a profitable business. New wave and synthpop were developed by many British and American artists, and became popular phenomena throughout the decade, especially in the early and mid-1980s. Music grew fragmented and combined into subgenres such as house, goth, and rap metal.[33]

The advent of numerous new technologies had a significant impact on 1980s music, and led to a distinct production aesthetic that included synthesizer sounds, drum machines and drum reverb.

Duran Duran, the biggest band of the 1980s, created a teen frenzy similar to that of The Beatles during the first British Invasion of the 1960s. They were Princess Diana's favorite band. In 1982, they released their world famous, omnipresent Rio which ignited a global craze. Their catchy flagship song from the album, Hungry Like the Wolf, reached number 1 in Canada, number 3 in the United States, number 4 in Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa and number 5 in the United Kingdom and Australia. It won a Grammy Award in 1984. The title track was another mega hit song that was issued worldwide in October 1982 and became a Top 10 hit in the UK Singles Chart. As of October 2021, "Rio" was the third most streamed Duran Duran song in the UK. "The Reflex" became the band's most successful single, topping the UK chart on 5 May 1984. It was their second UK No. 1, after 1983's "Is There Something I Should Know?" By 1985, the musical band stood on top of the world as absolute conquerors of music and music video. They were the darlings of MTV and the center of female teen fan's attention. In that same year, the A View to a Kill theme song to the same-titled James Bond movie reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and it remains the only Bond theme to achieve this chart placing. Notorious (Duran Duran song) was a massive commercial success internationally. It debuted at number 14 and peaked the following week at number 7 in the UK Singles Charts, and also performed extremely well in the US, reaching number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was also a success in other countries reaching the top 10 in Sweden, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, Belgium, New Zealand, the Netherlands and did even better particularly in Italy, where it went to number 1 for 4 consecutive weeks, becoming one of the best-selling singles of 1986 in the country. Their massive appeal was widespread on a worldwide scale in music, video and fashion. Their influence was so intense that they helped shape how music was defined throughout the 80s decade. They extensively toured the US, Canada, Australia, Europe, Mexico, South America, Japan and other parts of Asia. Highly stylized videos showcasing their other mega hit songs like, Planet Earth, New Moon on Monday, The Wild Boys, Save a Prayer and Notorious made Duran Duran a popular household name.

Michael Jackson was one of the icons of the 1980s and his leather jacket, white glove, and Moonwalk dance were often imitated. Jackson's 1982 album Thriller became—and currently remains—the best-selling album of all time, with sales estimated by various sources as somewhere between 65 and 110 million copies worldwide. His 1987 album Bad sold over 45 million copies and became the first album to have five number-one singles chart on the Billboard Hot 100. Jackson had the most number-one singles throughout the decade (9), and spent the most weeks at number one (27 weeks). His 1987 Bad World Tour grossed over $125 million worldwide, making it the highest grossing world tour by a solo artist during the decade. Jackson earned numerous awards and titles during the 1980s, the most notable of which were a record eight Grammy Awards and eight American Music Awards in 1984, and the honor of "Artist of the Decade" by U.S. President George H.W. Bush. Jackson was arguably the biggest star during this time, and would eventually sell more than one billion records around the world.

Prince was a popular star of the 1980s and the most successful chart act of the decade. His breakthrough album 1999, released in 1982, produced three top-ten hits and the album itself charted at number nine on the Billboard 200. His sixth studio album Purple Rain was an international success, boosting Prince to superstardom and selling over 25 million copies worldwide. The album produced the US number-one singles, "When Doves Cry" and "Let's Go Crazy" and sold 13 million copies in the U.S. as of 1996. Prince released an album every year for the rest of the decade, all charting within the top ten, with the exception of Lovesexy. In the 1990s, he infamously changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol in response to a record dispute with Warner Brothers. He went on to sell over 120 million records worldwide and win seven Grammy Awards.

The '80s were above all a time of international corporatization... [Rock music] was reconceived as intellectual property, as a form of capital itself... The '80s were when stars replaced artists as bearers of significance... The '80s took rock sexuality and rock sexism over the top... The '80s were a time of renewed racial turmoil after ten-plus years of polite resegregation... Technology changed everything in the '80s. Cable brought us MTV and the triumph of the image. Synthesizers inflected the sounds that remained. Sampling revolutionized rock and roll's proprietary relationship to its own history. Cassettes made private music portable—and public. Compact discs inflated profitability as they faded into the background of busy lives.

Robert Christgau in Christgau's Record Guide: The '80s (1990)[34]

Madonna and Whitney Houston were groundbreaking female artists of the decade.[35] The keyboard synthesizer and drum machine were among the most popular instruments in music during the 1980s, especially in new wave music. After the 1980s, electronic instruments continued to be the main component of mainstream pop.

Hard rock, heavy metal, and glam metal became some of the most dominant music genres of the decade, peaking with the arrival of such bands as Mötley Crüe, Guns N' Roses, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Poison, Europe, Megadeth, Slayer, Sepultura, Exodus, Anthrax, Overkill, Testament, Pantera (then-a glam metal band) and virtuoso guitarists such as Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen. The scene also helped 1970s hard rock artists such as AC/DC, Heart, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Blue Öyster Cult, Deep Purple, Queen, Van Halen, KISS, Ronnie James Dio, Rush and Judas Priest reach a new generation of fans.

The 1980s were also known for song parodies becoming more mainstream, a trend led by parodic musician "Weird Al" Yankovic. He was best known for his Michael Jackson parodies "Eat It" and "Fat" as well as other parodies like "Another One Rides The Bus" (parody of "Another One Bites The Dust" by Queen).

By 1989, the hip hop scene had evolved, gaining recognition and exhibiting a stronger influence on the music industry. This time period is also considered part of the golden age of hip hop. The Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Run-D.M.C., Grandmaster Flash, the Furious Five, Boogie Down Productions, N.W.A, LL Cool J, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, EPMD, Eric B. & Rakim, Ice-T, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, 2 Live Crew, Tone Lōc, Biz Markie, the Jungle Brothers, The Sugar Hill Gang and others experienced success in this genre.

The A-side vinyl press of "Drive" by The Cars. One of the band's most popular singles, it peaked at number 1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, and number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1984.

Country music advanced into a new realm of popularity with youth appeal and record-breaking marks. Groundbreaking artists such as Alabama, Hank Williams Jr., Reba McEntire, George Strait, Ricky Skaggs, Janie Fricke, The Judds, and Randy Travis achieved multiple platinum and award status, foreshadowing the genre's popularity explosion in the 1990s. Country legends from past decades, however; such as George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Conway Twitty, the Oak Ridge Boys, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, Don Williams, Crystal Gayle, Ronnie Milsap, Barbara Mandrell, and the Statler Brothers; also continued to score hits throughout the decade.

The techno style of electronic dance music emerged in Detroit, Michigan, during the mid- to late 1980s. The house music style, another form of electronic dance music, emerged in Chicago, Illinois, in the early 1980s. It was initially popularized in mid-1980s discothèques catering to the African-American, Latino and gay communities, first in Chicago, then in New York City and Detroit. It eventually reached Europe before becoming infused in mainstream pop and dance music worldwide.

Punk rock continued to make strides in the musical community. With bands leading the significance of this period such as Black Flag, Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Suicidal Tendencies, D.O.A., Bad Religion, Minutemen, Social Distortion, and Dead Kennedys, it gave birth to many subgenres like hardcore, which has continued to be moderately successful, giving birth in turn to a few counterculture movements, most notably the Straight Edge movement which began in the early era of this decade. College rock caught on in the underground scene of the 1980s in a nationwide movement with a distinct D.I.Y approach. Bands like the Pixies, R.E.M., The Replacements, Sonic Youth, XTC, The Smiths, Echo & the Bunnymen, Hüsker Dü, The Stone Roses, The Jesus and Mary Chain etc. experienced success in this genre. The 1980s also saw the birth of the grunge genre, with the arrival of such bands as Soundgarden, Green River, Melvins, Screaming Trees, Malfunkshun, Skin Yard, The U-Men, Blood Circus, Nirvana, Tad, Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone and Alice in Chains (the latter of whom formed in 1987, but did not release their first album until three years later).

Live Aid concert at Philadelphia's JFK Stadium in 1985

Several notable musical artists died of unnatural causes in the 1980s: Bon Scott, at the time lead singer of rock band AC/DC, died of acute alcohol poisoning on February 19, 1980; English drummer John Bonham of the rock band Led Zeppelin also died that year in a similar manner; The Beatles member John Lennon was fatally shot outside his home in New York City on the night of December 8, 1980; Tim Hardin died of a heroin overdose on December 29, 1980; Reggae musician Bob Marley died from a lentiginous skin melanoma on May 11, 1981; Harry Chapin died of a car accident on July 16, 1981; Motown singer Marvin Gaye was shot dead by his father at his home in Los Angeles on April 1, 1984, one day before what would've been his 45th birthday; Ozzy Osbourne's guitarist Randy Rhoads died in an airplane crash on March 19, 1982; Karen Carpenter died from heart failure caused by her anorexia condition on February 4, 1983; Metallica bassist Cliff Burton was killed in a bus accident in Sweden on September 27, 1986; and lastly, Andy Gibb died in 1988 as a result of myocarditis.

In 1984, the British supergroup Band Aid was formed to raise aid and awareness of the economic plight of Ethiopia. In 1985's Live Aid concert, featuring many artists, promoted attention and action to send food aid to Ethiopia whose people were suffering from a major famine.


The highest-grossing film of the decade was E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Critically acclaimed films

The film industry

The 1980s saw the return of studio-driven films, coming from the filmmaker-driven New Hollywood era of the 1970s.[37] The period was when 'high concept' films gained popularity, where movies were to be easily marketable and understandable, and, therefore, they had short cinematic plots that could be summarized in one or two sentences. The modern Hollywood blockbuster is the most popular film format from the 1980s. Producer Don Simpson[38] is usually credited with the creation of the high-concept picture of the modern Hollywood blockbuster. In the mid-1980s, a wave of British directors, including Ridley Scott, Alan Parker, Adrian Lyne and Tony Scott (with the latter directing a number of Don Simpson films) ushered in a new era of blockbusters using the crowd-pleasing skills they had honed in UK television commercials.[39]

A significant development in the home media business is the establishment of The Criterion Collection in 1984, an American company "dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions that offer the highest technical quality". Through their releases, they were able to introduce what is now a standard to home video: letterboxing to retain the original aspect ratio, film commentaries and supplements/special features.[40][41]

Live-action films

Action movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger rose to international fame this decade with The Terminator (1984)

The 1980s also saw the golden age of "teen flicks" and also spawned the Brat Pack films, many of which were directed by John Hughes. Films such as Class, The Breakfast Club, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Mannequin, Porky's, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, St. Elmo's Fire, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Weird Science, and Valley Girl were popular teen comedies of the era and launched the careers of several major celebrities such as: Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Andrew McCarthy, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage and Michael J. Fox. Other popular films included About Last Night..., Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Dirty Dancing, Flashdance, Footloose, Raging Bull and St. Elmo's Fire which also launched the careers of high-profile celebrities like Demi Moore, Joe Pesci, Keanu Reeves, Kevin Bacon, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, and River Phoenix.

Horror films were a popular genre during the decade, with several notable horror franchises being born during the 1980s. Among the most popular were the Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Child's Play, Hellraiser, and Poltergeist franchises. The Shining although a popular film from 1980 decades later, it was initially met with mixed reviews from critics and even the author of the book, and was moderately successful financially. Aside from these films, the concept of the B horror film gave rise to a plethora of horror films that went on to earn a cult status. An example of such is the 1981 film The Evil Dead, which marked the directorial debut of Sam Raimi. Comedy horror films such as Beetlejuice and Gremlins also gained cult status.

Several action film franchises were also introduced during the 1980s. The most popular of these were the Indiana Jones, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, and Rambo franchises. Other action films from the decade which are of notable status include The Terminator, Aliens, Escape from New York, Red Dawn, Predator, and RoboCop. These films propelled the careers of modern celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Sigourney Weaver, Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, and Charlie Sheen to international recognition. On the other side of the globe, Hong Kong action cinema and martial arts films were being revolutionized by a new wave of inventive filmmakers that include Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Tsui Hark, and John Woo, while the American martial arts film movement was being led by actors like Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal.

Five more James Bond films were released, with Roger Moore continuing in the role in For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, and A View To A Kill, before handing over the role to Timothy Dalton who starred in The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill.

The post-2000 popularity of blockbuster superhero films is attributed in part to the start such blockbuster films gained in the 1980s, starting with Salkind's Superman film series 1978-1987 and bookended at the end of the decade with Tim Burton's 1989 Batman.[42] Similarly, the popularity of science fiction films in the 1980s is attributable to the popularity of the Star Wars original trilogy (1977-1983).[43]

Animated films

Although animated feature films did not gain mainstream popularity until the mid to late-1990s due to public preference of television animation, some important films were produced during the decade. After leaving Disney in 1979, Don Bluth formed his own studio and went on direct The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail, The Land Before Time and All Dogs Go To Heaven. At the same time, the Disney studio wasn't having good times and almost bankrupted after The Black Cauldron bombed at the box office. However, in later years, they slowly recovered with the modest success of Ron Clements and John Musker directed The Great Mouse Detective, the live-action animated hybrid Robert Zemeckis directed Who Framed Roger Rabbit co-produced with Steven Spielberg, and eventually regained public confidence following the release of The Little Mermaid. Other animated films from the decade also gained notable status: Films based on popular works include Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don't Come Back!!), Heavy Metal, The Adventures of Mark Twain, The Care Bears Movie, The Transformers: The Movie, The Chipmunk Adventure and Daffy Duck's Quackbusters; while original films include The Last Unicorn, The Plague Dogs, Rock & Rule, Fire and Ice, The Brave Little Toaster and The BFG.

The 1980s also saw a surge of Japanese anime films: Hayao Miyazaki's The Castle of Cagliostro and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind were extremely successful enough to lead the foundation of Studio Ghibli which would then produce several successful films of the decade including Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Grave of the Fireflies and Kiki's Delivery Service. Other well-known anime films of that decade include Golgo 13: The Professional, Macross: Do You Remember Love?, Lensman, Vampire Hunter D, Akira, Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland and the Urusei Yatsura film series. Additionally, the first-ever theatrical animated franchise: the Doraemon film series (based on the anime and manga series of the same name) began in 1980 with the release of Doraemon: Nobita's Dinosaur.


Music video channel MTV was launched in the United States in 1981 and had a profound impact on the music industry and popular culture further ahead, especially during its early run in the 1980s and early 1990s.

The 1980s was a decade of transformation in television. Cable television became more accessible and therefore, more popular. By the middle of the decade, almost 70% of the U.S. population had cable television and over 85% were paying for cable services such as HBO or Showtime.[44] People who lived in rural areas where cable TV service was not available could still access cable channels through a large (and expensive) satellite dish, which, by the mid-1990s, was phased out in favor of the small rooftop dishes that offer DirecTV and Dish Network services.

The 1980s also saw the debut of prime-time soap operas such as Dallas, its spin-off Knots Landing, Dynasty, Falcon Crest, EastEnders and Neighbours.

In 1980, the anime television series Astro Boy was remade in color.

During the 1980s, police procedural television series The Bill, stop-motion animated television series Pingu, Postman Pat, Fireman Sam and Bertha, and sitcoms were also becoming popular, including Bosom Buddies, Family Ties, Cheers, Newhart, Too Close for Comfort, The Cosby Show, Night Court, Full House and Married... with Children, which was the first show to hit the Fox airwaves on launch in 1987.

In 1984, Britt Allcroft and Rev W. Awdry original television series Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends.

In 1985, two sitcoms premiered on the same day: The Golden Girls, starring Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty, which lasted for seven seasons and was also the first comedy ever to feature four older women in title TV roles, and 227, which was originally the sitcom vehicle for Marla Gibbs, who previously starred in The Jeffersons, and which also launched Jackée Harry's career. Sketch comedy and variety show Saturday Night Live experienced turbulence for much of the 1980s, however, it propelled the successful careers of cast members like Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Martin Short, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

The year 1986 marked the debut of the legal drama Matlock, which was the comeback vehicle for Andy Griffith, as the title character,[45] which also launched the careers of Nancy Stafford, Clarence Gilyard Jr. and Daniel Roebuck.

TV talk shows expanded in popularity; The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson remained popular into its third decade, and some of the most viewed newer shows were hosted by Geraldo Rivera, Arsenio Hall and David Letterman.[46]

TV documentary shows of the 1980s that were popular included Frontline, Michael Palin: Around the World in 80 Days, Unsolved Mysteries with Robert Stack, and Rescue 911 with William Shatner.

On July 29, 1981, The Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer was watched by a television audience of an estimated 750 million people from around the world.

Scandal rocked TV evangelism when in 1987 evangelist Jim Bakker, founder of PTL and Heritage USA, was defrocked for having an affair with church secretary Jessica Hahn years earlier and later sent to prison for fraud. One year later, evangelist Jimmy Swaggart was defrocked for allegedly having sexual relations with a prostitute.

The 1980s also was prominent for spawning several popular animated shows such as The Smurfs, ThunderCats, Voltron, The Transformers, The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, Henry's Cat, Danger Mouse, Count Duckula, Alias the Jester, Yakari, Diplodos, Lucky Luke, Heathcliff, The Family-Ness, Jimbo and the Jet-Set, Penny Crayon, The Ratties, The Raggy Dolls, Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Fist of the North Star, Inspector Gadget, Bananaman, Muppet Babies, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, DuckTales, Dennis the Menace, M.A.S.K., The Telebugs, Care Bears, Rainbow Brite, The Littles, Garfield and Friends, as well as earliest The Simpsons shorts which aired on The Tracey Ullman Show, and original animated television series The Simpsons.

In 1988, the original anime television series Wowser.

In 1989, the original television series Tugs and stop-motion animated series Wallace and Gromit.


Larry Bird (left) and Magic Johnson, the two most popular NBA players of the 1980s.[47]

Video gaming[edit]

Popular video games include: Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Castlevania, Metroid, Mega Man, Donkey Kong, Frogger, Digger, and Tetris. Pac-Man was the first game to achieve widespread popularity in mainstream culture and the first game character to be popular in his own right.

Handheld electronic LCD games was introduced into the youth market segment. The primary gaming computers of the 1980s emerged in 1982: the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. Nintendo finally decided in 1985 to release its Famicom (released in 1983 in Japan) in the United States under the name Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). It was bundled with Super Mario Bros. and it suddenly became a success. The NES dominated the American and Japanese market until the rise of the next generation of consoles in the early 1990s, causing some to call this time the Nintendo era. Sega released its 16-bit console, Mega Drive/Genesis, in 1988 in Japan and in North America in 1989. In 1989, Nintendo released the Game Boy, a monochrome handheld console.


A German couple in 1985.

The beginning of the decade saw the continuation of the clothing styles of the late 1970s and evolved into heavy metal fashion by the end. However, fashion became more extravagant during the 1980s. The 1980s included teased and colourfully-dyed hair, ripped jeans, neon clothing and many colours and different designs which at first were not accepted.

Significant hairstyle trends of the 1980s include the perm, the mullet, the Jheri curl, the hi-top fade, and big hair.

Significant clothing trends of the 1980s include shoulder pads, jean jackets, leather pants, leather aviator jackets, jumpsuits, Members Only jackets, skin-tight acid-washed jeans, Izod Lacoste and "preppy" polo shirts, leggings and leg warmers (popularized in the film Flashdance), off-the-shoulder shirts, and cut sweatshirts (popularized in the same film).

Miniskirts returned to mainstream fashion in the mid-1980s after a ten-year absence, mostly made of denim material. From that point on, miniskirts and minidresses have remained in mainstream fashion to this day.

Makeup on the 1980s was aggressive, shining and colourful. Women emphasised their lips, eyebrows and cheeks with makeup. They used much blush and eyeliner.

Additional trends of the 1980s include athletic headbands, Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses (popularized in the film Top Gun), Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses (popularized in the films Risky Business and The Blues Brothers and the TV series Miami Vice), Swatch watches, and the Rubik's Cube (became a popular fad throughout the decade). Girls and women also wore jelly shoes, large crucifix necklaces, and brassieres all inspired by Madonna's "Like a Virgin" music video.

Additional significant events[edit]

Cultural start and end of the decade[edit]

According to decadeology, cultural decades do not necessarily line up with their numerical counterparts. For example, the 1980s are said by some to have begun in 1979 with the New Romantic movement (of which new wave music was a part), the Iranian Revolution, and the election of Margaret Thatcher.[52] Meanwhile the Chicago Sun-Times declared the 1977 Star Wars as the first movie of the eighties.[53] A shift in television happened in the late 1970s as well: of the top shows considered to be "shows of the 1980s", more began 1978–1979 than began 1980–1981.[54][55] 1977 also saw the introduction of ROM cartridge-based video game consoles, with the Atari Video Computer System, the Fairchild Channel F, and the Bally Astrocade, as well as seeing the introduction of the first mass produced home computers, with the Apple II, the TRS-80, and the Commodore PET.

As for the cultural end of the decade, Reagan's last day in office January 20, 1989, marked the "end of an era".[56] Music saw a change, with the premier of Yo! MTV Raps on August 6, 1988, which was coincidentally the same date as the last broadcast of Casey Kasem hosting American Top 40. On the religious front, 1988 also saw the "unraveling of the decade's conservative dominance" with the release of The Last Temptation of Christ and the three televangelist scandals of Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and Oral Roberts.[57] The years 1988-1993 are sometimes called the neighties for being a cultural bridge between the politically conservative 1980s and the Internet boom of the 1990s, which was kicked off by the release of Mosaic in 1993.[58]


Actors and entertainers[edit]



See also[edit]


The following articles contain brief timelines which list the most prominent events of the decade:



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Further reading[edit]

  • Batchelor, Bob, and Scott F. Stoddart. The 1980s (American Popular Culture Through History) (2006) excerpt and text search
  • Grant, James. Money of the Mind: How the 1980s Got That Way (1994) excerpt and text search
  • Grimes, William. ed. The New York Times The Times of the Eighties The Culture, Politics, and Personalities that Shaped the Decade (2013)
  • New York Times. New York Times Film Reviews: Best Picture Picks from the 1980s by The New York Times (2013) excerpt and text search
  • Sirota, David. Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now—Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything (2011) excerpt and text search
  • Stanfill, Sonnet. 80s Fashion: From Club to Catwalk (2013), 160pp
  • Stewart, Graham. Bang! A History of Britain in the 1980s (2013) excerpt and text search
  • Turner, Alwyn. Rejoice, Rejoice!: Britain in the 1980s (2010)