Pop Culture In Review for the Year 1986

From the first Studio Ghibli film to the explosion at Chernobyl, the year 1986 had a profound impact on the world as we know it. Here are some of the highlights from this year:


The First Studio Ghibli Film Was Released

Studio Ghibli, now famous for its beautiful and intriguing animation, released its very first animated work this year. This was ‘Luputa: Castle in the Sky’. The release was in August 1986, and the film was both directed and written by HayaoMiyakazi. Miyakazi is an iconic filmmaker as well as the co-founder of Studio Ghibli. For a brand-new animation studio, ‘Castle in the Sky’ was an especially impressive offering. It won many awards and still ranks on many lists of the best-ever animation films.

Pretty in Pink

This was another one of the legendary teen queen movies from the 80s that starred Molly Ringwald. However, it was one of the last ‘Brat Pack’ movies she would do, as the talented actress would soon move on to more mature projects.

Top Gun

Tony Scott paid an ode to pilots everywhere with this movie. In retrospect, it can be seen as a work about masculinity and how men balance their theatrics with some very deep emotions. Many also hail the film as being one of Tom Cruise’s best roles to date.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Another classic school-aged movie that’s still very popular with its intended demographic. It’s said that John Hughes wrote the first 50 pages of this movie’s script in just 8 hours. He was supposedly procrastinating on another project, which was a rewrite of ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’.


A fantasy movie that delighted children everywhere and starred David Bowie into the bargain. However, it didn’t perform all that well at the box office, earning only $12.9 million. Since then, though, the movie has gathered a decent cult following.


The Debut of Phantom of the Opera

The classic stage musical named ‘Phantom of the Opera’ debuted at London’s West End this year. This was Andrew Lloyd Weber’s adaptation and proved amazingly popular. It won the Musical of the Year Award as well as the Best Actor in a Musical award for Michael Crawford (the lead of the show). Eventually, the musical will go to Broadway and win a range of Tony awards as well. Since its release, ‘Phantom of the Opera’ has the longest-running stint on Broadway and the second-longest in the West End. Its earnings have exceeded $5 billion and over 130 million people in 148 cities have seen it.


The Disintegration of the Space Shuttle Challenger

The year began with the tragedy of the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrating just 73 seconds after its launch. Seven astronauts were on board; one was a teacher who was selected and trained especially for this mission. All the astronauts were killed when the Space Shuttle exploded. This disaster resulted in the suspension of the Space Shuttle program for two years, during which the matter was investigated and the safety features improved. A special government commission was engaged to investigate the matter; they found out that NASA knew about the design issues but omitted to take action in time.

The Rutan Voyager’s Non-Stop Flight

Rutan Voyager, an experimental aircraft, was able to make a continuous nonstop flight around the globe without needing to stop for fuel. This occurred in December 196. The aircraft was made of lightweight graphite and its construction took around six years to complete. The pilots were Jeana Yeager and Dick Rutan. All in all, the record-breaking flight took about nine days with 25,012 miles traveled. They landed at the Edwards Air Force Base just in time, though; there were just five gallons left in the aircraft’s fuel tank.

Launch of the Polar BEAR Satellite

The Polar Beacon and Research Satellite was a satellite that launched from an airbase in California. This was in November 1986, and the mission’s objective was to study the communication interface of solar flares as well as the activity from aurora borealis. The Polar BEAR satellite weighed around 250 pounds, but it wasn’t made from scratch. Its body was that of an old Navy satellite, which had been on display in the National Air and Space Museum for the past eight years. The launch was successful, and the Polar BEAR started gathering the required data.

Launch of the Mir Space Station

The Soviet Union launched the core unit in the Mir Space Station in February 1986. This was the largest of its kind at that time, with several expansion modules added later on. The month after the launch, this space station became inhabitable. Over a 100 space travelers, hailing from 12 countries, were able to occupy the station until June 2000.


The First Goodwill Games

The first Goodwill Games were held in Moscow in 1986. This event started out as a way to overcome the political issues that surrounded the Olympic events in the 1980s. Since the Society had invaded Afghanistan in 1979, several Western countries, including the United States, had boycotted the Olympics held in Moscow that year. The Soviet Union then boycotted the Summer Olympics held in 1984 in Los Angele. The Goodwill Games started as a way to get around these troubles. They were intended to occur after every four years with a winter and a summer component just like the Olympics.

Soccer World Cup

The Soccer World Cup was held this year. Argentina won the final against West Germany. The score was 3-2. The star of the show was Diego Maradona, with his well-remembered ‘Hand of God’ goal.

Tennis Defaulting

A tennis superstar defaulted for the first time. Jim Conners argued a line call and wouldn’t come back to play against Ivan Lendi. He eventually lost a point, then the game, and the whole match. His actions were heavily criticized. It was even said that he simply quit the match instead of trying to win.

Tennis News

Chris Evert managed to win the 18th grand slam title that year, which was also her final during one. In doing so, she defeated her nemesis Marina Navratilova during the French Open. However, Marina dominated the rest of the year by winning the US Open and the Wimbledon title.


Long, Full Coat

A long and full wool coat was the perfect way to finish off your outfit in the fall of 1985. It acted as a unifier between the fragmented kinds of fashion that defined the 80s decade. The ‘anything goes’ sentiment was perfectly complemented by the long coat, which would cover up long skirts, skinny jeans, huge sweaters, blouses, jackets, and so on.

The Search for Fresh Looks

In London, a fresh new designer named Alistair Duncan Blair had his first collection acclaimed for that tailored, elegant look. In Milan, Romeo Gigli put his architect training to use by bringing an old-fashioned, relatively simple charm to everyday skirts and sweaters. Italy also had Zack Carr, who once worked at Calvin Klein. Carr created minimalistic designs for the likes of Valentino and Giorgio Armani. One very promising designer then was Marc Jacobs; at the young age of 23, he offered several fanciful designs that included battle jackets made of satin as well as princess dresses complete with petticoats.


Sportswear designers in New York were sought after for their contemporary fashions. They would upgrade their designs by utilizing luxury, expensive fabrics like alpaca and cashmere instead of putting on more frills. The top names in the sportswear category were Donna Karen, Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis, and Ralph Lauren.

Getting New Furs

Women were fast moving into high-powered and better-paying jobs. Getting a high-end wardrobe was the need of the hour, and they now had the cash to pay for it. The result was that expensive, quality furs became all the rage, especially mink.

The Shoulder Pads Craze Continues

Shoulder pads continued to be a part of fashionable clothing. One could see them on characters in the most popular television shows and movies of the time. One example is Clair Huxtable from The Cosby Show; another is David Bowie from the Labyrinth movie.

Cropped Clothes

Cropped tanks, cropped tanks, and cropped tops were also very much in vogue in 1986, with miniskirts also ruling the roost. One prime example of this is in the movie’ The Wraith’, starring SherilynFenn and the infamous Charlie Sheen.

Lots of Leather

Leather jackets were the epitome of cool, especially when you paired them with a motorbike. Some good examples include Sylvester Stallone as Cobra, John Stamos as Uncle Jesse in Full House, and so on. It wasn’t just about the ladies either; wearing leather was also a way to showcase your strength and independence as a woman.


The Debut of The Oprah Winfrey Show

The Oprah Winfrey show debuted in September 1986. It had seen success with the local audiences in Chicago, so up-and-coming host Oprah Winfrey signed a syndication deal. She was soon hosting the talk show with the highest ratings in the United States. Her show lasted for no less than 25 seasons and won more than 45 Daytime Emmy Awards. She remains a highly influential figure within American pop culture and is now among the richest African-American women in the world.

The First Airing of the Original My Little Pony TV Show

It was also in 1986 when the original My Little Pony TV show first aired. The show was produced by Sunbow Productions (known for creating the animated G.I. Joe commercials) and Marvel Productions, in partnership with Japanese animated studio Toei Animation and Korean animation studio AKOM. The show originally aired on September 15, 1986, and ended on September 25, 1987. This particular show is based on the popular toy line of the same name that was introduced in 1981 by Hasbro. To learn more about My Little Pony and other retro toys, check out the Retro Toys that You Can Still Buy and Play Today.


Nuclear Explosion in Chernobyl

On April 26th, 1986, a Soviet Nuclear reactor exploded in Chernobyl, Ukraine. At that time, Ukraine was still within the Soviet Union. The explosion released a lot of radioactive material, scattering it over a major part of Europe. This debris adversely affected the safety and health of thousands, including both the workers at the plant as well as the general population. Thousands were evacuated, though the radioactive dust and debris are said to have gone as far off as Finland and Sweden. Things were finally able to get somewhat under control after clean-up workers put a concrete sarcophagus over the damaged area.

Rise of the Mad Cow Disease

The Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, which is more commonly known as Mad Cow Disease, started in November 1986. This disease was first identified in an agricultural lab located in England. It was said that the outbreak would affect about 150,000 British cows alone. However, it was also believed that the disease originated back in 1984. The symptoms of these diseases include a rapid decline in cognitive functions and behavioral patterns. Cows showed an increase in aggression and their gait would become unsteady. In humans, this disease was connected to the Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Since humans were believed to contract the disease through meat consumption, cattle were culled in the millions to stem the epidemic.

Unusual Occurrences

Halley’s Comet Comes Close to Earth

In March 1986, Halley’s comet visited the solar system for the second time within the 20th century. Many space probes fly by it, and the comet came closer to Earth than it had ever done before. This gave space agencies all over the world a chance to send out their space probes and observe the comet as best as they could. The probes included Sakigake and Suisei from Japan, Vega 1 and Vega 1 from Russia, Giotto from Europe, and the International Cometary Explorer from NASA.

The “Hands Across America” Event

The charity event known as ‘Hands Across America’ was held in May 1986. Its publicity campaign asked all Americans to join hands and form a human chain that spanned the whole country. Anyone who participated was also requested to put in a donation of at least ten dollars in order to get a place in line. Around 6.5 million participants were included, and the money was donated to local charities. The organizers of this event were the same people who made the supergroup ‘USA for Africa’.


The Launch of the American Girl Dolls

On May 5, 1986, the American Girl dolls were first released. American Girl is a line of high-quality dolls that were produced by a toy company called Pleasant Company. Each American Girl doll is portrayed as a young girl aged eight to fourteen belonging to a specific ethnicity or social class. The dolls also belong to different time periods in history, and each of these dolls comes with books that tell their story. For more information on American Girl dolls, read our article titled “The Most Popular Retro Dolls.”

The Release of Popples

It was also in 1986 when Popples, a line of transforming marsupial stuffed toys, was released by American Greetings (a popular greeting card producer) and Mattel (one of the biggest toy companies in the world). In addition to the release of the toy line, American Greetings also partnered with two production companies, namely DIC Enterprises and LBS Communications, to air the Popples animated TV show in syndication. If you want to know more about this toy line, you can read The Nostalgic History of Popples, A Popular Toy Line of the 1980s.

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