What are the 20 Most Iconic Pop Culture Moments of the 1980s?

American popular culture in the 1980s largely reflected the changing social world. There were major shifts in the social, political, and technological spheres, and they were reflected in the most iconic moments of the 1980s. This decade was full of new inventions, and it showed just how rapidly ideas and influences spread. 

There were many things to celebrate, such as the royal marriage. However, there were also tragedies such as the death of John Lennon, and the Challenger tragedy. Regardless, mankind was making progress and improving their lifestyle in leaps and bounds.

Let’s take a look at the 20 most iconic pop culture moments from the 1980s.

Prince Charles marries Lady Diana Spencer

Prince Charles is the heir to the British throne as he is the eldest son of Queen Elizabeth II. However, his current title is Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh. He met Lady Diana Spencer in 1977 when he visited her home in Althorp to meet with her elder sister Sarah. Soon, he began to see Diana romantically and proposed to her in February 1981.

When proposed, Diana accepted, and they married at St. Paul’s Cathedral on 29th July 1981. The couple lived at Kensington Palace and Highgrove House near Tetbury. The ceremony was a traditional Church of England wedding service, and it was presided over by the Dean of St. Paul’s. 

Many notable people attended the marriage ceremony. There were many royal families, republican heads of state, etc. The entire ceremony was called a fairytale wedding and the wedding of the century. It was also televised, and an estimated 750 million people watched it from the comfort of their homes. 

Following the wedding, there were many events held all across the Commonwealth to mark the wedding. There were also many street parties held throughout the United Kingdom.

The eruption of Mount St. Helens

Mount St. Helens is located in Skamania County, Washington, which is in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens had a major eruption, and this eruption is one of the deadliest eruptions in the US. It also disturbed the economy of the nation, and many lives were also lost.

It is estimated that due to this volcanic event, fifty-seven people were killed, and approximately 185 miles of highway, 15 miles of railways, 47 bridges, and 200 homes were destroyed as a result of the eruption. There was also a massive debris avalanche, and an earthquake of 5.1 magnitudes also caused destruction. 

Cable News

Cable news channels are entire tv networks that are dedicated to television news broadcasts. In 1980, the first nationwide cable TV news channel was launched in the US. This channel was known as CNN.

Following CNN, FNN (Financial News Network) was also launched in 1981. In 1982, CNN2, now known as HLN, was launched. CNN was a 24-hour television news network, and it was anchored by David Walker and his wife Lois Hart. 

Pac-Man fever

Pac-Man is a maze action game that was developed and released by Namco for arcades. Originally, the game was called Puck-Man in Japan, but it also came to the United States and was released by Midway Manufacturing, which acquired it as a part of a licensing agreement it had with Namco America. 

In Pac-man, the player controls Pac-man, who has to eat all the dots in an enclosed maze and avoid getting caught by colored ghosts. The game was an instant success, and people adored the tiny characters. Due to its popularity, there were several sequels to the game, and merchandise was also made. There were also two television series. 

Death of John Lennon

John Lenon, an English musician, who was a member of the Beatles, was murdered at his residence in New York City. This incident took place on 8 December 1980 at the archway of the Dakota, which was his permanent residence in the city. His killer, Mark David Chapman shot him, which fatally wounded him. 

The killer, Mark David Chapman was an American Beatles fan who was enraged at the lavish life that Lannon led. He claimed that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. Therefore, he planned Lennon’s murder over the course of several months. 

The murder took place early morning on the 8th of December. Earlier, on the evening of the 7th, Lennon met his killer and even signed a copy of his album. 

President Reagan is shot

On March 30, 1981, President Reagan was shot at in an attempt to assassinate him. The shooter was John Hinckley Jr, and his shot did not kill the President. Instead, he was injured. The incident took place in Washington, DC, when he had spoken at an engagement at Washington Hill and was returning to his limousine. 

The shooter was under the impression that this attack would impress Jodie Foster, an actress with whom he had developed an erotomanic obsession. As a result of being shot, Reagan was seriously wounded as the gun used was a 0.22 Long Rifle. The bullet did not hit him directly. Instead, it had hit the side of the car, from where it ricocheted and hit him in the left underarm.

The injuries sustained from the shot included a broken rib, punctured lung, and internal bleeding. When he arrived at the George Washington University Hospital, he was almost dead due to the injuries, but he was stabilized and underwent emergency surgery.

Assassination attempt on the Pope

Assassination attempt on the Pope

On 13 May 1981, as Pope John Paul II was entering the square in Vatican City, he was shot and wounded. The perpetrator of this attack was Mehmet Ali Agca, who shot at him four times. The Pope suffered from severe blood loss but was stabilized later on. 

Mehmet Ali Agca was arrested, and later, in court, he was sentenced to life in prison. Later, the Pope forgave Agca for the assassination attempt and also requested the Italian president to pardon him. He was deported to Turkey afterward. 

The Rubik’s Cube

Originally known as the Magic Cube, the Rubik’s Cube is a 3-D combination puzzle. It was created by a Hungarian sculptor, but later it was licensed by Rubik and was set to be sold as a toy by Ideal Toy Corp in 1980.

Once the cube was released internationally, it gained a lot of traction and became known as an icon of the 80s pop culture. The cube also won awards such as the 1980 German Game of the Year special awards for Best Puzzle. 

To learn more about the Rubik’s Cube and how it became one of the most popular toys of all time, you can read our Top Pop Culture Toys of the 1980s article.

Epcot Center

Epcot center is a theme park within the bounds of the Walt Disney World Resort in Bay Lake, Florida. It is both; owned and operated by the Parks, Experiences, and Products division of The Walt Disney Company. 

Epcot opened its doors to the public on October 1, 1982, as the second of the four theme parks that made up Walt Disney World. It spans a total of 305 acres and is larger than Magic Kingdom Park. The Epcot Center is dedicated to celebrating human achievement and is aptly named as well. The full form of Epcot is the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. 

The parks highlight technological innovation and international culture all around the world. Therefore, it is a permanent world fair. 

Compact Disc Players

The 80s was the peak time for good music. However, to listen to music, you needed a way to be able to play the CDs where the songs were stored. In 1982, the first-ever CD players were sold to customers, who could now take their music with them.

These CD players could be installed on different devices, and they were also a part of various existing audio systems such as home stereo systems, car audio systems, computers, etc.

Cabbage Patch fever

In 1982, Coleco Industries released Cabbage Patch Kids, a line of one-of-a-kind cloth dolls. These dolls had a plastic head and were inspired by Little People, which were soft sculptured dolls. 

These dolls, right from their release, broke sale records and continued to do so for three years running. Cabbage Patch is one of the most popular licensed children’s products in the 80s. By 1983, there was hysteria surrounding these dolls, as everyone wanted one of them. There were fights in stores among parents to obtain one of the Cabbage Patch dolls. 

Unfortunately, Coleco doesn’t own the Cabbage Patch Kids license anymore, as the company has been defunct since 1988. However, Coleco sold their license for the dolls (as well as other product licenses) to Hasbro, one of the biggest toy companies in the world. Hasbro would later sell the license for Cabbage Patch Kids to Mattel in 1994, but Mattel would let it go in 2003. The Cabbage Patch Kids brand was passed from company to company until it was purchased by Wicked Cool Toys in 2015. To know more about Coleco and why they sold Cabbage Patch Kids to Hasbro, you can read our article titled “Learn About Coleco, A Former Giant in the Toy and Gaming Industry.

Jane Fonda’s Workout

Jane Fonda’s Workout or Workout Starring Jane Fonda is an exercise video released by actress Jane Fonda, released in 1982. This workout was developed by Leni Cazden and refined by Cazden and Fonda. 

This workout video was released by Karl Home Videos and RCA Video Productions, who hoped that this video would help women exercise at home. The video was one of a set of exercise products, including a book, a videotape, and a double vinyl album. 

When the workout was released, it was the first non-theatrical hone video that topped sales charts. The VHS tape was also a top seller for six years. 

The Afghan girl cover of National Geographic

When the June 1985 cover of National Geographic was published, everyone was awed by the girl on the cover. The photograph is titled Afghan Girl and features a portrait shot of Sharbat Gula taken by photojournalist Steve McCurry.

The image was that of an adolescent girl who has striking green eyes and is clad in a red headscarf. The photograph is considered a masterpiece, and it became a symbol of a refugee who deserved western compassion. Furthermore, it also became a symbol of Afghanistan in western countries.

The first MTV Music Awards

The first-ever MTV Music Awards were held in 1984, where Madonna performed her hit song Like a Virgin wearing a wedding gown. Many popular artists such as Micheal Jackson, and Herbie Hancock won several awards. The Best Female Video Award was awarded to Cyndi Lauper for her hit song Girls Just Want to Have Fun. 

We are the world was recorded

We are the world is a charity single recorded by a group of the most famous singers in the USA. This song was intended for Africa, and it was recorded in 1985. Micheal Jackson and Lionel Richie wrote the lyrics of the song, and it was produced by Quincy Jones and Micheal Jackson. 

This song was a part of the We are the world album, which upon its release, became a best-seller. It sold around 20 million copies, and to this day, it is the eighth bestselling physical single. 

The first recording session took place on January 22, 1985, as popular stars such as Richie, Wonder, Jones, and Jackson were present to start working on the song and recording it. The recording took place at Lion Share Recording Studio, which is located on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles. 

Titanic was discovered

The Titanic sank in 1912 when it collided with an iceberg during her first voyage. There have been many attempts to locate the wreckage of the ship using sonars and maps of the seabed. However, all of them have been unsuccessful until the one conducted by American and French researchers in 1985. 

The wreckage was found in the Atlantic Ocean, 12,000 feet deep. It is one of the most famous shipwrecks, and it leads to the death of 1500 people. The wreckage of the Titanic lies in two pieces that are 2000 feet apart. It is the bow with which the ship is recognized as it has remained intact and recognizable. 

The cold war thaws

The Cold War came to an end as US president Ronald Regan and the Soviet Union leader, Mikhail Gorbachev shook hands at the Geneva Summit. This summit took place on November 19, 1985, and was a two-day event, which marked the first time in over eight years that the leaders of the two countries had met for a conference.

No agreement came out of the conference. However, the meeting of the two countries and being polite toward each other dissipated some of the tension following the Cold War. Additionally, it was a good sign for future relations.

Challenger tragedy

The United States space program suffered greatly due to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. This was a fatal accident that took place on January 28, 1986, when the Space Shuttle Challenger broke into pieces only 73 seconds into its flight. 

Due to this, all seven of the crew members on board lost their lives. The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster is the first fatal accident, that the American spacecraft has had in a flight. The disaster was due to the two redundant O-ring seals in the joint of the right solid rocket booster of the Shuttle. The failure of these rings led to the spacecraft breaking into pieces and causing the death of all the astronauts. 

Chornobyl nuclear meltdown

The Chornobyl disaster occurred on 26 April 1986, when there was a meltdown in reactor 4 of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant. This powerplant was located near the city of Pripyat in the north of Ukraine. 

The Chornobyl disaster is considered one of the worst nuclear disasters as it caused many casualties. It was rated seven, the highest possible rating, on the International Nuclear Event Scale. 

The accident happened during a safety test conducted on the steam turbine. Those in the control room had planned to decrease the power of the reactor to prepare for the test. However, an unexpected power outage caused the power to become 0. 

Due to the power outage, the operators were unable to restore the power levels, and the reactor became unstable. The unstable nature caused the core to melt, and there were more than two explosions that destroyed the building and exposed the core to the open air, due to which there was an open-air reactor fire.  

100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty

In 1984, it had been a hundred years since the Statue of Liberty had arrived in America from France. To celebrate the centenary of the statue, Liberty Weekend was held. Liberty Weekend was a four-day celebration that began on 3 July 1986 and ended on 6 July 1986. 

The Statue of Liberty was a beacon for generations of immigrants since its arrival in 1886. Furthermore, Liberty Weekend was also a way to celebrate the centennial of the friendship between France and America.


The 80s was an incredible decade full of technological advances, and various discoveries. Some major socioeconomic changes had a huge effect on people and subsequently pop culture resulting in some crazy 80s fads