Heartwarming Photos From The 1980s
The ‘80s “Wonder Years.”
The 1980s were a truly unique and unforgettable decade, filled with maximalist music, iconic pop culture moments, and groundbreaking technology. From the rise of the personal computer to the emergence of memorable TV shows like The Wonder Years, the 1980s captured the imagination of people all around the world.
The coming-of-age comedy starring Neal Marlens, Carol Black, and Fred Savage portrayed a middle class family of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and played a major part in the mid-century nostalgia of the era. TV Guide ranked it as one of the 20 best shows of the ‘80s and it took home an Emmy after just six episodes! Savage also became the youngest actor to ever receive a nomination for a lead actor in a comedy series. The Peabodys also recognized The Wonder Years for pushing the boundaries of the sitcom format and using new modes of storytelling.
Continue reading for more rare photos from the 1980s that provide a fascinating glimpse into this exciting and transformative period in history, showcasing moments that are both iconic and unexpected. Whether you lived through the 1980s or are just discovering this fascinating decade, these rare photos are sure to take you on a journey through one of the most memorable periods in modern history.
“Trading Places,” 1982.
Along with “48 Hours,” “Trading Places” announced Eddie Murphy's ascension into superstardom. Directed by John Landis, the movie was originally conceived for the comedy duo of Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. When they dropped out, the studio moved on to Dan Aykroyd most famous for his work on SNL at the time and Jamie Lee Curtis who had only starred in horror films. However, Murphy undoubtedly stole the show with his unparalleled improvisational chops to tune of $90 million at the box office, which made “Trading Places” the fourth top earner of that year.
The “It” girl of the ‘80s, Elisabeth Shue.
The leading lady of “The Karate Kid,” “Cocktail,” and “Back to the Future part II” seared herself into the memories of young boys across America. With those three credits to her name she starred in three of the most quintessential ‘80s films of the decade. Shue enraptured juvenile males across the country while maintaining a fairly wholesome image, especially by today’s standards.
Freddie Mercury celebrating his 40th birthday
Acclaimed vocalist and flamboyant personality, Freddie Mercury embodied the outlandish style of the ‘80s. His iconic performance in 1985 during Live-Aid goes down as one of the most memorable sets in music history. His creation of Queen led to songs that everyone from your grandmother to your niece knows. "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Somebody to Love," "We Are the Champions," "Don't Stop Me Now" and "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" all remain recognizable even to people who don’t know Queen was a band.
80’s technological advances offered a “lightweight” portable camera, weighing more than a small dog with luggage included.
Kids today walk around with nearly every conceivable tech need just a click away. Back in the ‘80s a portable camera meant you needed one friend to help carry it. This CTVR amounted to the pinnacle of “hand held” camera technology while shooting completely grainy quality. Nevertheless, the footage would still wow family members like it was the work of George Lucas.
The ‘80s: An era of excess, especially when it came to shag carpet.
The cars loomed large and the hair even larger but nothing said the ‘80s like a shag rug that covered every square inch of the home. From bathrooms to cars nothing was safe from the shag. Back then some rugs were so thick you could lose a small child, not that you’d mind. They always showed up for dinner, didn’t they? Sure, shag was harder to clean than an angry cat but boy, did it feel good between your toes.
Oh, how the times have changed. High tech gaming back in the day.
Today’s kids' gaming systems are more powerful than the computers NASA used to reach the moon. They also come with hardware so complicated it takes an engineering degree just to plow through the instruction manual. In the ‘80s things were simple. This converter was simply called the switch. Even your blind golden retriever could figure out how this worked. Ah, simpler times.
When a trip to McDonald's felt like Disneyland.
Today people would rather spend half an hour in the drive-through line than get out of their cars. In the '80s McDonald's came with jungle gym sets that would make a kid’s mouth water. Hamburger inspired castles, fry monkey bars, and the unforgettable ball pit, McDonald’s really knew how to cater to children’s desire to hide from their parents. Leveraging one’s ability to stay out of parental fingertips could lead to ice cream if you played your cards right.
An all-time 80’s crossover “Murder She Wrote” meets “Magnum P.I.” 1986.
In 1986 CBS crossed the beams with two of their most popular shows: “Murder, She Wrote” and “Magnum P.I.” In a special episode that aired November 23, 1986, Jessica comes to the aid of Magnum when he’s framed for a double murder! Titled “Novel Connection,” viewers were titillated by the network flirtations with the third rail. Of course, at the end of the day, Jessica solves the crime, absolves Magnum, and gets her tan in the process. Who else could time their vacation so perfectly?
An Era for action figures.
If you saw a child playing with action figures today, you might consider calling Child Services. But back in the ‘80s action figures ranked atop the pantheon of toys. Michael Jackson, ET, Mr. T, Drogo, Rocky, Indian Jones, Jason and Freddy, you couldn’t achieve social significance if you weren't an action figure. Becoming enshrined as a tiny plastic model was step one in stealing the hearts and minds of kids everywhere.
Airplane! ‘80s humor at its best.
The hit comedy debut of writer/director team of the Zucker Brothers and Jim Abrahams. The film grossed an obscene $171 million against a budget of just $3.5 million. Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, and Leslie Nielsen headlined the parody of the disaster film genre. Nielsen in particular would go on to capitalize on the parody genre with a slew of hilarious “Naked Gun” movies. Kareem Abdul Jabbar also makes a particularly memorable cameo.
When a trip to the grocery store also meant dragging your parents to the arcade games
Grocery stores today provide every possible convenience to expedite your shopping trip. They want to ensure you get in and out as efficiently as possible. The grocery stores of the ‘80s functioned slightly differently, offering as many distractions as humanly possible, especially when it came to kids. From small carnival rides to full-on arcade games, trips to the grocery store became operations in talking your parents into staying as long as it took to earn a high score.
When Mr. Universe gets overshadowed by Andre the Giant and Wilt Chamberlain, 1983.
It’s rare when the “strongest man in the world” looks like the most athletic kid in middle school. But that’s precisely what happened when 14 time world champion Arnold Schwarzenegger worked with Andre the Giant and Wilt Chamberlain on “Conan The Destroyer”. Apparently, the trio would close down bars together and occasionally carry Arnold around like he was a child’s doll.
One of the worst days in the ‘80s: family portrait day.
Thanks to the advent of camera phones, taking the yearly holiday photo has become increasingly less painful. However, back in the ‘80s pictures like these required a trip to the local photographer where inevitably at least one kid would throw a hellacious tantrum. Obviously, young Cindy in the bottom right felt she should have ridden shotgun over her brother.
Back To The ‘80s.
In 1985, Robert Zemeckis delivered one of the most successful original ideas Hollywood ever produced to this day. Without any previous text, for inspiration or guidance, Zemeckis produced a film series that grossed nearly a billion dollars not adjusting for inflation! Unbelievably, the script was rejected over 40 times. Although, in fairness, the original script utilized an old refrigerator rather than a Deloran. It turns out that was a good note.
An all-time afterparty with the crew from “Cheers,” 1989.
Ain’t no party like a “Cheers” afterparty. You can bet with characters like Woody Harrelson, George Wendt, Ted Dansen, Shelley Long, Kirstie Alley, and Kelsey Grammer that those after partiers were the stuff of legend. Especially when you consider that the show ranked in the top 10 in ratings for 8 of the 11 seasons. They charmed people with their suburb chemistry for nearly a decade.
Coming To America.
By 1988, Eddie Murphy ruled the world. Starting in ‘82 with “48 Hours” he rattled off “Trading Places,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Beverly Hills Cop 2” and two massive comedy specials in the span of six years. “Coming To America” joined Murphy’s genius with the steady hand of iconic director John Landis. Along with Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, and John Amos, the SNL legend brought down the house while cementing one of the greatest movie runs ever.
David Lee Roth in serious preparation, 1981.
Obviously, few talents took their preshow rehearsals as earnestly as David Lee Roth. During his various stints as lead singer for Van Halen, he was described as "a nonstop booze-and-babes party train." And he also managed to make some music, helping the group chart their one and only #1 LP with the album “1984.” Tensions within the band saw multiple disbandments that culminated in a 2006 reunion tour that ranked among the highest grossed that year.
A simpler Halloween
Halloween costumes have become more and more elaborate thanks to the convenience of ordering online. Back in the day, you went to the store with your parents to choose from 1 of 5 masks that came with fire warnings. Then on the big night, you set out with your friends armed with pillowcases or the ubiquitous plastic orange pumpkin looking to score more candy than every other kid. You also inevitably then did your best to hide that candy from your parents by consuming it all.
When Pizza Hut meant a fancy night out, early ‘80s.
Nothing said class like sharing a hand tossed medium pan pizza in the ‘80s. The universal picnic clothes, red cups, and fake wood paneling set the mood like a bucket of oysters. Even kids knew they were in for a special evening of raiding the buffet until their inners burst from the Red Hut’s slices. Now the concept of dining in for pizza almost seems insane.
Gary Coleman and David Hasselhoff, two titans of ‘80s culture.
The highest-paid child actor on television and the hairiest heartthrob since Benji ruled the ‘80s in a way that’s hard to describe today. The stars of “Diff'rent Strokes” and “Knight Rider” respectively dominated despite Coleman being a mere child and Hassellhoff starring alongside a talking car. Hasselhoff earned the distinction as the most watched man on TV according to Guinness World Records. Apparently, the crossover of The Young and The Restless and “Baywatch” really covers your bases.
An all-time ‘80s day at the movies.
Back in the ‘80s, there were fewer distractions to keep you from spending an entire day at the movie theater. However, even millennials might have put their phones down for an all day 1987 extravaganza. During that glorious year, all the stars aligned to put “The Lost Boys,” “Robocop,” “Predator,” and “Full Metal Jacket” on the big screen at the same time. Some believed it was a more historic event than a solar eclipse.
When fruit punch came in a can…that required a can-opener.
Everything in the ‘80s was less user friendly but that only made your victories all the more rewarding. Opening a can of Hawaiian Fruit Punch in the day may have required a construction license and a few fingers. But once you got it opened, that punch hit the spot. Never mind that its nutritional facts equaled that of a Twinkie. Artificial flavors advertised as healthy was the way of the ‘80s.
In the running for most ‘80s picture ever: Hulk Hogan on the A-team.
When it comes to teams of the ‘80s, the A-team stands side by side with the Lakers and Celtics. Few teams could claim as many wins. When Hulk Hogan joined for a special series of videos to answer fan questions, people lost their minds. Hogan joining the A-team back then was the equivalent of Shaq joining a boy band today. Apparently, Hogan was even offered a regular spot on the show but he and George Peppard couldn’t see eye to nipple.
Keanu Reeves 1984
Keanu Reeves’ first acting credits came in 1984 on the TV show “Hangin’ In” and video short for coca cola. No telling why Reeves was wearing the most garish ‘80s jacket, shirt, and tie combinations ever seen. If you tried to buy this ensemble today, it would come with an epilepsy warning. Thankfully Keanu got his big break on “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and ditched the technicolor suit.
Mike Tyson and Rick James, 1988.
Fame and fortune could come and go in the blink of an eye in the ‘80s. Heavyweight champ Mike Tyson and singer Rick James found that out the hard way. Nevertheless, these two enjoyed their relatively brief stint in the limelight extensively! From making grown men cower at the thought of fighting Tyson to James who drove women crazy with hits like "Give It to Me Baby" and "Super Freak," this pair made their indelible marks in history.
The Neverending story
Based on the 1979 novel The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, “The Neverending Story” either thrilled or terrified children of a certain age. Wolfgang Peterson wrote and directed the film that grossed over $100 million while opening the eyes of a generation to the world of fantasy. The movie was also a boon for the international film community as it became the most expensive movie ever to be made outside the United States or the Soviet Union. Falkor the flying dragon/dog remains a particularly memorable ‘80s character.
When televisions came with furniture.
Today televisions weigh about as much as a folded deck chair and are about as wide. But back in the ‘80s they not only weighed more than a Vespa but often came complete with living room furniture. Sure it took a small army troupe to move it into your house, but the real problems came when you needed to whack the side to improve the picture. Thankfully, years of beating their TVs into submission built up lots of muscle.
Once upon a time in the 80s. Teen Wolf meets Teen Wolf Too. Jason Bateman and Michael J. Fox.
Only in the ‘80s could two Hollywood darlings star in a show where a teenage boy turns into a wolf. Obviously, the elder teen wolf Michael Fox looks comfortable with his fame and fortune. But it’s hard to believe that the perpetually youthful face next to him belongs to Jason Bateman. Apparently, to look 38 forever, you need to look about 12 when you're in your early 20s.
Not your son’s Apollo Creed.
Before Michael B. Jordan, Carl Weathers played the original Apollo Creed in the legendary “Rocky” series. The muscle-bound heavyweight champ of the world fell to the underdog Rocky in the first film before becoming his sage corner man in subsequent sequels. Few scenes from the ‘80s can match the homoerotic fireworks that come while Creed helps Rocky find the eye of the tiger. As Weather famously told Rocky, “Without some damn war to fight, then the warrior may as well be dead, Stallion!”
The peak of ‘80s mobile gaming: the original Gameboy.
In the ’80s the idea of a handheld gaming system was about as realistic as riding flying dragons to school. Yet, Nintendo brought addictive gaming joy to vacations and long car rides across the country when they debuted their first Gameboy in ‘89. Sure, it was just a pixelated square bouncing around but in the ‘80s that might as well have been virtual reality.
The Sensei of the ‘80s: Pat Morita.
“Wax on, Wax Off” became a cultural touchstone, thanks to everyone’s favorite sensei, Pat Morita. The sage and wise collector of vintage sports cars taught his weakling neighbor how to defend himself while getting his property renovated in one of the all-time ‘80s movies, “The Karate Kid.”
“Do not go into the light!” “Poltergeist” brought new fears to home ownership.
One of the original ‘What’s wrong with this house’ movies, "Poltergeist” scared the daylights out of audiences for decades. Written and produced by Stephen Spielberg, the preeminent movie maker reportedly first asked spooky maestro Stephen King to pen the script but King wanted too much money. That led to Spielberg drawing inspiration from this childhood, “The Freeling family in “Poltergeist” is not atypical of the people I knew and grew up with in Scottsdale.”
How to save your favorite song, ‘80s style.
Kids, and apparently unemployed adults, of the ‘80s really had to work for their music. Music services remained many decades away so the only way to have your favorite tunes on tap was to record them. Whether that was directly off the radio or standing in a field with a boombox wrapped around your head. Sure, on the playback it might have sounded like a dog barking into a tomato can but the people of the ‘80s didn’t know any better.
The peak of gaming: Space Invaders.
Many ‘80s kids weren’t lucky enough to own their own game stations. That meant scrounging quarters from every conceivable location, usually a mother’s purse, and heading to the local arcade. One of the premiere games that inspired change thievery the world over? “Space Invaders.” The creator, Tomohiro Nishikado, was “determined to come up with something that was even better than “Breakout,” which was basically a better version of Pong.
Don’t meet your heroes, ‘80s special effects.
Special effects of the ‘80s often required some serious creativity. Few scenes better exemplify that ingenuity than the attack of the Stay Puft Marshmallow man in “Ghostbusters!” To portray a children’s candy turned angry Michelin Man, special effects coordinators built a miniaturized version of New York and released their tiny terror upon their tinker town. The end result captivated audiences as a truly new type of movie terror stomped through NYC.
Stark Trek The Next Generation spellbinds millions.
“Star Trek: The Next Generation” launched in September of 1987 with nervous superfans unsure of what to expect. After all, the original show only lasted three years and fizzled out miserably. Despite some early bumps in the road, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy headlined what would become one of the most popular sci-fi shows of all time. Over 7 seasons and 178 episodes Trekkies the world over rejoiced over their capital show. The series finale attracted over 30 million viewers in 1994.
A Simpler Time
In a picture that will likely make you feel very old, a precocious Drew Barrymore and Heather O'Rourke enjoy a moment of ‘80s simplicity. Barrymore credited Spielberg for jump starting her career at an early age. The iconic director even became her godfather during her teen years. Barrymore even auditioned for “Poltergeist” before the director decided she would be better served in E.T.
“The Outsiders” your favorite ‘80s bad boys.
For “The Outsiders,” director Francis Ford Coppola set out to find the next generation of young stars and boy, did he check that box. Thomas Howell, Emilio Estevez, Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, and Diane Lane all made waves as part of that star-studded cast. The movie also helped label this era of young talents as the Brat Pack. Even though the film grossed a modest $33 million against a budget of $10 million, over time it gained a cult following.
The Transformer Watch.
The ‘80s were a decade of many fads and novelty toys ranked right at the top. Back then there were few better ways of announcing that you were still living in your mom’s than a transformer watch. From timekeeper to Optimus Prime in just a few seconds these watches let the world know where your nerd allegiances lay. Still, it was probably better than a rock in a plastic cage…
The ultimate ‘80s “Vacation.”
Another gem from National Lampoon starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, John Candy, and the debut of Christie Brinkley made $60 million against a budget of just $15 million. John Hughes delivered yet another legendary script that spawned five sequels over the next three decades. Apparently, the movie also accidentally killed the station wagon as sales across the country plummeted after the film heavily modified it to appear as the least attractive car in the world.
When Neon windbreakers ruled the world.
While wearing black may never go out of style, the ‘80s certainly tested that theory with neon. In the ‘80s you’d need sunglasses just to walk into a high school classroom. How clothing makers managed to brainwash kids into thinking that cornea-searing colors were cool remains a mystery, but boy, did they ever. In the era of excess, few could out-excess the color-coordinated windbreakers that could be seen from space.
Kim Cattrall in Porky's, 1982
In one of the most inappropriate movies of the ‘80s, a budding Kim Cattrall jump started puberty of youths all across America. The film required two rounds of editing to lose the X-rating that it initially received. The movie became an absolute smash hit at the box office grossing $160 million against a budget of just $4 million! Perhaps even more amazingly, the film succeeded despite terrible reviews from critics. Roger Ebert went as far as to call it one of the worst films of 1982. As always, never underestimate the simple minds of men.
William Zabka (18), and Ralph Macchio (22) during the filming of Karate Kid in 1983.
Few ‘80s movies could out ‘80’s “The Karate Kid.” The fish out of water story of a New Jersey kid moving with his single mother to California before learning martial arts to fight off an Aryan-leaning karate club dubbed Cobra Kai was a plot that could only happen in the ‘80s. Thanks to a sensei turned maintenance man, young Daniel wins a karate tournament and the respect of the Cobra Kai.
It’s Me Against The World, a young Tupac in 1987.
In ‘87 rap and hip hop remained a counterculture that scared the squares. However, in just a few short years, both would become the dominant sounds of the ‘90s with boom boxes blaring the sounds of the streets. However, long before the west coast vs east coast rivalries went too far, the future of young Tupac looked incredibly bright not only with his music but his acting as well.
Before the world turned from paper to electronic, the beloved trapper keeper kept all your valuable school documents in one “the last paper is always the one I needed” location. Trapper Keepers also functioned as the easiest possible means of displaying your personality, hobbies, or red flags. From rainbows to Scooby-Doo the bastion for your homework worked like nationalities of interest. Find your fellow transformer Trapper Keepers and you knew you found your people.
"If you think this is big, wait until you see the toast,” Uncle Buck 1989
Everyone’s favorite Uncle continued writer/director John Hughes' incredible run of nonstop hits. Starring John Candy, Uncle Buck banked nearly $80 million against a budget of just $15 million despite mixed reviews. The film also laid the groundwork for the rise of Macaulay Culkin and Hughes’ biggest hit “Home Alone.” Culkin's quote, "You have much more hair in your nose than my dad" led to an all-time ‘80s response from Candy, "Art Linkletter was right. Kids do say the God damndest things."
Waterfall Ring Toss
In dentist offices to your grandmother’s house, the waterfall rings toss provided the most amount of entertainment for the least amount of materials. Some water, a few rings floating enchantingly above those plastic hooks, and you could burn an entire afternoon attempting to ensnare those wobbly rings. Inevitably one ill timed twist would unleash two hours worth of button pressing. But then again, what else was there to do?
‘80s wake up call
It had the perfect shape for smashing and the most annoying sound to elicit that fit of rage to both awaken you from your slumber and motivate you to bash that damn alarm clock. Yea, it’s fair to say the smartphone generation doesn’t understand the hate-hate relationship that the older generations fostered with their bedside table companion. Even the radio setting for the alarm would find that awful mix between static and garbled speech to start your day off right, at least in the ‘80s sense.