While 1984 was iconic, 1985 was an even bigger year for pop culture. When we think of a song or a movie that exemplifies "the '80s," it’s very likely from 1985. If you made a mix tape of '80s songs, it would have a ton of stuff from 1985 (“Summer of ’69,” anybody? “Voices Carry,” perhaps? “Everybody Wants To Rule The World"? Or how about Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More"?)
Without further ado, here are 40 things turning 35 in 2020. If you were born in 1985, you're in good company.
1. Back to the Future
The highest-grossing movie of 1985 featured Michael J. Fox as a teenager traveling 30 years back in time. It's 35 years later, but Back to the Future still holds up—though doing the math makes us feel extremely old (today's 1985 is more distant in the past as 1985's 1955).
2. New Coke
In the early 1980s, Pepsi ran a killer marketing blitz: The Pepsi Challenge. It was a simple blind taste-test of Pepsi versus Coke, and upstart Pepsi won more than half the time. (While opinions differ as to why Pepsi won so often, the simplest explanation may be that it tasted sweeter.) So Coke fired back by discontinuing its original formula and introducing "New Coke," a sweeter formulation. Everybody hated it, despite intense marketing.
New Coke was such a flop that "old Coke" was reintroduced three months later as "Coca-Cola Classic." Eventually "New Coke" turned into Coke II (yes, really), and remained on store shelves until 2002.
3. "We are the World"
Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie co-wrote "We Are the World" and, along with Harry Belafonte and Ken Kragen, recruited a mega-supergroup dubbed USA for Africa to record it. The purpose of the song was to raise money for famine relief in Africa—particularly in Ethiopia, where a devastating famine was raging. The song was a massive hit, reaching quadruple platinum status, winning various Grammies, and raising tens of millions of dollars for the relief effort.
The supergroup performing the song included luminaries like Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Tina Turner, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Dan Aykroyd(!), Bette Midler, the Pointer Sisters, the Jacksons, Smokey Robinson, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Geldof, Huey Lewis, you name it.
4. Live Aid
There were also two major charity concerts in 1985: Live Aid, again focused on aid for the famine in Ethiopia, was held on July 13, 1985 with two concerts held simultaneously—one in London and one in Philadelphia. Queen's Live Aid performance (which you can see above) has become an iconic moment in music history.
5. Farm Aid
Inspired by Live Aid, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young organized a charity concert of their own, Farm Aid, to help American farmers. The concert took place on September 22, 1985 in Champaign, Illinois, and featured Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, B.B. King, and Tom Petty as just a few of the featured performers. The concert raised more than $9 million and the organization is still active today.
6. WrestleMania I
The first WrestleMania event was staged by the World Wrestling Federation on March 31, 1985 at Madison Square Garden. In the main event, wrestlers included Hulk Hogan and Mr. T versus "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and "Mr. Wonderful" (Paul Orndorff). WrestleMania set the template for American wrestling events for decades to come, and it's still running today. (Incidentally, Liberace made an appearance as a timekeeper and Muhammad Ali was a referee.)
7. Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling
Playing into the WrestleMania madness, Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling appeared as a Saturday morning cartoon on CBS. Above is a taste of its amazingness.
The party game Pictionary was designed by Robert Angel and released by Seattle Games in 1985. If you've been living under a rock for 35 years, the premise is simple: one player has to draw a picture, trying to get the other players to guess a common word, phrase, action, or person, place, or animal. It's a lot like charades, but with frenzied scribbling.
The game was later adapted into several TV game shows. (You can see the pilot for the 1989 TV version of Pictionary here.)
9. Discovery of the RMS Titanic Wreck
On April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and sank; the wreck wouldn't be discovered until 1985, when Dr. Bob Ballard and Jean-Louis Michel led a massive expedition employing a high-tech remotely-operated deep-sea vehicle named Argo. The key tactic that enabled the 1985 expedition to succeed where previous efforts failed was the use of cameras rather than sonar; by watching images, scientists were able to see the debris field from the Titanic and eventually find the wreck (in several parts).
10. Starship's "We Built This City," a.k.a. the Worst Song of All Time
Released in August 1985, Starship's "We Built This City" was the kind of rock song that appealed to music lovers of the time, but almost immediately felt dated. And nearly 20 years later, it was still on people's minds as it was voted the worst record ever in a 2004 poll of critics. Lambasted by Blender editor Craig Marks for "the sheer dumbness of the lyrics," the song made news for being a real stinker. (A similar Rolling Stone readers poll reached the same conclusion in 2011.) For the record, it was nominated for a Grammy in 1986.
11. Guns N’ Roses
A bunch of bands that would later become big deals (or at least moderate deals) formed in 1985, including Guns N' Roses, which formed in Los Angeles when the existing bands Hollywood Rose and L.A. Guns merged. After several major lineup changes (including the addition of Duff McKagan and Slash), the band was signed by Geffen Records in 1986 and released Appetite for Destruction in 1987. Today, the only remaining member from the original lineup is Axl Rose.
Among some of the other bands that formed in 1985? DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Indigo Girls, Jane’s Addiction, and Crowded House.
12. The Nintendo Entertainment System
Although the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) had existed in Japan as the Famicom since mid-1983, it only became available in the U.S. in late 1985 (and even then, it was only in New York City, the first of several test markets).
13. Super Mario Bros.
The big innovations in the U.S. release of the NES were ROB (Robotic Operating Buddy), the Zapper light gun, and the release of Super Mario Bros., the game that made America fall in love with home video game consoles again.
14. and 15. Mask and M.A.S.K.
On March 8, 1985, Mask hit theaters. The movie was based on the true story of "Rocky" Dennis, a young man who suffered from craniodiaphyseal dysplasia, a rare bone disorder that results in excessive calcium buildup in the face. The film, which starred Cher, Sam Elliott, and Eric Stoltz, won an Oscar for Best Makeup.
On September 16, 1985, the cartoon M.A.S.K. hit TV screens, based on the overuse of backronyms. (The title stood for Mobile Armored Strike Kommand—the good guys—who were battling V.E.N.O.M., the Vicious Evil Network Of Mayhem.) The cartoon was mostly notable for being a mashup of G.I. Joe and Transformers, leading to endless toy merchandising opportunities.*
16. Discovery of the ozone hole
In May 1985, scientists from the British Antarctic Survey announced that there was a large "hole" in the ozone layer over Antarctica. Technically, it was more of a major thinning, but the term ozone hole stuck. Scientists reported that this hole had opened every spring since the 1970s and suggested that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), chemicals used in refrigerants and propellants (hello, hairspray) were causing it. The hole was a problem because it let extra UV radiation through the atmosphere. Alarmed by this news, the world reacted, heavily regulating CFCs, which ultimately reduced the ozone hole. (Some experts believe it could completely disappear by the 2060s.)
17. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
Brøderbund released the now-classic educational video game Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? in 1985. The game taught geography and basic research skills, while managing to actually be fun (see the play-through video above, while imagining you're a little kid in 1985). In the years following the initial 1985 release, the game was ported to tons of personal computer and game console platforms, including the NES, SNES, and various Sega consoles. It also continued the '80s trend of crazy backronyms, featuring the Villains' International League of Evil (V.I.L.E.).
If you're a fan, Wikipedia has an incredibly thorough list of the characters in the game (and subsequent adaptations, including later games and, of course, the TV game show). In 2019, Netflix released a new animated Carmen Sandiego series. And while it was reported back in 2011 that Jennifer Lopez was on board to create a live-action movie of the series, that project seems to have come to a hault.
18. Madonna's breakout year
After releasing the album Like a Virgin in 1984, Madonna proceeded to blow up in 1985. She starred in the movie Desperately Seeking Susan (and appeared in Vision Quest); released the hits "Crazy for You," "Into the Groove," and "Dress You Up" (among others); married Sean Penn; and started her first North American tour with the Beastie Boys as her opening act.
19. Blockbuster Video
The first Blockbuster Video rental outlet opened in October 1985 in Dallas, Texas. The brand rapidly expanded, soon blanketing the U.S. and expanding its offerings to video games (including Nintendo cartridges) and eventually DVDs. At the height of its success, Blockbuster had over 9000 retail stores.
As home video offerings changed (hello, Netflix, cable, kiosks, and on-demand), Blockbuster declined. In 2010, it began the first of various bankruptcy filings. By January 2014, the last few hundred corporate-owned Blockbuster stores closed their doors. Today, just one store—known as The Last Blockbuster—is still open, in Bend, Oregon.
Other notable businesses founded in 1985: Boston Market, Tommy Hilfiger, Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, and Enron.
20. The first smoking ban in U.S. restaurants
Settle in, children, as we tell you what used to happen when you entered a restaurant: You'd be asked, "Smoking or non?" and you'd choose the section of the room in which you'd like to sit. In other words, half of pretty much all restaurants were filled with cigarette smoke. This was entirely normal and common until the first U.S. restaurant smoking ban went into effect in Aspen, Colorado in late 1985. Part of this progressive move can be attributed to then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop's Campaign for a Smoke-Free America; similar smoking bans were enacted throughout the '80s and '90s, becoming commonplace today.
21. Calvin & Hobbes
On November 18, 1985, Bill Watterson's comic strip Calvin & Hobbes debuted. It ran for 10 years, following the adventures of Calvin, an imaginative kid, and his stuffed tiger Hobbes. The comic strip was an instant hit, and spread rapidly to hundreds of newspapers.
Calvin & Hobbes is notable mainly for its brilliant writing, focusing on the imagination of a little boy and his semi-imaginary friend. But it's also remarkable for its lack of merchandising. Although many books of Calvin & Hobbes collected comics have been made and sold, almost no licensed merchandise was created. In 2013, the documentary Dear Mr. Watterson explored fan love for the strip (it's on Amazon Prime). We also managed to snag a very year interview with Watterson that year.
22. Microsoft Windows 1.0
One year after Apple introduced the Macintosh, Microsoft shipped Windows 1.0, a graphical user interface that ran various DOS applications in crappy windows, alongside a handful of actual Windows-native applications (like Microsoft Paint, bundled with Windows 1.0). On the bright side, it came with a game: Reversi.
23. The First dot com domain
On March 15, 1985, the first "dot com" domain name was registered. Symbolics.com was the new online home of Symbolics Inc., a computer company based in Massachusetts. By comparison, it took IBM more than a year to get around to registering IBM.com, but that was typical—having an Internet domain name in the mid-'80s was not exactly mission-critical. The .com top-level domain joined a handful of other TLDs including .edu, .gov, .mil, .net, .org, and .arpa. Of course, in the years since, .com has pretty much dominated the domain name world.
24. Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale
It was a good year for books in 1985: Carl Sagan's Contact was published, as was Don DeLillo's White Noise. Orson Scott Card released Ender's Game and Margaret Atwood gave us The Handmaid’s Tale. Other notables include Lonesome Dove, Blood Meridian, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, The Cider House Rules, Dogsong, and The Polar Express. Many of 1985's biggest books were later (sometimes much later) adapted into movies.
25. The Brat Pack
It's hard to pick a single movie that defined 1985 (and this list already devoted entries to Mask and Back to the Future, so you can tell we're not trying too hard to be exclusive). But among the '85 standouts is John Hughes's The Breakfast Club, which helped define the Brat Pack, a group of actors who appeared in tons of teen-centric films. The group included (at least) Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, and Ally Sheedy. A subset of these actors appeared in both The Breakfast Club (which was released in February 1985) and St. Elmo's Fire (which came out in June).
26. The Goonies
Other notable movies from 1985: The Goonies, Brazil, The Black Cauldron, Clue, Fletch, The Color Purple, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Out of Africa, Weird Science, Witness, Ladyhawke, Return to Oz, and Cocoon. It was a pretty sweet year for Stallone sequels, too: The Italian Stallion starred in both with Rambo First Blood Part II and Rocky IV.
27. David Lee Roth mania
David Lee Roth left Van Halen on April Fool's Day in 1985, at the peak of the band's popularity (the previous year's album, 1984, had spawned the hits "Jump," "I'll Wait," "Panama," and "Hot for Teacher"). This moment marked Peak Roth, a cultural instant when David Lee Roth was as relevant and famous as he would ever be. He also released an EP of standards entitled Crazy from the Heat, including "California Girls" (complete with backing vocals by Beach Boy Carl Wilson) and a medley of "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody," both of which were hits. These days, David Lee Roth is back with Van Halen.
28. The First Commercial AIDS Blood Test
In early 1985, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration licensed the first commercial blood test to detect HIV antibodies in blood. Blood banks immediately began screening blood donations using the test, at a cost of about $6 per test. That year also marked a series of major moments in the early story of AIDS: Larry Kramer's play The Normal Heart debuted Off-Broadway; Indiana teen Ryan White was barred from his middle school after contracting the disease from a blood transfusion; GLAAD was formed; and Rock Hudson died from AIDS-related illnesses, bringing a very mainstream face to the disease.
29. Keira Knightley
Lots of actors, entertainers, and sports stars were born in 1985. Here's a list:
- Keira Knightley
- Lily Allen
- Reggie Bush
- Colbie Caillat
- Lana Del Rey
- Zac Hanson (of the band Hanson)
- Calvin Johnson
- Carly Rae Jepsen
- Anna Kendrick
- Emily Kinney
- Bruno Mars
- Michael Phelps
- Amanda Seyfried
- Rooney Mara
- Carey Mulligan
- Jack Osbourne
- Alison Pill
- Cristiano Ronaldo
See? Isn't it weird that Keira Knightley, Bruno Mars, Raven-Symoné, and Jack Osbourne are the same age?
30. and 31. Thundercats and The Golden Girls
OK, so 1985 was a wellspring of awesome kids' TV, plus some grownup TV, too. Here's a grab bag of shows that debuted in 1985:
- Alfred Hitchcock Presents (The Reboot)
- Amazing Stories
- The Care Bears
- Club MTV
- G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero
- The Golden Girls
- Growing Pains
- It's Punky Brewster (not to be confused with the live-action Punky Brewster)
- Larry King Live
- Mr. Belvedere
- National Geographic Explorer
- She-Ra: Princess of Power
- Small Wonder
- Star Wars: Droids
- Star Wars: Ewoks
- The Twilight Zone (the reboot)
VH1 premiered on New Year's Day 1985, offering a slightly smoother/grown-up alternative to MTV (its first video was Marvin Gaye's awesome 1983 performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner," which you can watch above).
33. Nick at Nite
Nick at Nite debuted in July 1985, showing reruns starting at 8 p.m., sharing the same station as Nickelodeon (the logic being that kids should be in bed by then, or at least not watching TV). Nick at Nite's plan was to create the first "oldies TV network" in the same vein as oldies radio.
Though Elmo had been an occasional background player on Sesame Street since 1980, when he was known simply as "Short Red," it took puppeteer Kevin Clash—using a hilariously high-pitched voice—to turn the character into Elmo, the hyper-friendly red monster we know and love.
35. David Letterman's "Top 10 List"
David Letterman aired his first "Top 10 List," with the subject: "Top Ten Words That Almost Rhyme With Peas."
36. The Portlandia statue
In Portland, Oregon, the statue Portlandia was installed on October 6, 1985, after being floated up the Willamette River on a barge. Sculpted by Raymond Kaskey, Portlandia is a 34-plus-foot copper statue of a woman holding a trident. Although it was obviously famous to Portland residents at the time, it became nationally notable when the TV show Portlandia borrowed its name and likeness (after negotiations with Kaskey).
37. The WELL
The WELL (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link—another backronym) is one of the original online communities. Founded by Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant, it began as a BBS (Bulletin Board System) accessible via dial-up modem, and evolved over the years as online services did. The WELL set the template for how people could interact online.
38. Phil Collins's No Jacket Required
In 1985, Phil Collins released his most successful solo album, No Jacket Required, which included the hit songs "Sussudio," "One More Night," and "Don't Lose My Number." It became a Diamond record (more than 10 times Platinum) and won three Grammys, including Album of the Year. He performed tracks from the album at Live Aid that year.
39. The First Million-Selling CD
Compact discs became available in the early 1980s, but it took until 1985 for them to go mainstream. Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms sold a million copies on CD, outselling its vinyl release. This was likely due to it being an early DDD (all-digital) recording, intended for the relatively new CD format.
40. Studio Ghibli
Studio Ghibli was founded in June 1985 by directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata and producer Toshio Suzuki. It has created animated classic movies including Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke, Howl's Moving Castle, Ponyo, and lots more.