If the 80s were the best decade of all time, then 1985 might have been its Sgt Peppers. It exists smack dab right in the middle of the decade and brought us enough amazing stuff to last a lifetime.
I was only 8 in 1985 but I was right in the ideal wheelhouse to make the most of what 1985 had to offer. Whether it was cartoons, toys, movies, or TV shows, 1985 brought us some of the best creations in pop culture history.
So let’s not waste any time and look back – at what I think – are 19 reasons why 1985 was the greatest year ever. This is, of course, my own opinion which means it is 100% correct and NOT up for debate…
Honorable mentions from 1985:
- Ewoks Battle For Endor
- Follow That Bird
- Teen Wolf
- Star Wars: Droids
- My Buddy
- Bed Bugs game
19. Jem & The Holograms
Jem & The Holograms was modeled after those robots from Cybertron, the Transformers. Not in appearance but that they were using the same approach that worked in launching the Transformers toys but this time using the same formula on girls. They would release a cartoon show that debuted all the characters and follows that up with a subsequent toy line.
The show and the toys were a huge hit and everyone was aware of Jem & The Holograms. Even if you claimed to hate it as a boy in the 80s you were very aware of its iconic theme song. Jem & The Holograms came out on October 6, 1985, and told the story of music company owner Jerrica Benton and her alter ego Jem. She was teamed up with her group the Holograms and the show would share their adventures.
Their adversaries were “The Misfits” and then “the Stingers”. Jem & The Holograms lasted for three seasons, 65 episodes and was a huge hit with kids as soon as it came out.
18. Sour Patch Kids
An all-time classic candy that tried to capitalize on a similar name as the Cabbage Patch Kids. They go back to the 70s where they were known as “Mars Men” they were a combination of a soft candy, invert sugar, and sour sugar.
Cadbury and Malaco Licorice Company joined forces to create Allen Candy to start producing these Mars Men but then changed the name in 1985 to Sour Patch Kids to make them seem familiar after the Cabbage Patch Kids craze had swept North America.
Over the years they have put out dozens and dozens of different versions of Sour Patch Kids and probably, most funny of all, they are known as “very bad kids” in France.
17. Pound Puppies
Pound Puppies are interesting as they find their origins after the video game crash of 1983. Video games ruled the roost – specifically Atari – into the early 80s but a lack of quality and the E.T. video game led to its demise. Giant companies like Hasbro and Mattel lost millions in investments that had been put into video games and the look back to more traditional toys such as teddy bears and dolls were saught.
The Pound Puppies also borrowed from the successful Cabbage Patch Kid theme and instead of just a stuffed dog you had one with an identity that needed to be “adopted”. They also came in little carry cases that looked like dog houses and this gave them a real identity, and novelty, that separated them from other stuffed animals. They would be followed by a cartoon series and the Pound Puppies would generate around $300 million during the 80s.
Madballs were amazing. Loved by kids and hated by parents you had the perfect toy for a boy as it combined gross-out humor with something you could throw. Madballs were created by AmToy and they have an interesting origin story. A group of toy designers was sitting around messing around with the idea of the game ‘hot potato’ where you would have to pass around a hot potato until someone was stuck holding it. They wondered if it would be interesting that instead of a potato you would look down and find you were holding a grotesque head.
They then had an unofficial competition to see who could come up with the most grotesque head and the executives who came to see the drawings loved the idea and wanted to actually produce these things. They were an immediate hit – especially with me – when they came out in 1985 and some characters included Screamin’ Meanie and Skull Face.
They didn’t last super long but made a decent little impact in 1985, and as I said, parents seemed to hate them so what kid wouldn’t want one of these.
15. Hulkamania/Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling
Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling came out in 1985 and was a way to capitalize on the growing popularity of the (then) WWF, Hulk Hogan, and Hulkamania. Coming out of WrestleMania 1, professional wrestling was hitting an all-time high that some say have never been topped. Their involvement with MTV and the “Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection” was giving them a mainstream exposure and kids like me were becoming enamored with Hulk Hogan.
What better way to capitalize on this than with a Saturday morning cartoon show. The show featured Hulk Hogan and the good guys vs Rowdy Roddy Piper and the bad guys in some standard cartoon tropes. Unfortunately, due to their busy road schedule, none of the real wrestlers were able to provide voices for the cartoon.
Hulkamania was reaching a fever pitch in 1985 and would only grow into WrestleMania 2, up to iconic WrestleMania 3 that would cement Hulk Hogan’s legacy forever.
14. Jolt Cola
“All the sugar, twice the caffeine”. Jolt Cola existed as a sort of urban legend type product in that everyone seemed to hear the story of the kid who drank too much of it and died from a caffeine overdose. As this turns out to not be true we also realize that Jolt Cola had less caffeine than a decent shot of espresso – but that didn’t stop it from reaching a cult status level.
Jolt Cola has a bit of a scandalous side to it in its presentation and marketing and to me, in 1985, seemed something like a forbidden fruit – I wanted to drink it but think I was too scared. Jolt Cola has its beginnings in college, specifically SUNY Potsdam college where its creator – C.J. Rapp noticed how fellow students were always concocting their own creations in order to be able to stay up and study.
Rapp saw a huge opportunity, and market, for a beverage that would fit the bill and led to the creation of Jolt Cola. The problem was they were legally limited to having a maximum of 72mg of caffeine by the Food and Drug Administration. Basically, they wanted to call out the “wimpy” cola market that was focussing on diet drinks by claiming to still have all the sugar people wanted but twice the caffeine. It wasn’t a cola for “sissies”…
It was thought that there was no hope for Jolt Cola and that it would only last 3-5 years but it’s still available to this day. An underground following, and huge word of mouth allowed for Jolt Cola to make a nice dent in 1985.
13. Growing Pains
Growing Pains came out on September 24, 1985, and lasted all the way till 1992 which was impressive as a lot of the big sitcoms of the 80s didn’t last past the end of the decade. Growing Pains told the story of the Seaver family where Dr. Jason Seaver (the late Alan Thicke) has to stay home to raise his kids while his wife Maggie has gone back to work as a reporter.
The show was a big hit especially because it featured actor Kirk Cameron and featured one of the best sitcom theme songs in “As Long As We Got Each Other”. The show was a big hit – among many huge 80s sitcoms – and was constantly nominated for a wide variety of awards.
12. Small Wonder
One of the weirdest sitcoms of the 80s, Small Wonder is something you couldn’t help but get caught up in. Telling the story of the Lawson Family and VICKI, a child robot built by Lawson that the family passed off as an adopted child. Small Wonder debuted in September 1985 and would last until 1989.
Vicki was technically V.I.C.I. – voice input child identicant and she probably would have made a pretty good Avenger. Vicki was played by actor Tiffany Brissette and she was like a small female Iron Man who had superhuman strength and speed.
Small Wonder was one of the very first shows that was produced as a syndicated series meaning that it never had original broadcast dates so could be made for next to nothing and was always a profitable show.
11. Max Headroom
Max Headroom was a “computer-generated” character that was a big part of pop culture in the 80s. This was a creation that was pretty ahead of its time and the character debuted in 1985. If you’re not totally familiar with Max Headroom, you’ll at least remember him from the Cafe 80s in Back to the Future 2.
Max Headroom was played by Matt Frewer and was the creation of several people. There’s actually a pretty deep back story to the character, and he debuted in England on a show called Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future. It was a TV movie to introduce the character which led to the Max Headroom TV series and work on MTV.
Max Headroom was meant to be a response to the generic and egotistical TV personalities at the time but they also created a pretty extensive universe for him to exist in. His place in pop culture was cemented with his use in the commercials for New Coke as they were trying to capture the “new wave” movement happening with music and MTV.
The whole history of Max Headroom is pretty intensive so you should check out the article I wrote all about him.
10. Teddy Ruxpin
The story of Teddy Ruxpin is a bit of a bizarre one as he has roots in Disney, Winnie the Pooh, and Chuck E. Cheese. He was created by Ken Forsee who designed animatronics for the aforementioned Disney and Chuck E. Cheese. His idea was to take this same technology but shrink it down into something a kid could have at home.
This led to him working with some top people to design the movements, voice, and stories that would go along with talking bear. The also gave Teddy a full back story that involves the land of Grundo and the classification of Teddy Ruxpin as an “illiop”.
$60 million was put into the production of Teddy Ruxpin and he went from prototype to on store shelves within a blisteringly fast 6 months. He was released in September 1985 and was a huge hit selling 41,000 units in just 30 days and making $93 million by the end of the year.
Whether you had a Teddy Ruxpin or not, you were definitely aware of this talking bear in 1985 and you can check out the whole history of getting him up and running here
9. Pee-Wees Big Adventure
Not a lot of other things shaped my childhood more than Pee-Wee Herman and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. But before all that, there was Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure which was the first full-length directorial debut of a young Tim Burton.
The movie came out on August 9th, 1985 and told the story of a man-boy named Pee-Wee Herman and his quest to recover his beloved stolen bicycle. Paul Reubens played Pee-Wee Herman and had been performing the character for the Groundlings and had a stage show in 1980 called The Pee-Wee Herman Show.
The original premise for Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure was going to be a remake of the movie “Pollyanna” with Pee-Wee playing the Hayley Mills roll but after noticing staff at Warner Brothers studio all used bikes to get around the lot he started re-writing the script. It was then loosely based on a 1949 movie called “Bicycle Thieves”.
Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure was a decent hit grossing over $40 million in North American and would go on to become a cult favorite. The success of the movie would lead to the TV show the next year along with the sequel, “Big Top Pee-Wee”, and nothing else of significance with Paul Reubens and movie theatres…
The success of Pee-Wee’s big adventure would also be what allowed Tim Burton to make “Edward Scissorhands” and ultimately lead him to direct Batman.
8. New Coke
New Coke was either strategic brilliance or a massive brand failure, or it might exist somewhere in the middle. In 1985 Coca-Cola was turning 100 but their time in the sun had really passed and they had a very small market share in the cola game and were getting beaten quite badly by Pepsi. Since this was the 100th anniversary they thought this could be the time to introduce a new version of Coke and they had actually been tinkering with a new formula under the guise of “project Kansas”.
This new flavor was a sweeter iteration of Coke and was testing quite well. A big thing that they didn’t listen to during all this market research is how testers indicated they would like this in ADDITION to regular Coke. But they didn’t listen.
Not only would they release New Coke in 1985 but they stopped making the original formula altogether – and people went nuts. The backlash was so severe that Coke was forced to abandon New Coke and bring back the original formula, in only 78 days. The original Coke would now be rebranded as Coca-Cola Classic and New Coke would never be seen again until its brilliant connection with Stranger Things season 3.
Some say they planned this all along to create nostalgia in people to appreciate what they had taken for granted but as one of the chairmen of Coke said, “we’re not that dumb, and we’re not that smart”.
The story of New Coke from 1985 is one of the most fascinating of the decade and you can learn the whole history of how it went down here.
One of the few toys of the 80s that was a completely original idea, He-Man captured that essence of a powerful action figure and pretty amazing mythology. He-Man has some big-time influence off of Conan the Barbarian but He-Man was part barbarian, part soldier, and part spaceman.
The cartoon came out in 1983 but by 1985 it was reaching its pinnacle popularity. He-Man makes up the “big three” of 1980s toys alongside Transformers and G.I. Joe and the cartoon, “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe”, was also must-see after school TV in 1985.
He-Man and 1985 went together like Prince Adam of Eternia and Cringer, and the less we talk about the He-Man movie from 1987, the better…
6. The Breakfast Club
The absolute quintessential coming of age film and a definitive movie of the 1980s, the Breakfast Club came out on February 15th, 1985. Directed by John Hughes it told the story of an unlikely combination of high school students that bond over the course of a Saturday detention.
Made on a budget of only $1 million, The Breakfast Club was filmed at the same high school used as the interior setting for another Hughe’s classic, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The cast rehearsed for three straight weeks and was able to film the movie in the exact sequence which allows for it to flow and blend together so well.
It’s a movie that can work in any era as it explores the themes of teenagers feeling misunderstood and combatting against an authority figure. It works so well as everyone can identify themselves in at least one of the characters and it shows how people who have essentially nothing in common realize they aren’t all that different from one another.
It was a critical and commercial success and a huge part of 1985.
5. G.I. Joe
Even though G.I. Joe goes back to the 60s, it was in the 1980s where he rose to prominence. G.I. Joe can be seen as the real kick off in the era of cartoon shows that were used solely to promote a toy line – and did they ever. This was the classic combination of good guys vs bad guys, awesome machinery, and straight up combat.
The Real American Hero captured the imagination of every kid growing up in the 80s and the cartoon show was required viewing. Every birthday and Christmas included the action figures, or vehicles, on your wish list and G.I. Joe also taught us some valuable lessons with “knowing is half the battle”.
As long as you ignore that piece of crap movie that starred The Rock, G.I. Joe was one of the greatest things to come out in 1985.
4. The Goonies
Arguably one of the greatest movies of the 80s the Goonies came out on June 7, 1985, and was directed by Chris Columbus. It tells the story of a bunch of kids who live on the “goon docks” in Oregon and while trying to save their homes from foreclosure, discover a treasure map. The map takes them on the adventure to find the treasure of 17th-century pirate “One-Eyed Willy”.
Made on a budget of $19 million the film grossed $61.5 million and was a big hit along with becoming a massive cult favorite. It would end up being in the top ten money-making films of 1985 and when you look at the competition, it had that was a pretty great feat.
The Goonies starred young actors like Sean Astin, Corey Feldman, and a young Thanos (Josh Brolin). They have been talking about a sequel for years but the Goonies feels like a movie that needs to be left to bask in its own glory.
3. WrestleMania 1
If you’ve been a wrestling fan at any point, you have WrestleMania 1 to thank for it. What was considered a massive risk at the time, WrestleMania 1 was a first of its time event that brought together professional wrestling, celebrities, and music into a culmination event that took place at Madison Square Gardens on March 31st, 1985.
The main event was centered on Hulk Hogan and actor Mr. T. against Rowdy Roddy Piper and Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff. It also featured singer Cyndi Lauper who had been a big part of getting the WWF to more of a mainstream product with the connection between wrestling and MTV dubbed “The Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection”.
Owner of the then WWF, Vince McMahon, put everything he had into WrestleMania 1 and if it hadn’t of worked professional wrestling would have probably stayed a regional niche attraction instead of the global powerhouse, it now is. WrestleMania 1 was also the introduction of a new kind of viewing called “closed circuit television” which hadn’t been done before and it was a way for people to watch the event live in theatres in their own cities.
2. Back to the Future
Ugh, this pains me to put this at number two and not number one but you’ll probably see why. Even at number two, it’s my all-time favorite movie and I think one of the most entertaining, and beloved movies of all time.
What more can be said about Back to the Future that hasn’t already been covered? It’s perhaps the perfect movie with elements of comedy, action, and time travel that also featured one of the most popular actors of the time in Michael J. Fox.
In case you’re waking up from a coma, Back to the Future tells the story of young Marty McFly who is accidentally sent back in time in a Delorean invented by a crazy scientist named Doc Brown. Why a disgraced nuclear physicist is friends with a 17-year-old high school kid is something we don’t have time to get into today. But anyway, Marty has to make sure his parents get back together while making sure he can get back to the future.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis, Back to the Future came out on July 3rd, 1985, and was a monster hit. It would gross over $380 million worldwide and was the highest grossing film of 1985. Most don’t remember but it was actually nominated for three academy awards and would, of course, spawn two epic sequels.
Back to the Future is a pivotal part of 1985, and the 80s, but one other thing just barely edges it out for the number one spot.
1. The Nintendo Entertainment System
It might seem weird now looking back but in there was a time in the early 80s where video games had died. The great video game crash of 1983 had bankrupted Atari and caused manufacturers and toy producers to distance themselves from anything to do with video games.
A nearly 100-year-old company in Japan called Nintendo was finding success with a new video games system they called the “Famicom” (family computer). They believed in the advanced technology they had with this new system and wanted to bring it to North America.
Worried about the backlash from the video game crash they did everything they could to distance themselves from video games. They wouldn’t use “cartridges” but instead had a “game Pak”. They didn’t have “joysticks” but used “control pads”. There wasn’t a “console” but would use a “control deck”. And, most importantly, they weren’t a “video game system” but an “entertainment system”.
They changed the name from the Famicom to the Nintendo Entertainment System and rejuvenated the video game industry forever. The NES came out on October 6, 1985, to select test markets before being released nationwide and changed video games forever.
It’s a crushingly tough call between this and Back to the Future but, to me, it’s the most important thing that happened in 1985 due to the cultural, worldwide, and long-lasting impact that it had. You can read the amazing history of Nintendo, and the full creation of the NES, in an article I wrote all about it.
Phew, we did it. We covered a lot of why 1985 was the greatest year ever, and there was A LOT that made it great. I argue that it’s still the definitive year of the decade and brought us so much that we still enjoy to this day.
1985 exists perfectly in capturing some early, and more quaint, part of the decade while embracing the advancements of technology and development that were ushering us into the latter part of the 80s and would propel us into the 90s.
This article barely scratches the surface – especially entertainment wise – of things that have shaped so many people’s childhoods.
1985, you were a beaut.
If you want to check out more 80s related items and products, head over to my resource page to take a gander at some amazing items.