A Look Back at the Year 1984

As we take this look back at the year 1984, it’s safe to say that the 80s has fully established itself. Any of that carryover from the 70s that still influenced the first few years of the decade has subsided and we’ve gotten into full 80s mode.

1984 is a significant year for many reasons. The first thing that we can’t ignore is the George Orwell connection–which we’ll get to in a second. For our purposes, we are going to focus on the big pop culture moments of 1984–and there are many.

But before we jump into 1984, you may want to go back and read my reviews of the previous years:

Some Other Notable Moments From 1984

Even though we’re focusing on pop-culture-related moments from 1984, we should still cover some of the other significant events that took place this year:

  • Development begins on what would become the International Space Station
  • The first untethered spacewalk takes place
  • The TED conference is founded (I didn’t know it went back that far)
  • Advance Australia Fair is proclaimed as Australia’s national anthem
  • John DeLorean is acquitted of all charges related to cocaine trafficking (read my article all about the DeLorean here)
  • The Space Shuttle Discovery launches on its maiden voyage
  • Brian Mulroney wins a majority government in Canada and sworn in as Prime Minister
  • The UK and the People’s Republic of China sign an initial agreement to return Hong Kong to China in 1997
  • Awareness begins of the starvation problems plaguing Ethiopia
  • The 1984 World’s Fair takes place in Louisiana

The 1984/George Orwell Connection

I don’t want to spend too much time on this, but we can’t use the word “1984” without addressing it. The classic book by George Orwell was published all the way back in 1949. It’s about a dystopian future but also serves as a cautionary tale.

In the book 1984, we get terms like “Big Brother,” and the idea of the thought police. This book gave rise to the idea of an “Orwellian future,” and again, serves as a cautionary tale. It’s always interesting how this book can be applied or interpreted in different eras, but the fact it was now 1984 was interesting to witness. 

Orwell began this book as far back as 1944, and some of the core ideas can be dated to 1941. Clearly, in 1984, we didn’t have the issues he predicted. When coming out of the Second World War, it would make sense that he developed some of the themes.

 In 1984, there was of course political strife and issues of war, but that always seems par for the course. When this book was published in 1949, people would no doubt think we’d be living on the moon and in flying cars by 1984. It turns out we were watching Wham! videos and playing Pac-Man.

Some Notable Movies From 1984

Where do we even start? 1984 not only gave us some of the best movies of the decade–but of all time. Let’s focus on a few standouts.

Ghostbusters

The more time goes by, the greater Ghostbusters seems to get. We’ve reached a peak new era of Ghosbutersness with the release of Ghostbusters: Afterlife. This has paid a great tribute to the original, but taken the franchise in a new direction. 

Ghostbusters was a very unique movie when it came out in 1984. It was a supernatural comedy, which really hadn’t been done before, or at least, not this well. It had some great special effects (for the time) and featured some heavyweight comedy stars. It was like the best of Saturday Night Live in a feature-length movie. 

Ghostbusters is the movie that many cite when they talk about their favorite 80s movie, and it may be the crown jewel of 1984.

Gremlins

Gremlins is my personal choice for the best movie of 1984. Like Ghostbusters, it was such a unique premise and they really don’t make movies like this anymore. It was a dark horror-comedy, which is extremely hard to pull off. Again, like Ghostbusters, Gremlins is one of the defining movies of the 80s.

We all loved Gizmo and throwing Phoebe Cates into the mix didn’t hurt either. This movie is perfect parts absurd and wacky comedy, but also very dark. There are also the obvious connections to it being a Christmas movie, and at its core, Gremlins really is about the dangers when commercialism runs amok during the holidays. I have an entire article about this that you can check out here.

Either way, Gremlins remains an all-time 80s favorite and an important part of the movie landscape of 1984

The Karate Kid

I’ll be honest, the Karate Kid is not my all-time favorite, but it’s a significant part of the 80s–and 1984. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t seen this movie, and it was accessible by all ages when it came out. It’s a classic tale and almost like a modern-day telling of Luke Skywalker as he struggles to develop his skills and ability.

The Karate Kid is filled with classic lines and imagery, and like the previous two entries, is a defining movie of the 80s. 

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

The follow-up to Raiders of the Lost Ark is significant for several reasons. It had the tough job of following up a juggernaut that was the first movie. It definitely doesn’t live up to its predecessor but is still an important 1980s movie. What makes this one stand out is the excessive violence throughout it.

This was due to the personal turmoil facing Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Both were going through some hardships and this was reflected in what you saw on screen. It was needlessly violent and parents approached it as ok for their kids since it had a PG rating. When they saw all the on-screen gore, they freaked out.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is the movie responsible for the creation of the PG-13 rating. I have a whole article that goes deeper into this here.

Let’s look at some of the other big-time movies that came out in 1984:

  • Footloose
  • Beverly Hills Cop
  • Police Academy
  • The Never-Ending Story
  • Dune
  • Sixteen Candles
  • Romancing the Stone
  • This Is Spinal Tap
  • The Terminator
  • Splash

See what I said about this being an epic year? 1984 was one of the best years for movies in history. 

Here is what the top-ten highest grossing movies look like:

  1. Ghostbusters –  $220,919,917
  2. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom-  $179,870,271
  3. Gremlins-  $148,168,459
  4. The Karate Kid-  $90,815,558
  5. Police Academy-  $81,198,894
  6. Footloose-  $80,035,000
  7. Beverly Hills Cop-  $$77,455,000
  8. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock-  $76,471,000
  9. Terms of Endearment-  $$74,420,000
  10. Romancing the Stone-  $74,348,000

The Best Music of 1984

1984 offered a lot when it came to music. As far as the big hits and albums, it had a bit of a classic feel. Many established artists owned the top of the charts. Movie soundtracks also dominated this year’s top songs. There were also a lot of enormous hits that would go on to define the entire decade.

Some of those hits–that didn’t even make it into the top 10 that year–include:

  • Girls Just Wanna Have Fun: Cyndi Lauper
  • 99 Luftballons: Nena
  • The Reflex: Duran Duran
  • Sunglasses at Night: Corey Hart
  • Uptown Girl: Billy Joel (this only made it to #39, which is astonishing)
  • I Want a New Drug: Huey Lewis and the News

The top ten songs that year from the Billboard top 100 were:

  1. When Doves Cry: Prince
  2. What’s Love Got to Do With It: Tina Turner
  3. Say Say Say: Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson
  4. Footloose: Kenny Loggins
  5. Against All Odds: Phil Collins
  6. Jump: Van Halen
  7. Hello: Lionel Richie
  8. Owner of a Lonely Heart: Yes
  9. Ghostbusters: Ray Parker Jr.
  10. Karma Chameleon: Culture Club

When it came to best-selling albums, Thriller STILL was in the mix. Even though it came out in 1983, it spent another 15 weeks as the best-selling album. I cannot understate how huge this album was. 

But the album that dominated this year was Purple Rain by Prince. It spent an astonishing 22 weeks at number one. Between it and Thriller, there wasn’t much left for everyone else, and 1984 only had 5 top-selling albums. This was the fewest number of best-selling albums in a year in music history. 

The remaining 15 weeks were owned by the Footloose soundtrack that stayed number one for ten weeks, Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen which was number one for four weeks, and Sports by Huey Lewis and the News which spent (checks math) just one week at number one. 

The Year of Apple

1984 is the year when an upstart computer company took the world by storm. It’s hard to tell this tale in a few brief paragraphs, but 1984 was a seismic shift in not just the computing world, but the world of advertising. 

During the Super Bowl that year, the cameras cut away from the action on the field and everyone’s screens went dark. Then some ominous music started playing. No one had any idea what they were watching, but it seemed like a movie. The tone of the commercial captured that 1984 dystopian, Orwellian future. This, of course, was the iconic 1984 Apple Macintosh commercial.

This ad turned everything on its head. It perfectly used being in the year 1984, and it was ushering in a new age of electronics. Home computing was now getting personal and away from the corporate “Big Brotherness” that was associated with companies like IBM.

Apple, led by a young Steve Jobs, branded itself as a bunch of rebels. They were pirates and wanted to hijack the computing world. This commercial was the definition of “water cooler talk.” More people talked about it than the actual game. It turns out, Ridley Scott directed it, and this explains the movie quality-feel it had.

The commercial sent a powerful message, not just to the technological industry, but to the world of advertising. Commercials could now be events. They could have movie-like production values. This also changed how the Super Bowl handled commercials and the Big Game would now become the platform to launch big ads. 

Again, we could talk about this all day, but here’s my article all about this iconic event.

Other Technological Advancements

Besides the Mac, there were some other notable technological advancements that took place during 1984. Again, it was all about computers. Bill Gates was on the cover of Time Magazine showing us something called a “Floppy Disk.” Apparently, this is what provided the software to the computers you were or were not using.

The Dell computer launched and an IBM PC cost a cool $3,000. But these fancy computers were still difficult to operate. It would still be another year until Windows launched, and these expensive boxes ran on the DOS system.

One other notable advancement has to do with the early form of the internet. Prodigy–the first consumer online service–was launched in 1984. If you want to see what these very early days of the internet were like, and how a platform like Prodigy worked, you should check out the series “Halt and Catch Fire.”

Last but not least is a technological advancement that doesn’t have to do with computers but changed the world in another way: DNA fingerprinting. Discovered by Professor Alex Jeffreys, DNA fingerprinting revealed there are unique variations of DNA specific to each individual. 

Notable Video Games From 1984

1984 is not a significant year for video games. But if you know about the Great Video Game Crash of 1983, this isn’t unexpected. It’s not that people weren’t still playing video games, but a lot of damage had been done. 

This was the year that the Famicom was released in Japan. You would know it better as the Nintendo Entertainment System. But it wasn’t quite here yet. Because of the video game crash–and the downfall of Atari–the Famicom would be the number one selling console of the year. 

Here were some of the notable games released in 1984:

  • Boulder Dash
  • 1942
  • Cobra Command
  • Punch-Out! 
  • Jet Set Willy
  • Karate Champ

There was one significant video game release in 1984, and that would be Tetris. Created in Russia, Tetris was an incredibly simple game–and incredibly addicting. It only took the user a few moments to learn how to play and anyone could be an expert immediately. This was part of the big appeal. 

It’s based on a physical game called Tetrominos, which goes back to the 1900s. It was popular with mathematicians and an engineer named Alexey Pajitnov wondered if it would work on a computer. The obvious answer is, yes, yes it would. The early version was an instant hit and the software would be quickly bootlegged to other cities and countries. 

Getting Tetris to be produced by an American company led to a lot of red tape and a real foreign trade battle. You can read more about this pretty amazing story here. 

The Important TV Shows in 1984

As usual, TV ruled the roost as we look back at the year 1984. And some very significant shows debuted this year. It may be the best year of TV debuts for the entire decade. Let’s look at a few notable ones:

The Cosby Show

Yes, this has become more problematic now, but it’s important to recognize what a juggernaut this show really was. It didn’t take too long to catch on and the show finished third in the ratings. This is pretty remarkable for a new show, but nothing like what it would become when it dominated TV ratings for most of the decade. 

The Cosby Show was unique because it took a different approach and featured a well-off African-American family compared to previous, questionable portrayals that you would see on TV.

Transformers

What can we say? Transformers may be the pivotal cartoon show for every kid who grew up in the 80s. This was the definitive cartoon and I have to say, it shaped my personality. Transformers debuted as a four-part mini-series that really wasn’t much more than an extended commercial for the new toy line. The show had some creativity to it, though. There are connections with Marvel and featured some great mythology. I recommend checking out my article all about the Transformers here.

Jeopardy

It almost feels like there was never a time when Jeopardy wasn’t on TV and part of our daily lives. When I was a kid, it was required viewing in the same way the news might be. Jeopardy debuted in 1984 and continues to this day. What made it stand apart from regular game shows was the educational factor. 

This wasn’t a brainless show like Let’s Make a Deal, or the Price is Right where any schlub could win; this took specific skill and knowledge. It featured the great Alex Trebek and quickly became a television institution. 

Fun fact: The iconic theme song is actually called “Thinking Music.”

So that’s just a few of the standouts. Let’s look at some of the other notable shows that debuted in 1984:

  • Miami Vice
  • Charles in Charge
  • Punky Brewster
  • Muppet Babies
  • Voltron: Defender of the Universe
  • Highway to Heaven
  • Murder, She Wrote
  • Who’s the Boss

And here’s a look at the highest-rated shows from 1984. As usual, during this point in the decade, dramas dominated the top shows:

  1. Dynasty: 25.0 rating
  2. Dallas: 24.7
  3. The Cosby Show: 24.2
  4. 60 Minutes: 22.2
  5. Family Ties: 22.1
  6. The A-Team: 21.9
  7. Simon & Simon: 21.9
  8. Murder, She Wrote: 20.1
  9. Knots Landing: 20.0 
  10. Tie between Falcon Crest and Crazy Like a Fox with a 19.9 rating

Major Sporting Events From 1984

When we look back at the year 1984 is all about one event: The Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles. This may be one of the most significant games in Olympic history. To start, this is the Games that the Soviet Union boycotted. I’m sure you’re instantly picturing the Krusty Burger campaign from the Simpsons…

There were some truly standout athletes from these summer games. The first that comes to mind is Carl Lewis. He won four gold medals at these games in the 100 m, 200 m, 4 x 100 m, and the long jump.

Mary Lou Retton was also a breakout star in Los Angeles. She became the first gymnast outside of Eastern Europe to win the gymnastics all-around competition.

One interesting thing to point out–that most don’t remember–is these games featured a variation of the dream team in basketball. We always think of the future dream team, but Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, and Chris Mullin were on the American team which won the gold medal in basketball and were coached by the legendary Bobby Knight. 

When it came to the final medal tally, the US obviously dominated. They brought in 174 total medals. Second place wasn’t even close. It was Romania with 53, followed by West Germany with 59. 

But there was more to sports in 1984 than just the Olympics. 

  • Ivan Lendl wins his first Grand Slam defeating John McEnroe at the French Open
  • Martina Navratilova’s 54-match winning streak comes to an end
  • Both McEnroe and Navratilova would win Wimbledon
  • US Open won by Fuzzy Zoeller
  • The Masters was won by Ben Crenshaw

In the big four North American Sports:

SuperBowl: The L.A. Raiders

World Series: Detroit Tigers

NBA Finals: Boston Celtics

And in the NHL, the era of the great Edmonton Oilers, led by Wayne Gretzky, begins. The Oilers won their first Stanley Cup in 1984 and finally defeated their arch-rivals, the New York Islanders.

Wrapping it Up

So that’s a look back on the year 1984. It was a significant year when it came to sports and technology. But it also gave us some of the best TV shows and movies of all time. 

There was the usual political strife, but it didn’t seem to be as front and center as it was with other years. It seemed like there were a lot of distractions–especially when it came to entertainment. And Olympic years always seem to keep the focus on sport, national pride, and entertainment. 

1984 was a year that had been on the calendar for decades. It obviously didn’t end up as foreseen by George Orwell, but stood out for many different reasons. It would be a defining year of the decade until 1985 would take it to a whole new level.