How Well Do You Know This Decade in History: 1980-1989


By: John Miller

6 Min Quiz

Image: NASA

About This Quiz

“They’re hee-ere!” In 1982, this line, from a terrifying movie called “Poltergeist” heralded the coming of a decade that is still as weird, funky, and electric as it was back when it all happened — the ‘80s were a time when the pace of the world increased exponentially, and it took everyone on a wild ride. What do you remember about the history of the Eighties?

At the beginning of the decade, a new president rose to power in the United States. He immediately set about revamping all sorts of government policies, changing the structure of economic powers in a vast array of ways. What do you know about the actor-turned-politician who held the reins of America in the 80s? 

With the Vietnam War (finally) ending in the 1970s, America took a break from full-scale battle during most of the ‘80s. But times were still tense, with two superpowers duking it out via proxy wars all over the globe. What do you know about the U.S. and its strained foreign relations during this decade?

Music was vibrant during the ‘80s. Big hair bands ruled pop and rock from the East Coast to the West. The Go-Gos, Poison, Michael Jackson, Madonna, and whole lot of other big music acts gained fame in the 1980s, and many of them are still riding that momentum today. What do you know about the biggest hits and pop culture trends of this hairsprayed decade?

From “The Karate Kid” to “16 Candles,” the ‘80s were mostly a good time to be alive in America. Take our ‘80s history quiz now and see how much you remember about this amazing decade!

Which famous wall came down in 1989?

In 1989, after decades of splitting a major German city in two, the Berlin Wall came down. It became one of the most iconic scenes of the entire 20th century.


Who served as U.S. president for most of the ‘80s?

Ronald Reagan was the ‘80s. From 1981 to 1989 he served, with his slicked-back hair and nasally voice defining a turbulent decade of government power struggles and dynamic economic policies.


In 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil spill happened in which area?

The Exxon Valdez oil spill dumped around 11 million gallons of crude oil near the coast of Alaska. For years, news stories featured pictures of dead wildlife and ruined ecosystems that resulted from the spill.


In 1981, which company introduced a "Personal Computer," a name that eventually became synonymous with consumer computers in general?

In 1981, IBM unveiled its Personal Computer, the model 5150, and it was a huge hit with consumers. It was the "PC," and it was a revolution in electronics.


Which epidemic gripped media headlines in the 1980s?

In the 1980s, doctors came to realize just how quickly HIV and AIDS were spreading around the world. Millions of people would eventually die from this terrifying scourge.


In 1982, Michael Jackson released which major album?

In 1982, Jackson’s "Thriller" grabbed hold of the world and wouldn’t let go, sending music fans into a panic unlike anything since the Beatles. It is still the best-selling album of all-time.


In 1981, the first of NASA’s space shuttles launched. What was the first shuttle named?

In April 1981, the shuttle Columbia completed its first mission for NASA. It flew until 2003, when it was destroyed upon re-entry, killing all seven crew members.


Which environmental concern dominated much of the Eighties?

In the ‘80s, scientists sounded the alarm about a widening hole in the ozone layer. A contributing factor? Chemicals from aerosol cans — so blame the excessively-hairsprayed metal bands of the decade for ending humanity as we know it.


Which long-running war slowly came to a close at the end of the 1980s?

After WWII, the U.S. and USSR played a political poker game called the Cold War. For decades, the conflict simmered around the world ... and at the end of the ‘80s, the last hand was finally played. The USSR lost, a fact that reshaped the entire globe, particularly Eastern Europe.


Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman _____.

In 1981, O’Connor started her run as the first female Supreme Court Justice in America’s history. She served until 2006.


In 1986, what happened at a facility called Chernobyl?

In the USSR, the Chernobyl nuclear accident contaminated many square miles with radioactive material and sparked fears of nuclear power all over the world. The area around the destroyed plant is still uninhabitable.


At the time of his election in 1981, Ronald Reagan was the ____ president-elect in history.

Reagan was nearly 70 years old at his inauguration, making him the oldest president-elect ever. In 2016, Donald Trump took that dubious record from Reagan.


What was the top-grossing film of 1985?

In 1985, Michael J. Fox’s career went into overdrive thanks to "Back to the Future." It was a big jump for the guy who grew to stardom as Alex P. Keaton in "Family Ties."


In the fall of 1980, a major war broke out between Iran and _____.

In 1980, the Iran-Iraq War began when Iraq invaded its neighbor. The war slogged on for eight years and killed 1 million people.


Which music group released a hit album titled "Appetite for Destruction"?

In 1989, hair bands saw their reign come to abrupt and violent end at the hands of "Appetite for Destruction," from Guns N’ Roses. Led by Axl Rose and Slash, the band reinvigorated rock in imaginative (and self-destructive) ways.


Mikhail Gorbachev was the leader of which country in the late ‘80s?

In the late ‘80s Gorbachev oversaw the opening of the USSR to more and more Western ideals. Soon, the Soviet Empire was crumbling before his eyes.


What was the "Miracle on Ice"?

During the 1980 Winter Olympics, the U.S. men’s hockey team upset the heavily favored USSR juggernaut. Then, America went on to beat Finland for the gold medal.


Why did Iraq attack Iran in 1980?

In 1980, Iraq decided to take advantage of Iran’s chaotic government situation and try to install itself as a major player in the Middle East. But Iran didn’t fold — and the conflict became a bloody one that spanned most of the Eighties.


True or false, did the Internet exist in the 1980s?

ARPANET, the forerunner of the global Internet, began infecting — er — spreading around the world in the 1980s, mostly in military and university applications. In the ‘90s the Internet really became a phenomenon for everyday people.


What sort of clothing was very popular during the ‘80s?

The ‘80s were a bright — as in, gaudy — decade. Neon colors and wild patterns that would draw stares in 2018 were simply normal during the ‘80s.


In 1983, a terrorist attack killed hundreds of U.S. soldiers in _____.

In 1983, two truck bombs blasted barracks housing French and American troops in Beirut. The attacks were effective, causing the withdrawal of peacekeeping forces working to stem bloodshed in the Lebanese Civil War.


In 1984, who did Reagan defeat in the presidential election?

In 1984, Reagan was an unstoppable incumbent. He beat Mondale in a landslide, the biggest blowout in electoral college history.


Who was the star of two out of the top three movies of 1985?

In 1985, "Rocky IV" and "Rambo: First Blood Part II" followed "Back to the Future" as the year’s top movies. Sylvester Stallone was the star at the center of the universe that year, with leading roles in both films.


What caused the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil tanker disaster?

The enormous oil tanker struck a reef, in part due to worker fatigue, and the rocks gashed a hole in the ship’s hold. The crude oil eventually affected around 1,300 miles of what had been pristine wilderness coastline.


What were "Air Jordans"?

In the ‘80s, Nike scored a marketing coup when it enlisted a young NBA star named Michael Jordan to sell "Air Jordans," basketball shoes named after the player. Air Jordans were insanely popular — and fabulously expensive, too.


Ronald Reagan spent much of his presidency working on which issue?

Reagan and his "Reaganomics" team dramatically changed the U.S. economy during the ‘80s. He spent much of his time cutting taxes in hopes of spurring the economy into action.


In 1989, dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu was executed during a revolution in which country?

In 1989, as Communist forces lost their grip on Europe, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu fell from grace — and was executed by his own people.


Which company used the slogan "Where’s the Beef?"

In 1984, Wendy’s started it’s "Where’s the Beef" campaign, which was the fast-food industry’s version of "Just Do It." Marketers from McDonald’s and Burger King tried and failed to match the brillance of the simple and effective slogan.


What was the purpose of the 1985 Live Aid concert?

In 1985, nearly 2 billion people witnessed the Live Aid concert (in person and via satellite link), which helped provide relief for a terible famine in Ethiopia. Everyone from Tom Petty to Madonna to The Rolling Stones took part.


In 1988, what infamous event happened over Lockerbie, Scotland?

In 1988, Libyan terrorists bombed Pan Am Flight 103, killing everyone on board and 11 people on the ground. With 270 total fatalities, it’s still the worst terrorist attack ever in the history of the United Kingdom.


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