VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
These 80s events made the world stand still. For this list, we'll be looking at historic events that occurred in the 1980s that garnered an enormous amount of media attention. Our countdown includes The Fall of the Berlin Wall, The Wedding of Charles & Diana, Live Aid, and more!
Top 10 ‘80s Events the World Watched Together
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 80s Events the World Watched Together.
For this list, we’ll be looking at historic events that occurred in the 1980s that garnered an enormous amount of media attention.
Did you watch any of these live? If not, which one sounds the most interesting? Let us know in the comments below!
#10: The Fall of the Berlin Wall
Known within the German Democratic Republic as the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart, the Berlin Wall stood between 1961 and 1989 and physically separated West and East Germany. The concrete wall famously represented the ideologically fractured Berlin, with the East serving as the communist sector of the city. But with the fall of the Iron Curtain also came the end of the Berlin Wall. At 10:45 pm on the night of November 9, 1989, the checkpoints were finally opened and the citizens of West and East Berlin were reunited. This is known as The Night the Wall Came Down, and it was front page news around the world. It was not only a symbol of Germany’s reunification, but the end of the Cold War itself.
#9: The Challenger Launch
Most ‘80s children remember the morning of January 28, 1986. To inspire an interest in space, the Teacher in Space Project aimed to carry various teachers from around the United States into the dark expanse. The first teacher picked was Christa McAuliffe of New Hampshire’s Concord High School. Because McAuliffe was set to be the first teacher in space, the Challenger launch became a national phenomenon and was aired on live TV. Not only that, but millions of classrooms around the country were tuned in to watch the spectacle and celebrate the occurrence. But as everyone knows, the shuttle tragically exploded during takeoff, killing all seven people on board and entering the annals of American history.
#8: Super Bowl XX
Even in today’s day and age with the rise of streaming and the collapse of traditional television, the Super Bowl still pulls in 100 million viewers. Super Bowl XX took place at the Louisiana Superdome on the night of January 26, 1986. Both the Chicago Bears and the New England Patriots were making their Super Bowl debuts, and the Bears whalloped the Patriots 46-10. Nearly 74,000 people were in attendance, and a further 92.5 million watched at home. This made it the most-watched Super Bowl to that point, and its viewership wouldn’t be surpassed until Super Bowl XXX ten years later, which drew in 94 million people.
#7: “The Day After” (1983)
Judging by the response to “The Day After,” it’s obvious that everyday Americans were deeply entrenched in the politics of the Cold War. “The Day After” is a television movie that aired on ABC on the night of November 20, 1983. Its haunting and apocalyptic story depicts a destructive nuclear war between the United States and the USSR. The movie was an event, complete with open 1-800 counseling hotlines to help viewers talk through the disturbing nature of the film. It was extensively covered in the media and captured 100 million viewers from around the country. It even had a rating of 46, meaning that nearly half of all households in the United States had tuned in to watch the movie.
#6: The End of the Iran Hostage Crisis
What a way to begin the 1980s. Back in November of 1979, dozens of American diplomats and citizens became hostages within the Tehran Embassy, which was stormed by college students with strong ties to the Iranian Revolution. The revolution largely stemmed from social injustices and dissatisfaction with the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. After 444 days, or one year and two months, the hostages were released on January 20, 1981. Their release and the accord that caused it became international news, and various conspiracy theories arose over the reasoning for their freedom. The aftermath was extensive, including the complete disintegration of diplomatic relations between America and Iran.
#5: The “M*A*S*H” Finale
Airing on the night of February 28, 1983 was “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” the two-and-a-half hour special that served as the “M*A*S*H” series finale. This was much more than the ending of a beloved TV show - it was a cultural moment and a defining part of American history. Hype was enormous, allowing CBS to charge exorbitant prices for commercial airtime. They were right to do so. The broadcast was watched by an estimated 106 million people, making it the most-watched episode of television in American history. It also had a rating of 60.2, meaning 60% of American homes were tuned in to CBS to watch the episode live. Now that’s how you send off a beloved show.
#4: The Wedding of Charles & Diana
On July 29, 1981, Diana Spencer married heir apparent Charles, Prince of Wales at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral. And the event couldn’t have been more bombastic. It was made a national holiday in the UK, cost an estimated $100 million in today’s money, and saw two million spectators filling the streets of London. But that’s nothing compared to the 750 million that watched from home. The event was broadcast live in fifty different countries, and legend has it that hundreds of millions more listened on the radio, bringing the worldwide audience to well over a billion. If that’s true, then one in every four people on the planet either watched or listened to the wedding of Charles and Diana.
#3: Live Aid
Forget one in four people. How about half of the entire world? Well, okay, about 40%, but still. Meant to bolster awareness and charity for an Ethiopian famine, Live Aid encompassed concerts in Philadelphia and London, along with a few smaller ones around the globe. Performing at the 1985 event were almost all the big acts of the time, with Britain putting forth Queen, David Bowie, and Elton John, and the USA Neil Young, The Cars, and Hall & Oates (among many others, of course). Aside from the 160,000 people in attendance, nearly two billion people bopped along to the music on television, accounting for 40% of the entire world’s population.
#2: Holmes vs. Ali
Modern generations will never understand the sheer popularity of Muhammad Ali. The Holmes vs. Ali fight had all the hallmarks of a dramatic movie story. Not only was Ali coming out of retirement for the fight, but he was battling his longtime sparring partner, Larry Holmes. And not only that, but Ali was well past his prime. He was pushing 40, wasn’t agile, was the lightest he had been in years, and was suffering from various debilitating health issues. It’s essentially the story of “Rocky Balboa.” On the night of October 2, 1980, a bumbling Ali got his butt kicked, and two billion people from around the world watched the sad spectacle.
#1: The 1980 Moscow Olympics
The ‘80s were a fantastic time for the Olympics. Moscow ‘80, Los Angeles ‘84, and Seoul ‘88 all drew about two billion viewers. But the Moscow games are historic for many reasons. They set numerous records, including the first Olympics in Eastern Europe and the first summer games to be held in a communist country. As a result, dozens upon dozens of countries boycotted the games and refused to attend - 66 to be precise. Only 80 attended, making this the smallest Olympics in nearly 25 years. All of this combined to generate great worldwide interest, and even with the boycotts, the games still garnered two billion viewers through television broadcasts, making it the most-watched Olympics in history at the time.