The '80s: The Decade That Made Us

The BEST episodes of The '80s: The Decade That Made Us

Every episode ever - ranked by fan votes!

A Six-Part Miniseries Event Narrated by Rob Lowe It's, like, totally tubular. The '80s: The Decade That Made Us isn't about nostalgia; it's about the history of our modern world that spawned political, technological, cultural, and social revolutions that began in the United States and went on to dominate the world. This cultural programming event is the defining biography of a generation. It's about a decade of people, decisions, and inventions that changed our future, told from the perspective of the unknowing history makers who lived these iconic moments. We worked out, worked harder, played harder and consumed more—because the 1980s was the decade when we went forward to the future.

Last Updated: 3/18/2022Network: National Geographic
Shop 'til You Drop
72 votes

#1 - Shop 'til You Drop

Season 1 - Episode 3 - Aired 4/15/2013

Nonstop glamour and excess find a new poster girl in the 1980s, when a hot young singer sees her chance to create her own brand. Catapulted to superstardom with a shocking performance of “Like a Virgin” at the first MTV Music Video Awards, Madonna inspires countless girls across the globe to hit the nearest shopping mall to match her distinctive style. But, it’s not just teen girls who are putting their credit cards to work; successful young men with money to burn are buying into the young professional (or “yuppie”) lifestyle and scooping up the latest expensive gadget: the cell phone. For $4,000, U.S. consumers can pick up their own portable phone, weighing more than one kilogram. Television execs are eager to cash in on this new spending trend, and iconic ’80s soap “Dynasty” becomes the first show to license products for adults. And, marketers learn an important lesson about the power of these new consumers in 1985 when Coca Cola’s disastrous launch of New Coke threatens its position against Pepsi.

The Revolutionaries
81 votes

#2 - The Revolutionaries

Season 1 - Episode 2 - Aired 4/14/2013

In 1981, Ronald Reagan is propelled into the U.S. presidency, but his much-scrutinized administration is shaken to its core a mere 70 days in when an assassin’s bullet pierces his lung. Vivid accounts from newsman Sam Donaldson, on the ground that day, and Dr. David Adelberg, the medical intern who cradled Reagan’s heart in his hands during surgery, describe a country in panic. After a full recovery, and an ensuing upswing in popularity, Reagan’s business mandate leads to a new breed of entrepreneurs, including Steve Jobs, whose “1984” commercial helped launch the Super Bowl commercial phenomenon; Ted Turner, who reinvented the news business with the creation of 24-hour news; and Ben & Jerry, who successfully combined the hippie vibe of the 1960s with the entrepreneurial spirit of the 1980s.

Lift Off
94 votes

#3 - Lift Off

Season 1 - Episode 1 - Aired 4/14/2013

This landmark new six-part miniseries takes viewers back in time to see how the ’80s created our modern world. The first episode explores the revolution in personal entertainment brought on by Pac-Man, Sony Walkmans and Jane Fonda’s ground-breaking workout video. Apple’s Steve Wozniak helps explain how Bill Gates saw the future by selling IBM the rights to use MS-DOS software for a relatively small one-time fee, only to clean up when IBM competitors entered the market and all wanted the same software. The assassination of John Lennon heralded the end of one music era, while a bratty new kid on the block defined a new one — spelled “MTV.” Follow the musical reverberations of the birth of MTV and the music video’s role in taking hip-hop mainstream, and hear how the television series “Dallas” reinvigorated the notion that money and greed were good. Sharing their firsthand stories are Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Steven Tyler, Jane Fonda, Steve Wozniak and “Dallas” star Larry Hagman, in one of his last televised interviews.

Masters of the Universe
64 votes

#4 - Masters of the Universe

Season 1 - Episode 4 - Aired 4/15/2013

With the motto “greed... is good,” Gordon Gekko encapsulates the 1980s drive for excess and ruthless ambition in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street,” while big traders mirror his notoriously bad behavior with insider trading and drug use in real life. Cocaine has become the drug of choice for those celebrating success; Miami’s status as a drug-dealing haven inspires the launch of one of the decade’s most famous television series: “Miami Vice.” In the ’80s, CEOs see their salaries skyrocket while women struggle to overcome office boys’ clubs. Hollywood superstar Jane Fonda shatters the glass ceiling in the movie “9 to 5,” exposing sexism in the workplace. Offices may be changing slowly but pulpits are transforming fast — and turning faith into fortunes. In the ’80s, televangelists like Jim and Tammy Bakker are masters of the cable universe. But the Bakkers go bust in 1987 amid accusations of adultery, hush money and using donations to fill their own pockets. And the quest to climb higher also leads to one of the ’80s biggest tragedies, as NASA’s Space Shuttle Challenger explodes during lift-off, claiming the lives of all on board.

Tear Down These Walls
56 votes

#5 - Tear Down These Walls

Season 1 - Episode 5 - Aired 4/16/2013

Though the 1980s were known for its “greed is good” mantra, the decade also saw its fair share of literal and cultural walls brought down, as Americans united on political, racial and health issues.

Super Power
52 votes

#6 - Super Power

Season 1 - Episode 6 - Aired 4/16/2013

At the end of the 1980s American pop culture goes global and helps bring down the Iron Curtain, leaving America as the world's sole superpower.