What Happened in 1981 – Trivia, Movies, Songs, TV Shows, Born In

Trivia, Movies, Songs, Sports, Celebrities Born In 1981, News, Fun Facts and more.

Ever wonder, “What Happened in 1981?”

Well if you if you are planning a birthday party for friends or family, 1980s trivia game night, wedding anniversary event, class reunion or just interested in 1981 movies, music, tv, famous people born, trivia and fun facts; well you are in luck. Party Game Ideas has pulled together a list of news and interesting facts that happened in 1981, so you can create trivia games or activities based on 1981 facts. If you need games for a 1981 birthday party, check out our Born in 1981 – Birthday Party Game Pack.

1981 Items – Page Topics Listed in Order
1981 History & News, 1981 Fun Facts
1981 Top Movies, Notable Quotes, Top 40 Songs of 1981, Sports
Celebrities Born in 1981, Top TV Shows of 1981, Saturday Morning Cartoons
What Did Things Cost in 1981

1981 History & News

  • Ronald Reagan becomes the 40th President of the United States.
  • Sandra Day O’Connor is the first female appointed to serve on the US Supreme Court.
  • MLB players had a 50 day strike that ended on July 31. A total of 713 games were lost.
  • US and Iran sign agreement that releases 52 American Hostages after 14 months of captivity.
  • Walter Cronkite signs off for the last time after hosting the CBS Evening News for 19 years.
  • First Space Shuttle launch takes place from Kennedy Space Center.
  • First American test-tube baby is born in Norfolk, Virginia.
  • Solar-powered aircraft, Solar Challenger, successfully completes 163 mile flight across the English Channel.
  • Time Man of the Year: Lech Walesa

Interesting Trivia & Fun Facts about 1981

  • Donkey Kong is released in July, and the world is introduced to Mario.
  • Music television, MTV, launches and the first video played is “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles.
  • Royal wedding – Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer are married.
  • The thrash band Metallica forms in Los Angeles.
  • Luke and Laura get married on General Hospital, it is the highest-rated hour in daytime TV history.
  • TV show Dynasty debuts on ABC.
  • The first DeLorean DMC-12 is produced for sale. The car is later featured in the movie “Back to the Future.”
  • The New York Times published the longest sentence – 1,286 words.
  • Howard Stern is paired up with Robin Quivers and begins broadcasting on WWDC in Washington, D.C.
  • Xerox PARC introduces the computer mouse.
  • The Smurfs make their TV debut in the US.
  • Unknown rocker Prince opens for Rolling Stones in Los Angeles.
  • Post-it notes were invented and launched.

World Population – 4,537,000,000

Top Movies 1981 – US Box Office in millions

This list represents the earnings of movies that were released in 1981. We featured the top grossing movies of 1981 and other movies that were very memorable or are now notable decades after they first hit the big screen.

1. Raiders of the Lost Ark $212.2
2. On Golden Pond $119.3
3. Superman II $108.2
4. Arthur $95.5
5. Stripes $85.3
6. The Cannonball Run $72.2
7. Chariots of Fire $59
8. For Your Eyes Only $54.8
9. The Four Seasons $50.4
10. Time Bandits $42.4
11. Clash of the Titans $41.1
12. Absence of Malice $40.7
13. Reds $40.4
14. The Fox and the Hound $39.9
15. Tarzan the Ape Man $36.6

Other notable 1981 movies:
An American Werewolf in London, Escape from New York, & Mommie Dearest

  • Academy Award for Best Picture – Ordinary People
  • Best Actor – Robert De Niro for Raging Bull
  • Best Actress – Sissy Spacek for Coal Miner’s Daughter

Notable Quotes from 1981

“You can tell a lot about a fellow’s character by his way of eating jellybeans. “
– President Ronald Reagan

“No wire hangers, ever!”
– Faye Dunaway, in Mommie Dearest

“Money can’t buy life.”
– Bob Marley’s final words to his son Ziggy were,

When President Ronald Reagan has been admitted to a hospital in 1981 due to being shot by John Hinckley Jr., he joked “Please tell me you’re all Republicans.” To which a surgeon who was a liberal democrat himself replied, “We’re all Republicans today.”

Born on 1981 Trivia Games for Birthday Party
Take 1981 Trivia to the Party! See if guests can remember what happened in the 80s and 90s.

Top Songs of 1981

Ratings are based on Hot 100 Charts from Nov. 1, 1980 – Oct. 31, 1981 ranking by Billboard

No. 1. Song of 1981 – “Bette Davis Eyes” Kim Carnes
2. “Endless Love” Diana Ross & Lionel Richie
3. “Lady” Kenny Rogers
4. “(Just Like) Starting Over” John Lennon
5. “Jessie’s Girl” Rick Springfield
6. “Celebration” Kool & the Gang
7. “Kiss on My List” Hall & Oates
8. “I Love a Rainy Night” Eddie Rabbitt
9. “9 To 5” Dolly Parton
10. “Keep on Loving You” REO Speedwagon
11. “Theme from The Greatest American Hero (Believe It or Not)” Joey Scarbury
12. “Morning Train (Nine to Five)” Sheena Easton
13. “Being with You” Smokey Robinson
14. “Queen of Hearts” Juice Newton
15. “Rapture” Blondie
16. “A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do)” Raydio
17. “The Tide Is High” Blondie
18. “Just the Two of Us” Grover Washington, Jr. & Bill Withers
19. “Slow Hand” The Pointer Sisters
20. “I Love You” Climax Blues Band
21. “Woman” John Lennon
22. “Sukiyaki” A Taste of Honey
23. “The Winner Takes It All” ABBA
24. “Stars on 45 Medley” Stars on 45
25. “Angel of the Morning” Juice Newton
26. “Love on the Rocks” Neil Diamond
27. “Every Woman in the World” Air Supply
28. “The One That You Love” Air Supply
29. “Guilty” Barbra Streisand & Barry Gibb
30. “The Best of Times” Styx
31. “Elvira” The Oak Ridge Boys
32. “Take It on the Run” REO Speedwagon
33. “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me” Ronnie Milsap
34. “Living Inside Myself” Gino Vannelli
35. “Woman in Love” Barbra Streisand
36. “The Boy from New York City” The Manhattan Transfer
37. “Urgent” Foreigner
38. “Passion” Rod Stewart
39. “Lady (You Bring Me Up)” Commodores
40. “Crying” Don McLean

Interesting Facts:
Olivia Newton-John’s song Physical was released in 1981 and hit No. 1 in November of 1981. However the year end song ranking data was already finalized for 1981, so Physical did not rank in the Top 100 for 1981. However, it would become the No. 1 song of 1982.

Journey’s single Don’t Stop Believin’ was released on October 31, 1981. The song had success, but ended up as the 73rd most popular song of 1982. However with the usage of the song on television shows like “The Sopranos” and “Glee,” sporting events and even musicals, Don’t Stop Believin’ is the No. 1 paid digital downloaded song that released in the 20th century. (2021) The only challengers to this ranking are likely to be holiday songs.

Need 1980s Music for a birthday party or event. Check out 80s Forever playlist on Spotify with around 300 hit songs from the 80s!

80s Forever 80s Music Playlist

1981 – What Happened in Sports

  • Football – Super Bowl XV – Oakland Raiders defeated Philadelphia Eagles 27-10
  • Horse Racing – Kentucky Derby – Pleasant Colony
  • Ice Hockey – Stanley Cup – New York Islanders defeated Minnesota North Stars
  • NBA Finals – Boston Celtics defeated Houston Rockets 4 games to 2 games
  • Golf – U.S. Open – David Graham
  • Tennis
    Wimbledon Championships – Men’s John McEnroe, Women’s Chris Evert
    US Open – Men’s John McEnroe, Women’s Tracy Austin
  • Baseball – World Series – Los Angeles Dodgers defeated New York Yankees 4 games to 2 games.


  • Football
    Orange Bowl: January 1, 1981 – Oklahoma defeated Florida State
    Rose Bowl: January 1, 1981 – Michigan defeated Washington
    Sugar Bowl : January 1, 1981 – Georgia defeated Notre Dame
    Cotton Bowl : January 1, 1981 – Alabama defeated Baylor
  • Men’s Division 1 Basketball – Indiana defeats North Carolina 63 – 50

Celebrities Born in 1981

What Happened in 1981? These celebrities and famous people were born! you’ll be surprised at how many household names were born at the beginning of the 80s.

How old is Beyonce KnowlesBeyoncé Knowles

Roger Federer How Old Roger Federer

How Old is Justin Timberlake Born in 1981Justin Timberlake

How old is Natalie Portman Born in 1981Natalie Portman

How Old is Britney Spears Born in 1981Britney Spears

How Old is Pittbull Born in 1981Pittbull

More Celebrities and Famous People Born in 1981

  • Jessica Alba
  • Stephen Amell
  • Chris Evans
  • Tom Hiddleston
  • Paris Hilton
  • Jennifer Hudson
  • Alicia Keys
  • Rami Malek
  • Meghan Markle
  • Joseph Morgan
  • Chad Michael Murray
  • Rachel Platten
  • Kelly Rowland
  • Amy Schumer
  • Jesse Williams
  • Serena Williams
  • Elijah Wood

Top Baby Names of 1981

  • Girls Names – Jennifer, Jessica, Amanda, Sarah, Melissa
  • Boys Names – Michael, Christopher, Matthew, Jason, David

Most Popular TV Shows of 1981

We include the Top 20 TV shows for two seasons, since they are different. Interesting to see the shows shift in popularity over the course of one year. The number after the show is the number of average viewers per week in millions. Numbers based on Neilson Media.

Top TV Shows of 1980 – 1981 Season
1. Dallas CBS Rating 34.5
2. The Dukes of Hazzard CBS 27.3
3. 60 Minutes CBS 27.0
4. M*A*S*H CBS 25.7
5. The Love Boat ABC 24.3
6. The Jeffersons CBS 23.5
7. Alice CBS 22.9
T8 House Calls CBS 22.4
T8 Three’s Company ABC
10. Little House on the Prairie NBC 22.1
11. One Day at a Time CBS 22.0
12. Real People NBC 21.5
13. Archie Bunker’s Place CBS 21.4
14. Magnum, P.I. CBS 21.0
T15 Happy Days ABC 20.8
T15 Too Close for Comfort ABC
T17 Fantasy Island ABC 20.7
T17 Trapper John, M.D. CBS
T17 Diff’rent Strokes NBC
T20 Monday Night Football ABC 20.6
T20 Laverne & Shirley ABC

Top TV Shows of 1981 – 1982 Season
1. Dallas CBS Rating 28.4
2. 60 Minutes CBS 27.7
3. The Jeffersons CBS 23.4
4. Three’s Company ABC 23.3
5. Alice CBS 22.7
T6 The Dukes of Hazzard 22.6
T6 Too Close for Comfort ABC
8. Monday Night Movie ABC 22.5
9. M*A*S*H CBS 22.3
10. One Day at a Time CBS 22.0
11. Monday Night Football ABC 21.8
12. Archie Bunker’s Place CBS 21.6
13. Falcon Crest 21.4
14. The Love Boat ABC 21.2
T15 Hart to Hart 21.1
T15 Trapper John, M.D. CBS
17. Magnum, P.I. 20.9
18. Happy Days ABC 20.6
19. Dynasty 20.2
20. Laverne & Shirley 19.9

The big surprise is that the TV series Dynasty rating were average in the first year. It wasn’t until Joan Collins arrival in 1982, that this trend setting tv series started to take off and become 1980s tv hit and pop culture influencer.

Popular Saturday Morning Cartoons in 1981

  • Superfriends
  • Smurfs
  • Scooby and Scrappy Doo
  • Richie Rich
  • Bugs Bunny & Road Runner
  • Fred and Barney meet the Schmoo
  • Thundarr
  • Fonz

Notable Arcade Video Games of 1981

The video arcade was a hang out spot for kids in the 80s. Here is a list of top video arcade games gobbling up quarters in 1981.

  • Pac-Man
  • Donkey Kong – Mario is introduced
  • Defender
  • Missile Command
  • Galaga
  • Frogger
  • Centipede
  • Tempest

What did things cost in 1981

Check out this 1981 prices for food, gas, and even gold. Know that these tend to be average prices for an item in the US during the year. When possible we used US Govt. Economic data

  • Stamp $0.18
  • Loaf of bread $0.55
  • Hershey’s chocolate syrup $0.69
  • Dozen Eggs $0.91
  • Kraft Macaroni & Cheese – 3 for $1.00
  • Bacon 1 lb. $1.29
  • Gallon of Milk $2.22
  • Gallon of Gas $1.38
  • Movie Ticket $2.78
  • Minimum Wage $3.35
  • Rubick’s Cube $3.99
  • Ounce of Gold $400
  • New Car $8,910
  • Cost of a 30 second Super Bowl ad in 1981 $275,000
  • Cost of a gigabyte of data storage $300,000

Most likely if you are searching for fun facts, trivia, and What Happened in 1981, you are getting ready to plan a big event like a birthday celebration for a spouse or close friend. We hope that our 1981 trivia, fun facts, top movies, top 40 songs of 1981 and other information was helpful and interesting. If you find yourself short on time, then be sure to check out our Born in 1981 party games. We include fun party activities that will have guests talking about the 80s and 90s, while celebrating the birthday honoree.

If you are hosting a birthday party for someone Born in 1981, be sure to check out these party decorations that will help make your event extra special.

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