1988 Week: Pop Culture Gold

1988 was a game-changing year. 

The NBA was ruled by a flying men, Bad Boys and His Airness. The PBA was ushering in a new era with a bunch of hotshot rookies. The rivalry between Katipunan and Taft was starting anew in the UAAP.

Beyond basketball, 1988 gave us icons like Rain Man, Big and Die Hard. Another Michael was rising up the charts with his own Bad style. DJ Jazzy Jeff, NWA, Biz Markie, Run DMC were all rolling. Even in the world of sneakers something fresh was coming. Mike rocked a pair of J’s that shone brightest, even though surrounded by All-Stars.

Good, bad, hilarious and legendary, 1988 is a year to remember. It’s a classic year, an iconic time, a perfect 50.


The basketball world was changing in 1988. We saw the last Olympics where Team USA wasn’t led by NBA stars. Men challenged the laws of gravity at the Slam Dunk Contest. MJ took over the world, and so did his shoes.

But outside basketball, 1988 was a game-changer for pop culture as well. For all the jokes people make about the 80’s, they pushed boundaries. For every cheesy ballad, you get a record that still rocks today. For every action movie with cheesy sound effects, you get a film that influences the best of today.

Here’s a time capsule you won’t regret opening.

Film: Yippee Ki Yay and other things

1988 gave us “Die Hard,” the ultimate Christmas movie for people who don’t go for the basic “family-friendly” cheese, replete with explosions (like fireworks, but better), a great villain, and peak Bruce Willis in peak sando mode.

Outside the action world, former Disney animator Don Bluth continued his challenge of the empire with the tearjerker “Land Before Time.” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” blended live action with 2D animation like never before, a technical achievement that laid the groundwork for Space Jam a decade later. “Beetlejuice” solidified Winona Ryder as the dark-haired goth princess of the decade; “Akira” took us to a cyberpunk 2019 and became a landmark in Japanese animation.

Film critics raved about “Cinema Paradiso,” an Italian masterpiece about a boy falling in love with cinema and love itself; and “Rain Man” became one of the first films to win the Oscar for Best Picture while also dominating the box office.

Music: The other MJ ruling the world

1988 was the year the world liked it “Bad.” The album came out in 1987 to immense success, and Michael Jackson continued to release singles off of it in 1988. “Man in the Mirror” and “Smooth Criminal” both shot to #1 on the Billboard charts—making MJ the first artist to chart five consecutive Top Ones in music history. If your image of MJ is him in an white shirt with jeweled sleeves, hair falling in his face as he hits his signature poses, you can thank his tour from 1988 as well.

1988 was big for hip-hop too: NWA’s “Fuck Da Police” became a protest anthem that still rings true today. Run DMC released their fourth album “Tougher Than Leather,” a departure from their previous style, adding alliteration and polysyllabic rhyming (“I’m Not Going Out Like That”) and storytelling (“Ragtime”) to their standard of hip-hop beats and hard rock riffs.

Literature: Birth of classics still loved today

You know that line in “The Dark Knight” where Heath Ledger’s legendary take on The Joker says all it takes is “one bad day” to turn a good man to lunacy? That was a concept built in 1988, when “Batman: The Killing Joke” hit bookshelves. The one-shot graphic novel from DC was the first to humanize The Joker as a tragic character, complicating the moral differences between him and Batman in a way that had never been seen before.

So many classics were born in 1988: the thriller genre had “The Silence of the Lambs,” children’s books had “Matilda” and “Guess How Much I Love You,” horror had “The Queen of the Damned.” Salman Rushdie published “The Satanic Verses,” sparking a controversy that led to Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issuing a fatwa against the British-Indian author. In the east, Haruki Murakami came out with the surreal “Dance Dance Dance.”

Perhaps the book that best mirrors the year is Paolo Coehlo’s “The Alchemist.” It sold slowly when it was first published in Brazil, flying under the radar of many readers in 1988. But over the years, it became a cult classic.


Some things from 1988 were instant hits, like Jordan 3 ‘Black Cement’. Others were a slow burn. Either way, 1988 was a damn good year.

Photo from Titan

1988 Week Articles

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Live-Tweeting the 1988 NBA All-Star Game

How my dad fell in love with Alvin Patrimonio and the Purefoods Hotdogs

The 1988 UAAP Championship Game – 0% air-conditioning, 100% sports-zeitgeist

Russell Westbrook is a thunderous blend of the old and new

How the 1988 Olympics changed USA Basketball in the realm of international hoops