Timeless Classics: 15 Memorable 80s Miniseries That Defined the Decade

Patrick Swayze in North and South

The 1980s gave us synthesized music, yuppies, Valley Girl slang, VCRs, and MTV. It was also the height of incredible television miniseries, which viewers looked forward to spending two or more nights watching. Some were historical, while others were just campy and fun to watch, but the best of the genre distinguished themselves from the rest.

1. V (1983) And V: The Final Battle (1984)

V The Final Battle
Image Credit: NBC.

Two of the most popular miniseries of the early 1980s were V and its sequel, V: The Final Battle. In V, a race of seemingly humanoid aliens called Visitors land on Earth with the evil intentions of taking over the planet and using humans for food. A group of humans called the Resistance fought against the Visitors. V: The Final Battle continued the story of the Resistance's quest to save the planet.

2. The Day After (1983)

The Day After
Image Credit: ABC Circle Films.

The Day After, which aired during the later years of the Cold War, was a searing depiction of the horrors of nuclear annihilation. Seeing the destruction of the lives of everyday Americans made this miniseries all the more relatable and frightening.

3. The Thorn Birds (1983)

The Thorn Birds
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Television Distribution.

Based on Colleen McCullough's novel, The Thorn Birds spans several decades in the Cleary family's lives, loves, and tragedies. It's the second highest-rated miniseries after Alex Haley's Roots.

4. Lonesome Dove (1989)

Robert Duvall
Image Credit: Motown Productions.

The first in a series of epic western miniseries based on the Larry McMurtry books, Lonesome Dove depicts the Old West adventures of a group of cattle ranchers who are retired from the Texas Rangers. The popularity of this miniseries proved that America's love for Westerns was still alive.

5. The Winds of War (1983) and War and Remembrance (1988)

The Winds of War
Image Credit: Dan Curtis Productions.

Herman Wouk's novels about the intertwined lives and relationships of the fictional Henry and Jastrow families leading up to World War II until the day after the bombing of Hiroshima were the basis of the original 1983 miniseries and its sequel.

6. Shogun (1980)

ShōGun
Image Credit: Paramount Television.

James Clavell's 1975 novel was brought to life in this historical miniseries. Shōgun takes place in the 1600s, portraying the journeys of an English sailor and navigator against the backdrop of Japan during its feudal era.

7. Lace (1984)

Lace
Image Credit: Lorimar Productions.

One of the highest-rated miniseries of its time, Lace was the campy two-part movie equivalent of the television show Dynasty, replete with glamorous wardrobes, catfights, and probably the most famous line in 1980s television history, which I can't repeat here.

8. North and South (1985 and 1986)

North and South
Image Credit: ABC.

The first two of this trio of miniseries taking place before and during the American Civil War depict the unlikely but continuing friendship between two West Point alums fighting on opposite sides. The third and final installment of the miniseries aired in 1994.

9. The Women of Brewster Place (1989)

The Women of Brewster Place
Image Credit: Lions Gate Films, Inc.

An ensemble cast led by Oprah Winfrey brought Gloria Naylor's 1982 novel to life. It told the story of the turbulent lives and triumphs experienced by the residents of the Brewster Place apartments.

10. Kane and Abel (1985)

Kane & Abel
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Television.

The story of the intersecting lives of two men born on the same day in the early 20th century, one rich and the other impoverished, is told over seven decades in this dramatic miniseries adapted from Jeffrey Archer's 1979 novel.

11. Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story (1987)

Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story
Image Credit: A+E Networks Home Entertainment.

Barbara Hutton, the heiress to the Woolworth retail store chain, was among the wealthiest women in the United States. Despite her immense wealth and beauty, she led a troubled life, including an unhappy childhood and seven marriages in adulthood. Her life story was recalled in this two-part miniseries.

12. Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1980)

Cosmos
Image Credit: PBS.

Written and produced by American astrophysicist Carl Sagan, this PBS award-winning 13-part series discussed various scientific subjects, such as the origins of the universe and the concept of intelligence.

13. Anne of Green Gables (1985)

anne of green gables
Image Credit: PBS.

When an orphan girl is sent to an elderly brother and sister duo by mistake, her fiery spirit and imagination take the family and her new town by storm. Instead of the orphan boy they wanted to help on the farm, the family gets used to having the young Anne around.

14. Chiefs (1983)

chiefs
Image Credit: London Films Inc.

Chiefs is a 1983 miniseries that follows three generations of police chiefs following a serial murder in their small southern town. All three chiefs have to deal with their own set of problems within the cultural landscape of their town.

15. Fresno (1980)

Fresno
Image Credit: MTM Enterprises.

Starring the hilarious Carol Burnett, Fresno tells the story of a once-wealthy family who gained their fortune from their raisin empire. Now with their empire facing hard times, the story focuses on their struggles and their rivalry with the other raisin company in the city.