Updated on December 10, 2021
The 1980s saw an explosion in the amount of animated programming produced, thanks to the rise of first-run syndication. As such, the decade saw a lot of changes in animation. The 80s started off with some 70s-style holdovers early on. The mid-decade saw the rise to dominance of some of the 1980s’ signature programs (“The Smurfs,” programs based on toys, kid versions of adult characters), while the late 80s saw the start of the modern-day animation renaissance that continues to this day. Japanese animation also started to influence American cartoons, between an increase in imported shows from Japan and Japanese animation studios animating many popular American shows.
Here’s my list of the top 10 theme songs from the 80s. Unlike the 70s, there were a lot of choices to narrow down to a list of just 10 theme songs, so the “honorable mentions” list is fairly long.
While this list isn’t in any particular order, “DuckTales” is my choice for the decade’s best theme song, and probably its best TV cartoon period. The show itself marked a turning point in what TV animation could be like, from writing (based on Carl Barks’ classic comics) to animation quality. But as for theme songs, yes, it’s very catchy.
“The Smurfs” was the decade’s first big animation hit, debuting on NBC in 1981 and running until 1989. It went through several animated openings, though I’ll link to two: the season two opening (featuring Johan and Peewit, plus the actual full-fledged theme song) and the syndicated opening (the one you’ll see on TV today).
- “The Smurfs” season two theme song (partially repeats afterwards, but only version I could find)
- “The Smurfs” syndicated theme song
Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers
The success of “DuckTales” saw Disney give revising another old property a go, this time chipmunks Chip and Dale. 1989 brought us “Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers,” which featured several popular new characters, including teammates Monterey Jack, Gadget, and Zipper.
Alvin and the Chipmunks
1983 saw NBC debut a new animated series featuring animation’s other famous animated chipmunks. This was Alvin, Simon, and Theodore’s first new show since the early 60s “The Alvin Show.” The trio’s new series ran until 1990, and saw the characters updated for the 80s—more 80s fads were pursued, plus the boys gained distinct personalities. The series also introduced Alvin, Simon, and Theodore’s distaff counterparts, the Chipettes (Brittany, Jeanette, and Eleanor). The show’s theme song stayed mostly the same for its entire run, and is also used (at a reduced length) as the theme song for the 2015 CGI animated series.
DIC Entertainment’s “Inspector Gadget” was one of first-run syndication’s most successful animated series in the 80s; the bumbling detective’s adventures were an after-school staple.
One of the most successful toy-based animated series of the 80s, “Transformers” still has a cult following today. That’s in spite of much grumbling about what’s been done with the robots since—namely, all those live-action movies.
See my previous post about “Jem and the Holograms.”
“Muppet Babies” debuted in 1984, and ran until 1991. The show kicked off the popular “kid version of adult characters” craze of the decade, giving us “The Flintstone Kids,” “A Pup Named Scooby-Doo,” and (in a bit of a subversion) “Tiny Toon Adventures.”
“He-Man” debuted in syndication in 1983, and ran through 1985. The show has since seen several revivals, spinoffs (including He-Man’s twin sister, She-Ra), and a theatrical film, plus tons of parodies.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The 1987 TMNT series is already listed in my post on 80s superhero TV show openings, but it’s a good enough theme to make it to here, too. Granted, this is the version I grew up with, but it’s my favorite Ninja Turtles theme song, even with the latter spin-offs.
- The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show
- The Pac-Man/Little Rascals/Richie Rich Show
- Saturday Supercade
- Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends
- The Littles
- GI Joe
- The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries
- A Pup Named Scooby-Doo
- Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures
- Superman (1988 Ruby-Spears series)
- The Snorks
- Yogi’s Treasure Hunt
- The Flintstone Kids
- Ghostbusters (Filmation)
- The Real Ghostbusters
- Denver the Last Dinosaur
- The Super Mario Bros. Super Show