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This Is What Movie-Theater Foods Looked Like in the 1980s

This was when nachos hit the movie theater snack scene.
movie theater popcorn

These days, there's an enormous variety of foods you can buy at the movies. Some movie theaters even offer restaurant service. However, it wasn't until the early 1980s that you could typically find anything other than popcorn, candy, and soft drinks at the movie theater concession stand.

Here's what you might have been snacking on at the movie theater back while watching all those John Hughes movies (like The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles), all those movies about greed, lust, and overindulgence (like Wall Street, Fatal Attraction, and Less Than Zero) and a panoply of novel takes on science fiction (like E.T., The Empire Strikes Back, and The Terminator). These '80s movie snacks will bring you back to some seriously nostalgic memories.

Nachos

nachos
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While popcorn, candy, and soft drinks continued to dominate as movie-theater food, a new entry was making its way into movie theaters at the dawn of the 1980s: nachos. Nachos had been invented in 1943 and started appearing at sporting events during the 1970s. By 1980, nachos had their first "starring role" at the movie theater concession stand.

Nachos, as then-envisioned for movie theater consumption, were basically a small pile of round-edged tortilla chips over which a goopy yellow-orange cheese-like substance was poured. They have since branched out to include other Tex-Mex ingredients, including jalapeño slices and salsa. But they're never anywhere near as good as classics like popcorn or hot dogs.

Reese's Pieces

reeses pieces
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Reese's Pieces were created in the late 1970s as another way to enjoy the peanut buttery goodness of Reese's peanut butter cups. It's also arguable they were introduced as an alternative to M&Ms. However, one big difference between Pieces, Cups, and M&Ms is that Pieces contain no chocolate. Considering the great tradition of sugary-candy (as opposed to chocolate candy) in movie theaters, it could even be argued Reese's Pieces were designed precisely for movie-theater consumption. But it was the love of one adorable extra-terrestrial movie character, E.T., that launched the candy-coated peanut butter buttons into the movie food stratosphere, where they have remained ever since.

Sour Patch Kids

sour patch kids package

You might have known these sour-sand-sugar-dusted soft fruity chews back when they appeared in the 1970s as "Mars Men," an effort to milk society's interest (at the time) in UFO sightings. But Mars Men weren't really on the radar until 1985, when they were re-shaped to look vaguely like children and marketed as "Sour Patch Kids" to cash in on the then-current Cabbage Patch Kids toy craze.

Children were obsessed with the colorfully packaged candy, which at first taste was sour but then became sweet. Movie theaters were wise to catch on immediately, promptly welcoming Sour Patch Kids into the 1980s movie-theater concession scene.

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Goobers and Raisinets

raisinets
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Goobers and Raisinets are milk chocolate covered peanuts and raisins, respectfully. Both have been around since the 1920s, but it wasn't until the 1970s that their popularity took off, particularly in movie theaters, possibly as a result of this ad.

It's also possible Goobers and Raisinets earned their popularity due to the "halo effect," which holds that a food that has a healthy quality is then perceived as "healthy" in general. In any case, Goobers and Raisinets had become part of the regular movie-theater concession menu by the early 1980s. They remain there today.

Nerds

nerds candy
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Nerds are tiny, irregularly-shaped, fruit-flavored sugar candy. They were introduced in 1983 by the Willy Wonka Candy Company, which, itself, was created in 1971 to coincide with the release of the film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Along with Nerds, there were Peanut Butter Oompas, Peanut Butter Skrunch, and Wonka Bars, among others that went out of fashion almost as quickly as they came in. There were also Everlasting Gobstoppers, which, like Sour Patch Kids, "evolved" their flavor profile while they were being eaten. However, Gobstoppers, in their original and most-beloved form, came individually wrapped as giant jawbreakers, and that didn't work in movie theaters. Nerds, by contrast, were perfect for movie theaters just the way they were, which is why they can still be found, in their original form, in movie theaters today.

Whether you're a Nerds fan or a Reese's Pieces ride-or-die, you can't go wrong with these classic '80s movie snacks.

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Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a culture and food writer. Read more
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