40 Years Ago, Apple’s Macintosh Launched With a Classic ‘1984’-Inspired Super Bowl Commercial

image from the commercial for Apple's new Macintosh commercial that aired during the Super Bowl on Jan. 22, 1984. In the center of the image is a blond-haired woman wearing red shorts and a white tank top that has an artistic illustration of the Macintosh computer on it. She has a determined look on her face as she runs down an aisle in a dark, dystopian, '1984'-like world, with helmeted stormtroopers behind her in the distance in pursuit. The woman is clutching a hammer in both hands as she runs, preparing to throw it at a giant screen (not seen here) on which Big Brother is giving a propaganda speech.
Screenshot from youtube.com/@RetroRecipes
Scene from Apple's classic 1984-inspired commercial for the company's new Macintosh computer that aired during Super Bowl XVIII

When it comes to personal computing, I’ve been an Apple guy since late in 1984, when I was given a hand-me-down Apple II+ from my uncle, an early adopter of the machine who had gotten the parts to put one together in the late ’70s.

The reason he gave me his Apple II+ was because, earlier in ’84, he had moved on to Apple’s latest and greatest product: the Macintosh, which was launched on Jan. 24, 1984, and hyped a few days earlier with this classic commercial:

Directed by filmmaker Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner), this ad aired just once — on Jan. 22, 1984, during CBS’ broadcast of Super Bowl XVIII — but left a lasting impression. It remains almost as memorable as 1984, the George Orwell novel that inspired its look and theme, which depicts the new Mac as a rebel poised to disrupt the conformity of the personal computing world of its time, which at that point was led by the Apple II and the IBM PC, which had launched in 1981. Thanks to the Mac, says the commercial, “1984 won’t be like 1984.”

black and white image from Jan. 16, 1984, of Steve Jobs (on left of horizontal photo, wearing a white dress shirt, dark dress jacket and striped bow tie, and standing with his right hand in his pants pocket), then chairman of Apple Computers, along with Apple's president, John Sculley (on right of photo wearing a white dress shirt, somewhat lighter dark jacket and longer, standard tie). The men are posing on either side of Apple's new Macintosh computer, which is on a table, its screen reading: "Macintosh Insanely Great." Sculley is holding the computer's mouse in both hands.

Marilyn K. Yee/New York Times Co./Getty Images

Apple Computer chairman Steve Jobs (left) and Apple president John Scully pose with the new Macintosh computer on Jan. 16, 1984


That 1984 theme was also adopted when Apple chairman Steve Jobs gave a presentation of the Macintosh at a general meeting of the Boston Computer Society on Jan. 30, 1984. In his intro he jokes (?) about IBM being a staid, vision-less “Big Brother” of sorts:

And here’s a similar, but shorter, official launch event for the Mac that had been presented about a week earlier, with the theme from Chariots of Fire playing at one point to help build the hype:

At its launch, the Macintosh retailed for $2,495 (a little over $7,500 in today’s money). Certainly not cheap, but a lot more manageable than the $10,000 (a little over $31,300 today!) asking price for Apple’s previous product, the Lisa computer.

Apple had apparently learned things from the Lisa that they put toward making the Mac a lot more successful, beyond just the asking price. Lisa, which had launched almost exactly a year earlier, on Jan. 19, 1983, was the first computer to use the Graphical User Interface (GUI). Lisa was a flop, but some of its innovations, like the GUI, would be adapted for and made more famous by the Mac; people would quickly get used to using a mouse to point and click their way around a screen.

black-and-white image of the first Macintosh computer from Apple in 1984. The monitor of the computer stands on the far right of the horizontal photo; on the screen, written in cursive, is the word "hello." In front of the monitor is the keyboard, and slightly to the left of that, the mouse.

Apic/Getty Images

Its GUI, 3 ½-inch disk and other elements, as well as its size and portability, ultimately made a good number of people willing to pay a couple thousand to get a Macintosh, as you can see in this photo below from late April 1984, with Jobs pointing out how quickly the Mac had been able to sell 50,000 units:

black and white image from April 23, 1984. Apple Computers chairman Steve Jobs is on a stage explaining the success of the company's new Macintosh computer, which had launched in late January. Jobs is very small on the stage, and to his left (audience's right) is a very large screen on which are some stats and charts comparing how long it took various computers to sell 50,000 units, with stacked text reading: "Apple II: 2.5 years" "IBM - PC: 7.5 months" "Macintosh: 74 days"

Gary Fong/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Around that time, there were several other commercials for Macintosh that weren’t as hype-oriented and film-like as the Ridley Scott one, but were more informative (while still being fun and creative) about the various aspects of this new computer that really did shake things up four decades ago (it’s weird how computer-y things like this can now seem so ancient …).