1988 is a leap year starting on Friday (click on link for calendar).
- Wednesday, February 3, 1988 - The United States House of Representatives rejects President Ronald Reagan's request for $36.25 million to aid Nicaraguan Contras.
- Saturday, February 6, 1988 - Massachusetts celebrates its bicentennial statehood.
- Thursday, February 11, 1988 - Anthony M. Kennedy is appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States.
- February 17 - US Lieutenant Colonel William Higgins, serving with a United Nations group monitoring a truce in southern Lebanon is kidnapped (captors later kill him)
- Sunday, February 21, 1988 - On his own televangelism program being taped in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Jimmy Swaggart confesses that he is guilty of an unspecified sin and will be will be temporarily leaving the pulpit. The "unspecified sin" was an affair with a prostitute.
- February 21 - British archeologists locate the grave of Boadicea under Platform 8 at King's Cross railway station in London
- Wednesday, February 24, 1988 - The Supreme Court of the United States sides with Hustler magazine by overturning a lower court decision to award Jerry Falwell $200,000 for defamation.
- February 29 - Nazi document implicates Kurt Waldheim in WWII deportations
- Tuesday, March 1, 1988 - Anthony M. Frank is appointed United States Postmaster General
- March 6 – SAS men shoot three IRA men in the Gibraltar
- Monday, March 7, 1988 - The SAS shoot dead three Irish Republican Army members in Gibraltar.
- Tuesday, March 8, 1988 - Two United States Army helicopters collide in Fort Campbell, Kentucky killing 17 servicemen
- Wednesday, March 9, 1988 - Students at Gallaudet University go on strike for the selection of a Deaf university president
- March 15 – Robber in Montpellier, France tries to rob a bank brandishing a gun made of nougat
- Wednesday, March 16, 1988 - The Halabja poison gas attack was carried out by Iraqi government forces.
- Wednesday, March 16, 1988 - Iran-Contra Affair: Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North and Vice Admiral John Poindexter are indicted on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States.
- Wednesday, March 16, 1988 - California v. Greenwood: In a 6-2 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States rules that police officers do not need a search warrant to search through discarded garbage
- March 24 – Israeli court sentences Mordechai Vanunu to 18 years in prison for disclosing Israel's nuclear program to The Sunday Times
- March 29 - Assassination of Dulcie September in Paris
- April 10 - The Great Seto Bridge opened to traffic in Japan
- Tuesday, April 12, 1988 - Former pop singer Sonny Bono is elected mayor of Palm Springs, California
- April 14 – In Geneva Agreement, Soviet Union commits itself to withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan
- Thursday, April 14, 1988 - USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) strikes a mine in the Persian Gulf while deployed on Operation Earnest Will
- April 16 - Israeli commandos kill PLO's Khalil Wazir (Abu Jihad) in Tunisia
- Monday, April 18, 1988 - U.S. Navy forces retaliate for the Roberts mining with Operation Praying Mantis, a day of strikes against Iranian oil platforms and naval vessels
- Monday, April 25, 1988 - In Israel John Demjanuk is sentenced to death for war crimes committed in World War II. He was accused of being a notorious guard at the Treblinka extermination camp known as "Ivan the Terrible" by survivors. Conviction overturned by Israeli Supreme Court.
- Thursday, April 28, 1788 - Maryland celebrates its bicentennial statehood.
- Monday, September 5, 1988 - With US$2 billion in federal aid, the Robert M. Bass Group agrees to buy the United States's largest bankrupt thrift, American Savings and Loan Association
- Saturday, September 17, 1988 - TV Show Garfield and Friends debuts on CBS
- Saturday, September 17, 1988 - Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea opens
- Thursday, September 22, 1988 - Ocean Odyssey drilling rig suffers a blowout and fire in the North Sea. (See also July 6th)
- Thursday, September 29, 1988 - NASA resumes space shuttle flights, grounded after the Challenger disaster
- October 5 - Thousands riots in Algiers, Algeria against the government of National Liberation Front - by October 10 army has killed and tortured about 500 people in crushing the riots
- October 11 - Girls are allowed to study at Magdalene College, Cambridge, for the first time. Male students wear black armbands and the porter flies a black flag
- October 19 - United Kingdom bans broadcast interviews with IRA members
- Friday, October 28, 1988 - Abortion: 48 hours after announcing it was abandoning RU-486, French manufacturer Roussel Uclaf states that it would resume distribution of the drug, bowing to pressure from the government of France
- Saturday, October 29, 1988 - In Japan, the Sega Megadrive is released for the first time.
- Sunday, October 30, 1988 - Philip Morris buys Kraft Foods for US$13.1 billion.
- Wednesday, November 2, 1988 - The Morris worm is unleashed on the Internet
- Tuesday, November 8, 1988 - U.S. presidential election, 1988: George Herbert Walker Bush is elected over Michael Dukakis.
- Friday, November 11, 1988 - In Sacramento, California, police find a body buried in the lawn of 60-year-old boardinghouse landlady Dorothea Puente (seven bodies were eventually found and Puente was convicted of three murders and sentenced to life in prison)
- Tuesday, November 15, 1988 - In the Soviet Union, the uncrewed Shuttle Buran is launched by an Energia rocket on her maiden orbital spaceflight (this was the first and last space flight for the shuttle)
- Tuesday, November 15, 1988 - Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: An independent State of Palestine is proclaimed by the Palestinian National Council meeting in Algiers, by a vote of 253 to 46
- Wednesday, November 16, 1988 - The Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR declares that the Estonia is "sovereign" but stops short of declaring independence
- Wednesday, November 16, 1988 - In the first open election in more than a decade, voters in Pakistan choose populist candidate Benazir Bhutto to be Prime Minister
- Thursday, November 17, 1988 - The Netherlands becomes the second country to get connected to the Internet
- Friday, November 18, 1988 - War on Drugs: US President Ronald Wilson Reagan signs a bill into law providing the death penalty for murderous drug traffickers
- Tuesday, November 22, 1988 - In Palmdale, California, the first prototype B-2 Spirit stealth bomber is revealed
- Wednesday, November 30, 1988 - Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. buys RJR Nabisco for US$25.07 billion.
- Friday, December 2, 1988 - Benazir Bhutto is sworn in as Prime Minister of Pakistan, becoming the first woman to head the government of an Islam-dominated state
- December 2 - Cyclone in Bangladesh leaves 5 million homeless - thousands dead
- Wednesday, December 7, 1988 - In Armenia an earthquake 6.9 on the Richter scale killed nearly 25.000, injured 15.000 and left 400.000 persons homeless.
- December 12 - The Clapham Rail disaster kills 35 and injures 132
- Monday, December 19, 1988 - The Consumer Product Safety Commission bans the sale of lawn darts following the deaths of three children
- Wednesday, December 21, 1988 - Pan Am flight 103 is blown up by Libyan terrorists over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 259 on board and 11 on the ground
- December 22 - Assassination of Brazilian union and environmental activist Chico Mendes
Year in topic
- 1988 in film
- Friday, June 17, 1988 - Red Heat starring Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Friday, July 15, 1988 - Die Hard starring Bruce Willis
- Friday, July 15, 1988 - A Fish Called Wanda
- Saturday, July 16, 1988 - Akira (Japanese release date)
- Friday, July 29, 1988 - Cocktail starring Tom Cruise
- Friday, December 9, 1988 - Mississippi Burning starring Gene Hackman
- Friday, December 16, 1988 - Rain Man starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise
- Friday, December 16, 1988 - Dangerous Liaisons
- Wednesday, December 21, 1988 - Working Girl
- 1988 in literature
- 1988 in music
- 1988 in science
- 1988 in sports
- Saturday, January 16, 1988 - Sports commentator Jimmy 'the Greek' Snyder is fired by CBS a day after publicly stating that African Americans had been bred to produce stronger offspring during slavery.
- Sunday, January 31, 1988 - Super Bowl XXII Washington Redskins (42) defeat Denver Broncos (10)
- Saturday, February 13, 1988 - 1988 Winter Olympic Games open in Calgary, Alberta, Canada
- Summer 1988 - The Netherlands win the European Football Championship
- Saturday-Sunday, September 17-October 2, 1988 - 1988 Summer Olympics held in Seoul, Korea
- 1988 in television
- Monday, February 29, 1988 - The sitcom Day by Day premieres on NBC.
- Tuesday, October 4, 1988 - Following in the footsteps of Cher, Actress Shirley MacLaine calls David Letterman an "Asshole", on the air during a taping of Late Night
- Thursday, October 27, 1988 - The last of Harding Lemay's "comeback" episodes air on Another World. In the final minutes of the episode, Australian actress Carmen Duncan took over the role of the legendary bitch Iris Cory Wheeler, after the role had been vacated for many years by Beverlee McKinsey.
- Tuesday, November 15, 1988 - Zena Grey, actress
- Sunday, November 20, 1988 - Marija Tintor, singer
- Monday, November 28, 1988 - Scarlett Pomers, actress (Star Trek: Voyager, Reba)
- Saturday, January 2, 1988 - Edmund Brisco Ford, geneticist
- Tuesday, January 5, 1988 - Pete Maravich, Basketball Hall of Famer
- Thursday, January 7, 1988 - Trevor Howard, actor
- Monday, January 11, 1988 - Pappy Boyington, aviator
- Thursday, January 14, 1988 - Georgi Malenkov, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party
- Friday, January 15, 1988 - Seán MacBride, former Chief of Staff of the IRA and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974
- Wednesday, January 20, 1988 - Philippe de Rothschild, vineyard operator
- Friday, January 22, 1988 - Parker Fennelly, comedian, actor
- Tuesday, March 1, 1988 - Joe Besser, member of the Three Stooges (b. 1907)
- Saturday, March 5, 1988 - Alberto Olmedo, comedian, actor
- Monday, March 7, 1988 - Divine, actor
- Tuesday, March 8, 1988 - Henryk Szeryng, violinist
- Thursday, March 10, 1988 - Andy Gibb, singer
- Thursday, March 31, 1988 - William McMahon, twentieth Prime Minister of Australia
- Sunday, May 8, 1988 - Robert A. Heinlein, science fiction author
- Wednesday, May 11, 1988 - Kim Philby, spy
- Thursday, May 12, 1988 - Chet Baker, jazz trumpeter
- Wednesday, May 18, 1988 - Daws Butler, voice actor
- May 21 - Sammy Davis, Sr., US dancer
- Wednesday, May 25, 1988 - Ernst Ruska, Nobel Prize Physicist
- Wednesday, October 19, 1988 - Son House, blues musician
- Saturday, October 22, 1988 - Henry Armstrong, American boxing champion
- Monday, October 31, 1988 - John Houseman, actor, producer