Recently, a pilot was ordered for a television adaptation of the dark teen comedy Heathers, which is promising for a couple of reasons. First of all, if the series taps into that same teen-savvy pitch black humor of Daniel Waters’ script, it immediately sets itself apart from most, if not all, teen TV. Secondly, though the film was decidedly not a murder mystery, that is an option the series could explore through its narrative, which MTV’s Scream series has been doing with mixed results.
Either way, there is plenty of promise, but considering the history of adapting films for television, there is equal chance for failure. Like Heathers, plenty of notable ‘80s movies have been given a second wind on the small screen, and there are still numerous others that haven’t been given the chance. Though the risk remains high, we’d like to see these 17 ‘80s films given that opportunity.
17. St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)
It’s a scenario many a college graduate can relate to, whether they were lucky enough to get that job they wanted after college or they have to keep working toward that position: grappling with the real world. The safe innocence of the bars you closed out and lazy house parties has all but dissipated, but the journey’s never completely over, is it?
Joel Schumacher’s St. Elmo’s Fire seems tailor-made for a television adaptation. Immediately, you have a universal, relatable scenario for all of your many major characters, whose lives can be expanded into a compelling narrative arc. Additionally, depending on where those arcs lead, there could be ample opportunity for flashbacks and an overall non-linear narrative that would perfectly reflect the characters’ psyche. If you’re a director, just make sure your actors resembling the Brat Pack don’t come across as the former half of that moniker, and you’ve got a solid drama or sitcom on your hands.
16. They Live (1988)
In this heated political climate, where there is much sentiment leaning toward the anti-establishment and similarly minded presidential candidates, They Live is just one ‘80s movie perfect for this generation. “The Masked Canadian” Roddy Piper – thanks, Canada – may no longer be with us, but his legacy can continue to live on.
Modern television could use someone who simply comes to chew bubblegum and kick, um, butt – especially if they’re all out of bubblegum. For obvious reasons, the unveiling of the aliens would signal the end of the series, or the end of a season for writers thinking outside the box and looking toward the impending consequences of such revelations. In between, there’d be plenty of opportunities for conflict between the protagonists and those who’d rather ignore the truth, in addition to potentially some dramatic sequences of evading and/or fighting law enforcement that is in league with the aliens in disguise. Try to imagine a muscular Bernie Sanders-type carrying about in flannel, illuminating shades, and a shotgun.
15. Near Dark (1987)
Perhaps it’s fair to say that, for now, audiences have had their fill of vampires in film and television. On the small screen, and ignoring for a moment the bevy of examples that have shone or faded on film, HBO’s True Blood concluded only two years ago and the CW’s The Vampire Diaries will soon come to its own end. Maybe the bloodsucking undead need to be laid to rest for a little while– or perhaps kept alive for a new vision.
Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark easily qualifies as a vision of vampires rarely seen, and that isn’t solely because the vampires themselves stand apart from the romantic and fantastical depictions through grit and bloody violence, as True Blood had plenty of its own. The Western, however, is a completely foreign environment for these creatures and, though the pseudo-punk outlaws in Bigelow’s film are relics of the past, there is an interesting Sons of Anarchy-style path a show’s narrative could take..
14. Gremlins (1984)
Only so much time can be spent on Billy (Zach Galligan) and Gizmo (Howie Mandel) getting into hijinks. Though at first glance Gremlins may not seem an obvious choice for a television adaptation, its open-ended finale leaves some room for further exploration – without replicating what was done six years later with The New Batch, of course. Would Gizmo eventually seek out Billy’s company or vice versa? What if one gremlin wasn’t destroyed?
There’s a whole mythology of the mogwai and gremlins that could be further explained and expanded beyond the basic rules for care. Perhaps there is a reason why a mogwai’s spawn are inherently evil, or even just centuries of animosity between the two that has bled into the Western world. Maybe the gremlins take over and form an authoritarian society where all mogwai and mogwai sympathizers are ruthlessly sought out for punishment. Either way, any direction would and should properly suit either the original’s black comedy or the sequel’s cartoonish intent.
13. The Thing (1982)
Admittedly, an adaptation of John Carpenter’s The Thing would prove difficult. Considering the small and confined, though appropriate, setting for Carpenter’s film, extending the drama and horror to fit a 20-plus or even 13-plus episode order would needlessly excise the tension and fill the narrative with unnecessary filler. To do a proper The Thing television series, one would have to start from scratch.
So forget MacReady (Kurt Russell), the pessimistic ending, and even the classic petri dish scene. As cliché as the milieu may be, a Thing series would benefit from taking place in the woods, particularly near a state park where tourists gather from all over the world and park rangers would serve as the research facility scientists’ equivalent. Not to mention the Thing being able to deceptively replicate just about any woodland creature and having the potential for hiding amongst the trees. Of course, it would have to take place in the winter, because you can never stray too far from the original.
12. Dirty Dancing (1987)
A new take on Dirty Dancing wouldn’t need to stray so far from the original. One of the most important aspects to such a series would be to keep the narrative in the ‘60s, particularly in the latter half of the decade, from ’64 until the beginning of the new decade.
Over the seasons, there could be a consistent cycle of old and new characters, with some families introduced for new seasons and some having to take their leave, all while maintaining a select core of kids that remain constant. In a television series, you could look more in depth at these kids and their relationships, with budding romance and coming-of-age being strong selling points. But if the series were to continue in the ‘60s, it would be irresponsible not to address the looming threat of Vietnam and being drafted, meanwhile balancing the drama with a light-hearted inclusion of the rising counterculture.
11. The Goonies (1985)
Like The Thing, The Goonies would prove similarly difficult to adapt. It would be next to impossible, and even unreasonable, to create more than a handful of episodes out of adventurous children searching for a legendary treasure, so instead it would be best to start anew and create a new story, either with the same kids or new ones.
Such a series would benefit from taking a page out of Stranger Things’s playbook – ironic considering the latter show wears its Goonies influence on its sleeve. Instead of getting lost in a cave, the kids could accidentally stumble upon a sinister town secret that pushes them forward into action, especially if it were one last adventure for one of the children who had to move away. It would even be in the series’ best interest to confront the various family problems of these kids to wring out some drama amidst the adventure and peril.
10. Top Gun (1986)
No, that volleyball match will never be recreated to match the legendary quality of the original, but that Top Gun has never made it to the small screen is beyond belief. With all of the high-flying action and intense character drama, Top Gun has primetime television written all over it, especially if it can pay reverence to, and even self-reflectively address the ‘80s cheese that has helped the film’s lasting legacy. A killer soundtrack is just about a requirement, as well.
But what can a series accomplish that the film did not? For one, we could see how Maverick (Tom Cruise) fares as an instructor at the Top Gun school and see how he interacts with members of a new recruiting class, perhaps even how he deals with a new pilot with a similarly, if not more reckless personality. An ever-shifting cast of characters would not only be appropriate, but also tragic, considering the circumstances of the Cold War. For Maverick, that could potentially develop a solid character arc.
9. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Yes, there was the Freddy’s Nightmares series way back when the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise began to slow down, but we’d like to see something less anthological and more traditional in approach. Now, here’s the most important question, and this is with regards to tone: do you try for a scarier Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) akin to Wes Craven’s original film, or do you embrace Freddy as the cheeky anti-hero slasher that started with Renny Harlin’s The Dream Master?
Either would certainly make for some freaky frights, but one thing is for certain: any take would have to avoid Freddy Krueger’s origin like the plague, or at the very least, briefly address it in the pilot episode. Krueger’s origin have been done to death, almost to point where it has become common knowledge. To briefly explain them would be understandable for a new generation of viewers unfamiliar with the source material, but it’s best to cut to the chase and get to the creative deaths.
8. Escape from New York (1981)
Television isn’t a stranger to the post-apocalyptic, but it’s hardly reached its limits. Escape from New York wouldn’t be an antidote, but it would be a great chance for some action-packed thrills. This world could take any form, and could even reflect international relations in much the same way that the film envisioned the future of the Cold War, though such direction would need to be handled with care, and not tread the path of tacky patriotism and nationalistic tendencies.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, you must find a charismatic, commanding choice for Snake Plissken. Though it was early in his career, Kurt Russell owned the role, and did so again in Escape from L.A. fifteen years later. And though a clear antagonist would be required for a show of this nature, an expanded narrative would give the creators plenty of opportunity to humanize its villains as well as its heroes.
7. Scarface (1983)
Every empire has a beginning as well as an end. When done properly, gangster dramas are naturally compelling, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire being the latest example. Tony Montoya’s (Al Pacino) drug-fueled rise and fall in ‘80s Miami was swift, even during the 170-minute runtime of Brian de Palma’s Scarface, but in a television series, there’s an entire decade of tantalizing devil’s dandruff and brutal violence to exploit.
Or you could do something different with the gangster genre. Perhaps the show begins with the downfall of Montoya’s power trip in the later years of the decade, while later seasons could depict how Montoya copes with a dying empire. There’d still be plenty of room for intermittent, explosive violence that can shake up a narrative, though perhaps it wouldn’t be as frequent as other examples of the genre. Either way, viewers are drawn to depictions of excess, and in the life of a drug kingpin, there is plenty of it.
6. Blue Velvet (1986)
After numerous delays, it seems – fingers crossed – that the revitalization of Mark Frost and David Lynch’s television series Twin Peaks will finally see the light of day next year on Showtime, albeit as a limited series. David Lynch’s filmography is full of enough surrealistic and maniacal weirdness that most of his films could make for solid series, but because this is the ‘80s, which of his ’80s films would be a better choice than Blue Velvet?
Between the neo-noir cynicism and Lynch’s colorful cast of eccentric characters, the atmosphere alone would draw not only Lynch fanatics, but also the casual television viewer looking for something different on the airwaves – or the World Wide Web. In fact, a twisty mystery with Lynchian tendencies is perfect material for either online television or premium cable. Additionally, a potential series might even be better approached as an anthological series with new characters and new psychological depravity.
5. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Did anybody else wish they had seen more of Jack (Griffin Dunne) in John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London? Just in case you did, so much more Jack, among other things, would be possible with an An American Werewolf in London television series – at least in a pilot episode that documents the start of their journey from the States, up until their fateful decision to walk along the moors.
Any television series of Landis’s film would need his charming black humor to balance out some gruesome violence and disturbing transformation scenes – though nothing could surpass the greatness of Rick Baker’s work. Though one aspect of the film a series could further utilize is David’s (David Naughton) dreams. David’s dreams are simply horrifying, especially the eyebrow-raising Nazi werewolf soldier dream. In at least a 12-episode order, one could examine David’s degrading psychological behavior, as the werewolf begins to take over, both mentally and physically.
4. Wall Street (1987)
In many ways, Wall Street is much like your average gangster flick: ambitious protagonist from humble surroundings aiming for the big time finally gets a big break and leads a life of excess with his coworkers and his benevolent, if ruthless mentor, only to slowly crash and burn as everyone around him falls by the wayside. By premise alone, Wall Street seems an obvious choice for a television adaptation.
And then, there are many other possibilities a series could explore as far as which era to choose. Like the film, you could match the excess of Wall Street with the excess of the ‘80s, or you could do the opposite. The recent stock market crash has been overdone, and the Great Depression might be too obvious a choice. Perhaps, like the aforementioned Dirty Dancing series, it could take place in the latter half of the ‘60s, with the Wall Street businessmen representing an eroding status quo in a time of political and social upheaval.
3. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
To be fair, Beyond Thunderdome could easily be included here, as well, but along with Fury Road, The Road Warrior is often revered as not just one of the best movies in the franchise, but one of the best action movies, period. And yes, the franchise began in the latter half of the ‘70s, but Road Warrior was the beginning of the momentum. Remember how awesome it felt to see Fury Road in a theater and take in the mind-melting special effects and production value? Now imagine being able to watch that story once a week or to binge-watch hours of it the show at once.
Any Mad Max series would look much like Fury Road in style, but the vintage charm of Road Warrior can remain all the same. You don’t need much, either. All it takes is a desolate post-apocalyptic vision, a host of crazy minor characters and extras running around like madmen, and a stoic, yet charismatic lead. That’s not asking too much, right?
2. Blade Runner (1982)
Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner has perplexed viewers and had them debating for over three decades. With a naturally self-contained structure and a weekly release, television arguably fosters and encourages debate better than most examples from the silver screen. By expanding the narrative, one could potentially explicitly answer many of the questions Blade Runner fans have been mulling over, and yet introduce a new mystery or two, as well.
So much more could be examined after the Blade Runner film concluded. For example, are there any more Replicants in hiding on Earth? What will become of the Tyrell Corporation after Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) mercilessly kills Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel)? Will anything happen with the Replicants still in the colonies– perhaps more severe measures to keep them from immigrating to Earth illegally? Additionally, who knows what wild predictions we can make about how the world will look 37 years into the future.
1. Do the Right Thing (1989)
A lot of these films have been mentioned simply because they’d be fun options from the ‘80s to bring to modern television. The same can’t exactly be said about any sort of Do the Right Thing series, though it would be something more important: it would be vital. Look, we all know that race isn’t an easy topic to discuss, and though the events of the last two years have cultivated more discussion, part of ensuring that discussion doesn’t die down is creating new media that bravely, sensitively, and smartly tackles race relations head on.
In fact, instead of taking place in the late ‘80s, it would have to be set in present day, and even in a nondescript location, just to not so subtly remind viewers that injustice and inequality still exist, anywhere and anytime. Something equally important with such a series is that, like Spike Lee’s joint, it never patronizes its viewers with a long-winded moral crusade that alienates rather than invites. Instead, it should incisively expose the realities some would rather ignore and encourage all of its viewers to ask some uncomfortable questions.
What other ’80s movies should be adapted for television? Let us know in the comments?