Following the success of the Transformers film franchise, which after only three installments (and counting) has already earned over $2.5 billion at the global box office, Hollywood producers scrambled to mine 1980s and 1990s childhood nostalgia for other potential blockbuster adaptations. Paramount Pictures has been especially eager to turn fan-favorite toy properties into big screen ticket profits adding two G.I. Joe adaptations (Rise of Cobra and Retaliation) as well as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot to their production line-up.
That said, Paramount isn’t the only studio attempting to revive beloved properties from pre-2000 – given that, among several other in-production projects, Sony Pictures is taking a stab at the retro cartoon-to-movie formula with a feature-length Captain Planet adaptation.
Following recent reports that X-Men: Days of Future Past actor James McAvoy wants to see (and star in) a live-action ThunderCats movie, we started thinking about other cartoons from the 80s and 90s that could actually make for exciting, and profitable, blockbuster movie franchises – if done right. Or course, our list is not all-inclusive, so once you’ve had a chance to read our picks, share your ideas in the comments.
Original Run: 65 episodes (September 19, 1988 – February 20, 1989)
Premise: The Central Organization of Police Specialists fight CROOKS in the year 2020.
Why It Could Work: Not to be confused with the reality/police TV series, the animated show C.O.P.S. (later rebranded CyberCOPS) was actually based on Hasbro’s C.O.P.S ‘N’ Crooks toy line. The show featured police officers (and villains) with cybernetic enhancements, futuristic weaponry and vehicles, as well as a robotic canine companion. It was campy kid-friendly programming but a big screen version could provide an exciting future-set world to explore – elevated by an elite batch of police characters with neat gadgets and/or super-human enhancements. On top of explosive visual effect possibilities, there’s a solid human story at the heart of C.O.P.S. (which should be familiar to RoboCop fans) – as protagonist Baldwin P. “Bulletproof” Vess is implanted with cybernetic components after being injured in the line of duty.
Original Run: 14 episodes (October 1, 1988 – December 31, 1988)
Premise: Pulled back in time, the courageous Valorians and evil Rulons use telepathy and brainwashing, respectively, to ride laser-fitted Dinosaurs into battle.
Why It Could Work: There’s a long history of love for dinosaurs on film: from Brute Force in 1914 to The Land Before Time in 1988, among others. That said, after Jurassic Park set a new standard for realistic dinosaurs on screen, the only sensible way to raise the bar higher is to add futuristic weapons into the equation. Universal Pictures toyed with the idea of weaponized dinosaur hybrids for Jurassic Park 4 – so, comparatively, Dino-Riders offers a significantly more grounded approach. After the neural-handshake in Pacific Rim and the Tsaheylu in Avatar, audiences should be prepared to suspend disbelief for the cartoon’s sillier story elements – so that they can revel in watching a Tyrannosaurus Rex marching into battle with shoulder and head-mounted laser guns.
Watch the animated intro from Dino-Riders – HERE and the entire first episode – HERE.
Original Run: 24 episodes (September 9, 1995 – June 1, 1997)
Premise: A teenage superhero with a manic personality.
Why It Could Work: Designed from the ground-up to satirize comic book hero tropes through self-referential dialogue and tongue-in-cheek applications of familiar superpowers, Freakazoid! also incorporated parodies of established evildoers – and included a variety of entertaining cameo appearances (including Steven Spielberg, Brain from Pinky and the Brain, as well as Wakko from Animaniacs). Considering countless superheroes have made a successful jump from comic book pages to cartoon serials to big screen blockbusters, it’s easy to imagine that Freakazoid! could deliver fun counter-programming to the current slate of “grounded” DC and Marvel film offerings (especially if the Deadpool film never gets a green light). Freakazoid‘s sixteen year-old alter ego, Dexter Douglas, is also ripe for a fresh origin story approach – since the titular antihero is, after all, a deranged lunatic – who could cause plenty of havoc in Dexter’s school and home life.
Original Run: 78 episodes (October 24, 1994 – February 15, 1997)
Premise: Heroic Gargoyles team with NYPD cops to fight supernatural threats.
Why It Could Work: Awakening from a 1,000 year imprisonment, the Gargoyles must adjust to the life in the modern era while saving the world from nightmarish creatures and evildoer David Xanatos – a rich genius with ties to the Illuminati. For a kids show, the core story and individual character arcs explored in Gargoyles were surprisingly dark (with poignant moments of betrayal, moral ambiguity, and even death) – meaning that, despite the campy set-up, a big screen version could manage to marry slick visuals with rich thematic elements and solid storytelling. Furthermore, much like fellow genius billionaire, Lex Luthor, Xanatos also developed a (Gargoyle-inspired) mech suit – which could make for an exciting showdown in the final act between Goliath and a tech-heavy Xanatos.
Watch the animated intro from Gargoyles – HERE and the entire first episode – HERE.
Original Run: 75 episodes (September 30, 1985 – November 26, 1986)
Premise: The Mobile Armored Strike Kommand battles V.E.N.O.M. (Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem) with high-tech vehicles capable of transformation and weapon modification.
Why It Could Work: Whether or not you’re a fan of the Transformers and G.I. Joe franchises, Hasbro’s toy-to-film partnership with Paramount Pictures has grossed over $3 billion at the box office worldwide. As a result, a movie that mixes the two concepts could be the next big blockbuster franchise: a ragtag special ops group with high-tech vehicles that change from road-ready cars and trucks into fighter jets, submarines, and tanks, among others (including an entire mobile command center). A M.A.S.K. film would include the same eye-popping visuals as the Transformers movies, without the baggage of giant CGI aliens, and instead of heavy-handed reasons to keep humans involved, people are actually essential in piloting M.A.S.K. vehicles. Furthermore, the conflict with V.E.N.O.M. is grounded in a story of betrayal that would provide a solid foundation for worthwhile character drama on top of crazy vehicle stunts.
Show: Masters of the Universe (Reboot)
Original Run: 130 episodes (September 30, 1983 – December 8, 1984)
Premise: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe battle Skeletor and his evil warriors.
Why It Could Work: A Masters of the Universe movie reboot is currently in the works at DreamWorks but many fans remain skeptical of its chances at delivering a worthwhile big screen adventure. However, the world of Eternia is ripe with a diverse set of heroes and villains that can make for exciting and creative feature film translation – especially weirdos like Man-E-Faces, Moss Man, Two-Bad, and Saurod – that were entirely ignored in the 1987 film starring Dolph Lundgren. While He-Man is often depicted as a one-note hero archetype (as he was in the aforementioned Lundgren movie), there’s plenty of interesting and unexplored potential in his storyline – especially since his alter ego, Prince Adam, is an unassuming “mask” (similar to Clark Kent). Plus, who wouldn’t want to see He-Man and Skelator stride into a live-action battle on the backs of BattleCat and Panthor, respectively?
Show: The New Adventures of Jonny Quest
Original Run: 13 episodes (September 14, 1986 – March 1, 1987)
Premise: Jonny Quest travels the world with the Quest team, investigating sci-fi inspired mysteries.
Why It Could Work: A follow-up to the popular 1960’s Hanna-Barbera cartoon, Jonny Quest, which ran for 26 episodes between September 18, 1964 to March 11, 1965, the New Adventures of Jonny Quest offered a second dose of fun globe-trotting adventure with diverse, and downright clever, science fiction set-ups. In addition to Jonny, the show also features an entertaining cast of side characters, Dr. Benton Quest (father and scientist), Race Bannon (Intelligence One agent), Hadji Singh (best friend), and Bandit (dog), each possessing unique skill sets that would make for intriguing team set piece moments as well as comedic banter and interplay. A feature film version could easily utilize the best cartoon episodes into a single Indiana Jones-style adventure, one where alien technology actually makes sense, with countless other sci-fi premises waiting as for sequel material.
Original Run: 65 episodes (September 8, 1986 – December 5, 1986)
Premise: “Partly metal, partly real” intergalactic heroes that battle evil robots out in space.
Why It Could Work: While certain elements of SilverHawks are undoubtedly campy (example: Lt. Colonel Bluegrass and his weaponized guitar), the premise could make for an incredible sci-fi blockbuster experience – since the SilverHawks sport slick armored suits and spend a lot of their time battling in actual space. A SilverHawks film would feature the excitement of a Star Wars X-Wing dogfight with the added benefit of characters that can rocket out of their transports – and continue the brawl in zero-gravity with high-tech suits, shoulder-mounted lasers, and mechanical hawk companions. The SilverHawks rogues gallery is also strong with interesting villains that would be fun to see on the big screen – such as mob boss Mon*Star (who rides a robotic octopus), cybernetic minotaur Mumbo Jumbo, and multi-bladed brawler Buzz-Saw, among others.
Original Run: 130 episodes (January 23, 1985 – September 29, 1989)
Premise: A team of feline-like humanoids fight mutant creatures and ancient sorcerer Mumm-Ra for control of Third Earth.
Why It Could Work: A ThunderCats feature film has been in the works for years – with the most recent (cancelled) version relying on CGI animation to bring the characters to life. Still, while Hollywood has struggled to adapt the characters, there’s plenty of reason to think that a ThunderCats film could work, given the right approach. A live-action attempt would be challenging but, if the visual effects team succeeded in making the ThunderCats, Mutants of Plun-Darr, and Mumm-Ra look cool (not campy), the characters offer plenty of room for filmmakers to deliver slick fight choreography and cool vehicular (i.e. ThunderTank) action. Additionally, as James McAvoy recently pointed out, Lion-O is actually a twelve-year old trapped in the body of a ripped, muscly, fighting man who is destined to be king – laying the foundation for a unique hero tale.
Show: Voltron: Defender of the Universe
Original Run: 124 episodes and a 1-hour special (September 10, 1984 – November 18, 1985)
Premise: A mighty robot (powered by space explorers), loved by good, feared by evil, that maintains peace throughout the universe.
Why It Could Work: Twenty years of The Power Rangers may have stolen a bit of momentum from a big screen Voltron: Defender of the Universe adaptation but there’s no doubt that many fans still want to see a grounded take on five heroes piloting Lion-shaped space tanks that join together to form a 60 meter tall, 700 ton sword-wielding robot. Filmmaker Alex Albrecht delivered a Voltron short film that teased how it could work, and with Pacific Rim presenting epic (and believable) kaiju fights here on earth, the stage is set for Hollywood to let Voltron take robot versus monster combat into outer space and otherworldly locales. Additionally, the five-member Lion Force team, and central antagonist King Zarkon, should provide rich and interesting world-building with competent drama and character beats to round-out the CGI spectacle.
We’ve listed our ten favorite cartoons from the 80s and 90s that could launch great blockbuster movie franchises but there are plenty more that we didn’t have chance to include in detail – and we want to highlight two of them.
Captain Planet – Given the right script and director, Captain Planet could be a campy (albeit fun) take on Superman-like superheroing and environmentalism. Watch the animated intro from Captain Planet – HERE and the entire first episode – HERE
What cartoons from the 80s and 90s would you like to see turned into blockbuster movies? As mentioned the list is not all-inclusive, so share your picks and reactions in the comments.
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