80s & 90s Cartoons that Could be Great Blockbuster Movies

Published 9 months ago by , Updated March 3rd, 2014 at 8:57 pm, This is a list post.

80s & 90s Cartoons that Could be Great Blockbuster Movies

Voltron Defender of the Universe Movie 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.

COPS

Cops Cartoon Show Movie Show: C.O.P.S. 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. Watch the animated intro from C.O.P.S.HERE and the entire first episode - HERE.

Dino-Riders

Dino Riders Cartoon Movie Show: Dino-Riders 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.

Freakazoid!

Freakazoid Cartoon Movie Show: Freakazoid! 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. Watch the animated intro from Freakazoid! - HERE and the entire first episode - HERE.

Gargoyles

Gargoyles Cartoon Movie Show: Gargoyles 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.

M.A.S.K.

MASK Cartoon Movie Show: M.A.S.K. 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. Watch the animated intro from M.A.S.K. - HERE and the entire first episode - HERE.

Masters of the Universe (Reboot)

He Man Masters of the Universe Movie 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? Watch the animated intro from Masters of the Universe - HERE and the entire first episode - HERE.

The New Adventures of Jonny Quest

New Adventures of Jonny Quest Cartoon Movie 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. Watch the animated intro from The New Adventures of Jonny Quest - HERE and the entire first episode - HERE.

SilverHawks

Silverhawks Cartoon Movie Show: SilverHawks 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. Watch the animated intro from SilverHawks - HERE and the entire first episode - HERE.

ThunderCats

Thundercats Cartoon Movie Show: ThunderCats 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. Watch the animated intro from ThunderCats - HERE and the entire first episode - HERE.

Voltron: Defender of the Universe

Voltron Cartoon Movie 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. Watch the animated intro from Voltron: Defender of the Universe - HERE and the entire first episode - HERE.

Honorable Mentions

Captain Planet Cartoon Movie 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. Honorable Mentions: 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 Defenders of the Earth - Flash Gordon, The Phantom, and Mandrake the Magician in one movie! Watch the animated intro from Defenders of the Earth - 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. ___ Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future feature articles as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.
TAGS: captain planet, go joe, johnny quest, masters of the universe, teenage mutant ninja turtles, thundercats, transformers, voltron

238 Comments

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  1. I would put in my vote for a totally rebooted “Inspector Gadget” movie series. Tough to cast, definitely, but no freaking talking Gadgetmobile, a CGI-enhanced Brain, something a little closer to the original show. That’s one of the reasons the old Gadget movies failed, or, at least, was seriously derided by fans and the live-action sequel didn’t do much better. It’s got to be a half-hour episode stretched to 90 minutes with some things revealed that maybe explain some of the reasoning in the original show. For example, maybe Brain’s collar isn’t just a communication device but uses hologram-type technology, which is why it’s hard for him to be seen as a more human-like creature to fool Gadget, that Dr. Claw is Penny’s dad and is always out to get her uncle for stealing his ideas but could never actually *kill* her, because she was his daughter. And no revealing Dr. Claw’s face! Keep the metal gloves on and the menacing voice. Heck, I’m a 25-year-old girl and I can imitate it! Ok, sorry for the rant…

    • I’ve often said that if Dr. Claw ever figured out who it was who was really defeating him, Penny and Gadget would both be dead… or Dr. Claw would be. I remember one ep Penny climbs into a fighter jet and flies off in it. I didn’t have any trouble believing she could fly it because, hell, she can do anything else.

  2. Oh, and *definitely* “Small Wonder”! With today’s computer tech light years from when V.I.C.I. took her footsteps, this is a no-brainer, but it can also be a no-brain movie. No Jamie/V.I.C.I action. Make the characters more believable, whether it’s a comedy or darker drama. Definltely “Small Wonder” & “Inspector Gadget” (reboot) need close looks, and I know “Small Wonder” wasn’t a cartoon, but sometimes it really felt like one, when certain writers got ahole of it….

  3. omfg.. Dino Riders, it needs to happen!

  4. Pretty sure after counting, Robotech (Macross) pops up in the comments more than anything else. Which, by the way, effing rules!!
    Akira would be super rad. Though I’m aware it’s not a series, it’s still 80′s. Finally, Pirates Of Darkwater was fun as all heck, but I’m not sure how it would translate to a modern live action.

  5. Gargoyles was very very cool. I wish they would give it a go.

  6. The most under rated 80s cartoon of all time, IMO, is a rare gem called:

    Ulysses 31.

    The guy was MADE to be an action or game star. Jet pack, light saber and laser pistol, with a bad ass beard, a kick ass space ship, a dark plot, and some robot/kid characters for the marketability. His journey was *literally* the Odyssey, but done in space. Some of the coolest visuals and creepiest vibes of any 80s show, and actually tells a story beginning to end. Underrated as hell.

  7. Looked at this list because you led w/the pic of Goliath from Gargoyles. Pity you didn’t mention Reboot. I’d love to see that in theatres.

    • I loved Reboot! Such a good show.

      • I loved reboot I miss this show. bob and dot got married right?

    • You and me would be the best of friends. I think Reboot & Gargoyles are the best cartoons ever made (aside from Hey Arnold!) The complexity and the failure to “talk down” to their audiences are what made me fall in love with these cartoons.

  8. Tried to leave a comment, but it wouldn’t load. Instead I got “duplicate message detected”. Just wanted to say that I agreed with the choice of Gargoyles for this list, but think Reboot should have been on it too.

  9. I think a live action movie of Teen Titans would be really cool, I mean the TV series itself was pretty dark (for a kid’s show). I would also like to see a live action movie on Gargoyles myself, now that would be sweet.
    This idea sounds kind of dumb, but what if they made a live action movie of Pinky and the Brain? I would go. :)

  10. No Exo-Squad!? You have no SOUL!? Though yeah. Gargoyles is actually a pretty solid choice, even if the arcs toward the end were becoming kind of meh, but, but as a whole, a great series none the less. Another of the great series that holds up to both children and adults.

    The problem though is that like all great series…they’re great because they had time to flesh out the characters, and it never translates as well to Film, unless you can make a series of movies to break it up into smaller bite-size chunks.

  11. How about Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light?

  12. Gargoyles should be made because it was an awesome series that could make really good movies. Dino Riders should be made purely on the over the top premise and how much fun it could be.

  13. VOLTRON VOLTRON VOLTRON it would be epic

  14. I would absolutely love to see Biker Mice from Mars on the big screen! After the bike action they did in Ghost Rider (the scene where he’s coming down the building is totally them) they could pull off the stunts the bikes do since they’re AIs. This would have to be live action. And my vote goes for Gargoyles as well, it was an awesome show.

    • Sometimes I wondered if I somehow hallucinated Biker Mice from Mars. I’m so glad that I am not the only one who remembers that show.

  15. Don’t forget about Centurions.

    “POWER EXTREME”

  16. one movie I would like to see is the thundercats or He-man it be cool to see in the big screen if the smurfs happen why not those two

  17. Whatever reboot the movie industry wants to make, I hope my kids becomes fan of them as-well..
    Great examples of rebooted 80s Cartoons: My Little Pony, X-men, Transformers, Spiderman, Peabody and Sherman.

    Not so good of examples, Godzilla, Inspector Gadget and the Smurfs.

    With our current CG technology. Robotech and The Jetson would be two awesome 80s reboots to consider.

  18. I really missed dinosaursers that was a good cartoon and the best was the bionic six they had a awesome them song. I brought the DVD collection at comic con.

  19. Bionic 6 and The Jetsons would be great to watch.

    • DUDE! I totally forgot about Bionic 6! YES! You got my vote bro!

  20. I’ve been saying Silverhawks FOR YEARS. Now that we have the movie magic to make comic book/cartoon heroes like Iron Man come to life, Silverhawks would be a no brainer. Michael Bay can definitely make it happen if you ask me.

    He-Man reboot gets a nod from me and so does Gargoyles…..my 2 cents…better make sure they get Keith David to VO Goliath or we’re not paying to see it. LOL!!!!!!

    This new TMNT flick…*gumble* Not sure how I feel about them. Never did like the cartoon adaptation of them since I grew up reading the black and white comic books of them by Eastman and Laird.

    Thundercats is gonna need a lot of work to make them visually acceptable. I’d loathe to see a bunch of Broadway singers/dancers from the CATS production all yolked up on HGH fighting it out against CG’d mutated lizard, baboon and jackal people.

    Voltron is definitely possible in my book. Just don’t do it injustice. Oh by the way, it better have Sven! LOL!!!!

    Dino Riders? COPS? Captain Planet? Oy vay! IMHO, please don’t waste digital space with these ideas. LOL!!!

    Now for my choices….

    Jayce and The Wheeled Warriors
    Mighty Orbots
    and last but NOT LEAST…

    GALAXY RANGERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • I was about to ask: “Galaxy Rangers?!!?”

      Easily the best option to be adapted to a movie.

  21. PIRATES OF DARK WATER.

  22. OMG Gargoyles! Probably the best cartoon EVER! It would be SO AWESOME in live action. But I agree that Keith David would have to either play Goliath or voice him. (Yes he is 58 but come on Ron Perlman is 64 and he played Hellboy!) Please somebody (good) MAKE THIS!!

    • Pirates of Dark Water would be great… if they didn’t %^&* it up. And, I have to say, that would be all too easy to do. Ah, but if they didn’t foul it quite royally, PODW could be GREAT!

  23. Batman Beyond would make a kick ass movie!! Think of Clint Eastwood as an aging Bruce Wayne. Aaron Paul as Terry McGuinness, Susan Sarandon as Barbara Gordon and Henry Rollins as Derek Powers.
    BB always had this underlying darkness to it for a kids show that would translate well into a summer tentpole Superhero flick. Add an unrequited love subplot concerning Wayne and Barbara Gordon. Maybe a Cameo by Michael Keaton as the middle aged Bruce Wayne who hangs up his cape for good during the prologue and you’ve got a great flick!!

  24. I know the perfect guy to do Freakazoid- Jim Carrey, although the age difference may be a bit of a snag. Maybe he could do a villain for the movie.

  25. Sum it up in Three words

    Thundar the Barbarian.

    • I’d to see Thundarr and Ariel! Ookla! RIIIIDE!!!

      • There was supposed to be a bit of “love” in that last post.

  26. Does anyone remember the old The Comic Strip Series back in late 80′s? There was TigerSharks, which was actually a follow up show by the same folks who did ThunderCats & SilverHawks come to find out. Had forgotten about The Mini-Monsters segment too that’d make for a decent Dreamworks spin franchise off the success of Pixar’s Monsters Inc.

  27. 5 of the 10 could actually work. But the one that I personally would want to see is Star Blazers aka Space Battleship Yamato. The Japanese already made one and it looks awesome. Hollywood would have to take it to a whole new level to beat that version. If Voltron is to be made, please use the 5 lions and not the crappy vehicle version.

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