Working in the TV/Movie blog business, there’s one undeniable law you come to accept: Geeks are an obsessive bunch. No matter our own individual degrees of geekdom, at a certain point we’ve all stopped to stare at that other person who was WAY too into something – be it Star Trek or Star Wars or even that sports fanatic whose blood pressure is one scoreboard point away from going critical.
We all know about geek obsession – but what about geek denial? It’s not a topic you hear brought up very often, but geeks have powers of denial just as strong as their obsessive tendencies. And to prove this fact, we here at Screen Rant are prepared to delve into the deep, dark, realm of “Movies and TV Shows That Geeks Pretend Don’t Exist.”
Before we get into this, I must warn you: We are about to venture into some very dark and traumatic territory. Some of you reading may have spent years working to close the very mental doors we are about to throw open again. To paraphrase the wise words of Nietzsche, “When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.”
Are you brave of heart? Still with us? Then revel in the memory of movies and TV shows so blasphemous to the geek community that they now make even the most devout nerds turn their heads away in shame.
The Original Battlestar Galactica
Many of you are lucky. You exist in a time and place where you only know of Ronald D. Moore’s reboot of the Battlestar Galactica TV series. Moore’s epic sci-fi/drama explored virtually every aspect of human existence – from love, destiny and faith to politics, war and technology. It was some of the best allegorical storytelling TV has ever offered.
You’re lucky if you never looked back – never opened that closed (and firmly locked) door to the past to see how the original Battlestar Galactica differed from its modern incarnation. But many of us have opened that door, my friend – many of us have looked backed. Some of us even lived it as it happened (The horror! The horror!).
The 1978 Battlestar Galactica TV series only lasted a year. It tried to resurrect itself in 1980 as – get this – Galactica 1980, but that show only lasted half a year. Show creator Glen A. Larson might have been nominated for several major awards (Emmy, People’s Choice, Golden Globes), but that just goes to show how poorly some of these awards stand the test of time. Because looking back at the original Battlestar today… well, let’s just say that some things need to be remade.
In the original Battlestar Starbuck is an annoying guy (not girl) played by Dirk Benedict (right side, pic above); the Cylons look like actors in cheap homemade costumes; the plots, dialogue and acting are like a poor man’s Star Trek (and that’s saying something); and both of the original Battlestar series culminate with Starbuck co-fathering a “spiritual child” with some robotic Cylon…or something…
Let’s just be glad for the revamped series that Moore gave us and move right along, shall we? No need to look back at the series’ sordid past any longer.
The X-Files Spin-off
During the 90s, when I was still too young for the standard teen debauchery, every Friday night I would go to my local arcade for some serious gaming, and then I watched The X-Files with my best friend in a darkened house, with a buffet of Twizzlers, assorted flavored popcorns and root beer to feast on. My Friday nights have never been so geeky, so fright-filled – or so much fun.
I was in college in 2001 when the post-X-Files spin-off, The Lone Gunmen, hit the airwaves. The show featured John Byers (Bruce Harwood), Melvin Frohike (Tom Braidwood), and Richard Langly (Dean Haglund), reprising their roles as the three conspiracy theory oddballs that Fox Mulder (David Duchovy) had visited on more than one X-Files occasion for help “finding the truth.”
The X-Files was interesting, scary, cool, smart, and sexy. The Lone Gunmen (to give a modern day analogy) was like Chuck-meets-Bones, sans the attractive people in the lead roles or any kind of romantic chemistry (that you’d want to see). The show only lasted one season (about four months to be exact), and once it was dead and buried deep, we all but forgot that it ever existed in the first place (I had to ask the Screen Rant team which X-Files spin-off it was they were referring to!)
But The Lone Gunmen did exist, my friends – though it will forever be a “search for the truth” to find out why.
The Highlander Sequels
Highlander came out in 1986 and forever altered the phrase, “There can only be one.” Actor Christopher Lambert was catapulted to the status of cool (well, at least geek cool) playing Connor MacLeod, an immortal man engaged in a kill-or-be-kill tournament for eternal life in the back alleys of 1980s NYC. To this day, it’s rare that you attend any major comic book or geek convention that doesn’t have at least one steadfast soul dressed in a kilt and clutching a sword, trying to keep the Highlander legacy alive.
But my god… the sequels.
Highlander 2: The Quickening came out in 1991 and decided to jump the story ahead to the year 2025, with some half-cocked plot about MacLeod (now the last immortal) trying to solve the eco-disaster of a depleted Ozone Layer (the environmental issue du jour back then). Oh, and by the way, those battling Immortals that made the first film so awesome? In the sequel they’re “revealed” to be aliens! Cue the groaning…
After that complete cluster bomb came even more Highlander sequels – let’s see if you remember all of them (I didn’t).
Highlander: The Final Dimension hit in 1994 and is actually the sequel to the first film, but the prequel to the ridiculous second installment (an early attempt at the now-obligatory franchise reboot). Part III was all about Mario Van Peebles (red flag!) playing an immortal sorcerer who’s been conveniently trapped in cave, nursing a major grudge against Connor MacLeod. It was a simple premise…way too simple. Highlander III was basically an hour-plus slow build to a underwhelming final battle, the outcome of which we already know before the movie even starts (Connor lives until the year 2025, remember?).
By the time we got Highlander: Endgame in 2000, the franchise was reduced to pulling out gimmicks like bringing back the original producers and teaming Lambert onscreen with Adrian Paul – star of the then-popular Highlander TV series – in order to lure people to the theater.
Endgame was a nice succinct swan song for the Highlander movie franchise, but the damage had long been done. In many Highlander fans’ minds, there can only be one movie worth acknowledging.
It’s remarkable how drastically the absence of a few key players effects a movie franchise. Case in point: The original Superman starring Christopher Reeves and its sequel, Superman II. Both films are considered two of the greatest in comic book movie history (and probably movie history as a whole).
When Superman III came around in 1983, people expected great things – after all Richard Lester – the credited director of Superman II – was back, as were Reeves and franchise co-writers David and Leslie Newman. However, two key players were missing from the Superman III team: Richard Donner (director of the first film and the true visionary behind Superman II) and Godfather author Mario Puzo, who had written the stories of the first two Supes films. Like I said, it’s amazing what kind of difference the absence of a few key players makes.
Like many studio franchises, Superman stopped chasing respect and acclaim and started chasing the dollars. The biggest gimmick? Shoving comedy legend Richard Pryor into the cast of Superman III as a “computer genius” – or maybe the honor of biggest gimmick goes to the Superman III‘s “evil Superman vs. Clark Kent” subplot.
But by far the worst gimmick offense of all was committed by Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, which attempted to exploit anxiety over the nuclear arms race via a “Clone of Superman” plot. By that fourth film, most of the original Superman movie team had flown the coop, Reeves was co-writing the scripts himself (yikes), and we were all searching for a super power that could make us forget these perversions of Donner and Puzo’s legendary vision.
And no, Superman Returns did nothing to heal the wounds – in my opinion, we’re still waiting for another Superman movie to fill void left by Donner and Puzo.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Geeks may try and pretend that Indiana Jones 4 doesn’t scar the face of what was arguably the best trilogy of all time, but it’s saying something when the creators of South Park dedicate a whole episode to graphic scenes of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas raping Indiana Jones. The sad thing is…that’s pretty much how I felt watching Crystal Skull…
Now I’m not one to go around shouting that “You ruined my childhood!” crap, but the Indiana Jones franchise does have strong ties to my heart. Some of the best memories I have involve watching those films – they really are that magical.
So, like many of you, I was a kid all over again when Indy 4 hit theaters – and not one of the obvious warning signs was enough to deter my enthusiasm. But two words should’ve tipped me off from the very beginning: George Lucas.
Maybe the problem was seeing Indiana Jones survive a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator – or maybe it was the film’s crazy finale where aliens (from a galaxy far, far, away) show up to high-five Dr. Jones. It definitely had something to do with that ridiculous car chase sequence (a longtime staple of the Indiana Jones franchise) in which Shia LaBeouf (Indy’s estranged son – spoiler alert!) catapults from the vehicle and goes swinging through the jungle with a bunch of freaking CGI monkeys… UGH.
Like a certain other set of films-we-do-not-mention, Indiana Jones 4 had George Lucas’ corrosive touch slapped all over it, and Spielberg himself couldn’t stop the desecration. In one fell swoop, Indiana Jones went from being a sparkling childhood memory and titleholder of “Best. Trilogy. Ever.” to a rape gag on South Park…
Live-Action Superhero Misfires
No, I’m not talking about X-Men: The Last Stand, or Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. For better or worse, the 2000 era of comic book films are debatable in terms of quality.
What I’m referring to are the shameful misfires of the past – from the 60s through the mid 90s – when Hollywood made its initial attempts to translate the world of comic books to the big and small screens – and, for the most part, failed miserably.
There are many “almost happened” stories – James Cameron taking on Spider-Man or the many attempts to adapt Watchmen – however, many superheroes did in fact appear on the big and small screens, and, looking back from the now, the results were less than spectacular.
There was the 1994 unreleased Fantastic Four movie, which never saw the light of day for good reason. When Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer came out a few years back, it got a lot of fans thinking about a Silver Surfer movie – those fans would do well not to watch the 1994 Silver Surfer short film.
Before most of were sweating over who was going to play The First Avenger, Captain America actually had a feature film in 1990, with late author J.D. “Catcher in the Rye” Salinger’s son, Matt Salinger, playing the star-spangled avenger. Cap was also featured in two TV movies, one released in 1979, and a sequel released that same year. All of these abominations deserve to be forgotten.
Before The Hulk and Daredevil were feature films (and eventual reboot candidates), the pair teamed up on the small screen in the 1989 TV movie, “The Trial of The Incredible Hulk“, complete with a painted-green Lou Ferrigno and a ghastly black ninja costume for Daredevil. A year prior, The Hulk had teamed with Thor for a different TV movie, “The Incredible Hulk Returns” (which was equally as traumatizing).
Spider-Man had a live-action TV show back in the late 70s (not that I want to remember it), and long before people were debating Ray Stevenson vs. Thomas Jane, Expendables star Dolph Lundgren brought The Punisher to the big screen in 1989 (though a few geeks somehow still love that flick).
The list of comic book movie/TV show misfires doesn’t end with Marvel, either:
1984 brought us the spin-off film Supergirl, with Helen Slater playing the titular cousin of Superman, who comes to Earth to find a “lost orb” and battle a “wicked witch” played by Faye Dunaway (what?). And though many fanboys would rather forget it, the psycological damage from Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin is there – though the scars from Adam West’s camp-classic Batman TV show are finally starting to fade.
By the time the new Flash movie gets up and running over at Warner Bros., geeks will have scrubbed the 1990 Flash TV Series from their collective memory. Oh, and don’t think I’ve forgotten about that terrible 1997 Justice League of America TV movie – if you’re foggy on the details, have a look HERE.
Bottom Line: many geeks pretend that this ‘geeks have inherited the Earth’ trend is a sudden and sweeping victory. But in truth, geeks have been trying to break into the Hollywood mainstream for decades, typically with more error than trial. So debate Iron Man vs. Batman all you want, my young nerds – so long as we all remember just how far comic book movies and TV Shows have actually progressed. Let us all be a little more thankful for what we’ve got today.
’80s Cartoon Comebacks
One of the latest geek trends in Hollywood is making movies out of the Saturday morning cartoons and toys we ’80s babies hold dear to our hearts. By now everybody knows the Transformers and G.I. Joe movie franchises, while properties like He-Man, Voltron, and Thundercats have been in the process of cinematic development for some time now.
You hear people saying it more and more often these days: “Dude, Michael Bay ruined my childhood with that crap Transformers movie!” or “Why did they have to ruin G.I. Joe?” And while there are certainly good reasons for those comments to be made, I think some people forget that our favorite 80s cartoons were being exploited and “ruined” long before today’s Hollywood sharks ever came to cash in.
Take the Transformers franchise: we all love the original 1984 cartoon series – some of us even give a pass to the cult-classic 1986 animated movie the original series spawned. But after that original Transformers show came the spin-offs – you know, the ones a lot of geeks have conveniently forgotten:
Beast Wars: Transformers arrived in the mid-90s; it had poor CGI animation and tried to carry the premise of the original cartoon into a prehistoric animal setting. UPDATE: While the look of Beast Wars is dated now, it was, relatively speaking, an admirable attempt at expanding the Transformers Universe, and included some great story archs. After Beast Wars wrapped, a spin-off of THAT spin-off, Beast Machines: Transformers, gave the prehistoric premise a sleek futuristic makeover but lost the the epic story of Beast Wars (not that many of us ever cared).
Transformers: Cybertron came in 2005. It followed the Autobots and Decepticons in a race for magic keys to stop a black hole from consuming their planet. Lately we’ve seen the debut of Transformers: Animated, which is basically a reboot of the original series, only in anime style animation. This epic list doesn’t even count the Transformers cartons that were produced overseas (see: Transformers: Superlink or Transformers: Armada).
So that’s Transformers, but what about G.I. Joe? The property has a a long history stemming back to the 60s when the toy company Hasbro (makers of Transformers) launched the first G.I. Joe dolls. G.I. Joe hit the mainstream thanks to the 80s animated series, which culminated with an awesome animated movie. But after that first cartoon wrapped, we got yet another string of knock-offs.
G.I. Joe relaunched in 1989 with “Operation: Dragonfire”, an animated miniseries that was both an epilogue to the animated movie and a reboot for the franchise, kicking-off a new 90s animated series, in which G.I. Joe became “International Heroes” instead of just “Real American Heroes.” The new series also tried to tackle topical issues such as the war on drugs and terrorism, often to hilarious results. Next we got G.I. Joe Extreme in the mid-90s, which was…pretty much what the title would suggest.
After the 90s series we got the multitude of one-shot animated features, miniseries, and the seldom-recognized G.I. Joe shows, such as the CGI animated Valor vs. Venom (2004), and anime-inspired G.I. Joe: Sigma 6 (2005).
By the time the live-action G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra movie arrived in 2009, the franchise had been through some really dark times. Sorry geeks, you can’t put ALL the blame on Stephen Sommers and Channing Tatum for defiling the Real American Hero.
However, after that original cartoon and first live-action movie, the TMNT franchise quickly went downhill. A second live-action movie, Secret of the Ooze, came out in 1991 – it’s greatest highlight was a “ninja rap” cameo from Vanilla Ice (that should tell you something). A third live-action TMNT movie was released in 1993 and was all about time travel…yeah.
On the animated side of things, the live-action TMNT films spawned a 1997 live-action TV show, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation. Needless to say, it was less than spectacular. When that show failed to connect, the franchise made another attempt at new glory with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon reboot in 2003. Like many cartoons of the 2000s, it seemed tailor-fitted for the ADD generation, despite its pretty anime makeover. Still, the new series has been going strong for seven seasons now, so clearly today’s young geeks have embraced it.
In 2007 a CGI animated TMNT movie was released; it looked cool, but the sci-fi/magical-monster premise was pretty ridiculous. Fans did get a little break in 2009 with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles Forever, an animated TV movie which teamed the modern anime-flavored Turtles with their 1987 counterparts. However, it was a small victory in a pretty epic losing streak.
The original Voltron cartoon is the one most fans hold dear, but the property tried to make a comeback at the turn of the Millennium with the CGI animated Voltron: The Third Dimension. Don’t remember it? That’s ok, it’s not worth the brain cells.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was an 80s kid’s testosterone dream, though the live-action Masters of the Universe movie was not so great (but it did star the original Punisher, Dolph Lundgren and acclaimed actor Frank Langella). In the 90s the property tried to make a comeback with The New Adventures of He-Man, and when that didn’t work out, they tried again in 2002 with an “updated” version of Masters of The Universe.
Video game fans, let us NEVER speak of the terrible Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. Super Show! ’80s cartoons. Those two misfires spawned a sugary-delicious breakfast cereal, as well as that god-awful Super Mario Bros. movie – the very root of the video game movie curse we’re still suffering today….
The Shameful Side of Star Trek
Trekkies, I know you how you feel about your beloved original series from the ’60s; I myself have a soft spot in heart for the Next Generation years of the late 80s-early 90s era, and even a tiny soft spot for Deep Space 9. As far as the movies go, yes, I too loved Wrath of Khan or The Borg invasion story of First Contact – hell, I even enjoyed the murder mystery plot of Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country.
But there is shame hidden in our closet, my Trekkie friends – far, far, back where we hope nobody would remember it. But I remember – oh yes, I remember.
I remember that the Enterprise’s first voyage onto the big screen in 1979 was a bit…turbulent; I remember those Star Trek films we’d prefer were never made: The Search for Spock, The Final Frontier, Insurrection, Nemesis.
I remember that Captain Kirk – the man, the legend – suffered one of the lamest deaths of all time helping Captain Picard fight Malcolm McDowell in Star Trek: Generations. I also think it’s pretty telling that the fourth film, The Voyage Home (a movie about space explorers saving Earth’s endangered whales), sits in the “not so bad” column of the list!
I remember the increasingly lame TV spin-offs, like Voyager or Enterprise. Yes, my Trekkie friends, we share great shame that we often do not speak of (though some of you might debate Voyager). Thankfully, the time-travel mechanics of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot have (literally) begun to erase that checkered past.
The Ewoks Spin-offs
George Lucas has found many shameful ways to exploit the Star Wars brand, but a definite low point was reached with the 1984 TV movie An Ewok Adventure, which is also known as Caravan of Courage. The Ewoks movie was an early indicator of everything fans would eventually come to hate about Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menance: The cutesy characters, questionable F/X, childlike tone and ridiculous story – Caravan of Courage has it all.
That first Ewoks TV movie gave rise to a second in 1985, entitled The Battle for Endor. It’s a little less painful, but still shameful enough to never mention in conjunction with the Star Wars Saga. One funny little production note: Battle for Endor‘s production designer was none other than Joe Johnston, director of the upcoming Captain America movie. Just try not to shudder about that.
The worst part about it: as bad as the Ewok movies were, they still weren’t enough to prevent the coming of Ewoks, an animated show about the cute little fuzz balls from Endor, which ran for two seasons from 1985-1986.
If you young geeks only know of Clone Wars and think that animated spinoff is the greatest thing since Luke dueled Vader, then thank the eternal sunshine of your spotless mind you never had to suffer through the Ewoks experience.
The Star Wars Prequels
All this talk about Ewoks brings us to the ultimate closeted shame of the geek universe: The Star Wars prequels. Though the last prequel movie was only released five years ago, the denial about these films is only now starting to crack, thanks in part to internet sensations like Red Letter Media, who have made small documentaries out of analyzing everything that is wrong about the Star Wars prequels.
Fan excitement was through the roof back in 1999 when Episode I: The Phantom Menance was about to hit theaters. The only time I ever skipped school in my life was to purchase tickets for the film, and countless people have already heard me recount the night my friends and I risked our very lives driving like madmen to the theater for Episode I‘s premiere. Faced with that kind of anticipation, is it any wonder so many of us were in such deep denial by the time the end credits rolled?
I remember my remaining weeks of high school not because of proms, or tests, or college acceptance letters – what I remember most was skipping classes with dozens of other seniors, sitting outside on the central lawn where we argued Phantom Menance from as many “intellectual angles” as we could think of. We worked so hard to see deeper meaning in a clearly crappy film; we simply could not accept that the movie was an epic FAIL.
Of course our devotion began to wane when Episode II: Attack of the Clones came out in 2002. By then I was well into college and the combination of girls, academics and constant intoxication had opened my perceptions. Attack of the Clones sucked, and it was impossible to deny it. When Episode III: Revenge of the Sith finally came around in 2005, like a cult bent on mass suicide, a lot of us were just ready to end it all.
With the closure brought by Episode III, the long road toward healing began. Every parent from now until forever will have a new moral question to wrestle with: do I expose my child to the entire Star Wars Saga, or just the original trilogy? Parents, I do not envy your dilemma – sometimes it is truly hard to know what is best for a child.
For the rest of us Star Wars fans, the last five years following Episode III‘s debut in theaters has been wholly dedicated to erasing the stain of the prequels from our brains. Thanks to mutual agreement by the worldwide masses, you hear the name “Jar Jar Binks” less and less these days; young children grow up never having the burden of knowing who Qui-Gon Jinn is; and the story of Darth Vader’s origin is kept alive in the fantastic imaginations of youngsters.
And, with continued discipline, Star Wars will forever be preserved the way it should be: in its purest form, with best foot forward, in celebration of its achievements, rather than lament over its failures.
So that’s it, our Pandora’s Box of the movies and TV shows that geeks pretend don’t exist. How did you like our list? Is there anything on there that you proudly acknowledge? Anything that you think we missed?
Episode I Mashup Image: Nerdvana