The Power Rangers has morphed into a box office success, exceeding expectations in North America by grossing $40 million in its first three days. Though the combined powers of the Rangers couldn’t overcome Disney’s Beauty and the Beast for the number one spot, the Power Rangers are definitely back and more prominent than ever as a major movie franchise. Haim Saban, the Power Rangers producer who has overseen the franchise since 1993, is promising a multi-film cycle, with Power Rangers 2 already promising the debut of the popular Green Ranger.
Power Rangers’ triumph was the result of several wise choices by director Dean Israelite and the screenwriting team. Power Rangers successfully mined the nostalgia fans who have grown up with the franchise since the 1990’s harbor for it. In addition, Power Rangers was a savvy update of the source material for a new, modern audience; the five teenagers who comprise the Power Rangers were re-imagined as millennials coping with resonant issues, including mentions of non-hetero relationships and Billy the Blue Ranger being on the autistic spectrum. Casting Elizabeth Banks as the villainous Rita Repulsa and Bryan Cranston as the Rangers’ overseer Zordon, as well as Bill Hader as the voice of the robot Alpha-5, balanced the mostly unknown young cast with more established actors.
As screenwriter William Goldman said in his book “Adventures in the Screen Trade,” movies are a gold rush business. There’s no doubt the Power Rangers have struck gold. As the Power Rangers braintrust begin planning the Rangers’ cinematic futures, other studios in Hollywood are sure to have taken notice of the chord Power Rangers struck and are wondering how they can capitalize on this burgeoning audience interest in giant robots. We have to believe the powers-that-be at Universal will soon be taking meetings to discuss how to quickly move forward with their own major giant robot property – Voltron.
To American audiences, long before there were Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, there was Voltron: Defender of the Universe. Voltron debuted in syndication in 1984, at the height of the 1980’s toy cartoon boom lead by He-Man, G.I. Joe, and Transformers, almost a decade before the Power Rangers made their bow. The similarities between Voltron and the Power Rangers are unavoidable: five teens in primary color-coded uniforms pilot animal-themed giant robots and fight giant alien monsters. At the end of each episode, the robots combine into one giant super robot. The Power Rangers have gone through dozens of Zords in that franchise’s long history, but none of their Megazords have ever been as popular or iconic as the five robot lions that merge to form the Blazing Sword-wielding Voltron.
It’s worth noting that the Japanese series the Power Rangers is based on, Super Sentai, predates the original cartoon Voltron is based on, Beast King GoLion, which premiered in Japan in 1981. Super Sentai has been on the air continuously beginning in 1975, with dozens of successive series in the decades since. The version of Super Sentai that Saban Entertainment brought to the United States and adapted into the first season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was the 1992 Super Sentai series Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger. Every season of Power Rangers since has adapted its counterpart Japanese Super Sentai series.
Voltron never faded from popularity even after the original cartoon was canceled in the mid-1980’s. The property has been revived several times in comic books and in animation: 1998 saw Voltron: The Third Dimension, a continuation of the stories from the original cartoon set 5 years later. Voltron Force, a 2011 series on NickToons, featured three young pilots mentored by the original Voltron Force. Neither, however, have been the runaway success that Voltron: Legendary Defender has become on Netflix. Legendary Defender is a re-imagining of Voltron featuring some names and concepts from the original GoLion cartoon mixed with more adult-centric writing and cutting edge animation. Legendary Defender has completed two seasons on the streaming service, with a third season planned to premiere later this year. Thanks to Netflix, Voltron is back in a big way and has found a whole new audience as well.
Yet the holy grail of a major motion picture has long eluded Voltron. Plans for a Voltron live action film were first announced in 2005, but little movement forward on the project was accomplished until 2007, when director Michael Bay’s first Transformers film became a breakout success and revived interest in Voltron. A screenplay by Justin Marks updating Voltron in a post-apocalyptic New York City made the rounds, but ongoing conflicts over the movie rights to the property with its Japanese owner, Toei Company Ltd., curtailed production. In 2011, Relativity Media won a bidding war over the Voltron movie rights, but again, nothing happened. Dreamworks Animation, which produces Legendary Defender for Netflix, gained the movie rights, which were then inherited by Universal Pictures when they acquired DWA. The most recent news came in November 2016, when it was announced David Hayter (X-Men, Watchmen) was now the screenwriter of the Voltron live-action movie.
With Power Rangers now established as a popular and viable movie franchise, Universal must been keen to launch Voltron sooner than later. Voltron’s similarity to Power Rangers is primarily in the aesthetics. Voltron actually offers an even more expansive opportunity for world-building and creating a dynamic new movie universe. Unlike Power Rangers‘ fictional present day American city of Angel Grove, Voltron is set in the far future on the planet Arus, besieged by the Galra Empire ruled by the ruthless emperor Zarkon. Voltron merges themes of battling an alien invasion with the visuals of a futuristic castle (the Castle of Lions) that can become a starship, a beautiful Princess Allura, and blend of mythology mixed with incredible futuristic science. Properly handled, Voltron offers a mix of the star-spanning elements of Star Wars and the legend of King Arthur as a backdrop to the story of five human pilots who must come together and become one with their robot lions to form Voltron and defend the universe.
Besides Power Rangers, other similar or competing properties have set firm plans for their franchises. Michael Bay intends to make his final bow with the franchise he has overseen for a decade with this summer’s Transformers: The Last Knight, but Hasbro and Paramount Pictures have assembled a writers room to plot out the next several Transformers movies to come. Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse just met huge success relaunching King Kong with Kong: Skull Island and their plans for Godzilla: King of Monsters in 2019 and Godzilla vs. Kong in 2020 are moving full steam ahead. Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) just announced plans to write and direct a feature film adaptation of another popular 1970’s Japanese anime, Star Blazers.
For Universal Pictures, the time to strike with Voltron is now. The moviegoing audience has been proven to be hungry both for nostalgia and eager to embrace a modern, big-budget re-imagining of beloved giant robot cartoons. Voltron only grows in popularity as Legendary Defender on Netflix continues to bring in older fans and create new ones. Also, perhaps excepting Optimus Prime of the Transformers, there is no giant robot as iconic to American audiences as Voltron. Universal would even be wise to mimic Power Rangers‘ successful formula of casting unknowns as the pilots of Voltron, known as Paladins, and anchor that cast with a few respected veteran actors, as well as hiring a director who grew up loving the property, as director Dean Israelite felt for Power Rangers.
Fans have long dreamed to watch Voltron formed on the big screen and dispatching Ro-Beasts with his Blazing Sword. It’s time to hear Voltron’s lions roar and see those dreams fulfilled.