There was a time when what could arguably be dismissed as “kids’ stuff” (comics, cartoons, toys, video games) had little or no chance at being adapted into successful, never mind respectable movies. Hell, to make Superman – the most famous and universally recognized comic book character on Earth – into a film people took seriously, they had to put Marlon Brando in the cast and get the author of The Godfather to write the script.
Things have changed: Nowadays studios drool over the chance at getting their mitts on nerdy properties. The children who grew up with cartoons, action figures, and comic books are now the adults buying movie tickets and DVDs/Blu-Rays. Marvel is close to becoming better known as a film studio than a comics publisher, video game flicks are no longer a running joke in the movie business, and cartoons designed to sell children overpriced hunks of plastic are now fodder for summer blockbusters.
Now, however much we as nerds want to see Michael Bay die in a fire for what he did to our sacred Transformers (or what he’s currently doing to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), it’s impossible to argue that the man made serious bank for Paramount. Sure, Bay might bathe in the tears of geeks, but the financial success he’s had is opening doors for live action adaptations of many of the programs we grew up with (some of which probably won’t completely suck). GI Joe: Rise Of Cobra may have been underwhelming, but its long-awaited sequel is proving to be a smash hit with audiences, critics, and nerds alike. A Robotech adaptation is reportedly in the works, and there’s been a great deal of talk about a Masters Of The Universe live action film that might actually take the subject matter seriously.
But what about the shows from our childhoods that are not quite as well-remembered? Shows that were largely forgotten by all but hardcore ’80s nerds? Could any of them possibly be resurrected as serious, profitable, well-received live action films? Well, here are ten we think might have a shot:
10. Filmation’s Ghostbusters
Let me make one thing abundantly clear: The ONLY reason this travesty of a toon is on this list is because even the mere announcement that a film based on it is in development might be enough for Reitman, Aykroyd, Ramis, and Murray to put aside their differences and finally get to work on Ghostbusters III. Oh, and just for clarification’s sake: This cartoon is NOT a rip-off of the 1984 film. It’s based on a short-lived, batshit insane live action kids’ show from 1975 about two guys from F-Troop and a dude in a gorilla suit as supernatural detectives that everyone had forgotten. Filmation may have counted on the popularity of Reitman‘s movie to sell their cartoon, but they didn’t technically steal the name (In fact, Reitman had to buy the rights to it from Columbia Pictures, the makers of the series).
9. Pole Position
I had completely forgotten that a cartoon for the great-granddaddy of racing video games even existed until it was pitched to me for this list. I was unsure about including it until I saw the intro: They took a video game with absolutely no plot or characters, and made it into a so outrageous-looking it’s almost fascinating hybrid of Speed Racer, Knight Rider, and just about every action-adventure toon you can imagine. Watching this vid is like having the 1980s throw up on you.
As a film: Imagine The Fast And The Furious for nerds, and you have an inkling of the possibilities here.
8. Dragons Lair
The popular laserdisc-based arcade game turned slapstick fantasy-adventure toon could make a fun movie if made by someone with a good grounding in comedy and nerdery – I’m thinking Edgar Wright.
Iron Man showed how much a movie can do with badass powered armor characters. Sure, Centurions would lack Iron Man’s name recognition. However, with a good effects team, a more fleshed-out plot, and a strong action flick director like perhaps John Woo, or even James Cameron, this is a property that could raise from the ashes of cartoon obscurity. An enjoyable popcorn-flick franchise is a definite possibility here.
This was frankly one of the sillier sci-fi action-adventure toons (I feel like I’m hyphenating more than normal in this list) of the decade. That’s where creative re-imagining comes in: Firefly and Cowboy Bebop have proven that sci-fi westerns can be taken seriously. With a little tweaking – lose the robot horses and magic animal powers – Bravestarr could be marketed as a more audience-friendly Serenity (without multiple character deaths).
5. Bionic Six
I don’t remember this show all that well, but the intro looks like a lot of fun (and I DARE you to not hum that theme song for the rest of the day). It’s been suggested to me by our dear Editor that this would make a great vehicle for the Will Smith clan. They’d just have to throw in a white girl and an Asian dude to maintain the “multiculturality” of the cast.
Some of you may have been wondering where ThunderCats is. Well, there are two reasons for its absence: 1. We wanted to stick with lesser-known toons. And 2. A live-action ThunderCats would probably look like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats without the catchy songs.
So here’s a show from the same studio and creative team. Do the costumes right, lose that annoying Copper Kid, and get someone who knows their way around a space adventure at the helm, and it could be a fun, if not incredibly serious flick.
3. Jayce And The Wheeled Warriors
This was one of my favorite obscure ’80s toons. The toys were awesome: Like Centurions in vehicle form. The show had some incredibly creative half-machine, half-plant monster villains. And there was a pretty engrossing and detailed plot based around the main character’s quest to find his father. I could easily see this as a Spielberg-esque epic…though a name change may be required for cinematic credibility.
2. Defenders Of The Earth
These guys were like the Avengers of “Pulp Era” superheroes. Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Mandrake The Magician, and Lothar. Two of these characters have already received live-action adaptations: Flash Gordon is a 1980s cult classic, and the ’90s cinematic version of The Phantom has its supporters….So there’s precedence. I could see this as kind of a Pulp-tinged Expendables – if they lose those 4 useless teenagers who made up the rest of the team.
Probably the most memorable show on the list, this show combined aspects of the two most successful action-adventure toons of the era: Transformers and GI Joe….also, so far, the most successful live-action adaptations of such properties. In other words, the audience is built-in. 2013’s CG technology could do justice to the shape-changing vehicles and trademark helmets, plus the “human” element could bring in viewers turned off by films with robots as principal characters like the TF series. Get somebody who goes for over the top effects-driven cinema, like Roland Emmerich, and you’ll have a license to print money.