Top List Thursday – Top 10 80's/90's cartoons that could be live-action movies

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Captain Planet is being made into a movie! And by Leonardo DiCaprio, no less! And with the news earlier in the week of that 90’s classic cartoon getting the live-action feature film treatment, it got us thinking as to which other cartoons from that era of our childhood would work on the big screen. Now Hollywood has already had this very same thought, which is why we’ve already seen Transformers, G.I. Joe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hit big screen. On top of that, we have also been hearing talks about He-Man and the Masters of the UniverseJohnny Quest and Robotech movies for a while now (and it appears to be nothing but talk thus far, but let’s see where they go).

But what about the rest? With today’s modern VFX, there are several of these classic properties that could be perfect for a big budget blockbuster adaptation. Here are 10 of them:

  • King Arthur and the Knights of Justice

I’ll be honest – I had forgotten this show even existed until Darryn reminded me of it… and it’s kickass intro. Besides for that bit of retro awesomeness, this tale about a modern sports team being magically pulled through time to be the stand-ins for the real King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table when the latter goes missing, sounds exactly like the type of family friendly action adventure that Hollywood loves to make. Think Martin Lawrence’s Black Knight but only with a lot more people and, you know, actually being good.

  • Ghostbusters

No, I’m not going senile, despite what all my premature grey hair may hint at. I know Ghostbusters is already a live-action movie franchise – and we even just got a reboot a month or two back – but back in the 80’s we actually had two competing sets of Ghostbusters. The first – which was eventually dubbed The Real Ghostbusters to avoid confusion – was a cartoon adaptation of the classic Ivan Reitman directed movie, but the second was actually a completely unrelated cartoon created by Filmation, and based off their own old live-action TV series The Ghost Busters.

It was a much more kooky affair, focusing on Jake Kong Jr. and Eddie Spencer Jr., the respective sons of the original TV series’ lead characters, and Tracy the gorilla. The trio, along with a host of crazy characters like a talking skull phone and ghost car, went on insane weekly adventures to rid the world of the evil Fifth Dimension ghost wizard Prime Evil and his cast of henchmen – who set up their headquarters hauntquarters in what is clearly the British Parliament. The show was really out there and may skew more towards the younger demographic, but I loved it. Especially it’s ridiculously catchy theme song.

And who knows, maybe the world will be more accepting of two goofballs, a gorilla and a talking ghost car, than they would be of four women.

  • M.A.S.K.

Turning action figures into cartoons was all the rage back in the 80’s, hence why we got M.A.S.K aka Mobile Armoured Strike Kommand, a show about a group of fancy mask-wearing people in teched out vehicles who have to take down the criminal organization V.E.N.O.M. aka Vicious Evil Network Of Mayhem. But what was born from just a fad – and the need to force acronyms to fit even if you have to spell badly to get there – could actually be pretty cool today.

Think the crazy, over-the-top vehicular destruction of Mad Max: Fury Road along with the colourful characters and villains of G.I. Joe. Yes, the potential for that to suck is still huge, but there’s a chance it could also be awesome.

  • Bionic Six

Want a nice family-oriented superhero blockbuster? Well, then you can’t get any more perfect than a blockbuster about a superhero family! Okay, so they’re not superheroes in the traditional sense as instead of superpowers, they have abilities through bionic augmentation. That’s right: SCIENCE! Seeing as how Fox seems intent to never make a proper Fantastic Four movie, this could be the next best thing!

Bionic Six followed Professor Dr. Amadeus Sharp Ph.D (yes, “professor doctor Ph.D”) who developed revolutionary technological implants to augment test pilot/field agent Jack Bennett. But when Sharp’s family is gravely injured after being caught in an avalanche… which was triggered by an alien spaceship… while being exposed to strange radiation (yeah, they might have to streamline that), he is forced to use the tech to save them. And when the family recovers to find they have all kinds of new abilities, they decide to use them as a team of adventuring heroes. Cue four quadrant, demographically diverse heroics!

  • Freakazoid

Remember, The Mask with Jim Carrey? Well, Freakazoid could be that, but for the internet age. Freakazoid was released by Warner Bros during their heyday of 90’s comics, and produced by none other than Steven Spielberg himself and it just begs to be a wild and wacky live-action cartoon. Get some young rubber-faced actor, spruce him up with some CGI and just let the gags roll out. Yes, this will be more than likely aimed at the younger crowd, but like the cartoon, sprinkle in some mature jokes here and there and you’ll be golden.

  • Dino Riders

It’s dinosaurs! With fricking lasers! What further justification do you need to make this movie?! WHAT?!

  • Bravestarr

If you were a kid in the 80’s and never once called for the STRENGTH OF THE BEAR! (Bear… bear…) or EYES OF THE HAWK! (Hawk… hawk…), then I’m sorry to say it, but your childhood was lacking. The adventures of Marshall Bravestarr on the planet of New Texas was just stuffed with iconic characters – like Bravestarr’s partner/horse Thirty/Thirty, and cackling, mustachioed villain Tex Hex – and awesome locations, making incredible use of it’s melding of both sci-fi and Western genres.

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And in a time when Hollywood desperately needs to feature more diverse movies, a film about a Native American sci-fi sheriff could be just what the doctor ordered. Thirty/Thirty may be a hard sell, but if Marvel could get people to care about a talking tree, then a talking, cyborg, anthropomorphic, heavily muscled horse who packs a giant gun named Sarah Jane can’t be too hard of a sell. Can it?

PS: Though not exactly culturally accurate casting, Noelle’s suggestion of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the role of Bravestarr certainly matches the visuals perfectly.

  • Thundercats

THUNDER! THUNDER! THUNDERCATS, HOOOOOOOO!!!! That battle cry could be heard throughout my house many times during my childhood as my brother and used to be obsessed with Thundercats, the tale of Lion-O and his alien feline friends as they try to defend the Thunderean noble line and the magical Eye of Thundera from reanimated sorceror Mumm-Ra while being trapped on the planet Third Earth. The show boasted instantly memorable characters, brought to life through some of the finest animation around (while the show was produced in the USA, it was actually animated in Japan), fantastic production design and story arcs that was both fun and poignant.

The show has been adapted into comics, video games and of course, action figures, and has spawned hundreds of thousands of fans. One such fan is X-Men star James McAvoy, who in 2013 expressed interest in playing the lead role of Lion-O, the leader of the Thundercats who awakes on Third Earth after years in suspended animation. And according to McAvoy, there’s even some proper dramatic material to mine there, as “the ThunderCats‘ leader is essentially a 12 year-old who suddenly finds himself in the body of a ripped, muscly, fighting man who is meant to be a king”.

  • Pirates of Dark Water

Trivia: My mom didn’t want me to watch Pirates of Dark Water – or the 90’s Conan the Adventurer animated series that followed it on KTV. Unlike most of the other cartoons at the time, both shows were pretty dark. Too dark for my conservatively religious mom’s tastes. I never let that stop me though, because there was just nothing like them on TV at the time. Especially Pirates of Dark Water.

A proper sword and sorcery fantasy adventure, combined with swashbuckling pirate adventures, it felt more like the adaptation of some European fantasy tome from the 70’s than a kid’s show. It had an intriguing premise, cool characters and an awesome world. And it’s story was never completed as the show ended abruptly through its second season, meaning there’s still a fair amount of narrative to mine. If Warner Bros, who currently own the rights, ever wanted a property to rival Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, this is it!

  • Gargoyles

And speaking of cartoons that was unlike anything else out there… Disney’s Gargoyles was a true gem. Dark and complex story arcs, intense storytelling and a real-ness to it (like it’s use of real world firearms and their violent consequence) that was almost completely lacking from other shows at the time of its release. It’s detailed mythology was packed with mature themes and layered characters, all brought to life through an incredible voice cast (bonus trivia: the show’s voice cast featured an incredible large number of Star Trek alumni).

Pull that original voice cast together again – because nobody can replace Keith Richard’s as leader Goliath – grab Andy Serkis and his gang to mo-cap the Gargoyles themselves, get a director like Guillermo Del Toro or Alfonso Cuaron, who knows how to keep things dark and intense but also has a flair for gothic imagery, and you have one hell of a strong pitch for a movie here.

The show had an ignoble end as behind the scenes shake-ups resulted in a third season that essentially featured just one episode from the actual creators, while the rest was sub-par efforts from their rushed replacements. Since then, the story has been sort of officially/unofficially completed and adapted in comics, but this is just screaming for a proper big budget Hollywood treatment!

Last Updated: October 20, 2016

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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