The Best (And Worst) Revivals Of 80s Movies And TV Shows
Remaking old film and television properties is nothing new; it’s been common practice for as long as the entertainment industry has existed, and we had more than our share of great remakes in the 80s (such as The Thing and The Fly). But when you reboot a much-loved movie or TV show, the big question is: what is it meant to achieve? Should new takes on old favourites exist purely to feed on our fuzzy memories of a bygone era, or should they try something new, different and exciting with the material?
There are plenty of rehashes that fail to breathe new life into the properties they’re riffing on – but there are others that manage to be something truly great, and in some instances even improve on what went before.
Let’s take a look at some recent revivals of 80s properties from both the big and small screen, some of which worked, and some of which didn’t.
Good TV Revival: Battlestar Galactica
We may be cheating ever so slightly by listing this as a reboot of an 80s property, as the original Battlestar Galactica ended its initial run in 1979.
Nonetheless, it was a series that children of the 80s grew up with, capturing the imaginations of audiences everywhere with its epic space-bound tale of a war between humanity and the robotic Cylons.
So when word broke that a new Battlestar Galactica was on the way, promising a more hard-edged and serious take on the concept, many a fan raised an eyebrow.
Any such doubts were very quickly washed away when the Battlestar Galactica reboot hit TV screens in 2004. As unlikely as it seemed, the show’s gritty and grounded approach to space opera was a total success.
While it provided all the thrills and spectacle viewers expected, it was every bit as powerful as a character-driven drama. The bleak vision of a society struggling against threats from outside and tensions from within resonated deeply in the anxious times following 9/11.
Battlestar Galactica proved that grown-ups could enjoy fantasy too, and in so doing it helped pave the way for later TV hits like Game of Thrones.
Bad TV Revival: MacGyver
Running from 1985 until 1992, MacGyver was one of the best-loved and enduring action-adventure shows to hit the airwaves in the 80s.
Today, it’s mainly remembered because of Patty and Selma from The Simpsons, and their infamous obsession with Richard Dean Anderson.
Back in the day, plenty of viewers carried a torch for the mullet-wearing heartthrob with a knack for building inventions on the fly.
Launched in 2016, the MacGyver reboot did well enough in the ratings to end up lasting for five seasons.
However, most would agree that it’s not a patch on what went before (not that MacGyver was ever exactly a masterpiece; sorry, ladies).
Leading man Lucas Till just doesn’t have the same charisma as Anderson, and from the very beginning the revival just felt like it was going through the motions.
Good Movie Revival: 21 Jump Street
There probably isn’t a single reboot of modern times that has taken on such a complete life of its own as 21 Jump Street.
The original TV crime drama, centred on cops going undercover as high school students, probably wouldn’t be that well-remembered today had it not launched the career of leading man Johnny Depp.
When it was announced that 21 Jump Street was being revived on the big screen as a comedy, no one expected it to be any good, but against all odds the 2012 film proved to be one of the funniest films of last decade.
Even more unexpectedly, its 2014 sequel 22 Jump Street turned out just as great as its predecessor. It was widely expected that further sequels would follow, but it seems directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller wisely opted to quit while they were ahead.
The good news is that the Jump Street movies totally revitalised the careers of actors Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, and launched its director team Lord and Miller as major players in Hollywood.
The bad news is this unlikely success story inspired others to try and follow suit, with considerably poorer results (as we’ll discuss later).
Bad Movie Revival: RoboCop
Director Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop is, as most fans and critics will agree, truly one of the greatest American movies of the 80s.
On top of being a heart-thumping, blood-splattered, all-action futuristic romp, it’s also an incredibly smart, incisive satire on the ‘greed is good’ ethos of the time.
The sequels that followed might have fallen short, but the 1987 original stands proud to this day. This being the case, remaking RoboCop was always likely to be a thankless task.
Produced primarily because studio MGM-UA were badly in need of a box office hit, 2014’s RoboCop makes a valiant effort to live up to the original, whilst also striking into new ground. Unfortunately, the pieces just don’t fit together.
The film tries to put a new sheen on the concept with its redesigns and tweaks to the title character’s origins, but it fails to be anything more than a shadow of what went before. The fact that it tones things down for a PG-13 rating doesn’t help. (Did RoboCop 3 teach us nothing?)
Director José Padilha has spoken openly of what a stressful experience the film proved to be, with studio interference allegedly rife throughout production.
Good TV Revival: Voltron: Legendary Defender
Cartoon series Voltron was close to the hearts of many of us who grew up in the 80s.
Adapted from Japanese animated series Beast King GoLion, Voltron boasted a memorable central device in its giant robot warrior assembled from five smaller lion-shaped robots.
When DreamWorks Animation and Netflix presented Voltron: Legendary Defender in 2016, it delivered a bigger, bolder take on the concept than anyone had anticipated.
Beautifully designed and animated, Voltron: Legendary Defender piles on epic space action with a real sense of scale and impact.
Happily, the show also makes sure to craft relatable, endearing characters in the five young misfits who unwittingly wind up charged with saving the universe as the Paladins of Voltron.
Voltron: Legendary Defender ran for 78 episodes. The series garnered an enthusiastic fan following, and was widely noted for its inclusion of several LGBT characters.
Bad TV Revival: ThunderCats Roar
The Jump Street movies proved that, in certain circumstances, it’s acceptable for contemporary creators to successfully revive a beloved property from yesteryear by making fun of it.
However, no one anticipated that approach being taken with beloved 80s animated adventure series ThunderCats.
Produced for Cartoon Network, 2020’s ThunderCats Roar emulated the simpler animation style and broader humour of contemporary kid-friendly shows like Teen Titans Go! and Steven Universe.
While the kids of today might have appreciated this direction, adult fans of the original ThunderCats were aghast.
ThunderCats Roar was immediately met with a massive backlash for its crudely designed, tongue-in-cheek take on the franchise.
The show was quickly axed after a single season. Now, grown-up ThunderCats fans are cautiously optimistic at the news that a live action ThunderCats movie is in the pipeline.
Good Movie Revival: The Equalizer
In a decade when you could barely move for action-adventure shows featuring tough-guy heroes, 80s TV hit The Equalizer stood apart from the crowd.
As well as featuring a far less likely hero in middle-aged Englishman Edward Woodward, the series also struck a far darker tone than a lot of such shows at the time.
Its central hero, Robert McCall, is an enigmatic former intelligence agent who now deals in vigilante justice.
Director Antoine Fuqua’s big-screen take on The Equalizer arrived in 2014, with Denzel Washington as McCall.
The movie took the bare bones of the show’s premise and gave viewers a suspenseful, engrossing and at times very violent thriller, which has a real edge thanks to Washington’s effortlessly magnetic performance.
The Equalizer 2 followed in 2018, and a TV reboot has since been launched, with the even more unexpected casting of Queen Latifah as Robyn McCall.
Bad Movie Revival: Vacation
National Lampoon’s Vacation was an unassuming 1983 comedy that wound up spawning a franchise that endured for decades.
The winning formula of Chevy Chase as a dim but overconfident parent determined to make the most of his family holidays resulted in the sequels European Vacation, Christmas Vacation and Vegas Vacation (as well as the Chase-less direct-to-DVD entry Christmas Vacation 2).
Another ill-advised reboot to come in the wake of 21 Jump Street, 2015’s Vacation plays the tricky balancing act between sequel and remake.
Ed Helms takes the lead as the son of Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold, who sets out with his own wife and children on much the same road trip taken in the 1983 original.
Unfortunately the film fails to find its own personality, and when it isn’t doing callbacks to the earlier films, it’s drowning in misjudged bad taste jokes, very few of which successfully land.
Around the time Vacation was released, Ed Helms was linked to another reboot of an 80s comedy classic, The Naked Gun – but, perhaps to the relief of many, this project has thus far failed to materialise.
Good TV Revival: Fuller House
Running from 1987 to 1995, Full House was one of the definitive all-American mainstream-friendly sitcoms of its time.
The show followed a recently-widowed father whose brother-in-law and best friend move in to help him raise his three daughters; and as the years went by, this unconventional family unit expanded further.
Full House’s light-hearted, perpetually upbeat tone and emphasis on positive learning experiences made it an easy target for cynical criticism, but it’s hard to deny the simple, heartfelt joy the show brought to its millions of viewers.
2016 sequel series Fuller House had nostalgic novelty value in abundance, as it saw the return of almost the entire cast of Full House (with the exception of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen).
This time, the spotlight shifted to Candace Cameron Bure and Jodie Sweetin as the original show’s daughters all grown up, along with Andrea Barber as their lifelong friend, the three of them living together in the same house in similar circumstances decades later.
Again, Fuller House was never much of a critical darling, but it was warmly received by fans of the original, and gave the modern audience a welcome reminder of what sitcoms used to be like.
Bad TV Revival: Beauty and the Beast
There weren’t many TV shows in the 80s that were quite like Beauty and the Beast, a uniquely romantic fantasy drama co-written and produced by future Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin.
The series centred on the bond between Linda Hamilton’s Catherine and Ron Perlman’s Vincent, a monstrous-looking but well-meaning outsider who lives in a mysterious underworld community of similar outcasts.
Though the series was comparatively short-lived (it ended after only 55 episodes), Beauty and the Beast gained an enthusiastic following for its unique story world and heartfelt central performances from Hamilton and Perlman.
However, in more recent years shows which blend detective drama with supernatural fantasy are considerably less thin on the ground (Ghost Whisperer, Grimm, iZombie, etc).
The 2012 reboot of Beauty and the Beast with Kristen Kreuk and Jay Ryan proved to be a tepid, lifeless effort with none of the heart of the earlier show, even if it proved to have greater longevity with 70 episodes made.
The fact that Ryan’s Vincent spends the bulk of his screen time with no ‘beast’ make up concealing his good looks would rather suggest that the showrunners missed the whole point of the original series.
Good Movie Revival: Evil Dead
Ever since The Texas Chain Saw Massacre got remade in 2003, it’s seemed like any horror movie with brand name recognition has been fair game for a remake, no matter how much this displeases hardcore fans.
In 2013, it was the turn of The Evil Dead. As the film had a first-time director in Fede Alvarez, and as series mainstay Bruce Campbell elected not to reprise his signature lead role of Ash, the fanbase was very wary indeed.
Happily, the Evil Dead reboot proved to be a mighty beast of a horror movie on its own terms, and launched Jane Levy’s Mia as a horror icon in her own right.
Ditching the characters and even much of the mythos that went before, the 2013 movie instead focuses on evoking the visceral intensity of Sam Raimi’s highly controversial original.
In this sense, the reboot is an unequivocal success; it’s one of the most adrenaline-pumping horror movies of the past 20 years, and certainly one of the goriest.
Fans quickly embraced the film as an alternate universe take on the Evil Dead, and it’s anticipated that this new world will be explored further in upcoming sequel Evil Dead Rises.
Bad Movie Revival: Ghostbusters
The 2016 Ghostbusters stands as a near-textbook example of the problems that invariably arise when revisiting a well-loved property.
Director Paul Feig’s new take on the 1984 classic was awash with audience negativity from the beginning, as a vocal contingent of fans objected to the plan to make the film a back-to-square-one reboot rather than a sequel to the previous films.
Worse yet, many particularly uptight devotees of the original were frothing at the mouth over Feig’s insistence on recasting the central quartet as women.
Given the amount of misogynistic bile spewed toward the cast online (not to mention the racist abuse hurled at Leslie Jones), it would have been a sweet revenge had the Ghostbusters reboot turned out great. Sadly, this was not to be.
The film struggles in vain to find its own personality, boasts very few real laughs, and is overloaded with meaningless callbacks, which only serve to remind viewers just how much better the original films were.
Yes, we’re saying that even the lacklustre Ghostbusters II was better than the 2016 Ghostbusters turned out to be.
Good TV Revival: The New Legends of Monkey
Originally produced between 1978 and 1980, Japanese fantasy adventure Monkey became a cult sensation on Western television when broadcast in a dubbed version.
Among the territories where Monkey proved most popular were Australia and New Zealand – so in some ways it’s fitting that a retelling of Monkey should emerge as a co-production between those countries.
The New Legends of Monkey casts Chai Hanson in the title role as the mischievous warrior god freed from his prison in a mountain wall to aid humanity in a time of need.
In this retelling of the story, the real focal point is Tripitaka (Luciane Buchanan), the adoptive daughter of a murdered scholar, who accepts the responsibility of serving as Monkey’s guide in the earthly realm.
While promoted first and foremost as a children’s series, The New Legends of Monkey is an engaging blend of folklore, drama, humour and martial arts action which the whole family can enjoy.
Two seasons have been made to date, and it’s hoped that a third will follow soon.
Bad TV Revival: Lethal Weapon
1987’s Lethal Weapon (and the three sequels that followed) succeeded based almost entirely on the remarkable, unlikely chemistry between leading men Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.
As the unhinged, impulsive Martin Riggs and the more grounded family man Roger Murtaugh, Gibson and Glover fully convinced as mismatched cops who against all odds become best friends.
For many years, the mere idea of any other actors attempting to take over the roles of Riggs and Murtaugh seemed beyond the pale – and yet this was precisely what happened when Lethal Weapon became a TV series.
Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans Sr. were introduced as the new, small screen Riggs and Murtaugh in 2016. While it proved relatively popular, about the best that can be said of the Lethal Weapon TV series is that it’s not as bad as it might have been.
The actors do fine work presenting a fresh take on the familiar characters, but the show they find themselves in carries so little of the spark that made the movies so beloved. Far from the high-octane blend of dark humour and intense action that director Richard Donner’s films delivered, here we have just another cop show, albeit with a slightly higher shoot-out and car chase quota.
Alas, the pairing of Riggs and Murtaugh proved even more volatile off-camera, as conflicts behind the scenes resulted in Clayne Crawford’s dismissal at the end of season two, with Riggs killed off. Sean William Scott was brought in as Crawford’s replacement, but Lethal Weapon couldn’t work without Riggs – hence the third season proved to be its last.
Good Movie Revival: Conan the Barbarian
After Arnold Schwarzenegger immortalised Robert E. Howard’s sword and sorcery icon in 1982’s Conan the Barbarian, it was hard to imagine anyone else ever doing the part justice.
It made sense, then, that when the Conan the Barbarian reboot arrived in 2011, it opted to take a fresh approach to the character and his world.
Director Marcus Nispel’s film not only tells an entirely different story to John Milius’ 1982 original, it also casts a very different leading man in Jason Momoa as the sword-swinging title character.
Conan the Barbarian may be a somewhat contentious inclusion on this list, as the film was a massive box office flop that was widely bashed by critics and audiences alike on release.
However, it’s worth giving the reboot another chance. It’s one of the few fantasy adventure films in recent memory to not shy away from R-rated action, and unlike a lot of reboots it sensibly opts to distance itself from the earlier film, instead finding a personality all of its own.
Conan the Barbarian is also noteworthy for being one of the first movies to recognise the unique star qualities of Jason Momoa, who has since enjoyed greater big screen success as Aquaman.
Bad Movie Revival: Transformers
Just about everyone who ever played with one of the toys or watched the cartoon in the 80s spent time wondering what a live action Transformers movie would be like.
In 2007 we found out, with the arrival of director Michael Bay’s take on the beloved giant robot franchise. The film proved popular enough to kick-start a series, so far amounting to six films and box office takings of $4.8 billion.
Yet as impressive as this huge commercial success may be, there’s just one small problem: for the most part, the Transformers movies are absolutely terrible.
The original 2007 Transformers clearly sets things off on the wrong foot. For starters, the film centres on Shia LaBeouf’s thoroughly non-endearing teenage protagonist, with the shape-shifting alien entities of the title being little more than supporting characters.
The main issue is that Michael Bay’s sensibilities are all wrong. The director is primarily concerned with revelling in bombastic scenes of destruction, telling dirty jokes and leering at Megan Fox’s character. On top of which, Bay never made any secret of his distaste for the original series; many fans were unhappy with how extensively redesigned the key Transformers were.
What should have been a heart-warming, family-friendly adventure is instead a cynical, barely coherent attack on the senses. It was bad enough that we got one Transformers movie like this, but the fact that Bay went on to direct four increasingly excessive and incoherent sequels makes it all the worse.
Good TV Revival: Cobra Kai
The Karate Kid has long been one of the most beloved and influential triumphs of the underdog movie. The 1984 original, and to a lesser extent its sequels, remain dear to many.
As such, fans were immediately intrigued by the idea of a TV show bringing back the key characters from John G. Avildsen’s film and catching up with them more than 30 years later. This was particularly enticing, as most of the surviving cast members of The Karate Kid came back to reprise their roles.
We might have been forgiven for expecting the resulting show to be nothing more than a nostalgic indulgence for fans of the original; but, to the surprise of many, Karate Kid sequel series Cobra Kai has become a popular sensation in its own right.
This time around, the spotlight falls less on Ralph Macchio’s Daniel LaRusso and more on William Zabka’s Johnny, the black belt bully (or was he?) defeated by Daniel at the All Valley Karate tournament. Decades later, Daniel’s a huge success whilst Johnny’s seriously down on his luck; but when Johnny decides to re-open the Cobra Kai dojo, their old rivalry re-ignites.
What makes Cobra Kai so great is how it balances both paying homage to what went before and re-assessing the franchise. Over the years, fan theories have suggested that Daniel could be the real bad guy of The Karate Kid, and Cobra Kai takes these ideas into consideration. The result isn’t a clear cut good guys and bad guys story, but something more nuanced. It doesn’t hurt that the show also boasts a lot more overt humour than the movies.
Better yet, while the ongoing conflict between Daniel and Johnny may be Cobra Kai’s jumping-off point, it’s by no means the sole focus. Very much an ensemble piece, Cobra Kai introduces a whole new generation of younger Karate students with no shortage of personal drama of their own. The end result is a show that may have a special appeal to fans of the movies, but it’s also totally accessible to a whole new audience.
Bad TV Revival: Knight Rider
Few properties are quite so synonymous with the 80s as Knight Rider, the classic action adventure series about a cool, tough hero and his even cooler tricked-out talking car.
Massively popular at the time, Knight Rider ran for four seasons, made a household name out of leading man David Hasselhoff, and left every kid wishing they had a KITT of their very own.
Despite this early success, however, subsequent attempts to revive the Knight Rider franchise (including two TV movies, spin-off show Code of Vengeance and sequel series Team Knight Rider) failed to take off in the same way.
It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that the 2008 small screen reboot of Knight Rider also wound up flopping pretty hard.
Officially a sequel series, the 2008 Knight Rider cast Justin Bruening as the son of Hasselhoff’s Michael Knight, who follows his father into the hero business along with a KITT of his own. This time around, the hi-tech sentient vehicle is voiced by no less than Val Kilmer.
Alas, the reboot completely failed to breathe new life into its outdated concept. Bruening was uninspired casting as Michael Knight Jr, the production values were lacking and audiences simply weren’t interested. The show was axed after only 17 episodes.
Good Movie Revival: Bumblebee
As cynical a cash-grab as Michael Bay’s Transformers movies might have been, they certainly did prove successful when it came to grabbing cash, with each successive film getting bigger and louder than the last.
It wasn’t until the sixth entry in the Transformers series that a new creative team took over, scaled things back considerably, and finally found the one key thing all Bay’s films had lacked: heart.
A prequel to the earlier films, director Travis Knight’s Bumblebee follows the yellow Autobot of the title on a more intimate solo adventure – and, bonus points, the story takes place in the 80s.
Hailee Steinfeld stars as a rebellious teen who finds and befriends (and names) the mysterious creature, and the friendship between the two is the main driving force of the film (although, inevitably, some evil Decepticons are on our hero’s trail as well).
Bumblebee finally acknowledges that which the earlier Transformers films wilfully ignored: that this is a franchise that young children should be able to enjoy more than adults. Owing a clear debt to Spielberg’s classic ET the Extra-Terrestrial, Bumblebee is a warm, compassionate, good-humoured film, and while it’s not lacking in spectacular action, it doesn’t beat the audience into submission with it the way Bay’s films did.
Better yet, Bumblebee actually shows some real affection and reverence for the original Transformers franchise, not least in that it finally lets Bumblebee take his original form as a VW Beetle, rather than the Camaro used in the Bay films.
Bad Movie Revival: Overboard
When we talk about movies that only could have been made in the 80s, Overboard is a title that often comes up. While officially a family-friendly romantic comedy, the Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell vehicle hinges on a premise which, when you think about it, is somewhat troubling.
The 1987 film casts Hawn as a spoiled, rich heiress who refuses to pay Russell’s working class carpenter for a job. Later, she falls from her yacht and is struck with amnesia – at which point, Russell decides to get revenge by picking her up at the hospital and claiming to be her husband.
Overboard’s central conceit could well have proven horrifying, yet it’s played out in such a way that you can’t help falling in love with the characters as they fall in love with each other.
The same can’t necessarily be said of the 2018 Overboard remake, which attempts to make the dodgy concept a bit less unsavoury by reversing the genders. This time around, Anna Farris is a working class single mother who claims selfish rich boy Eugenio Derbez is her husband.
Considering Overboard opened within a week of Avengers: Infinity War, it’s little wonder that it didn’t set the box office on fire, but it’s hard to imagine the film having much of an impact under any circumstances. It’s little more than a blow-by-blow retread of the earlier film, but with none of the charm, and reversing the genders of the central characters does nothing to change that.