Remaking old film and television properties is nothing new; it’s been common practice for as long as the entertainment industry has existed. There are plenty of rehashes that manage to be great in their own right, and in some instances even improve on what went before. Alas, there are also plenty that fail miserably.
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.
The 2004 Battlestar Galactica reboot surprised many, as it proved a powerful, 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. Proving that grown-ups could enjoy fantasy too, the show helped pave the way for later TV hits like True Blood and 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.
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. 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.
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 (even if the sequels that followed fell short).
Remaking RoboCop was always going to be a thankless task. Produced primarily because studio MGM-UA were badly in need of a box office hit, the 2014 film makes a valiant effort to live up to the original, whilst also striking into new ground. Unfortunately, the pieces just don’t fit together.
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. DreamWorks/Netflix’s 2016 reboot 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.
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. There was an immediate backlash from fans (admittedly too many adults among them) and the show was quickly cancelled.
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. It had an unlikely hero in middle-aged Englishman Edward Woodward as spy-turned-vigilante Robert McCall, and also struck a far darker tone than a lot of such shows at the time.
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. Two sequels followed, as well as a gender-swapped Equalizer TV reboot starring Queen Latifah.
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-witted father trying make the most of his family holidays resulted in a slew of sequels. 2015’s Vacation, however, plays the tricky balancing act between sequel and remake.
Ed Helms plays Rusty, the now-grown son of Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold, who sets out with his own wife (Christina Applegate) and kids on the same road trip taken in the 1983 original. 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.
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, following a recently-widowed father whose brother-in-law and best friend move in to help him raise his three daughters. Full House’s light-hearted, perpetually upbeat tone made it an easy target for cynics, but it’s hard to deny the show’s simple, heartfelt joy.
2016 sequel series Fuller House had nostalgic novelty value in abundance, with the spotlight shifted to Candace Cameron Bure and Jodie Sweetin as the original show’s daughters all grown up, living together in the same house under similar circumstances decades later. Again, cynics were unimpressed, but Fuller House proved charming and winning enough to win over a new generation.
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 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.
Unfortunately, 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. Also, 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 – and 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, horror fans were very wary indeed.
Happily, the Evil Dead reboot proved to be a mighty beast of a horror movie on its own terms. 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. The result is one of the most gruesome and intense studio-produced horror movies ever.
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 director’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 laughs are few, the plot is weak, and the many pointless callbacks to the original are distracting.
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. 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.
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.
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, but at the end of the day it’s just another TV cop show, albeit one with a slightly higher car chase/shoot-out quota.
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, complete with a very different actor: Jason Momoa.
2011’s Conan the Barbarian may have been a critically reviled flop on release, but it deserves another chance. It’s one of the few fantasy adventure films in recent memory to not shy away from R-rated action, and it was perhaps 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 seven films.
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. What should have been a heart-warming, family-friendly adventure is instead a cynical, barely coherent attack on the senses that is often wildly inappropriate for the youngsters it should have been aimed at.
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 and catching up with them more than 30 years later.
To the surprise of many, Karate Kid sequel series Cobra Kai has become a popular sensation in its own right. Rooted in the old rivalry between Ralph Macchio’s Daniel LaRusso and more on William Zabka’s Johnny Lawrence, the show also introduces a whole new generation of younger Karate students with no shortage of personal drama of their own.
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.
2008’s 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. Sadly, the show failed to breathe new life into its outdated concept and 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 and finally found the one key thing all Bay’s films had lacked: heart.
A prequel to the earlier films which owes a clear debt to Spielberg’s classic ET the Extra-Terrestrial, 2018’s Bumblebee follows the yellow Autobot of the title on a more intimate solo adventure. Bonus points: the story takes place in the 80s, and 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 1987 Goldie Hawn/Kurt Russell vehicle hinges on a creepy premise: Hawn is a spoiled, rich heiress struck with amnesia, and Russell (in revenge for an earlier conflict) takes revenge by claiming to be her husband.
The 2018 Overboard remake 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. It’s little more than a blow-by-blow retread of the earlier film, but with none of the charm.