Over the last few years we’ve seen a lot of classic ’80s cartoons being brought to the big screen in order to cash in on nostalgia such as Transformers, G.I. Joe and Alvin and the Chipmunks. While the resulting movies have often been questionable, recently, I got to thinking about the reverse scenario: movies that have been turned into cartoons. This doesn’t happen that often nowadays, but back in the ’80s they would make a cartoon out of just about anything, and the results were equally as questionable.
With that in mind, let’s take a wacky little trip down memory lane and examine 15 movies and/or movie stars from the 1980s that were “fortunate” enough to receive their very own animated adaptations. While some of these movies were pretty kid-friendly to begin with, a surprisingly large number of the cartoons listed here were actually based on R-rated films. Some were quite successful, but I bet even children of the ’80s will be shocked to learn that many of these ever existed.
The Real Ghostbusters (1986)
This animated version of Ghostbusters was pretty popular and surprisingly well-made, although as many people will remember they turned Slimer into a cute sidekick and arguably the star of the show (later the series was renamed to Slimer! And the Real Ghostbusters). It was called The Real Ghostbusters because of the unrelated Filmation cartoon that came out around the same time that was also called Ghostbusters. In the late ’90s, they launched a forgettable spin-off called Extreme Ghostbusters.
Droids and Ewoks (1985)
These two Star Wars-themed Saturday morning cartoons go hand in hand as I seem to remember them airing back to back once upon a time. I always thought Droids was the cooler cartoon (partially because Anthony Daniels actually voiced C-3PO) but clearly Ewoks had the catchier theme song. I’m guessing that’s why it lasted one season longer.
The Karate Kid (1989)
A few months after the release of The Karate Kid, Part III, Sony also put out a short-lived animated series based on the movie franchise. If it wasn’t foolish enough to launch a cartoon just as the movie franchise was on its way out, the show also had them chasing a stolen Japanese talisman with mystical healing powers.
Chuck Norris and the Karate Kommandos (1986)
Speaking of karate, here’s a cartoon that wasn’t based on a specific movie, but rather a movie star. Before Chuck Norris was known as Walker, Texas Ranger, he was leading a team of “radically diverse” warriors against The Claw and Super Ninja in this five-episode series. Much like the Mr. T animated series, each episode started with live action footage of Chuck Norris himself offering valuable life lessons. Pretty classic stuff.
Rambo: Force of Freedom (1986)
It may seem hard to believe that an R-rated action hero like Rambo could be turned into a family-friendly cartoon, but back in the ’80s, anything was possible! Riding on the popularity of G.I. Joe, John Rambo was part of a team that fought a neo-Nazi organization called S.A.V.A.G.E. (Secret Administrators of Vengeance, Anarchy and Global Extortion). No one ever died in this cartoon, nor was there ever any mention of Vietnam, although in one episode apparently Rambo breaks his arm.
RoboCop: The Animated Series (1988)
Well I guess if they can do a Rambo cartoon, there’s no reason why Robocop should be any more surprising. Yes, one of the most violent movies of all time was indeed sanitized and made safe for youngsters in RoboCop: The Animated Series, a show produced by Marvel. In order to avoid gunshot wounds, the guns were upgraded to laser weapons. In the late ’90s they also attempted a second animated series called RoboCop: Alpha Commando, which was even less connected to the source material, and gave him a number of useful upgrades including roller blades!
Teen Wolf (1986)
With Teen Wolf currently about to get a live action remake courtesy of MTV, it’s worth taking a trip back to see what Teen Wolf looked like on TV back in 1986. In this instance, it wasn’t just Michael J. Fox who could transform into a werewolf, it was his entire family! Yes, even grandpa. Strangely, the town they lived in was also called Wolverton… coincidence?
Back to the Future: The Animated Series (1991)
The second Michael J. Fox movie to be honoured with a cartoon, Back to the Future: The Animated Series didn’t come until one year after Back to the Future: Part III hit theatres. Despite the fact that I was a huge fan of the movies, I remember almost nothing about this cartoon. It revolved around Marty, Doc Brown, his wife Clara, and their two sons Jules and Verne, with Biff Tannen as the recurring villain. The DeLorean could now fold up into a suitcase a la Jetsons, and the episodes concluded with live-action segments starring Bill Nye The Science Guy. Weird.
This adaptation of the 1988 Tim Burton movie was actually a pretty decent show and surprisingly successful too. It ran for three seasons on Saturday mornings on ABC before moving to weekdays on Fox Kids. They managed to capture the zany humour and the gruesome imagery of the film and create something that appealed to both kids and adults alike. Although the cartoon has never been released on DVD, they did include three episodes on the 20th Anniversary Edition release of the movie.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures (1990)
Clearly this is a movie that provided the perfect premise for an animated series, and in the first season they even managed to recruit Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, and Bernie Casey to provide the voices of their characters. In the second season, however, the cast was replaced with the stars of the short-lived Fox live action series. After struggling to come up with story ideas, they introduced a phone booth that could also transport the characters into literature, TV shows and inside the human body.
Toxic Crusaders (1991)
No, we’re not making this up. In the early ’90s, Troma’s cult classic film The Toxic Avenger was actually tamed down and turned into an animated series called Toxic Crusaders, with Toxie and his mutant buddies NoZone, Junkyard, Headbanger and Major Disaster fighting baddies from the planet Smogula. It came out at a time when environmental heroes like Captain Planet were in vogue, but it was more of a thinly veiled attempt to recreate the success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Conan The Adventurer (1992)
Here’s another violent action movie that was turned into a cartoon, although I suppose this series drew inspiration from the Robert E. Howard stories and comics more than the movie franchise. I remember at the time thinking it was pretty lame that Conan had this bad ass sword but all he ever used it for was to banish Serpent Men to the Abyss by touching them with it. Some of the stories were decent, but the character came off as more of a He-Man clone than anything else.
Police Academy: The Series (1997)
After the death of the popular R-rated movie franchise with Police Academy: Mission to Moscow in 1994, Police Academy was re-invented as a fairly successful Saturday morning cartoon. Although the cartoon featured a lot less T&A (okay, none at all), most of the main characters were well represented. They also introduced a group of talking police dogs called the K-9 Corps, and the theme song was written and performed by The Fat Boys (who also appear as recurring characters).
Highlander: The Animated Series (1994)
With its low quality animation and a story that is only vaguely connected to the film franchise, Highlander: The Animated Series is seen by many fans as being just as bad, if not worse, than most of the sequels to the original film — which is really saying something. The main character is Quentin MacLeod, the descendant of Connor MacLeod, and the story is set 700 years in the future. After a meteorite nearly wipes out the planet, the Immortals agree to call off The Game and focus on rebuilding and gathering knowledge — except for one guy named Kortan. What an ass. The one thing people seem to appreciate about the show is that it did have a bit of violence in it, even though it was still aimed at kids.
Camp Candy (1989)
Perhaps the weirdest of all the titles on this list, the late John Candy starred in his own Saturday morning cartoon where he ran a summer camp for kids. Candy narrated the episodes and voiced his own character in addition to singing the theme song. He also did live action segments that were added to the episodes in 1990, usually explaining some sort of environmental lesson. The show’s villains included Rex DeForest III, a greedy developer trying to tear down the camp so he can build condos, and Hob Nayles, the disciplinarian leader of a rival camp.