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12 Of The Best and Worst Movies Based On ’80s TV Shows

From Small Screen to Big Screen: Navigating the Peaks and Pitfalls of 80s TV Show Adaptations in Hollywood.

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Explore how Hollywood’s current trend of adapting 1980s TV shows into movies reflects a cultural craving for nostalgia-driven entertainment.
How successful adaptations like The Equalizer and 21 Jump Street strike a delicate balance between honoring the source material.
Insights from both hits and misses in the adaptation process, shedding light on the importance of staying true to the essence of the original show.
Nerdspin Line

The rise in 1980s TV shows turned into movies is driven by nostalgia. Many of the current TV-to-movie remakes are based on shows from the 1980s because this is what Hollywood players and the target audience were raised on.

The problem is that nostalgia can’t carry a movie alone. Many film adaptions of cherished television shows try to update the format too much, losing everything beloved about the original. Of course, sometimes, they try too hard to recreate the show, feeling like a poor imitation of the source material.

The upcoming The Fall Guy hopes to follow in The Equalizer’s footsteps, taking a much-loved television show and updating it successfully for a modern audience.

The Fall Guy

Based on a 1980s TV show of the same name starring Lee MajorsThe Fall Guy follows a Hollywood stunt performer who moonlights as a bounty hunter. Although goofy and low budget, the five seasons of the show about the daredevil are fondly remembered by audiences at the time.

Brought to the big screen by Ryan Gosling, Colt Seavers’s stuntman soon gets caught up in a real-world danger as he must track down a missing movie star (Aaron Taylor Johnson), solve a conspiracy, and try to win back the love of his life (Emily Blunt).


The TV show was tongue-in-cheek with an adventure of the week format, much smaller in scale than the 2024 movie. Directed by David Leitch, a former stuntman himself, The Fall Guy has been described as a love letter to the working-class crew and behind-the-scenes staff of action blockbusters.


The Fall Guy

The Fall Guy

Fresh off an almost career-ending accident, stuntman Colt Seavers has to track down a missing movie star, solve a conspiracy and try to win back the love of his life while still doing his day job.

Release Date: April 24, 2024

Director: David Leitch

Cast: Ryan Gosling , Emily Blunt , Aaron Taylor-Johnson

The Equalizer

equalizer

Although Denzel Washington is synonymous with The Equalizer, Edward Woodward actually originated the role in the 1980s television series. The Equalizer ran for four seasons on CBS and combined crime procedural with the unfolding backstory of mysterious former spy Robert McCall, and his past in the secretive Company.

Edward Woodward’s spy was a lonely 50-something Brit who haunted the violent streets of New York. Denzel Washington’s former United States Marine and Defense Intelligence Agency officer’s atonement manifests itself differently. Washington’s McCall is inspired to use his skillset to become a good Samaritan due to sheer moral obligation.

2014’s The Equalizer was much more violent than its small-screen predecessor. While Woodward plays Robert as a reluctant and quite frail action hero, Washington is a killing machine using various household items to kill. Unlike other TV-to-film adaptations, the popularity of The Equalizer movie inspired another television show starring Queen Latifah, who took on the role of Robyn McCall.


The Equalizer

The Equalizer

McCall believes he has put his mysterious past behind him and dedicated himself to beginning a new, quiet life. But when he meets Teri, a young girl under the control of ultra-violent Russian gangsters, he can’t stand idly by – he has to help her. Armed with hidden skills that allow him to serve vengeance against anyone who would brutalize the helpless, McCall comes out of his self-imposed retirement and finds his desire for justice reawakened. If someone has a problem, if the odds are stacked against them, if they have nowhere else to turn, McCall will help. He is The Equalizer.

Release Date: September 24, 2014

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Denzel Washington , Marton Csokas , Chloë Grace Moretz

CHiPs

CHiPs

CHiPs was a goofy friendly drama about California Highway Patrol officers, which ran from 1977 to 1983. So, when the trailer for the 2017 film adaptation dropped, people were unhappy with the R-rating.

Even the original series star, Larry Wilcox, was concerned about the raunchy nature of the remake. Dax Shepard (who also wrote and directed the movie adaptation) took on Wilcox’s role of the cop and former motocross star Jon Baker. Despite not being very good, he passes his police exam. He gets partnered with Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Peña, taking over the role originated by Erik Estrada), who’s actually an undercover FBI agent.

ChiPs was criticized for sharing little else but a title (although changed from CHiPs to CHIPS) and a character name with the source material. The heroes were turned into bumbling fools, and the family-friendly comedy became R-rated, with non-stop gags about sex, bathroom humor, and nudity.


CHIPs

CHIPs

The adventures of two California Highway Patrol motorcycle officers as they make their rounds on the freeways of Los Angeles.

Release Date: March 22, 2017

Director: Dax Shepard

Cast: Michael Peña , Dax Shepard , Jessica McNamee

The A-Team

The A-Team

The A-Team is one of the most iconic pop culture phenomena of the 1980s, so people were skeptical when it was reimagined for the big screen in 2010. The film and TV show followed an elite Special Forces unit framed for a crime they didn’t commit. Each episode found the Vietnam veterans helping people in need and protecting them from the bad guys.

Starring Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Sharlto Copley, and Jessica Biel and directed by veteran action filmmaker Joe Carnahan, the movie was met with mixed reviews. Sadly, The A-Team never received the much-awaited sequel due to the poor box office numbers.

Mr. T and Dirk Benedict, who played BA Baracus and Templeton ‘Faceman’ Peck, respectively, in the original show, turned down cameos in the big-screen adaptation. The actors were dissatisfied with the amount of sex and violence added to the film and fans felt it didn’t share enough DNA with their beloved TV series. This adaptation suffered from action fatigue, released around the same time as other unsuccessful films, including Knight and Day, Killers, and From Paris with Love.


The A-Team

The A-Team

A group of Iraq War veterans goes on the run from U.S. military forces while they try to clear their names after being framed for a crime they didn't commit. Along the way, Col. Hannibal Smith, Capt. H.M. ‘Howling Mad’ Murdock , Sgt. Bosco ‘B.A.’ Baracus, and Lt. Templeton ‘Faceman’ Peck help out various people they encounter.

Release Date: June 9, 2010

Director: Joe Carnahan

Cast: Liam Neeson , Bradley Cooper , Sharlto Copley

21 Jump Street

21 Jump Street

Airing from 1987 until 1991, 21 Jump Street followed a team of youthful-looking undercover police officers investigating crimes in high schools and colleges. It’s notably remembered as an early starring role for Johnny Depp.

2012’s 21 Jump Street and its sequel took an 80s crime procedural and turned it into a hilarious comedy starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. Like the series, it follows two cops, a former jock trying to prove his more than muscle and a bookish nerd, as they infiltrate a high school.

Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller managed to mix a fresh concept that would appeal to younger audiences with a touch of 80s nostalgia for fans of the TV series. The film decides not to forget that the 1987 show exists, instead treating 21 Jump Street like a stealth sequel.


21 Jump Street

21 Jump Street

When cops Schmidt and Jenko join the secret Jump Street unit, they use their youthful appearances to go under cover as high-school students. They trade in their guns and badges for backpacks, and set out to shut down a dangerous drug ring. But, as time goes on, Schmidt and Jenko discover that high school is nothing like it was just a few years earlier — and, what's more, they must again confront the teenage terror and anxiety they thought they had left behind.

Baywatch


Starting in 1989, Baywatch followed a team of lifeguards and made David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson household names. For 11 seasons, the very attractive team took on various dangers to save people from the perils of the beach.

While the NBC show became a pop culture phenomenon, the 2017 film was met with poor reviews and was described as even more vacuous than the original. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stepped into Hasselhoff’s shows as Mitch Buchannon while Kelly Rohrbach took on Anderson’s CJ. Zac Efron joined the team as a brand-new character, an Olympic medallist sent to improve the PR of the lifeguards.

While the TV show was easy to dismiss with simple plots, bad acting, and bloodless action, it helped create the formula used in nearly every modern blockbuster. The 2017 movie felt out of touch with contemporary audiences with outdated sexist humor and laughed cynically at the source material, thinking it was much more above it than it actually was.


Baywatch

Baywatch

Devoted lifeguard Mitch Buchannon butts heads with a brash new recruit. Together, they uncover a local criminal plot that threatens the future of the Bay.

Release Date: May 24, 2017

Director: Seth Gordon

Cast: Dwayne Johnson , Zac Efron , Priyanka Chopra Jonas

The Dukes of Hazzard

the dukes of hazzard

The Dukes of Hazzard originally aired on CBS from 1979 until 1985. The show and film follow Duke cousins Bo and Luke as they race around the fictional Hazzard Country to stop the many nefarious Boss Hogg schemes.

The 2005 big-screen adaption was unpopular with both critics and fans of the original series. Despite a cast including Jessica Simpson, Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott, Burt Reynolds, and Willie Nelson, audiences were not impressed with the big-screen remake.

The film stayed faithful to the television show down to Daisy’s shorts and Flash the Dog. Unfortunately, it failed to have any of the charm or innocence of the 1980s TV show. They took the innocence of the original characters and turned the story of the Dukes into another crass Hollywood retelling, relying too much on toilet jokes. Too crass for fans of the original and too unfunny for new audiences, The Dukes of Hazzard film is considered a box office flop.


The Dukes of Hazzard

The Dukes of Hazzard

Cousins, Bo and Luke Duke, with the help of their eye-catching cousin, Daisy and moonshine-running Uncle Jesse, try and save the family farm from being destroyed by Hazzard County's corrupt commissioner, Boss Hogg. Their efforts constantly find the 'Duke Boys' eluding authorities in 'The General Lee', their 1969 orange Dodge Charger that keeps them one step ahead of the dimwitted antics of the small southern town's Sheriff, Roscoe P. Coltrane.

Miami Vice

Miami Vice

Michael Mann’s 2006 Miami Vice was based on the 1980s pop culture touchstone of the same name, which Mann executive produced. Starring Don Johnson and Phillips Michael Thomas, Miami Vice became synonymous with pastel suits, speedboat chases, and cool cars.

Mann’s movie centered on the professional and personal lives of Miami detectives Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs as they went undercover to infiltrate a South American drug cartel. The film was a much grittier take on the world of drug cartels and illicit romances, forgetting any kitsch associated with the original TV show.

The movie production was infamously rough, with cast falling outs, tropical storms, and a lead actor who would go to rehab immediately after filming wrapped. The film’s connection to the television ultimately hindered it, with audiences complaining about the dark subject matter and grittier take on the buddy cop concept. While Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx were efficient as Crockett and Tubbs, the duo were criticized for not having the chemistry of the original duo. Although Mann’s film was met with a lukewarm response at the time of release, it has since become a cult classic.


Miami Vice

Miami Vice

A case involving drug lords and murder in South Florida takes a personal turn for undercover detectives Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs. Unorthodox Crockett gets involved romantically with the Chinese-Cuban wife of a trafficker of arms and drugs, while Tubbs deals with an assault on those he loves.

Release Date: July 26, 2006

Director: Michael Mann

Cast: Colin Farrell , Jamie Foxx , Gong Li

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 

Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle was a beloved Saturday morning cartoon that ran for ten seasons between 1987 and 1996. Named after famous painters from the Italian Renaissance, the four sewer-dwelling, pizza-eating heroes have appeared in numerous films since their comic book origins.

2007 TMNT was considered the first big blockbuster about skateboarding turtles to hit the big screen. With a voice cast including Chris Evans and Patrick Stewart, it was a moderate success due to its campy one-liners and action scenes.

The four heroes returned in 2014 for a live-action adaptation, starring alongside Megan Fox’s April O’Neil. Critics may not have liked their motion capture summer blockbuster debut, but it was a box-office success. The follow-up, Out of the Shadows, was a box office bomb, prompting Nickelodeon Movies to cancel a third movie.

Seth Rogen brought the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles again in 2023 in Mutant Mayhem. Pairing up with writer Evan Goldberg, the recent animated big-screen adventure saw the four actually act like teenage boys. A sequel was announced after the movie, which saw Ayo Edebiri lend her vocal skills to April O’Neil, after it became a critical and box office success.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

After years of being sheltered from the human world, the Turtle brothers set out to win the hearts of New Yorkers and be accepted as normal teenagers through heroic acts. Their new friend April O'Neil helps them take on a mysterious crime syndicate, but they soon get in over their heads when an army of mutants is unleashed upon them.

Release Date: July 28, 2023

Director: Jeff Rowe

Cast: Micah Abbey , Shamon Brown Jr. , Nicolas Cantu

Edge of Darkness

Edge of Darkness

Edge of Darkness started as a 1985 six-part thriller that touched on political, environmental, and moral issues of the era. Written by the co-creator of Z-Cars, Troy Kennedy Martin, Edge of Darkness was considered one of the best dramas of the era.

2010’s Edge of Darkness didn’t quite have the same effect, despite sharing the same direction, Martin Campbell. The action was moved to post-9/11 Boston, and Mel Gibson took on the role of Craven (originally Bob Peck). Craven undergoes the same investigation to find out who murdered his political activist daughter. Craven’s confidante was no longer an American maverick but a cockney thug played by Ray Winstone.

Edge of Darkness’s big-screen adaptation was poorly received and criticized for feeling like another genetic and unnuanced thriller. Although the film shares the television shows suspicion of government and big business, it gets bogged down in unrealistic action sequences and graphic violence.


Edge of Darkness

Edge of Darkness

As a seasoned homicide detective, Thomas Craven has seen the bleakest side of humanity. But nothing prepares him for the toughest investigation of his life: the search for his only daughter Emma's killer. Now, he is on a personal mission to uncover the disturbing secrets surrounding her murder, including corporate corruption, government collusion and Emma's own mysterious life.

Release Date: January 27, 2010

Director: Martin Campbell

Cast: Mel Gibson , Ray Winstone , Danny Huston

Transformers

Transformers

The Transformers live-action franchise has become one of the biggest summer blockbuster hits of the 21st century. Inspired by the popular Hasbro toy line and subsequent cartoon, Michael Bay took the story of warring transforming robotic vehicles and turned it into a CGI-heavy depiction of the Autobot-Decepticon war.

Despite criticism, the movies have been a pop culture phenomenon since 2007. While the Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox film borrowed the premise from the toys and TV show, it added another layer of gritty realism to the property. Bay transformed the franchise from a wacky kids’ cartoon to a summer blockbuster with international appeal and heavy mythology.

The franchise starts in 2007 when a teenager accidentally finds Autobot scout Bumblebee disguised as a 1976 Chevrolet Camaro. From there came attacks on military bases, government conspiracies, and space attacks. While the franchise has had its ups and downs, fans have mostly loved seeing their childhood favorite toys come to life.


Transformers

Transformers

Young teenager Sam Witwicky becomes involved in the ancient struggle between two extraterrestrial factions of transforming robots – the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons. Sam holds the clue to unimaginable power and the Decepticons will stop at nothing to retrieve it.

Release Date: June 27, 2007

Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Shia LaBeouf , Megan Fox , Josh Duhamel

G.I. Joe

GI Joe

Although the action films in the GI Joe franchise have their origins in toys, the 2009 film owes a lot to the TV cartoon G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. The movie and its sequels failed to capture the essence of the show beloved by so many kids of the 80s. Directed by Stephen Sommers, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra told the origin of Cobra and Cobra Commander. Instead of an elite US military branch, G.I. Joe became an international network of soldiers based out of Egypt when brought to the big screen.

Although the cast, which included Channing Tatum, Dennis Quaid, and Marlon Wayans, were praised, ultimately the live-action G.I. Joe film disappointed fans of the franchise. Long-time fans were angered by the changes in the mythology and the cartoony action sequences.

The sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation was criticized for soft rebooting the series and switching up the cast, ending the franchise for eight years. Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins was met with a little bit more applause, introducing the fantasy elements associated with the G.I Joe cartoon although it failed to launch the franchise to the same heights as The Transformers.


G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

From the Egyptian desert to deep below the polar ice caps, the elite G.I. JOE team uses the latest in next-generation spy and military equipment to fight the corrupt arms dealer Destro and the growing threat of the mysterious Cobra organization to prevent them from plunging the world into chaos.

Release Date: July 31, 2009

Director: Stephen Sommers

Cast: Channing Tatum , Marlon Wayans , Sienna Miller

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