17 Action Figures/Cartoons From The 1980s That Could Be Awesome Movies
Hollywood always seems to be looking for the next big lucrative film franchise. Studios have looked at several existing properties in hopes of finding their big meal ticket, and some of those properties include classic action figure toy lines and cartoon series from the 1980s. We’ve already seen films for G.I. Joe, Transformers, He-Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and a few others, but there are a helluva lot more out there that would make for some great movies!
I’ve put together a list of several different action figure and cartoon properties that I would love to see adapted for the big screen. Most of the properties on this list are ones I loved as a kid, and it would be so cool to see them brought to life in a way we've never seen before. I briefly talk about each franchise on the list and give a little commentary about what we might expect to see in each of the (theoretical) movies.
There have been attempts to adapt some of the films on this list already, but there's nothing really concrete on them yet. I'm leaving Robotech off the list because James Wan (The Conjuring) is attached to direct it and that project is finally moving forward at Sony Pictures.
I'm sure I may have missed something. If that's the case, please let me know in the comment section so I can kick myself in the ass over leaving it out. I hope you enjoy the list I've come up with!
Oh man, this movie would be huge! Dinosaurs running around with insane-looking weaponry on their backs and headgear!? Sign me up! At one point, a similar concept to Dino Riders became the basis for Jurassic Park IV. It wouldn’t have worked with that franchise, but as a standalone film series, it would totally work! Everyone loves dinosaurs, and look how successful Jurassic World was. If this movie was done right, it could be one of the greatest things ever.
There was also a cartoon series that was set on a prehistoric Earth, and the story focused on the epic battle between the good Valorians and evil Rulons. The Valorians were a superhuman race, and the Rulons were a mixture of humanoid creatures who both came from the future. They ended up being transported back in time to the age of dinosaurs and they used the creatures to help fight their war. The Valorians befriended dinosaurs, while the Rulons brainwashed them. I can already imagine the incredible visuals a movie like this could offer.
The Smithsonian Institute praised the toys for how detailed and accurate they were and they had the toy company Tyco reproduce the dinosaurs for their "Dinosaur and other Prehistoric Reptile Collection," minus all the awesome weapons that were packed on them. Mattel is reportedly looking to actually make this movie. I hope it's something they are pushing hard.
These toys never really got popular in the U.S. but I was one of the few who owned some of these action figures and vehicles, and I remember having a lot of fun with them! One of my favorite things about them was the Magna Lock technology. Basically the figures had tiny magnets in their feet which would allow them to stand on their vehicles and playsets without falling off. They also activated certain devices in the playsets.
The toys were followed by an animated series that was made to help promote NASA and get kids interested in the Space Program. The show focused on the adventures of an American astronaut brigade as they fought off attempted invasions by Shadow Force, an evil collection of aliens and robots who were led by the villainous Emperor Dark.
The animated series kinda sucked, but with a solid team of talent, Starcom would make for a great retro-looking sci-fi film set in an alternate 1980s universe.
It’s so weird for me going through old toys that I had as a kid and coming across something like Power Lords that I completely forgot about. The action figures featured humanoid characters that could change themselves. For example, Adam Power could change himself into his alto-ego, Lord Power, by pushing a button. After you pushed it, the torso of the figure would turn around to reveal the other character.
The toy line was adapted into a 3-issue comics by DC, and it also got its own video game, board game, and coloring book.
The story behind Adam Power was that he is a human who is given the cosmic Power Jewel to protect the galaxy from an evil dictator named Arkus. Arkus is an invincible villain, who is determined to take the Power Jewel away from Adam as well as Volcan Rock, which is Adam’s secret stronghold. These items would help Arkus conquer the galaxy. The other characters include Shaya, the Queen of Power, and Sydot the Supreme. I know the story has kind of a serious tone, but I think it would make a great comedy!
These figures were 8” tall, and the ones for Marshal BraveStarr and Tex Hex came with a Laser Fire Backpack which shot infra-red beams and included cool "space-age" sound effects. There was also a cartoon series in which each episode had a moral to the story, as well as an animated movie in 1988. There was also a side-scrolling video game that was released on the Commodore 64.
Bravestarr is set in the 23rd century and takes place on a multi-cultural desert planet that is called New Texas. What’s funny about this is I don’t recall ever watching the cartoon series, but I do remember playing with the action figures.
I’m one of the few people that actually enjoyed Cowboys vs. Aliens. I loved the concept of combining the old west with science fiction. It’s just one of those things that really appeals to me. BraveStarr is exactly that — it’s the wild west in space, a good vs. evil adventure comedy about a marshal trying to bring lawn ’n’ order to a western planet full of crazy mutant outlaws. That just sounds like a good time to me.
This was a Japanese anime import that was licensed by Mattel. The Shogun Warriors were giant robots, and who doesn’t like giant robots!? The figures were 24 inches tall and they included watchdog-bothering spring-loaded weapons for kids to fire at each other. There was some controversy over that because kids were getting hurt from them. This led to new regulations that toy manufacturers needed to follow.
There was a tie-in Marvel comic that gave us a backstory on the Shogun Warriors. They were created by a mysterious group called the Followers of the Light and human operators were gathered from around the world to operate the massive robots in order to battle evil. I would give this film a western-style theme and the pilots of the robots would be the cowboys.
I know we already have Pacific Rim, but this would be a completely different story, with drastically different giant robot designs.
For the life of me, I can understand why ThunderCats has not been made into a movie. It was one of the most popular cartoons and toys lines in the '80s and no one can seem to figure out what to do with it but one day it needs to be done, and I imagine the furries will love it.
ThunderCats has had a toy line, a cartoon series, and a comic book series. This was such a fun property. This is a movie that would have to be made using motion capture technology. Just imagine what James Cameron did with Avatar and now think about that but with Lion-O, Tygra, Cheetara, Snarf, Panthro, Mumm-Ra, and more. It would kick ass!
The film would tell the tale of a team of exiled cat-like humanoids taking on the threat of Mumm-Ra, the Ever-Living.
Here’s another toy line that incorporated magnets into the action figures. These Spanish action figures were inspired by G.I. Joe and basically banked on the success of that property, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t cool. These were high-quality action figures that had some fun features.
The villains, which were called Zircons, had a double face: one is reptilian and the other is human. The reptilian identity was revealed when one of the heroes stood in front of one villain. The magnets built into the chest of the figures made this possible. The C.O.T.A. were the heroes in the toy line, and magnets in their feet allowed them to stand upside-down in the Basetron 2050, which was built with some metal parts.
This would make a great sci-fi film in which futuristic heroes the C.O.T.A. go to war against the extraterrestrial militant Zarkons, who are invading Earth. This would prove to be a challenge for the C.O.T.A. because the villains look and sound just like them. The commando team would have to devise a way to identify them, and I’m not sure if magnets would do the trick in real life.
As a fan of horror/monster movies, I thought it was a blast playing with these action figures when I was a kid, and they had this cool “glow in the light” feature. These things were awesomely disgusting. There was also a cartoon series, which, weirdly, I have never seen. I just was a fan of the figures and how crazy they were.
The story for Inhumanoids centers on a scientist-hero group called Earth Corps, and they have to battle a trio of subterranean monsters called the Inhumanoids with the aid of elemental beings called the Mutores. The creatures are awakened by volcanic activity after being buried for a millennia in the Earth’s core.
I’ve always loved a good creature feature and that's exactly the kind of movie Inhumanoids would have to be: a straight up B-movie style monster movie with cheesy dialogue and practical special effects.
I had a ridiculous amount of these little 2-inch tall figures when I was growing up. I wasn’t a big fan of wrestling, but these weren’t just your average wrestlers, these were mutant wrestlers from outer space! M.U.S.C.L.E. stood for Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere and the line included 236 figures in total. There was also a board game and a NES video game.
If these ever became the subject of a movie, it would have to be a stop-motion animated film that had the same vibe as an early '80s-style grindhouse movie. A film with these kinds of characters is sure to turn out being something ridiculously wacky and off the wall.
There was a character in the set called Muscle Man and he was the leader of the Thug Busters. There was another character named Buffaloman who was the leader of the Cosmic Crushers. Joe Dante (Gremlins, Small Soldiers) would be the perfect director for this movie.
Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light
There are a few toy and cartoon properties on this list that Paramount Pictures is trying to get off the ground, but they haven’t succeeded yet. Visionaries is one of those properties, and I hope they can figure out a way to effectively adapt it because it could be awesome.
The toy line wasn’t a big success and neither was the cartoon, but they sure did leave a lasting impression on me! The toys featured holograms with a 3D effect on the chests of the figures and the staff they carried. That hologram include an emblem of an animal that they could transform into, and the staff had magical powers.
This could be a fun Harry Potter-style film. The story is set on a planet called Prysmos, which is an advanced society where all electronics have failed so the people are forced to rely on magic to survive. The Visionaries consist of two factions of knights: the Spectral Knights and the Darkling Lords. Everyone who wants to gain magic is invited to a competition by the wizard Merklynn, and that could be the main plot of the story. During the competition, they have to survive traps, dangerous creatures, and each other. The survivors are then rewarded with their animal, which is chosen based on their personalities or abilities they exhibited during the competition.
This is another one of those great small collectible toy lines that I spent lots of time playing with. I’m not sure if you remember or not, but they had those heat sensitive stickers on their chest and when you rubbed them it would reveal the strength of the Battle Beasts, which included wood, water, fire, and the ultra-rare Sunburst. These were armor-clad beasts with weapons who would do battle with each other. They were actually a Transformers spin-off series.
The 1980s story was set in 2011 on a planet called Planet Beast which resided in the galaxy territory of the Deceptions. It centered on an intelligent peaceful race of animals called Beastformers and they were ruled by the Lion Family. With the Decepticons trying to dominate the universe, Galvatron gives a character named Alligatron the weapons he needed to overthrow the Lion Family and take over Planet Beast.
If a movie was made with these characters I don’t think that it should tie into the Transformers films. This needs to be a separate standalone film, and I think the best way to handle it would be to do something in the same vein as what Duncan Jones is doing with the Warcraft movie. I imagine that the Beasts will have to rise up, find the Sunburst, and use its power to save their planet.
Warner Bros. currently own the rights to this property, and it’s a shame that they haven’t really done anything with it. The action figures for Silverhawks were based on the cartoon series, which I enjoyed watching. It was just such a cool series that was different from everything else at the time. Each of the figures came with a companion bird and they also had an action feature.
The SilverHawks team is recruited by a bionic police man named Commander Stargazer, and tasked with fighting the villainous Mon’Star, who is an escaped alien mob boss that transforms into an enormous armor-plated creature. This would make for a visually stunning film, especially with the setting and characters that are partly metal and partly human. This kind of film seems like it would have a Guardians of the Galaxy-type vibe, which is why I’m surprised WB hasn’t jumped all over it. I can see it as an action-packed adventure movie with some great humor.
The SilverHawks team consisted of Quicksilver, the leader who has a metal bird companion named TallyHawk. There are a couple of twins that go by the names of Steelheart and Steelwill. They are the technician and strongman. Then there’s a country singer character named Col. Bluegrass who plays a sonic guitar and piloted the team’s ship, the Miraj. Rounding out the team is a younger character named Copper Kidd, who is a mathematical genius who spoke in whistles and computerized tones.
Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future
This was seriously one of my favorite things to come out of the '80s. It was an sci-fi action interactive toy that you could play with while watching the TV series that blended live action with early CGI. During each episode, there was a segment that included visual and audio material that you could use your toys with by firing at the TV. It was so cool!
The series was set in the 22nd century on Earth after the Metal Wars, which was a cybernetic revolt that resulted in the subjugation of the human race by intelligent machines known as Bio-Mechs. The story centered on Captain Jonathan Power and a small team of guerrilla fighters, called "The Soldiers Of The Future," who would oppose and fight agains the machine forces that dominate Earth.
It would be pretty awesome if there was a way to incorporate the interactive aspect of the toy and series into the movie-going experience. Even if they couldn’t do that, it still has the potential to be a fun action-packed sci-fi adventure film.
There really weren’t a lot of horror-themed action figures when I was growing up, which is why I was a big fan of Super Naturals. These were action figures that included 3D holograms of the characters they represented. Their hands and swords also glowed, which made them creepy in the dark. I thought they were a really fun, underrated, and unique property and I loved the packaging which commanded the buyer to "Release their HOLOGRAM POWERS!"
Each of the toys came with a mini comic, and the story revolved around an army of heroic and villainous warriors who were sealed in the Tomb of Doom. That tomb was opened after hundreds of years and the ghostly warriors are fighting it out. The Super Naturals were split into two factions of warriors: the heroic team was lead by Lionheart, and the evil team was lead by Skull.
This kind of film is left wide open for someone to build an original story around. There was no cartoon to go off of, so the basic plot could be shaped into anything. I loved the concept of the toys, though, and if there's a cool way to incorporate that into a film…awesome! I think the Army of the Dead in The Lord of the Rings is a perfect visual way of bringing Super Naturals to life on the big screen.
One of the main reasons why I enjoyed this sci-fi property — other than the fact that the action figures and cartoon were awesome — is that it was designed by comic book legends Jack Kirby and Gil Kane. If you're familiar with The Centurions, then it’s not hard to see the style of these artists in the characters.
The story is set in the near future and there's a villainous cyborg genius named Doc Terror out to conquer the world with the help of his cyborg sidekick Hacker and an army of Doom Drones. Luckily for Earth, the heroic Centurions are there to stop him. The Centurions are a team who wear special exo-frame suits that allow them to fuse with some awesome assault weapons when they shout the term "Power Xtreme." At that point, they become what the series called "man and machine, Power Xtreme!"
The toys and cartoon were cheesy as hell, but if the right team came together, this could be adapted into a grounded, realistic, kick-ass, action-packed movie. Just look at the stuff they’ve done with Iron Man and Edge of Tomorrow. This film could be kind of a mixture of those two movies.
There’s a chance that Paramount Pictures could do this one day. I hope it’s true because it’s another one of those properties that I’m shocked hasn’t been adapted into a movie yet. The series centers on a group of vehicles that can transform into combat-style armored vehicles. Each of the drivers of the vehicles had a mask with a certain ability.
The main story revolved around an underground task force team called M.A.S.K., which stands for Mobile Armored Strike Kommand. They would fight against a criminal organization called V.E.N.O.M., which stands for Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem.
I can’t help but envision M.A.S.K. as a film that could bring on some of that badass Mad Max flare. I think M.A.S.K. could be just as insanely radical as Fury Road was, it could even take it to the next level!
It’s Voltron — why wouldn’t someone want to adapt this into a feature film! It’s definitely one of the most obvious things on this list. As I write this, the memories just come flooding in of playing with these figures and watching the animated series. This was seriously one of greatest properties of my childhood.
The story centered on a young team of five young astronauts that pilot five robot lions which combine into a giant super robot known as Voltron. The team was in charge of protecting the planet Arus, which was ruled by Princess Allura, from the evil King Zarko, who was from the planet Doom. He and his gang, which consisted of his son Lotor and the witch Haggar, would create giant Robeasts to terrorize the people of Arus.
People have been trying to get a Voltron movie off the ground for years, but for some reason it just hasn’t happened, and that’s insane! This franchise has the potential to be bigger and better than films like Pacific Rim and Transformers. A Voltron movie could put those properties to shame.
What do you think?