The 1980s were great for kids’ cartoons. As a result, a number of those cartoons have been turned into live-action movies – and indeed full-blown movie franchises (albeit with very mixed results).
In this piece, we’ll be listing some of the best 80s cartoons to have been given the live-action movie treatment and linking to where you can watch said movies online.
So you like 80s cartoons? Check out our list of the best ones while you’re here!
1. Masters Of The Universe (1987)
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was teeming with weird and wonderful characters, from muscle-bound heroes like He-Man himself, to aliens, robots and monsters. It’s no surprise, then, that there’s a live-action movie based on the series.
Directed by Gary Goddard, Masters of the Universe sees Dolph Lundgren taking on the role of He-Man. It’s about two teenagers (one of whom is played by a young Courteney Cox) who meet He-Man after he arrives on Earth by chance. The teens join He-Man and his allies as they try to save the universe from Skeletor.
It really isn’t very good and bears little resemblance to the cartoon. It feels very underdone, looks like a cheap rip-off of Star Wars, and some of the fight scenes look ridiculous. However, it’s totally worth watching just for Frank Langella’s performance as Skeletor.
2. G.I. Joe (Three Movies)
Where to watch:
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009): Amazon Prime (rental/purchase) | YouTube (rental/purchase)
G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013): Netflix | Amazon Prime (rental/purchase)
Snake Eyes (2021): Amazon Prime (rental/purchase) | YouTube (purchase)
G.I. Joe is a franchise with toys that initially represented the four of the branches of the U.S. armed forces. A series of cartoons were produced in the 1980s.
To date, there have been three live-action movies based on the franchise. The first two see Duke, Ripcord and Roadblock taking on the evil Cobra organization, while the third is an origin story for the popular Snake Eyes character. The stars involved in the series include Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum and Bruce Willis.
The movies have been underwhelming but watchable. They revel in their cartoonish nature and over-the-top action. However, they’re poorly written and focus more on explosions than anything else – but what more can you really expect from movies based on a 1980s kids franchise?
3. Jem And The Holograms (2015)
Directed by Jon M. Chu, Jem and the Holograms is loosely based on the 1980s cartoon Jem – a show about record company owner Jerrica Benton, her singer alter-ego Jem, and the adventures of her band the Holograms.
The movie sees small-town girl Jerrica catapulted from underground video sensation to global superstar, as she and her three sisters discover their talents are too special to keep hidden.
Chu attempted to make this movie 11 years earlier, but was rejected by Universal for financial reasons. Frankly, it should’ve remained unmade. Granted, it does have some nostalgic value, but it largely ignores the goofiness of the cartoon and does its own thing – and it simply doesn’t work. Juliette Lewis puts in a decent performance as music producer Erica Raymond, but the movie is poor due to its terrible writing, widespread bad acting and uneven tone.
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Five Movies)
Where to watch:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990): Amazon Prime (rental/purchase)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991): Amazon Prime (rental/purchase)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993): Amazon Prime (rental/purchase)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014): Amazon Prime (rental/purchase) | YouTube (rental/purchase)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016): Amazon Prime (rental/purchase) | YouTube (rental/purchase)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a franchise based on the titular team of four anthropomorphic turtle brothers trained in ninjutsu who fight evil in New York City; Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael.
There have been five live-action movies based on the characters – a trilogy in the early 1990s and two in the 2010s. While the earlier movies used practical effects, the more recent ones have been more CGI-heavy. The movies have seen the turtles go up against a plethora of enemies from the cartoons, including Shredder, the Foot Clan, Krang, Bebop and Rocksteady.
While it’s fair to say that the 90s movies weren’t very good, it’s equally fair to say that the newer ones are even worse. They’re all very predictable and have thin plots. However, we must also stress that they’re all a lot of fun and have a lot of child-friendly martial arts action.
5. Transformers (Six Movies)
Where to watch:
Transformers (2007): Netflix | YouTube (rental/purchase)
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009): Amazon Prime (rental/purchase) | YouTube (rental/purchase)
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011): Netflix | YouTube (rental/purchase)
Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014): Netflix | YouTube (rental/purchase)
Transformers: The Last Knight (2017): Netflix | YouTube (rental/purchase)
Bumblebee (2018): Netflix | YouTube (rental)
The most prolific live-action movie franchise based on an 80s cartoon is Transformers. There have been six movies to date, starting way back in 2007.
The movies follow the battles between the sentient, living autonomous robots known as Autobots and the Decepticons, who can transform into other forms like vehicles and animals.
With the exception of Bumblebee, these movies have generally received a negative critical reception. However, they’re obviously very popular, so perhaps the best thing to do is just sit back and enjoy the mindless action that they all have in common. In fairness, some big names have been attached to the franchise (Megan Fox, Anthony Hopkins and John Cena, for example) and the special effects are great.
Sticking with the 80s theme, why not check out our list of the best 80s comedy movies now that you’re finished here?