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10 ’80s Remakes That Should Happen

With so many eighties cultural phenomenons now being revived for younger audiences — from The Karate Kid to The A-Team to trickle-down economics — we’re left to wonder: Just what Reagan-era titles haven’t been plundered yet? We don’t mean landmarks like The Smurfs or Police Academy, or beloved cult hits like Flight of the Navigator — all of which are now in various stages of redevelopment. We mean those eighties movies or TV shows that never caught on to begin with — the ones with unrealized potential, just waiting to be dusted off. Herewith, we present ten properties in need of a second look. (Note to Hollywood executives: If you do happen to greenlight any of these, we’d like our 10 percent finders’ fee paid out in Double Dare dollars.)

What Went Wrong: In Clint Eastwood’s first triple-threat feature — he serves as producer, director, and lead scowler — he plays a mentally unhinged pilot trying to steal a high-tech, mind-controlled Soviet jet. Produced at the tail end of the Cold War, Firefox is saddled with hokey political speechifying and interminably long action sequences. What’s Salvageable: Though telepathically directed aircraft is still a far-off idea, the U.S. military has been experimenting with mind-control equipment. And it’s not like, under Putin, Russia isn’t still scary. To Pull It Off …: Nobody does brooding alpha males and international locales like Christopher Nolan. As for the lead, we’d dump the troubled-vet premise, switch genders, and give Hilary Swank a chance to brush up on her Russian.
What Went Wrong: Just released on DVD, this short-lived TV series was a blatant attempt to cash in on Raiders of the Lost Ark, not to mention America’s love affair with monkeys. Set in 1938, and starring future 7th Heaven star Stephen Collins as a South Pacific pilot, Tales of the Gold Monkey does its best to keep up with the Joneses, throwing in wisecracking sidekicks, mystical idols, and distressed damsels. But the effects are shoddy, even for the early eighties, and the producers’ reliance on an eyepatch-wearing pup was a cloying bid for the kiddie crowd. What’s Salvageable: It’s been a long time since a major-network show mined the thirties and forties, which is a shame, as it’s a period with easily definable bad guys and good tailoring. A revamped Monkey could be a nice break from today’s bleak dramas — plus, as Lost proved, it’s possible to pull off a big-screen adventure with small-screen effects. To Pull It Off …: When it comes to smart-ass adventurers, it’s impossible not to think of Josh Holloway (though he’d have to cut his hair).
What Went Wrong: In this improbable legal thriller, a crew of frustrated L.A. judges form a vigilante co-op, only to be taken down by Michael Douglas. Though Star attempts to mesh Death Wish–style revenge fantasies with post-Watergate paranoia, it’s undone by over-the-top supporting performances and several absurd plot twists. What’s Salvageable: A tale of shadowy string-pullers would likely resonate with today’s conspiracy-prone, wiki-leaking audience. And people seem to love rooting against activist judges. To Pull It Off …: An Insider reteaming of Michael Mann and Russell Crowe.
What Went Wrong: Jan-Michael Vincent plays an idealistic Vietnam vet living in a remote cabin, where he plays cello, paints, and hides a stolen helicopter from a mysterious government agency. Amazingly, this loony premise worked for a while — though not as long as the show’s die-hard fans would have you believe — in large part because of Vincent’s irony-free stoicism: He took this shit very seriously, and viewers did too. But the show quickly devolved, thanks to a run of treacly, kid-friendly subplots. What’s Salvageable: A surly loner with access to murderous technology? Those guys pretty much rule the world nowadays, and building a show around one of them is potentially off-putting. But an Airwolf remake could touch upon society’s increasing distrust of government, and find an audience in all those 24 fans suffering from withdrawal. To Pull It Off …: Though his schedule’s tight nowadays, Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul has a knack for humanizing even the most unlikable characters.
What Went Wrong: A team of super-powered teens (including Courteney Cox) drives around in an ice-cream truck and get into a series of increasingly “wacky” adventures. Lasting only one season, Misfits was often too goofy for its own good, bogged down in story lines about toxic bunny rabbits and mystical cavemen. What’s Salvageable: As superhero movies become increasingly grim and insufferably self-serious, a genuinely comic comic-book show could be a welcome respite. To Pull It Off …: Producer-writer Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars, Party Down) knows a thing or two about both teen angst and dysfunctional co-workers.
What Went Wrong: One of the last films from darkly comic ace Hal Ashby, 8 Million Ways to Die was taken away from the director during the editing process. The result: An erratically paced, horrifically over-synthed drama about an alcoholic cop (Jeff Bridges, in perhaps the finest mustache of his career), a highbrow drug dealer (Andy Garcia), and the prostitute (Rosanna Arquette) who brings them together. A fascinating mess. What’s Salvageable: The screenplay, co-written by Oliver Stone, has some great sardonic one-liners, and Garcia’s drug dealer is a genuine weirdo — a smooth-talking brute who loves snow cones and Gaudí. To Pull It Off …: Hard to think of too many young actors who could top Bridges’ casual self-loathing, so why not remake 8 Million with the original cast? Lord knows Garcia is probably dying to grow his hair back into a ponytail one last time.
What Went Wrong: Elaine May’s famously infamous road movie — in which Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman star as negligibly talented New York City songwriters — was a worldwide disaster, thwarted by poor oversight, irresponsible spending, and an out-of-touch leader. If BP tried to make a musical-comedy, it would probably look a lot like this. What’s Salvageable: For the first half-hour or so, before the film uproots itself to the Middle East, Ishtar is funnier than you’d expect — a sort of Waiting for Guffman for urban neurotics, with Beatty and Hoffman warbling songs like “Wardrobe of Love.” Does it deserve a full-on reappraisal? Probably not. But it does deserve a second chance, so long as they completely rewrite the second half. To Pull It Off …: A tough call, but it’s just the sort of pathos-enhanced comedy that Albert Brooks once did so well. Maybe they should have hired him in the first place.
What Went Wrong: Admittedly, this Schwarzenegger sci-fi flick — about a futuristic game show where contestants fight to the death — isn’t all bad: There are oddball cameos from Richard Dawson and Jesse “The Body” Ventura, plus a scene where somebody’s head blows up real cool-like. But whereas Stephen King’s original 1982 novella concerned a meek, out-of-work father trying to save his kid, the film version casts Schwarzenegger as an cartoonish, easy-to-root-for muscleman trying to clear his name. What’s Salvageable: King’s novella is leaner and far more downbeat than the film version, and its treatment of televised entertainment as debasing blood sport seems less ridiculous than it did a few decades ago. To Pull It Off …: Not that we want to typecast the duo of Neill Blomkamp and Sharlto Copley, who made District 9, but when it comes to scrawny guys being pursued in a dystopic futureworld, they’re hard to beat.
What Went Wrong: As pre-emo, pre-Internet look at hyper-linked teenage life, this Eddie Murphy-produced sitcom starred Corin Nemec (Parker Lewis Can’t Lose) as a smarmy suburban teen who seemingly can’t distinguish between real life and television. Think of an especially slow-paced Malcolm in the Middle, only with lots of pop-culture parodies. What’s Salvageable: The show’s navel-gazing, overly confessional protagonist would be a hit with the Nickelodeon crowd — though they’d have to be convinced to log off for a while and actually watch a TV show. To Pull It Off …: If there was ever a reason to reunite rapper-actor Drake with Degrassi High maven Linda Schuyler, it’s this.
What Went Wrong: Granted, Miami Blues wasn’t technically an eighties movie, but it was filmed in 1989 — and besides, it represents one of the most botched opportunities in book-to-screen history. Taken from Charles Willeford’s 1984 novel — the first in a four-part series following laconic middle-aged cop Hoke Moseley — Miami Blues spends way too much time on Alec Baldwin’s charismatic crook. What’s Salvageable: Willeford’s Moseley books became increasingly seedy, but they were also darkly hilarious, populated by damaged-goods creeps on both sides of the law. In other words, perfect fodder for an AMC series. To Pull It Off …: Quentin Tarantino — an avowed Willeford fan, and a guy who’s flirted with TV in the past — would be able to nail to its frowzy comedic tone. As for Moseley, Michael Shannon’s a little too young to pass for a middle-aged cop, but since it would likely take years to develop a revamped Miami Blues — or any of these remakes, for that matter — we’re guessing he’ll be appropriately grizzled by the time cameras roll.
10 ’80s Remakes That Should Happen