15 ’80s Movies That Could Never Get A Remake

For many, the 1980s was the best possible decade to live in. The level of excitement, enthusiasm, and creativity in pop culture was bursting in a way that has never been seen since, and may never be seen again. Throughout the decade, fresh filmmakers were dropping hit after hit into theaters, creating a lifetime’s worth of pop culture references.

Over the years, a number of ’80s films have received the remake treatment; some for better, and others for worse. However, there are some 1980s movies that simply can’t get remade today, due to their content, aesthetics, or decade-centric approach. That might be a good thing, as remaking the classics often doesn’t go the way filmmakers intended.

Updated on August 2nd, 2021 by Derek Draven: As mentioned above, it’s hard to top the 1980s when it comes to sheer imagination, inspiration, and creativity. Those too young to have remembered the decade can’t be expected to understand the wonder that so many children felt as they grew up watching one hit film after another. There are so many greats to choose from that it can be hard to narrow them down the best of the best. These are the kinds of films to share with friends and family, so they too can experience a decade where people felt a lot more positive, enthusiastic, and hopeful for the future.

15 The Neverending Story (1984)

• Available to purchase on Prime Video

There’s a certain charm to The Neverending Story that could only have been created during the 1980s. It’s not quite the traditional American fantasy film, nor is it entirely of darker European fare, but a mixture of the two. It has laughs, moments of triumph, intense sadness, and spine-tingling fear, which is a hard combo to pull off.

These days, directors and studios tend to play it safe, and a remake of The Neverending Story would no doubt attempt to be lighthearted than its predecessor. The original worked just as well for its dark elements and foreboding imagery, not to mention a child’s dream of overcoming the ultimate nothingness, and saving the world at the same time.

14 Commando (1985)

• Available to purchase on Prime Video

Action movies have largely taken a backseat to sci-fi tentpole blockbusters, and that’s caused a real drop in popularity for the genre. In the 1980s, muscle-bound action heroes were fun to watch, and their movie plotlines weren’t nearly as gritty or nihilistic as those of today. In essence, they were G.I. Joe comics in screen form.

Schwarzenegger’s Commando is a perfect example. It’s full of 1980s excesses, from big explosions to machine guns with unlimited ammo, and corny one-liners. It’s also full of moments that make absolutely no sense, whatsoever, but that’s the point. Nowadays, the action might be there, but the sense of adventure is long gone, and may never return.

13 Gremlins (1984)

• Available on HBO Max

Gremlins relies heavily on puppetry to sell itself, and that’s part of the charm of the original, and its slightly divisive sequel. Both films were made during an era when Hollywood was flirting with the blending of genre styles. In the case of Gremlins, it was horror and gross-out gore mixed with slapstick comedy and wicked humor.

Any attempt to bring back Gremlins in remake form would no doubt utilize heavy amounts of CGI, which would ruin the experience. The puppets used in the original films were technical marvels, and although they move a little goofy in some ways, that’s part of the charm. Today’s filmmakers would also go either hard horror, or too much comedy, and spoil the dish.

12 Big Trouble In Little China (1986)

• Available on Starz

One of Kurt Russell’s most famous roles was Jack Burton, a swaggering, arrogant blue-collar hero who ends up saving the world from an ancient sorcerer and his band of demons. It’s a preposterous and zany film that blends guns, martial arts, and mysticism to create something completely unique, and that’s a hard sell nowadays.

While this kind of combination works for properties like the MCU, it’s almost impossible to craft a standalone film that can compete. Big Trouble in Little China is huge on laughs, but it’s also got action chops where it counts, and that was thanks largely to John Carpenter’s masterful direction. A remake created today would either try too hard to live up to the source material or stray too far from it.

11 The Last Starfighter (1984)

• Available to purchase on Prime Video

News of a Last Starfighter pseudo-sequel has been making the rounds for quite a while now, but honestly, there’s a reason this property has been tied up in development hell for so long. It’s obvious that any attempt to remake The Last Starfighter would be too daunting a task, which is why the supposed follow-up will make nods to the original while going in another direction.

A full-fledged remake would suffer the same fate. The Last Starfighter is another movie with a typically 1980s premise that is too far-fetched for the cynical 21st century. In an era where everything has to make sense, and audiences get incensed at the most minor of plot holes, it’s hard to imagine a filmmaker who could recapture the spirit of the original with any sort of honesty or conviction.

10 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off  (1986)

• Available on Pluto TV

Any attempt to remake Ferris Bueller’s Day Off will be met with disaster, for obvious reasons. Unlike other 1980s comedies that have been forgotten over the years, Bueller is still beloved by fans, as well as new generations who get to watch Matthew Broderick being iconic while planning a day off from school. The movie sums up what most kids in the 1980s were thinking when focusing on the future was far less important than enjoying youth.

Whether it’s the iconic Ferrari, the nostalgic set pieces, or Broderick’s natural smashing of the fourth wall, Bueller has a look and feel that cannot be duplicated. Those who try may end up making themselves look quite foolish, which is why it should stay time-locked firmly in 1986.

9 E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

• Available on Prime Video

It’s a safe bet that nobody has what it takes to replicate the sheer emotion and wonder of the original E.T., even modern-day Steven Spielberg. The movie’s most gripping feature is its ability to draw the audience in and make them see the unfolding events through the eyes of their inner child.

E.T. should be left off the rack when it comes to remakes, and never touched. The closest anyone has ever come is a recent Holiday Reunion commercial by Xfinity, which reunited original star Henry Thomas with his puppet co-star, and it was absolutely wonderful. Best to leave it at that.

8 Explorers (1985)

• Available on Prime Video and Pluto TV

The science behind Explorers had already gone so far out on a limb that the branch has snapped. This 1985 classic was thoroughly unbelievable and absolutely impossible, but it remains a classic of fun storytelling with a positive message for kids who lost themselves in their own imaginations.

What child hasn’t stared up at the stars and wondered what was out there? That was clearly the intention for director Joe Dante, who crafted a less-than-perfect, but still memorable and uplifting tale of kids reaching for the stars. It may not have exciting space battles, but it’s got wonder and imagination for decades to come.

7 Labyrinth (1986)

• Available on HBO Max

Netflix’s Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance proved without a doubt that Jim Henson’s advanced puppets could make a spectacular comeback, but that’s not enough to greenlight a Labyrinth remake. So much of that film is time-locked in 1980s pop culture that it deserves to remain there as one of the best fantasy films of that decade.

One of the film’s major selling points was obviously the presence of David Bowie as the main villain. Factor in musical pop numbers that could only work within the confines of 1980s cinema, and Labyrinth would lose all of its wonder, charm, and zeal if one decided (unwisely) to remake it. That being said, a sequel is supposedly in the works, and Jennifer Connelly is set to reprise her role. Given the nature of modern films based on ’80s classics, however, it could go either way.

6 Short Circuit (1986)

• Available on HBO Max

While a movie about a robot who suddenly gains sentience after being struck by lightning doesn’t seem out of the realm of remake possibility, it’s doubtful it would have the same cultural impact as the original Short Circuit did. Once again, the movie is coated in a glossy layer (maybe two) of 1980s aesthetic and style, making it hard to duplicate.

A remake would undoubtedly attempt to recapture the comedic elements of a naïve robot learning about life for the first time, but it would lose all its heart and soul in the process, turning it into a shell with little in the way of substance. The nature of technology has simply changed too much for it to have the same impact.

5 Back To The Future (1985)

• Available to purchase on Prime Video

Another classic franchise set in concrete thanks to its principal actors is Back To The Future, starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. The natural chemistry between the two is undeniable, and it would be almost impossible to replicate in a remake, without the entire thing looking too obvious and desperate.

Part of the charm of Back To The Future lies in how absurd the premise is, which is precisely what audiences loved so much about 1980s cinema. Imaginations ran wild, and few truly cared about the probability or realism of the movies they were watching. These days, the mechanics of time travel demonstrated in the franchise would earn the ire of quantum physicists everywhere, even if some of its predictions turned out to be true.

4 UHF (1989)

• Available on Showtime

It would be almost impossible to do a remake of ‘Weird’ Al Yankovic’s UHF without Yankovic himself involved. Even then, the chances of it approaching anywhere near the madcap lunacy and hilarity of the original are slim to none. UHF came out at the height of 1980s commercialization and brand awareness that was mostly concentrated through the living room TV.

Today’s massive shift to digital streaming platforms gets rid of any social commentary found in the original, which focused on syndicated TV, commercial breaks and colorful media personalities. Besides, YouTube has more than enough crazy to go around, perhaps enough to stand toe-to-toe with the original UHF and emerge the nuttier of the two.

3 The Last Dragon (1985)

• Available to purchase on Prime Video

While The Karate Kid was responsible for bringing martial arts to a whole new generation of kids, it was nevertheless a movie about a boy struggling with bullying and self-confidence. The Last Dragon doesn’t care about any of that. It’s a straight-up, westernized kung-fu flick, complete with mysticism and comedy, galore.

Cheesy as can be, The Last Dragon is impossible to remake without looking obvious. It takes itself seriously, even if it’s having fun at the same time. Modern filmmakers simply lack the wit to capitalize on this kind of honest conviction and 1980s cultural innocence.

2 Iron Eagle (1986)

• Available to purchase on Prime Video

Most who grew up in the 1980s remember Iron Eagle for its spectacular dogfighting scenes, massive explosions, and a hard rock soundtrack, even if the film itself has been critically panned for years. It takes the most enjoyable facets of a 1980s action movie, strips out the blood, and focuses on exhilarating action in the vein of Top Gun.

Coincidentally, these are all reasons why Iron Eagle would never get a remake. Much of today’s war is waged through economic sanctions, proxies, and alliances, leaving good old-fashioned military engagements out to dry. Besides, the premise of a young kid hijacking a multi-million dollar fighter jet to single-handedly save his dad from an entire army would feel way too far-fetched.

1 Spaceballs (1987)

• Available on Showtime

If anyone thought about remaking Spaceballs, they’d best steer clear. Parody films haven’t been in fashion for at least a decade at this point, and few can do it as well as Spaceballs. This good-natured knock on Star Wars was blessed with a superb cast, great writers, and the masterful direction of comedy legend Mel Brooks.

There’s been a severe drought in the silver screen comedy world for a long time, and it’s hard to say if anyone truly has the talents to remake Spaceballs in some way, shape or form. The lackluster audience reception to Disney’s Star Wars sequel trilogy would get hammered mercilessly by such a remake, which was never the point of the original.

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