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Best 80s Movies Made into Live-Action TV Shows

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Some of the best TV shows in history are spin-offs from successful films. There are many ways to approach taking a series to television. Sometimes it’s a continuation of the story. Other times it’s a prequel, a reboot, or even a complete re-imagining in a different tone altogether. Obviously some are more successful than others, but even if they don’t last all that long, we have to mention them in the lexicon. As far as the 1980s goes, here are some examples of some hit films who tried to recreate their success on television.

RELATED: 11 Best Sitcoms Of The 1980s, Ranked: From ‘Golden Girls’ to ‘Cheers’

Fame (1980)

Welcome to the High School for the Performing Arts in the middle of New York City. The competition is cutthroat, but the talent is immeasurable. In the hit movie Famous, singers, dancers, and actors are doing whatever it takes to be noticed and get their big break. It was such a big hit that a TV show launched in the fall of 1982 with Debbie Allen, Albert Hagueand Gene Anthony Ray covering their roles from the film. The show ran for six seasons.


Private Benjamin (1980)

Goldie Hawn shines in Private Benjamin as a young, spoiled, rich grieving widow who on a whim decides to join the army. The film garnered Oscar nominations for Hawn and her co-star, Eileen Brennan. In 1981, the TV show launched with Lorna Patterson taking on the role of Judy Benjamin and Brennan reprising her role Capt. Lewis. The show ran for three seasons, but only 39 episodes when it was canceled in the Fall of 1982.

9 to 5 (1980)

Still to this day, 9 to 5 is one of the best comedies and revenge fantasy films ever made. With the stellar talents of Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlinand Dolly Parton starring as they take revenge on their sexist boss played by Dabney Coleman, 9 to 5 is timeless. The TV show premiered in 1982 with Valerie Curtin, Rita Moreno, and Rachel Dennison (Dolly’s youngest sister) taking over the leading roles. The show never really found its footing moving time slots, networks, and even actors, and it ended in 1984 after only 33 episodes.

The Dead Zone (1983)

The Dead Zone based on a Stephen King novel of the same name was a thriller starring Christopher Walken as Johnny. When Johnny wakes up from a coma after five years, he realizes he has the ability to see the future and also the ability to change future events on certain occasions. 20 years after its release in 2003, the USA network premiered a reboot of the show starring Anthony Michael Hall as Johnny. The show was a big hit and lasted for six seasons. Unfortunately, it was abruptly canceled and left fans with a big cliffhanger.

The Karate Kid (1984)

One of the biggest smash hits of the 80s, The Karate Kid came out in 1984 and surprised everyone. Ralph Macchio as Danny studies martial arts under the master tutelage of Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita). They train to take down Danny’s rival, Johnny (William Zabka) and the evil Cobra Kai dojo. In 2018 when the idea for the TV series Cobra-Kai was announced, it sounded laughable. With Macchio and Zabka resuming their roles, the show became a huge hit as Johnny and Danny immediately renewed their rivalry as they take on a whole new generation of Karate disciples. Cobra-Kai Season 5 is premiering on Netflix in September.

Weird Science (1985)

It doesn’t get more 1980s than two nerds (Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith) creating a woman (Kelly LeBrock) using science and a bit of supernatural luck to fulfill all their filthy teenage desires. With a kickin’ theme song by Oingo Boingothe movie was an inexplicable hit and introduced the world to the comedy stylings of Bill Paxton as Chet. The TV series launched nearly a decade later in 1994 starring John Mallory Asher and Michael Manasseri. vanessa angel took over as Lisa and Lee Tergesen as Chet. The show ran for five seasons on the USA Network.

Teen Wolf (1985)

Teen Wolf was a silly comedy about a teen basketball star who discovers he’s a werewolf. The strange thing is, once his secret is out, he’s more popular than ever. Michael J. Fox was at the height of his fame and not even a bizarre premise such as this could put a damper on that. However, in 2011, MTV decided to launch a TV series with the same premise. In this version, it would be a dark fantasy thriller drama, and they would lean into the mystical side of it. And it worked. Tyler Posey took over the lead role as Scott with Dylan O’Brien by his side as his ride or die pal, Stiles. The show ran for six seasons. There will be a follow-up film released sometime this year that will lead into a new spinoff series Wolf Pack.

Highlander (1986)

Christopher Lambert starred as MacLeod in 16th century Scotland as an immortal warrior. In the year 1985, the infamous Gathering is set to take place in New York City as MacLeod will fight his rival the Kurgan (Clancy Brown) to the death. However, we can all agree that the real star of the movie was the soundtrack by Queen. While the film was not a critical hit, it gained a cult following and eventually resulted in a television show. Adrian Paul took over as MacLeod and the series ran for six seasons after its premiere in 1992. It also spawned follow-up series and films evolving Highlander into a verified franchise.

Dirty Dancing (1987)

One of the most iconic movies of the 80s, dirty dancing starred Jennifer Gray and patrick swayze who fall in love at a resort in the Catskills in the early 1960s. As the resort owners and the parents want to freeze time, the youthful employees and guests want to evolve the resort into the modern times and make the dancing a little dirtier than the FoxTrot and the Merengue. It was turned into a stage musical in 2004 and recently Gray announced a sequel was in the works for 2024. CBS tried desperately to capitalize on the 1987 film’s popularity starring Melora Hardin as Baby and Patrick Cassidy as Johnny. It only lasted for 13 episodes.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

The movie that taught us all that slacking off is a good thing and high school doesn’t matter in the big picture. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was a huge hit and a star-making vehicle for the already growing in popularity, Matthew Broderick. And Jennifer Gray gave a show-stopping comedic performance as Jeannie, Ferris’s jealous sister. The TV version didn’t fare as well, only lasting a couple of months with Charlie Schlatter taking on the role of Ferris. But if nothing else, the show introduced the world to a young actress named Jennifer Aniston.

Alien Nation (1988)

The unlikely pairing of a human (James Caan) and an alien (Mandy Patinkin) detective team who are forced to pair up to solve crimes in Los Angeles. In this sci-fi flick from 1988, aliens (or “newcomers”) have been integrated into Los Angeles and not everybody takes to the idea right away. It was a fascinating concept with tons of underlying tones of accepting different people into your communities. The series spun off into a critically acclaimed TV show on a very young FOX network in 1989. Unfortunately, it only lasted one season and is often mentioned on lists of shows that were gone before their time.

Child’s Play (1988)

The concept sounded ridiculous, so naturally it was a huge hit that spawned a multi-decade franchise. In 1988’s Child’s Play, a serial killer performs a voodoo chant to transfer his own soul into a doll before he dies and the Chucky doll begins his reign of terror. Inexplicably, critics and fans alike adored the film and the cult following began. In 2021, the TV series chucky premiered as a sequel to the 2017 film Cult of Chucky. The series will return in October 2022 with Season 2.

Parenthood (1989)

A delightful comedy about family by Ron Howard, 1989’s parenthood had an all star cast including Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen, Rick Moranis, Keanu Reeves, Dianne Weist, and a very young Leaf (Joaquin) Phoenix, just to name a few. The following year it was made into a TV show for NBC. Despite its cast which included Leonardo DiCaprio, David Arquette, Ed Begley Jr., and Thora Birch, it was canceled after just one season. However, in 2010, Jason Katims rebooted it again for NBC. This time around it was a huge hit lasting 6 seasons and starring Craig T. Nelson, Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Bonnie Bedelia, Mae Whitmanand Dax Shepard.