June 9, 2023

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These ’80s Action Movies Would Make Great TV Shows

11 min read

The 1980s were a decade of opulence, ushering in a lust for action films that were violent, tragicomic, and generally had plots that could fit on the back of a matchbook. The decade also saw a new breed of bulked-up action star, as Arnold and Sly battled for pectoral supremacy, Patrick Swayze merged action and dance, and Carl Weathers brought his delicately-manicured mustache to the fight. The decade gave us some of our favorite action franchises, but also some one-off films that could definitely be extrapolated into larger-format TV series.

Join us, as we attempt to surmise how some of these series might work, and which actors could fill the very big boots of this ’80s cadre of action superstars. Some of these films have been long-overlooked for their perfect potential in a streaming format, and in some cases, their stars are still perfectly capable of reprising these roles themselves!

The following are twenty ’80s action series that would make great tv shows.



20 Cobra

Sylvester Stallone as Lieutenant Marion
Warner Bros.

The only thing that might delay a perfect-world refashioning of Cobra as a premium series would be the decision of whether to re-cast Sylvester Stallone as Marion Cobretti in a present-day incarnation (Tulsa King proved it’s not too far-fetched), or to re-package the franchise around a younger actor, say, Jon Bernthal. Wait, can we copyright that idea somehow?

Imagine FX producing an 8-episode series with Bernthal taking Sly’s tough-guy character to Punisher levels, with an even broader story than Marvel’s greatest foray into television series. Who blinks, here? We’re guessing it would be Stallone, who loves taking ownership of his films’ stories with a re-write, like his blood-sprayed script about “Axel Cobretti” that he submitted after he was offered Beverly Hills Cop in the ’80s. Wow, Sly! Just wow!

Related: The Family Stallone Renewed for Second Season at Paramount+

19 Commando

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando
20th Century Fox

Wait, we googled “Have Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alyssa Milano, and Rae Dawn Chong ever collaborated” and were extremely surprised to find out that such a film exists! The film in question, Commando, caught Who’s the Boss‘ tween phenom, Cheech and Chong‘s Tommy Chong’s daughter, and former Mr. Universe Arnold Schwarzenegger in an explosive-laden setting that squeezed some ’80s stalwarts together into the film that made “Ah-nold” a bona fide action star. We stay loving Commando to this day, thanks to the extremely hyperbolic amount of firepower and the eyeblack-camouflaged Arnold gun show, seen throughout the deliciously-excessive film, and nowhere more than when he spears a pipe through Bennett’s midsection, telling him to “LET OFF SOME STEAAMMMMM!!!”. We hope to one day see this film stretched over a season of television.

18 Any Which Way You Can

Warner Bros.

Ok guys — there are a few ways this could go. Idea #1: A film where Philo Beddoe (Clint Eastwood) reunites with his Orange-hued counterpart for an epilogue of this completely-bonkers Clint Eastwood ’80s action-film (starred opposite an orangutan), Any Which Way You Can. We’re guessing the nasal endeavors of ’80s Warner Bros. execs got this zany film idea green-lit — or maybe it was Clint Eastwood’s reliable audience after he turned Dirty Harry into a franchise.

Idea #2: We sub in Eastwood’s son, Scott Eastwood, to the main role and change his sidekick to a bonobo, the ape-world’s most fun-loving subgroup! Hey — we’re just spitballin’ here! Scott is less of a stone-cold gunslinger than his dad, but fits the silliness of Any Which Way You Can perfectly, so rather than trying to step out of his dad’s long shadow, why not step right into it?

17 Road House

Road House zen 1200 x 630
United Artists

Has any human being, hockey player or not, pulled off a mullet better than Patrick Swayze? The answer is no, and Roadhouse provided way too much justification for bar fights, when Swayze’s unforgettable James Dalton dropped into an Ozark town to patrol a honky-tonk armed with nothing more than pleated-khakis and some sweaty, sculpted abs. No bother, as the impressively-physical actor made a cult hero out of Dalton, who always sees a fight coming before it happens, and sometimes issues justice before his audience/jury reaches their own verdict. Did we mention Swayze’s shadow-karate while shirtless and oiled in the film’s most plot-pointless scene? Yeah — that happened.

16 Big Trouble in Little China

20th Century Studios

“It’s alllll in the reflexes!” We’ll just avoid spoiling how handy Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) was with a knife in Big Trouble in Little China. Okay, the film hasn’t aged the best — but there’s always room for improvement! Let’s be honest, guys — David Lo Pan (James Hong) is one of the most terrifying villains ever! No? Don’t even get us started on the guy with the inflatable head!

The film remains an ’80s action stalwart, and despite some *ahem* issues with the film, it’s still the last great practical-effects film of John Carpenter, by then an Old Master of the artform. Did we mention it’s up there with Snake Plisken and R.J. MacReady as Kurt Russell’s greatest roles? Hopefully somebody is smart enough to bring the ’80s staple action-film into the 21st Century, in both form and (yeesh) content.

15 Bloodsport

Warner Bros.

Sometimes, life just says “KUMITE!”, and you’re forced to have a broken-glass-glued-onto-fists fight with Chong Li in a foreign land — just like Frank Dux, the inexplicably-named hero of the film that made Jean-Claude Van Damme famous.

This film engaged the notion that somewhere in the world, a martial arts death match is being fought, and shouldn’t the movie business exploit such an idea? The answer was, unequivocally, “YES!”, and Bloodsport used that premise to find its way into loving embrace. Also — Jean-Claude — you had us at “Hello”, as once this muscle-laden superstar did the splits between two dinner chairs, we knew we had the action star we’d all been waiting for.

14 War Games

United Artists

The hacker genre goes back at least as far as War Games, Matthew Broderick’s prelude to his famous role in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, as the Cold War Era got its first filmic dose of how a brilliant adolescent mind could affect national defense systems. It’s funny, in retrospect, that both of Broderick’s most famous ’80s characters had an affinity for computers, but in the less famous of the two, his hacking skills hold a nuclear holocaust in the balance!!! Bum bum bummmmm!!!! All jokes aside, this movie did send chills down the spine of children raised in the late Cold War Era, as we first saw a computer-based apparatus for nuclear war, not to mention an early discussion about AI that certainly seems even more relevant today. Yikesies!

13 The Untouchables

Sean Connery and Kevin Costner in The Untouchables
Paramount Pictures

What’s that, you say? You’d like 12 episodes of a refashioned Untouchables with present-day Kevin Costner in the Sean Connery role and a brooding younger actor, say, Ryan Gosling in the original Costner role. You had us at — oh, wait we already did the Jerry Maguire line! Sorry, not sorry — because we just blessed you with the best limited series idea…of…all…time. Imagine The Untouchables on Max every Sunday, audiences clamoring to know how each inter-episode cliffhanger will resolve. My word — the thought is stultifying. If, somehow, we could get Brian De Palma but one episode behind the camera, well — history would just about be made. Sorry — we get a little carried away sometimes!

12 Action Jackson

A man talking to another man in chains
Lorimar Film Entertainment

We have two words for you: Jordan Peele Action Jackson series. Granted, math isn’t our strong suit at Movieweb, luckily we love to use our imagination, and the thought of Carl Weathers and Craig T. Nelson, both actors still alive and kickin’, reprising their roles in Action Jackson is such a fun exercise we’re kinda surprised it hasn’t happened yet. Oh, did we mention we want Jordan Peele directing this reboot? Oh…we did. Sorry to be redundant then. Seriously, though — the world desperately needs this series adaptation.

11 Innerspace

Warner Bros.

Innerspace is one of those movies that Steven Spielberg seemed to produce sometime between lunch and dinner on a Tuesday in the ’80s, but in retrospect, it truly was a great action film! The ’80s special effects are pretty awesome, and still hold up well — but imagine this story of shrinking down a pilot to navigate through the human body with today’s CGI capabilities! The thought is drool-worthy, especially if we could somehow get the gang of Dennis Quaid, Martin Short and Meg Ryan back together. Oh, and did we mention we’ll be including Quaid and Ryan’s son, Jack Quaid, in the starring role? Wow…that almost just made our brains short circuit.

Related: Jack Quaid’s Best Performances, Ranked

10 The Running Man

The Running Man
Tri-Star Pictures

While it would be hard to top a cast featuring Arnold, Yaphet Kotto, and Jesse “The Body” Ventura, we think that The Running Man has some major TV cross-over potential. Oh, did we mention this film came from a Stephen King novel of the same name? Given how much of a departure it was from the source work, there would seem to be some ways to modernize the story by mining King’s original book, and updating some of the more ’80s ideas like the lycra tracksuits and the cheesy game-show element. Still, the basic premise is pure gold, especially with a star that is physically imposing like Arnold in the lead role — say, Jason Momoa? Now we’re cooking with gasoline, baby! Does anyone know if Momoa can do an Austrian accent?

9 Tango and Cash

Tango and Cash
Warner Bros. 

At the height of their respective super-powers, the Gods of Cinema blessed audiences with a meeting of the minds, Tango and Cash, which saw prime Kurt Russell and peak Sylvester Stallone getting wrongly accused of murder, leading to a prison stint they must escape from. The film that gave us the term FUBAR could easily be stretched out into a multi-season streaming show, although the jury is out on whether to bring back this gruesome twosome or find a new duo. Russell and Stallone seem like they have plenty left in the tank to physically pull off these roles again, but Raymond Tango and Gabriel Cash could get a vital rejuvenation from a younger acting duo.

8 Midnight Run

Midnight Run
Universal Pictures

Midnight Run was a killer road movie, with an odd couple pairing of Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin, that could easily be brought into the 21st Century via a limited series. We think a more contemporary approach, not unlike Escape at Dannemora would benefit the update. Given the untimely passing of Grodin (and De Niro’s age), we think the way to go about this would be casting some fresh faces like Idris Elba in the Jack Walsh Role and Chris O’ Dowd as The Duke. Since both actors hail from the British Isles why don’t we set the series there, with Elba transporting the fugitive genius O’Dowd down the M6 motorway in Britain. Boy, is this fun or what?

7 Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins

Orion Pictures

We at Movieweb feel that last year’s passing of Fred Ward should have been observed as a Day of National Mourning, given the decades worth of amazing characters that Ward had delivered — none better than Remo in Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins. Ward had a bygone manliness that would be very hard to replicate today, but Remo has so much potential for a modern day upgrade that it’s fun to consider who could fit the bill. Casting a boxer or UFC fighter in the role might be an interesting approach, but how about an actor with an affinity for mixed martial arts like Tom Hardy?

6 Short Circuit

Tri-Star Pictures

Short Circuit definitely has some seriously outdated aspects, including Fisher Stevens in brown face, the way-too-West Side Story gang “Los Locos”, and a robot, Johnny 5, that looks like it plays VHS tapes. Johnny 5 at least maintains a tremendous amount of ’80s charm, so a TV series that kept the story in that decade with a Stranger Things-esque synth score and plenty of ’80s references throughout would tickle our nostalgia like few ideas on Earth. Let’s go ahead and bring back Steve Guttenberg, who must time travel back to the ’80s to help his old self and J5 prevent the future takeover of AI. Yes, we know James Cameron kinda already did that in Terminator, but given that all of our jobs seem suddenly at risk of being taken over by AI, we feel like there’s more to cover here.

5 Scarface

Al Pacino in Scarface
Universal Pictures

While Scarface is as close to untouchable as any ’80s film, the one thing the story lacks is the breathing room provided by a TV format, maybe one where we don’t “Say hello to [Scarface’s] little friend!” until episode 10, and get the full backstory of Tony Montana’s life in Cuba. There is so much historical tie-in with Scarface, that Tony’s origin story could stretch back long enough to cover the Bay of Pigs Invasion, even Fidel Castro and Che Guevara’s coup. Narcos did much to demonstrate how the beats could work for a more broad druglord epic.

4 Red Dawn

Red Dawn movie with C. Thomas Howell

Yes, we know there was a movie remake not too long ago, but like Scarface, we would love nothing more than a Cold War Era limited series that matches the scale of John Milius’ original script. We always loved the alternate ’80s political landscape of Milius’ film, something that could be brought into the present day with a tie-in to the current war in Ukraine. While we’re at it, let’s simply make it about some Ukrainian teenagers and how they deal with the Russian invasion in their small hometown. Tell us that script doesn’t just write itself

3 I’m Gonna Git You Sucka

United Artists

Keenan Ivory Wayans brought blaxploitation into the ’80s with I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, a few years before his sketch comedy show In Living Color changed TV. The film has long been overlooked despite amazing performances by the recently-departed Jim Brown, Bernie Casey and Wayans himself as a John Shaft-type action hero, a virtual all-star team of ’80s African-American actors, and that’s before we even discuss John Witherspoon’s hilarious Reverend. We’ll leave the recasting to your imagination, but we’d recommend including Chris Rock in the series version, as he has the original film’s funniest scene.

2 Akira


Akira has been almost annually rumored to be getting a live-action remake, with the latest rumors attaching Taika Waititi to the enormous undertaking. Katsuhiro Otomo’s source work for the incredible 1988 animated version was so grand, that even that film, which employed hundreds of animators to bring Otomo’s enormous vision to life, was too short a format. Enter the limited series, which has been the perfect format for sprawling epics like Game of Thrones. Imagining a Max-produced Akira series boggles the mind, especially when we slot the incredible Japanese actor Kento Yamazaki into the Kaneda role. Please, Taika, the world needs this as a TV series!

1 Thief

United Artists

Michael Mann has received plenty of love for Heat over the years, but Thief has never quite gotten its just due. Heat has definitely developed a second life, with a sequel currently on the way, but Thief, the early-’80s heist film, deserves consideration too. Assuming Michael Mann doesn’t take too much flack for allegedly crossing the picket line of the WGA strike, we’d love to see him redevelop this idea as a short, three season streaming show. It’s just a pity that James Caan, who passed away last year after a storied acting career, wouldn’t get to see the new version.

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