9 live-action '80s movies that got cartoon TV adaptations

These cartoons were tubular, radical, and even wicked! And some featured actors from The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days!

M*A*S*H is famous for being a wildly successful TV adaption of an existing movie. But movie adaptations don't always stay in the same dimension. In fact, the cartoon The Pink Panther is based off a small segment in the opening segment of the 1963 comedy of the same name. 

But in the 1980s, TV adaptations hit a new level. Movies were getting cartoons left and right in an effort to see which ones would stick. And some of them did...but some of them didn't. Here's nine cartoons based off live-action '80s movies!

1. The Real Ghostbusters (1986)


Based off: Ghostbusters (1984)

This series was supposed to be a continuation of the 1984 movie, with the four Ghostbusters, their secretary, and the ghost "Slimer" returning as sort of a company mascot. None of the original voice actors returned, although Ernie Hudson auditioned but the role went to Arsenio Hall. The "Real" was added to the title after a legal dispute with Filmation over their already-existing cartoon Ghostbusters based off an entirely separate live-action property (with Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch of F Troop, you might remember). The Real Ghostbusters is one of the longest-running cartoons on this list, getting seven seasons, a Slimer miniseries, and a cross-over appearance in Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue. There would be a direct sequel to the cartoon in 1997 called Extreme Ghostbusters.

2. Beetlejuice (1989)


Based off: Beetlejuice (1988)

This one is very loosely based on the movie. In this version, ghostly couple Barbara and Adam are nowhere to be seen. Instead, the series focuses on Lydia, who is now in seventh grade. Beetlejuice, instead of being an antagonist, is now her best friend, and the two go on adventures between the normal world and the netherworld. The whole series is lighter and softer than the 1988 film, using a lot of puns and reference humor. It ran for four seasons.

3. Back to the Future: The Animated Series (1991)


Based off: The Back to the Future franchise (1985–90)

While this takes place after the third movie, with Doc Brown's wife and children as regular characters, creator Bob Gale has said it exists in its own non-canonical timeline. The series follows the characters going on adventures through different historical events. Mary Steenburgen (Clara Brown) and Thomas F. Wilson (Biff Tannen) return to voice their characters, while Christopher Lloyd returns as Doc Brown in a live-action segment in each episode. Bill Nye serves as his lab assistant and these segments led to him getting his own show in 1993.

Image credit: The Everett Collection

4. Police Academy: The Animated Series (1988)


Based off: The Police Academy franchise (1984–94)

Technically this series takes place between the fourth and fifth moves in the franchise. A group of Academy graduates, led by Carey Mahoney, make things miserable for the uptight Captain Harris. This voice cast is notable for featuring Howard Morris of The Andy Griffith Show fame as the cowardly Carl Sweetchuck. The series only got two seasons, but was more popular in Europe than in the U.S., especially in Italy.

Image credit: The Everett Collection

5. Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures (1990)


Based off: Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)

A movie like Bill & Ted seems perfect for a cartoon adaptation. The premise is relatively the same as the movie itself: time traveler Rufus visits Bill and Ted to make sure that they graduate high school and start a band to inspire people of the future. The series follows them hopping through time, making sure history happens as it should. The first season had Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, and Bernie Casey all return to voice their characters. When it switched production companies in the second season, the voice cast changed entirely, and the show struggled to find its footing. It was canceled after two seasons.

6. The Karate Kid (1989)


Based off: The Karate Kid (1984)

Based on the first Karate Kid film, this series abandons the karate tournament entirely. Instead, a magical miniature shrine is moved from its home on Okinawa, and Daniel and Mr. Miyagi have to travel the globe to find it. Together with an Okinawan girl, each episode sees them come close to getting the shrine, only to lose it at the last moment. Pat Morita, while not voicing his character, providing an opening narration as Mr. Miyagi in every episode but one.

7. Rambo: The Force of Freedom (1986)


Based off: First Blood (1982) and Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)

Starting as a five-part miniseries, this series was renewed the same year as a regular cartoon. Rambo was the first R-rated movie to be adapted to a children's cartoon and caused some controversy as the studio tried to figure out how to write a PTSD-suffering veteran to a children's character. It only ran for one season.

8. Robocop: The Animated Series (1988)


Based off: Robocop (1987)

While based on the original movie, this series makes some changes. Old Detroit is more technologically advanced, robots are more commonplace, and perhaps in an effort to scale down the violence, bullets are replaced by laser guns. The gang who was responsible for Alex Murphy's death prior to him becoming Robocop die in the movie, but they're still alive to be antagonists in the show. This series only lasted twelve episodes, but Robocop would live again in three more TV series in 1994, 1998, and 2001.

9. Teen Wolf (1986)


Based off: Teen Wolf (1985)

No, we aren't talking about the edgy and sexy MTV show in the 2010s. In 1986, the Michael J. Fox movie got a cartoon adaptation with several differences. In this series, his werewolf status was secret and he was given a younger sister and grandparents (who were also werewolves). Scott's father, Harold, was the only character to be voiced by the original actor from the movie. His human best friend, Stiles, is voiced by Happy Days' Don Most.

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327053 3 months ago
The only ones I saw of these were Ghostbusters and Beetlejuice. Maybe a little bit of Rambo.
jorel262 3 months ago
Real Ghostbusters was and is great. I love Slimer. I still think it's a little weird R rated movies getting kids cartoons (Robocop, Rambo, etc.)
top_cat_james_1 3 months ago
There was also "Little Shop" that aired in 1991 on the Fox Kids Saturday morning block, and was (very) loosely based on "Little Shop of Horrors". And, yes, the original movie is from 1960, but since there were songs in every episode, it can just as well be attributed to the 1986 musical version.
Runeshaper 3 months ago
Some of these cartoon series really pull at my heartstrings. So many great memories watching these as a kid. Thanks for sharing, MeTV!
Bapa1 3 months ago
Ghostbusters was pretty funny, the rest so-so.
KawiVulc 3 months ago
Nope, wasn't watching cartoons in the 80's... haven't even seen most of the movies except 2, 6 & a couple from 4... not going to spend any of my last minutes some day worrying I missed out on the rest of that crap.
Jeremy 3 months ago
#7 and #8 are the only ones I've either never heard of or remember vaguely.
CaptainDunsel 3 months ago
I had mercifully forgotten any/all of these that I ever heard of.
McGillahooala 3 months ago
Never saw a one. The only thing this tells me is that drug addled Hollywood types have been squeezing the last ounce of life out of everything that was remotely popular for quite a while. I suppose it is hard to come up with original ideas when you’re up to your eyeballs in every type of debauchery known to man.
nightshade 32 months ago
also, a lot of those were weekday syndicated cartoons like the only police academy one I watched was about they helped a girl get out of an attempted forced marriage so she could marry her true love and the main male character was dressed up as the bride until they had to kiss and the bad guy lifted the veil
nightshade 32 months ago
actually some of those had more than one adaptation....... bill and ted and back to the future had 2 each
FestusFan2312 34 months ago
Never saw any of them. I don’t figure I missed anything.
kimmer 35 months ago
I was working when these came out....I kind of wished I'd have seen them..lol
DuanneWalton 35 months ago
The Real Ghostbusters and Beetlejuice were the best.
Joseph 35 months ago
I had pretty much outgrown Saturday morning cartoons by the 80s but still tuned in once on a while. A few of these I've heard, while others, like Rambo and Robocop, are new to me. Forgive me if I seem like a grammar nazi, but why does it say "based off"? "Based on" or "based off of" would be more appropriate.
Tresix 35 months ago
I think the only one I don’t remember is “The Karate Kid”. The only ones I watched were “Ghostbusters” and “Beetlejuice”. I watched the first “Robocop” series, filmed in Canada.
OldTVfanatic 35 months ago
I actually enjoyed the Rambo and Teen Wolf cartoons, and the Real Ghostbusters was good (until Bill Murray complained that one of the characters, Venkman, sounded too much like Garfield the Cat as he was voiced by Lorenzo Music.) After they got Dave Coulier in to replace Music, the show gradually turned into garbage.
Moverfan OldTVfanatic 14 months ago
I loved The Real Ghostbusters, although I never thought of Garfield when I listened to Peter. My first thought was always "Hello, this Carlton your doorman"...{Rhoda, the first spinoff from The Mary Tyler Moore Show--Carlton was only heard over the speaker next to her apartment door.}
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