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!

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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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FestusFan2312 18 days ago
Never saw any of them. I don’t figure I missed anything.
kimmer 19 days ago
I was working when these came out....I kind of wished I'd have seen them..lol
DuanneWalton 20 days ago
The Real Ghostbusters and Beetlejuice were the best.
Joseph 20 days 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 20 days 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 21 days 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.
ShadeofJeremy 22 days ago
I saw all of these at least once or twice. And more, "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" anyone? With John Aston no less.
Thanks for the memory jog. When I first read your comment my reaction was "Huh?" but now that I think about I do recall something like that, although I never saw it when it was on. Hello YouTube!
Barry22 22 days ago
Other 80's movies they should have done cartoons of; Red Dawn, Breakin 2, Electric Boogaloo, and Terms of Endearment. All with talking dogs. In Terms of Endearment case, the dog sounds like Jack Nicholson.
bdettlingmetv Barry22 20 days ago
LOL!!! I think you're onto something. I mean if they can make children's programming from ultra-violent material like 'Robocop' and 'Rambo', and utter dreck like 'Police Academy' then why not?? Would love to see how the writers work "Boys! Avenge me!" into something suitable for children.
country46 22 days ago
johnny quest ?
That wasn’t an adaptation from a live action movie in the 80s. The original Jonny Quest was a cartoon from the 60s.
327053 22 days ago
The only ones I remember watching were Ghostbusters and Beetlejuice.
texasluva 22 days ago
In the 80's only cartoons were mostly classic older ones and always liked watching Scooby-Doo even ones into the 80's. I do not think I watched many of the above.
country46 23 days ago
I don't remember none of them I was out of the cartoon phase after 72 i know of the shows
idkwut2use 23 days ago
The Beetlejuice series is great—dug it as a kid and for the longest time thought that WAS the original version of the character. Then I finally saw the film. The Ghostbusters one is pretty cool too.
moax429 idkwut2use 20 days ago
I liked the "Beetlejuice" cartoon much better than the movie. The cartoon somehow made more sense.

Lydia was voiced by former Canadian child star Alyson Court. Ms. Court was a semi-regular on the CBC kids' show "Mr. Dressup," and then she went on to play clown Loonette on "The Big Comfy Couch."
idkwut2use moax429 20 days ago
Yeah, I honestly like the cartoon a little more, if partly because I grew up with it. I saw the movie on the ABC Family (now Freeform) 13 Nights of Halloween lineup and enjoyed it well enough, but it doesn’t occupy the same place as the cartoon for me.
Also, I have a fairly significant preference for animation. At 34 I still watch loooooads of cartoons and kids’ stuff. (“Grow up?” Never—tried it and realized this is where it’s at! ;D)
Jeremy 23 days ago
I remember most of these. I've seen about six of them.
MrsPhilHarris 23 days ago
Ernie Hudson auditioned for the role he played in movie but didn’t get the part? Good grief.

Moody 23 days ago
I never heard of a lot of these but my kids probably watched them. From the looks of them I probably wouldn't like them anyway.
Barry22 23 days ago
Real Ghostbusters was funny; the rest, not so much.
Zip 23 days ago
Except for the first two, The Real Ghostbusters and Beetlejuice, and #9 Teen Wolf, I never even knew the rest of those cartoons even existed. I remember liking Teen Wolf though. I can still hear the theme song, "Teen wolf, comin' out to play. (I'm a)Teen wolf, I'm gonna howl today!(Gonna howl today, todaaay!)
moax429 Zip 20 days ago
I heard "Teen Wolf" was supposed to get a DVD release (through Shout! Factory) about six years ago, but there is some kind of (ongoing) dispute between MGM (who owns all incarnations of "Teen Wolf") and WarnerMedia (who owns Australian Hanna-Barbera, who co-produced the program).

I would strongly suggest e-mailing Shout! Factory and ask them if the situation has been resolved yet. (Shame - I was just out of college when the "Teen Wolf" cartoon series premiered in 1986. I recorded both seasons on VHS tape, but the tapes have long since been destroyed. The second season had only 8 episodes - instead of the usual 13 for a kids' series - because of a cartoon voice actors' strike in 1986.)
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