10 More ’80s Masterpieces That Deserve Sequels

10 More ’80s Masterpieces That Deserve Sequels
Screenshot: Studiocanal / YouTube

Having aged approximately 20 years in the three-and-a-half decades since the original’s release, Tom Cruise is back in one of the roles that cemented his place as an icon of 1980s pop cinema, with an ability to pack theatres that’s only rarely waned since.

For better and worse, this is an era of nostalgia: Top Gun: Maverick looks, so far, to be a success with audiences and critics, and The Karate Kid follow-up Cobra Kai, a show that’s done tremendously well for the fickle Netflix, is going into its fifth season later this year. The other big Netflix hit, Stranger Things, is an 1980s period piece with any number of the era’s films in its DNA.

If Lt. Maverick Mitchell can make a comeback, why not other memorable 80s characters? These are some memorable and iconic 80s movies that might produce surprising sequels.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Everyone has their own favourite John Hughes movie (well, everyone old enough to know who John Hughes is), but Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is mine. Like a lot of people, I’m drawn to the Ferris character even though I know I’m a Cameron.

There are two ways to go with a sequel: Either our heroes learned their lessons from the 1986 classic, and have gone on to lead entirely fun, happy, and productive lives…or not so much. The latter is more interesting, even if it guts Ferris Bueller’s happily-ever-after ending. What would the life of a Ferris in his fifties look like? Has life dulled that youthful spark? And to what extent is it possible to recover that mojo in middle age and beyond? That’s only going to work, though, with genuine commitment to exploring the aged characters. A Judd Apatow-style farce would sell, but I’m imagining something a bit deeper and darker: think a director like Sofia Coppola, or Lulu Wang. Something lighter could be fun, but I’m not sure that would be worth the effort.

Perhaps its Alan Ruck’s Cameron Frye, who learned to loosen up a bit in the original, who serves here as the role model rather than Ferris — his naturally cautious nature might have spared him disillusionment. Mia Sara seems to have largely moved on to other endeavours, but Broderick, Ruck, and Jennifer Grey are all still working actors.

They Live (1988)

John Carpenter’s They Live doesn’t have quite the place in pop culture than it ought to (even among Carpenter movies), though perhaps it’s more effective as a cult classic than it would be had it been consumed and processed by a mass audience: a more widely popular movie would have spawned endless merchandise spin-offs, which would inevitably miss the point. The movie stars pro-wrestler Roddy Piper as a drifter who discovers the truth about the subliminal advertising and messaging that keep humanity subdued. It also features one of the all-time great movie fight scenes, a nearly six-minute sequence that gave us that immortal line about chewing bubble gum and kicking arse. It was all very deliberately written by Carpenter as a savage sci-fi critique of Reagan-era economic disparities and growing commercialization in both pop culture and politics. In 2021, we’re living in a world far beyond what They Live imagined, with a wealth gap that’s widened exponentially, along with social media that’s outsourced propaganda and misinformation; aliens are no longer required to send out brain-scrambling signals — we’re happy to do it to ourselves.

In today’s world, anyone who put on the film’s truth-revealing glasses would be mocked as “woke” and summarily dismissed. A sequel to They Live might well wind up looking more like a documentary.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)

Definitely more of a cult classic than a bona fide hit, Buckaroo Banzai has legit cult appeal, even earning a quick shout-out in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One. The film’s writer, Earl Mac Rauch (who also wrote the novelization), has written a sequel novel (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League) and a handful of comic books that tell stories set before and after the film. So, while the film may well have captured lightning in a bottle, it’s clear that the writer, at least, has more stories to tell.

And reassembling the cast here isn’t quite as tough as you might think: Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd are all still very much popular, working actors (though probably quite a bit more expensive to contract than they were in 1984). Back in the 80s, that group of names represented a blend of established working actors and some relative newcomers. Today, they’re all legends.

Adventures in Babysitting (1987)

For my money, this (rather than Home Alone) is the Chris Columbus movie that could have benefitted from a sequel or two. As hard as it is to imagine now, Babysitting’s references to Marvel’s Thor were an impressively obscure bit of geekery for mainstream movie audiences back in 1987. Maia Brewton’s Sarah, one of the film’s babysittees, has a near-obsession with the character, wearing the familiar helmet throughout, and even wielding her own version of Mjolnir. While, admittedly, there aren’t a lot of obvious reasons to check in on Elisabeth Shue’s Chris Parker decades later (although, I suppose, babysitters don’t have to be teenagers), the possibility of a Marvel crossover would satisfy a longstanding itch. Someone call Chris Hemsworth.

As charming as the original is in moments, any sequel would need to dodge the original’s not-so-subtle racism: The whole premise of suburban white kids lost in scary inner-city Chicago would have to go right in the toilet.

Shue was willing to at least stop by the Cobra Kai dojo to reprise her role from The Karate Kid, so it’s not entirely impossible that she’d show up for a Babysitting sequel. Rent and Star Trek’s Anthony Rapp, all grown up, might also pop by.

School Daze (1988)

A strikingly nuanced portrait of HCBUs, Spike Lee’s second movie isn’t always at the top of lists when filmgoers speak of the director, but it’s an impressively acted and written work based on Lee’s own years at Morehouse. It includes any number of actors who were great then, but who’ve gone on to become icons (Laurence Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito, Tisha Campbell, Samuel L. Jackson, etc.); it’s also the film in which Lee first directed Black students (and anyone else willing to listen) to “Please, wake up.”

From a solely Black perspective, the movie deals not only with student life, but also pressing issues of the era, including Apartheid, hair politics, and colorism…I’d love to find out what became of Fishburne’s socially conscious Dap Dunlap as he moved into middle ages and the ways in which his concerns from the movie have evolved and changed over the decades without ever having gone away.

Flash Gordon (1980)

Were it made in 2022, Flash Gordon would have been designed from the outset as a franchise, with sequels and prequels and sidequels planned from the beginning — though it’s hard to know whether or not an incredibly fun, but also incredibly goofy movie (in the best sense) like this would do well in today’s market. As a throwback, old-school bit of sci-fi serial silliness, it might well serve as a bit of counter-programming to the more ostensibly serious comic book films we’re all seeing so many of. Though movies that have tried that sort of thing (John Carter, Valerian, etc.) have generally failed, I contend there’s a market for this sort of thing done right. I’ve no doubt there’s a young, hot actor who could serve as a protege to a still time-lost Sam J. Jones; it would be tempting to find a new band to craft a new theme song, but given that a disproportionate amount of the film’s cult status rests on its instantly recognisable themes song from Queen, filmmakers will probably be best served just using that.

The Monster Squad (1987)

I didn’t love Ghostbusters: Afterlife in execution (it was fine), but the formula introduced there made perfect sense, and could work very well here. The dark comedy about a bunch of very 80s kids who uncover the truth about real Universal-inspired (but safely public domain) monsters, The Monster Squad was one of those movies from the era that just straddled the line between what might and might not be entirely appropriate for kids — that failure to pick a demographic probably being the reason why it didn’t make much money at the time. There’s no problem with that now, and I’d love to see some of the gang from this movie team up with a new generation of monster squaddies. Universal has had very (very) mixed success in their efforts to revive some of their old monster properties, and a more straightforward homage to that old-school era might be refreshing.

Stand and Deliver (1988)

Based on the true story of Bolivian-American calculus teacher Jaime Escalante (played by the great Edward James Olmos), the movie portrayed the educator’s (incredibly successful) efforts to teach mathematics to students at Garfield High in East L.A., a then-failing school whose accreditation was in danger of being pulled. His diligence, innovative methods, and tough-but-fair classroom ethic saw him pull off a near-miracle for his students, who went on to overwhelmingly pass the AP Calc exam. The movie captures this inspiring moment, but there was plenty that came after for Escalante and Garfield High. National fame saw the maths program there expand dramatically, but Escalante’s new celebrity status earned him admirers as well as enemies, with other teachers at the school complaining that he’d become too much the focus.

His move to East Los Angeles College saw him nearly back at square one, trying to teach older students who hadn’t had much preparation, while the Garfield program kept going before declining precipitously, not being able to survive the loss of Escalante and those who followed in his immediate wake. It’s not entirely a happy story, but a smartly written sequel could have an awful lot to say about the American educational system, and the big upsides, as well as the hurdles, that arise when we elevate individual exceptional teachers without trying to figure out the whys and hows of their success.

The Goonies (1985)

Rumours of a Goonies sequel have swirled since approximately the day after the film’s 1985 release, with director Richard Donner stoking those fires for years. He’s no longer with us, but this team-up between three incredibly influential fantasy filmmakers (Donner, alongside Chris Columbus and Steven Spielberg) remains one of the most iconic kids’ team-up movies from the era, inspiring any number of later imitators (Super 8, for example, as well as Stranger Things). Any sort of reunion for these characters could be a lot of fun, but mostly it would be a perfectly reasonable excuse to put Sean Astin in the lead of a movie… where he belongs.

Risky Business (1983)

A fascinatingly sex-positive teen comedy for the conservative 80s, Risky Business has slightly fewer problematic elements than you might expect for a vintage movie about a teenager who turns his house into a brothel. Though this one’s probably a bit unlikely…Tom Cruise is in the sequel business these days.

In one sense, a sequel would be an opportunity to explore some of the movie’s themes in a modern context (the ways in which our attitudes toward sex, sex work, and straight white male suburban adolescence have and haven’t changed). My pitch is a little more specific, though. The original ends with a budding romance between Cruise’s Joel and sex-worker Rebecca De Mornay’s Lana…I’d love to see a next-generation (or next-next generation, at this point?) type scenario with the twist of a teenager trying to wrap their head around their family’s cool, but unconventional origin story, busting the myths and assumptions that so easily arise when families try to sugarcoat the past.

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