Name any of your favorite sci-fi movies from the 1980s. No, really, any of them. Alien? Check. Blade Runner? Check. Ghostbusters? Check. Tron? Total Recall? RoboCop? Terminator? Quadruple check. All of these films have been very recently remade or rebooted, and Hollywood may not stop until all the other sci-fi classics from the decade are born again in the 21st century.
News broke yesterday that Benicio del Toro will star in a reboot of the Predator franchise, which helped launch Arnold Schwarzenegger to stardom in 1987. Denis Villeneuve, who’s already in the middle of shooting the aforementioned sequel to 1982’s Blade Runner, revealed in an interview with Variety that he’d like to adapt David Lynch’s sci-fi epic Dune (1984) too.
You already know about the new Star Wars trilogy (not to mention the upcoming anthology films) and the Ghostbusters reboot. You’re contemplating whether last year’s oddly spelled Terminator Genisys was technically a sequel or a remake, but then realized it didn’t actually matter, because it was bad movie that in no way did justice to the spirit of the original film. (Whatever you want to call it, Genisys failed to break even, and Paramount pulled a potential sequel from its release schedule.) Now, you watch TV series like Stranger Things, which is not directly a reboot or remake of any specific 1980s sci-fi film but very clearly borrows from many of them, including E.T. and The Thing.
This regeneration of 30-year-old sci-fi franchises might lead you to wonder if Hollywood will also reboot or make sequels to films like Akira, Escape from New York, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, or Back to the Future. The answer is yes! To all of them! No sci-fi movie of the 1980s is safe.
And why would they be? The flop of Terminator Genisys aside, there’s a perfect storm of factors that make 1980s sci-fi films ripe for reimagining today.
The first, and most obvious, is nostalgia. A lot of moviegoers grew up watching stuff like Alien and Predator (I pity the children who grew up watching 2004’s Alien vs. Predator) and while a vocal minority might not like seeing the beloved films of their childhood ruined by unnecessary sequels, many of them are excited when they hear something like Star Wars or Blade Runner is being produced again. Film studios know this—they’ve done studies—and are eager to capitalize on your desire to return to cinematic worlds explored decades ago.
Movies like Star Wars are also what today’s filmmakers grew up watching. Hollywood’s writers, producers, and directors all watched Spielberg, Carpenter, Scott, and Cronenberg, so it stands to reason that they’d not only make films inspired by those filmmakers but also, at times, literally remake the work of those giants. The fact that the film industry, as a whole, is unoriginal and prone to rehashing famous franchises instead of creating new ones only encourages its filmmakers to do the same.
But the shameless nostalgia mining obfuscates an important truth about 1980s science fiction, which is that it was utterly inventive, and tapped into a sense of weirdness and adventure so timeless that, though the decade ended 26 years ago, we may never see the end of it.
Perhaps as a response to technological fears surrounding the Cold War, or as backlash to the end of New Hollywood and a return to a studio-based system, the sci-fi films of that decade were risky and dangerous, but more often than not still filled with an unassailable lightness (some might call it camp) that most films today lack. As long as people are still people (which may not be long, if 1980s sci-fi films are accurate), these kinds of stories will still excite people. There is nothing more interesting, or mysterious, than the future—nor is there anything scarier. (Okay, maybe the idea of highly intelligent and technologically advanced aliens is just as scary, but the 1980s had that covered too.)
Try to imagine a movie like David Cronenberg’s unsettling creature feature The Fly (1986) remade today—it would probably take itself too seriously, and rely too heavily on computer-generated imagery.
But that won’t stop Hollywood from trying.