20 Classic Animated Shows That Deserve a Live Action Movie

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For many of us, our favorite childhood animated shows are so much more than cartoons. The realm of animation is like a world of wonder, and older shows we grew up with are time capsules acting as beacons of nostalgia that remind us of a simpler, and hopefully, a happier time in our lives. The thing about many of those shows is that they may have usually been aimed at kids, but often feature layered humor that gives us even more to appreciate as adults.

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Even just listening to the theme music for some of these shows is enough to transport us back in time and stir up all the emotional attachments we have to them. Classic animated shows come in many forms: from silly to serious; childish and immature, to ones specifically aimed at adults. Some began and ended after great runs, while others have proven so popular, they’re still going today.

Now that the entertainment industry has entered the era of streaming wars, reboots, revivals, and franchises are the order of the day. Plenty of animated shows have become so popular, they even led to live action movies. The Flintstones, Dora the Explorer, ​​​​​​Kim Possible, and Inspector Gadget are prime examples of how well classic cartoons can translate into film.

However, for every one of those that did get a film, there are so many others that deserve one but never got that chance. Here is a list of the 20 best classic animated shows that deserve their own live-action movies.

1 Duck Tales (1987-1990)

Duck Tales Scrooge and the nephews and girl stand in a doorway
Disney

As far as classic animated shows go, there aren’t many that made kids want to race home after school to watch more than Duck Tales. Based on the Duck Universe comic books by Carl Barks, the show featured the infamously grumpy Scrooge McDuck, who is the uncle of Donald Duck. When Donald enlists in the Navy, he entrusts Scrooge with taking care of his nephews, Huey, Dewey, and, Louie.

Related:10 TV Shows Every ’80s Kid Remembers

Despite being insanely wealthy, Scrooge is always after more money, and uses tight business practices to get it. While his nephews initially drive him crazy, he soon warms up to them after realizing their resourcefulness and cunning, which they often use to save his fortune from unscrupulous villains.

Why It Needs a Live-Action Movie

A true classic, the show ran for four seasons between the late ’80s and early ’90s. It featured one of the most memorable theme songs of many childhoods, and was a mix of fun, sweet, and thematically mature content. An award-winning show, its characters and themes have never grown old, with animated movies, spin-off shows, and a rebooted show airing between 2017 and 2021.

With an evergreen concept and popularity that never wanes, AI artists have given us a great idea of how cool a live-action Duck Tales movie could be, and it looks pretty awesome. Stream Duck Tales on Disney+.

2 The Powerpuff Girls (1998-2005)

Powerpuff Girls Blossom Bubbles and Buttercup fly through the air angry
Cartoon Network

Lasting for six seasons in the early ’00s, The Powerpuff Girls was easily one of the most popular animated shows of its generation. Revolving around three Kindergarten-age girls who each have their own superpowers, its charm has never stopped being popular. Known by their favored colors, Blossom (pink), Bubbles (blue), and Buttercup (green) often have to use their powers to defend their city against various recurring super villains.

Why It Needs a Live-Action Movie

Between its antics, brilliant comedic angles, and sublimely timed pop culture references, the show was ahead of the curve compared to most cartoons of the day. It was one of those shows that could be enjoyed just as much as an adult, and one of its funniest angles centered around the dichotomy of the girls being crime-fighting superheroes, while simultaneously dealing with normal childhood issues like losing their baby teeth, sibling rivalry, and bed-wetting. It was actually all set for a live-action series recently, but sadly, it never came to fruition. Stream on Max and Netflix.

3 Jonny Quest

Jonny Quest
Jonny Quest

Release Date
September 18, 1964

Cast
Tim Matheson , Mike Road , Don Messick

Seasons
1

A classic animated show from the ’60s, Jonny Quest became highly popular in syndication, and one of the few shows to have been broadcast on all of the so-called Big Three television networks — NBC, CBS and ABC. It followed a young boy as he goes on many adventures with his scientist father and other key characters. Known for his advanced intelligence and skills with things like scuba diving, martial arts, and even handling firearms, this made Jonny formidable despite him still being a child.

Related:20 Iconic TV shows Every ’90s Kid Remembers

Why it Needs a Live-Action Movie

The show was so popular, it led to two animated TV films and two revival series, the latter of which aired in the ’90s and had all the makings of an ideal show to turn into a movie. The series in all its iterations was filled with great characters, amazing adventures, action, intrigue, and some brilliant concepts that explore strange phenomena and devious villains from scientific angles.

With the kind of concepts and characters that translate well across any generation, Chris McKay (Robot Chicken, The Lego Batman Movie) is currently developing a live-action production of Jonny Quest, so thankfully, this one might become a reality soon. Stream Jonny Quest on Tubi.

4 Recess (1997-2001)

Recess
Recess

Release Date
September 13, 1997

Seasons
6

An amazing cartoon that was cleverly written and gave its younger viewers a feeling of sophistication just for watching it, Recess has had a cult following for decades since it last aired. The show revolved around six fourth-grade friends as they navigate their lives at the unusal Third Street Elementary School. Usually being drawn into the satirical plots of the show, the episodes often likened life at their school to microcosms of adult societies and even governmental politics.

Why It Needs a Live-Action Movie

The ensemble nature of the show meant there was a great core of diverse characters to follow, each with their distinct personalities, strengths, and quirks. It made for the kind of character template that would work perfectly as a live-action movie or series.

The popularity of the show also meant it had a loyal following, with many fans wanting a movie remake for years. In fact, all the hype around this and the show’s loyal following has actually led to a fan-made, crowdfunded live-action film being made, though it still deserves a mainstream one too, preferably with big studio backing. Stream Recess on Disney+.

5 BraveStarr (1987-1988)

BraveStarr poster image holding a gun with horse character and villain behind him
Filmation

A fantastic animated show, BraveStarr was the last series developed by Filmation before they shut down. Spanning 65 episodes, the show combined elements of western themes with science-fiction elements. It centered around Marshall BraveStarr, a Native American lawman from the multicultural planet known as New Texas.

With the ability to summon the power of spirit animals, BraveStarr calls on “Strength of the Bear,” “Speed of the Puma,” “Eyes of the Hawk,” and “Ears of the Wolf” to perform superhuman feats and take down his enemies.

Why It Needs a Live-Action Movie

Vastly ahead of its time, the show was a triumph of creativity and progressive storytelling and featured a variety of great characters and some very creepy villains. Crossing boundaries and genres, it departed from archaic notions of what a mainstream hero could look like. Despite its short time on screen, it left a lasting legacy on audiences of its generation, one that still holds up today and would make for a great movie if done just right. Currently not available to stream or rent.

6 Biker Mice From Mars (1993-1996)

Biker Mice From Mars the three mice together in a still shot
Filmation

It’s hard to argue with the fact that no decade did cool animated shows better than the ’90s. In another classic from that generation, Biker Mice From Mars followed a trio of anthropomorphic mice who come to Earth to defend it from villains and threats that destroyed their world on Mars. They each have distinct personalities and skills, and ride around on awesome motorcycles, too.

Why it Needs a Live-Action Movie

The show was highly popular in the early ’90s, and ran for three seasons and 65 episodes. It was produced by Marvel, with Stan Lee himself as co-executive producer. This gave the show a distinct blend of quality and coolness, with awesome artwork and snappy scripts adding to its likability.

Related:The 20 Most Underrated Animated Movies Ever Made

The show went on to branch out into video games, comic books, a revival series in 2006, with a modern-day reboot show in the works from Ryan Reynolds’ production company, Maximum Effort. Just in case you’ve never seen it, it may seem like the concept of large mouse superheroes riding bikes and fighting bad guys is a little strange, and possibly too weird for a live-action film.

However, four mutant turtle brothers who were named after Italian Renaissance painters seemed just as unlikely a concept once. Yet they fare pretty well in modern cinema. Currently Not Available to Stream or Rent.

7 Captain Planet and the Planeteers (1990-1992)

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Captain Planet and the Planeteers was an amazing animated show from the ’90s that was acres ahead of its time given how the world now feels about climate change and ecological issues. An environmental show with a superhero theme, it lasted six seasons in the early ’90s before the sequel series, The New Adventures of Captain Planet, ran between 1993 and 1996.

The show followed a concept where Gaia, the primordial Goddess often also thought of as “Mother Earth,” grows tired of human beings’ destruction of the natural world. She sends out five magical rings to special teenagers across the world. The rings give each user a specific power tied to the elements, but when all the powers are combined, they summon a superhero known as Captain Planet to fight for our world and save it from environmental catastrophe.

Why It Needs a Live-Action Movie

Given how superhero movies have taken of in the 21st century, anyone who remembers this amazing show knows how much potential it has to make a fantastic live-action film. The characters and their powers, unique personalities and ethnic backgrounds, plus Captain Planet himself and the poignancy of the entire concept, are all ripe for a modern film version.

Thankfully, we’re not the only ones who feel this way, and a ​Captain Planet movie is currently in develoment. Given its popularity and the urgency of its message, the idea has found favor with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, who is well known for his dedication to environmental activism, and also owns a successful production company. Rent Captain Planet and the Planeteers on Apple TV+.

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8 Gargoyles (1994-1997)

Gargoyles
Gargoyles

Release Date
October 24, 1994

Seasons
3

A brilliantly done animated show that both kids and adults could enjoy, Gargoyles was a Disney production but features far darker themes than its usual fare. The concept revolved around a time of superstition when nocturnal creatures who turned to stone during the day, and awakened at night to protect the world from evil, existed. While an ancient spell has kept them frozen for 1000 years, they are reawakened in modern-day New York and have to defend the city from new threats.

Why It Needs a Live-Action Movie

The show’s amazing dark superhero image made it a fascinating watch. With a wickedly cool concept and great characters to drive it, it has awesome potential for a big-budget, blockbuster film. The good news is, with a huge cult following, there is currently plans for a live-action movie, and a reboot show in the works too. Stream Gargoyles on Disney+.

9 Freakazoid! (1995-1997)

Created by the iconic Bruce Timm (the mind behind the superb Batman animated series and the DC Animated Universe), Freakazoid! was a hilarious show about a superhero with a slant. More of a parody character, the bizarre but hilarious show often featured slapstick moments, fourth wall breaks, and racy humor. As the alter ego of a nerdy teenager, Freakazoid gained superhuman strength, speed, agility, knowledge, and a variety of other abilities from a computer bug that activated a “secret key sequence.”

Why It Needs a Live-Action Movie

Freakazoid! featuresabilities and a comedic superhero format that makes him akin to characters like The Mask crossed with Deadpool. Since we know how spectacularly both those characters did with their live-action films, if done correctly, there’s a good chance that a Freakazoid! movie will follow in their footsteps and become a commercial hit. Buy Freakazoid! on Apple TV+.

10 Adventures of the Gummi Bears (1985-1991)

Adventures of the Gummi Bears the group together poster image
Disney

Loosely inspired by the famous candy Gummy Bears, the animated show Adventures of the Gummi Bears was an iconic cartoon. Spanning six seasons between the mid ’80s and early ’90s, the show featured a group of seven creatures known as Gummi Bears. It takes place in a medieval setting and a time when fantasy and magical powers were commonplace. Fighting against human villains, they constantly try to learn the secret of their famous Gummiberry Juice, which grants the drinker super agility.

Why It Needs a Live-Action Movie

A classic show with a legendary theme song, the success and popularity of Adventures of the Gummi Bears is widely credited for spearheading the success of all the classic Disney animated series like Duck Tales and Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers. Its timeless characters and themes remain relevant today, and would likely translate well as a film.

Related:These Are Some of the Best TV Theme Songs, Ranked

In case you’ve forgotten it, here’s a hit of nostalgia with a look back at the legendary theme song from the show. Stream Adventures of the Gummi Bears on Disney+:

11 The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy (2001-2007)

The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy standing with Grim outside
Cartoon Network

Another award-winning animated show, The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy was a series with a novel concept. Its main characters were Billy, a comically dim-witted young boy, and Mandy, a deadpan, somewhat mean girl who often gave off Wednesday Addams vibes. After Mandy saves Billy’s hamster, they meet Grim, the real Grim Reaper, who is now forced to serve the pair with his supernatural gifts despite often being reluctant to do so.

Why It Needs a Live-Action Movie

There are so many great angles to the show that would make for an epic live-action comedy film if done right. The voice work and traits of each of the main characters all work brilliantly off each other, and the show’s supernatural twist gives it a wealth of potential for prospective filmmakers to get creative with it. Stream The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy on Max.

12 Doug (1991-1999)

Doug
Doug

Release Date
August 11, 1991

Seasons
7

Cast
Constance Shulman , Alice Playten , Chris Phillips

Created by the talented animator Jim Jinkins, and airing on Nickelodeon throughout most of the ’90s, Doug was a sweet and wholesome show with mature themes. It centered on the eponymous character, Douglas “Doug” Funnie, and his experiences as a young boy. With a vivid imagination and a habit of recording his experiences in a journal, Doug’s life at school and with his family always made for an interesting watch.

Why It Needs a Live-Action Movie

Doug was an unusual show that may not have stuck out in the memories of ’90s kids as much as other famous shows but always featured some great underlying lessons. The characters were great, the animation style unusual, and its coming-of-age themes were cleverly done. Having been nominated and won awards like Emmys and Parents Choice Awards, the show was the sort that could easily translate into a wholesome family movie.

To better understand the deeper thematic influences that made the show so good, here’s an excerpt from a piece by The Huffington Post that featured Jim Jinkins’ own take on why he created Doug:

“We put ourselves through enormous pain to avoid pain and I had this notion of: ‘What if we didn’t do that? What if we just told the truth?’ But that’s complicated. In the adult world, the notion of truth and not-truth is complicated, but I didn’t want to debate it. I didn’t want to show all of the ambiguity of the adult world to kids. I wanted to show kids a world where everyone took honesty seriously.”

Stream Doug on Disney+ and Paramount+.

13 Beavis and Butt-Head (1993-1997)

An iconic show that’s often been as controversial as it is critically acclaimed, Beavis and Butt-Head was an adult animated sitcom that became a full-blown media franchise over the years. Its two title characters are deliberately weird and moronic teenage cretins who spend most of their time watching TV and living an unhealthy lifestyle. They also go on crazy adventures that usually feature some heavy-handed violence, or criminal acts.

Why It Needs a Live-Action Movie

Created by Mike Judge, the show’s popularity has transcended different generations and has a longevity that’s seen it make comebacks, feature animated movies, and revival shows that’s kept it running to this day. The good news for fans is that it does seem like a Beavis and Butt-Head live-action movie may actually be possible, with Mike Judge himself now reportedly open to the idea.

Given the extreme, politically incorrect, and often scandalous nature of the show, it would be easy to dismiss it as trashy, but its satirical themes are both brilliant and hilarious if you’re into their brand of dark humor. Legendary film critic Roger Ebert summed up their appeal and wider significance best in his review for the film Beavis and Butt-Head Do America:

“It would be easy to attack B&B as ignorant, vulgar, depraved, repulsive slobs. Of course they are. But that would miss the point, which is that Mike Judge’s characters reflect parts of the society that produced them. To study B&B is to learn about a culture of narcissism, alienation, functional illiteracy, instant gratification and television zombiehood. Those who deplore Beavis and Butt-Head are confusing the messengers with the message.

Given that this review was written back in 1996, think about how much more poignant those words are now. Today, we live in the age of social media, where things like mass misinformation, dopamine hits from infinite scrolling, TikTok challenges, and clout-chasing influencers have all begun having catastrophic effects on our mental health, our attention spans, productivity, and some may even say, common sense, courtesy, and traditional notions of human decency. Rather than criticizing the characters, perhaps we should ask ourselves: have we become them? Stream Beavis and Butt-Head on Paramount+.

14 Samurai Jack (2001-2004)

Billed as an action-adventure-dystopian animated show, Samurai Jack was another legendary series created by Genndy Tartakovsky for Cartoon Network and Adult Swim. The titular character starts as a Japanese Prince who battles an evil demon named Aku. While wielding his mystical katana and about to win, the demon transports him forward in time to a dystopian future where the samurai eventually adopts the name “Jack.” Much of the show is then devoted to Jack’s attempts to get back to his own time and defeat Aku.

Why It Needs a Live-Action Movie

Highly acclaimed, the show has won multiple Annie Awards and Primetime Emmys. Aimed at more mature audiences, its stylized violence and mature themes draw heavily from Tartakovsky’s affinity for samurai culture. Widely regarded as one of the best animated shows ever made, fans have often bemoaned the fact that it’s never been made into a live-action movie despite petitions and attempts at fan-made movies. Stream Samurai Jack on Max.

15 South Park (1997-Present)

south park
South Park

Release Date
August 13, 1997

Studio
Comedy Central

A show that’s been running for a staggering 26 seasons to date, and featured spin-off animated movies and specials, South Park has legions of fans around the world and is an icon of adult animated shows. From the hilariously twisted minds of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the show follows the misadventures of four young boys as they navigate life in the titular Colorado town they live in. Featuring crude adult humor and heavily satirized story lines that often include celebrity characters, the show has been both a critical and commercial juggernaut for Comedy Central.

Why It Needs a Live-Action Movie

The short answer is: because it’s just too darn popular to have never had one. Given the show’s global popularity, it makes perfect sense commercially, but is also something fans have wanted for decades. While it seems likely that it may never happen, it doesn’t stop us from envisioning what a live-action South Park could be like.

The show’s explicit nature and content, which is often heavily mired in controversy, makes it something that people either love or hate. However, for fans of the show, it represents a bastion of unapologetic political incorrectness in a world overrun by political and social sensitivities that have resulted in an ever-growing list of what’s now deemed offensive. South Park’s antidote against this has always been to mock everything and everyone, often responding to controversy by lampooning the complaints, too. Stream South Park on Max.

16 Animaniacs (1993-1998)

Animaniacs all the characters and side characters from the show marching together
The WB

A variety animated show presented through skits and various segments, Animaniacs was another legendary show from the ’90s. Featuring ensemble characters and differing formats, it was hilarious, irreverent, and became part of a larger collaboration between Warner Bros. Animation and Steven Spielberg’s famed Amblin Entertainment, with Spielberg himself serving as executive producer for it.

Why It Needs a Live-Action Movie

Hugely popular, one of the show’s best traits was how it often leveraged music and pop culture references. Throwing in satire with tons of hilarious jokes and antics, the show grew to have a massive legacy among its many fans all around the world. That popularity led to a contemporary revival of the show that features on Hulu and recently finished its third and final season.

As an added bonus, it often featured two zany mice who became so popular in their quest to take over the world, they ended up with their own show that became just as popular. Stream Animaniacs on Hulu.

17 Pinky and the Brain (1995-1998)

Those other characters from Animaniacs that had their own spin-off show we just mentioned were these two. Anyone who remembers the iconic show Pinky and The Brain from their childhood can attest to what an awesome cartoon it was. Hilarious and devilishly clever, it featured two genetically enhanced laboratory mice who live in a cage in ACME Labs.

Pinky was a lovable dimwit played by legendary voice actor Rob Paulsen, while Brain was a devious genius that was also an Orson Welles satire. Together, every episode revolved around their attempts at coming up with a new plan to take over the world.

Related:Pinky and the Brain’s Best Episodes, Ranked

Why It Needs a Live-Action Movie

A timeless show, the characters were polar opposites in many ways, yet worked so well together. The humor was a synergetic blend of slapstick comedy that kids loved and satirical jokes that adults could appreciate too. Their antics and plans made for hours of thoroughly enjoyable episodes across its four-season run, with the show winning numerous Emmy and Annie Awards along the way.

While a movie might be “live action” in the way that the modern Lion King remake is “live action,” it might still come off super popular, if it maintains its irreverent humor and ridiculous antics. Buy Pinky and the Brain on Apple TV+.

18 Johnny Bravo (1997-2004)

One of the all-time classic cartoons of its day, Johnny Bravo was loosely based on the personalities of both Elvis Presley and James Dean. Although ultimately a good guy, Johnny frequently chases after women and flirts with those he comes across. He’s almost always soundly rebuked by them, but is never short of confidence, which comes down to his inflated ego and how comically devoted he is to his looks and physique.

Why It Needs a Live-Action Movie

A mama’s boy of note, the duality between Johnny’s sweet and innocent sides and his egotistical womanizing ways make for hilarious themes. The show’s humor was often crude and racy enough to be enjoyed by adults as much as kids could enjoy its physical comedy. Between the clever pop culture references and celebrity character appearances, the show quickly grew into an iconic media franchise. Although there were plans for a live-action movie as far back as 2002, sadly it never got off the ground.

At the time, Dwayne Johnson was slated to play the character in a film. The fact that it never got made was a tragedy for fans since Johnson’s time as The Rock during his wrestling career showed us what an ideal candidate he would have been to play Johnny Bravo, as the similarities between the two characters were striking. Buy Johnny Bravo on Apple TV+.

19 Dexter’s Laboratory (1996-2003)

Dexter's Laboratory
Dexter’s Laboratory

Release Date
April 28, 1996

Seasons
4

Cast
Candi Milo , Kathryn Cressida , Jeff Bennett , Kath Soucie , Eddie Deezen

Coming from that same golden age of cartoons that featured the likes of Pinky and the Brain, Dexter’s Laboratory was an infectiously funny animated show that played on similar themes. Dexter was a child genius and a cranky one at that, who performed wild experiments in his lab that he kept hidden at his parent’s house. His hilarious and extroverted sister Dee Dee often drives him up the wall, since she always finds a way to gain access to the lab and foil his experiments.

Why It Needs a Live-Action Movie

A timeless show from the mind of the iconic Genndy Tartakovsky, Dexter’s Laboratory was single-handedly responsible for huge growth in Cartoon Network ratings once its popularity became entrenched.

Related:The Top 25 Cartoon Network TV Shows of All Time

Widely regarded as one of the network’s best original shows, it’s been highly acclaimed, winning numerous Annie Awards and Primetime Emmys. Even though there’s been spin-off animated films, it’s sadly never had a live-action movie, despite many fans loving the idea of there being one. Stream Dexter’s Laboratory on Prime Video.

20 The Simpsons (1989-Present)

The longest-running animated show in history and arguably the most iconic one too, The Simpsons has amassed a timeless legacy since it first aired back in the late ’80s. Currently in its 35th season, it features the famous Simpson family and their adventures with the wider characters from the fictional town of Springfield. Often satirizing society and making light of everything from politics to pop culture, the show has featured many legendary episodes, countless celebrity guest stars, and sidesplitting moments over the years.

Why It Needs a Live-Action Movie

Given how popular the show has been for so long, it’s hard to believe it hasn’t had a live action film by now. It has, however, grown to become a huge franchise and a merchandising behemoth, spawning everything from clothing and toys, to video games and animated movies and specials.

While the show has seen its share of controversy, and has sometimes been criticized for going on for too long and declining in quality, it remains a true legend of the entertainment world. Over the course of its run, it’s won an astonishing 35 Primetime Emmy Awards, 34 Annie Awards and a Peabody Award. Stream The Simpsons on Disney+.

Despite all this, there’s always a sense that there’s been something missing from its legacy since it’s never had a live-action movie. If you’re skeptical about whether one would actually be possible, check out this Instagram post that shows what a Live-Action Simpsons could be like.

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