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7 Nostalgic ’80s Remakes Ranked, With ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ At No. 1

Hollywood has spent decades attempting sequels to beloved films from the 1980s. But ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ is the true ace of this sub-genre.

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With record-breaking “Top Gun: Maverick” on its way to earning $1 billion worldwide, the event film from producer-star Tom Cruise has proved itself far beyond 1980s nostalgia. Soaring on high-speed aerial visuals and a sonic experience viewers can’t get at home, it’s driven by a story that has many layers to examine: team dynamics, military strategy, and other deeper themes.

But suits in Hollywood will inevitably use high-flying “Maverick” to chalk up a win for yesteryear’s franchises. Some metrics back them up. On IMDB’s MovieMeter, rebooted franchises often dominate the top 10, such as recent chart-toppers ’80s action figure Boba Fett, ’60s musical “West Side Story,” and “The Batman,” a fifth iteration since Tim Burton’s 1989 blockbuster.

Movie studios will inevitably mine intellectual property for ’80s remakes, some already announced, such as ensemble comedy “Clue,” popular toy brand vehicle “Masters of the Universe,” and even forgotten sci-fi flick “Flight of the Navigator” (Disney can’t resist.) That’s on top of dozens already produced; those few who saw it are still trying to forget 2016’s all-female “Ghostbusters.”

Nostalgia plays aren’t all cynical, as every story has influences from somewhere. Outside the ’80s decade, Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s 11,” ’90s rom-com “You’ve Got Mail,” and even Humphrey Bogart’s “The Maltese Falcon” are all remakes. Through reimagined stories, filmmakers may revive relevant ideas and genres in cultural memory — often in ways that aren’t just a tired time-capsule. 

If film and TV production follow the route of the music industry, where classic hits have far eclipsed new artists and songs, it will be cause for concern. For now, a look at recent legacy sequels finds a wide range of hits and misses. Note it’s hardly comprehensive, as it overlooks horror (not my genre), which has seen a couple dozen ’80s remakes in recent years. 

7. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

The Star Wars sequel trilogy, which shoehorned in every possible nostalgia hook while failing to plan an overall story arc, continues to be panned by most fans. First in the cycle, 2015’s “The Force Awakens” has some charms as it essentially remakes George Lucas’ 1977 original “Star Wars.” Some viewers vocally defend “The Last Jedi,” which flips many genre tropes (although it’s mostly an anti-male, anti-heroism mess.) 

With the closing entry, director J.J. Abrams sought to remake ’80s space-opera blockbuster “Return of the Jedi.” Emperor Palpatine, the defeated villain from the 1983 film, inexplicably comes back to haunt the new band of heroes.

Battles among hulking spaceships are so big, we can’t fathom what’s going on. And viewers learn Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter, although she’s dubbed a “Skywalker” in closing minutes. It’s a final push off the cliff for this trainwreck trilogy.

6. Red Dawn (2012, Amazon Prime) 

A sleeper hit about a group of teenagers’ unlikely attempt to ward off a Russian invasion of the American Rockies, 1984’s “Red Dawn” with its Brat Pack cast and campy action exemplified Cold War era sentiments. The ill-advised remake, even with star power like Chris Hemsworth and Adrianne Palicki (“Agents of SHIELD”), will be largely remembered for kowtowing to China. 

After the script and production of the 2012 remake cast China as the invading nation, producers realized in editing this could halt release in China. Ergo, Chinese symbols on military uniforms and hardware were digitally altered to North Korea — but all for naught, since it was still refused a release in China. (U.S. moviegoers agreed with the censors on this one.) 

5. The Karate Kid (2010, Hulu) 

In contrast to “Red Dawn,” a reboot of ’80s classic “The Karate Kid” had few problems getting into China’s good graces. Thanks to the significant role of Jackie Chan, scenes of kung fu training feature backdrops such as the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. Yet this Will Smith-produced family flick takes a paint-by-numbers approach to recreating the original.

What should’ve been called “The Kung Fu Kid” (branding won out despite the lack of karate) gave Jaden Smith, Will’s son, one of his biggest roles. The pacing generally works, the cross-cultural premise keeps it somewhat fresh, and action veteran Chan gets to shine in some scenes. But likely only the biggest fans of current hit show “Cobra Kai,” the sequel series that reunites now-adult stars from the ’80s franchise, will want to seek out this one.

4. Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers (2022, Disney Plus)

Cheeky and self-referential, this recent comedy works if you’re in the mood for a farcical parody. (Think “This Is Spinal Tap,” but fewer laughs and appropriate for some pre-teens.) Viewers enter a world where cartoons, who live and work alongside humans, are suddenly disappearing without a trace — so, yes, it’s a remake of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” without as much class. 

It’s undeniably fun to see Chip and Dale, originally created by Disney in 1943, playing off each other again and solving a case similar to the one in their 1980s animated show. Hundreds of sly “easter egg” cameos pack in references to decades of animation history from every studio.

And there’s J.K. Simmons in a lead role, hamming it up and making the film better as he does. Despite humor more mature than necessary at times, nostalgia fest “Chip ‘N Dale” is worth a few laughs.

3. Dune (2021, HBO Max)

As many chase the Marvel formula for superhero and sci-fi outings, Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival,” “Sicario”) has carved out a niche telling ponderous stories with scale and visual grandeur. A director of a similar bent, David Lynch, had adapted Frank Herbert’s iconic “Dune” novel in 1984. While a cult favorite among some nerds, that troubled production is largely panned for schlocky effects and odd performances. 

Villeneuve’s “Dune” smartly covers only the novel’s first half, allowing space to digest unfamiliar social, political, and tech environs. Prophecies, interstellar travel, and a desert planet may give off Star Wars vibes, but this plays out on a higher plane. With creativity invested in production design and a standout ensemble cast, space epic “Dune” presents a fully realized visual masterpiece even if, emotionally, viewers are left waiting for part two coming next year.

2. The Equalizer (2014, video on demand)

The rare ’80s franchise that has found success in multiple iterations, “The Equalizer” has much more going for it than a revenge-action premise. In a role originated on TV by British actor Edward Woodward, former spy Robert McCall has retired from “the company” and uses his skills in espionage and hand-to-hand combat on behalf of the powerless in New York City.

It took the success of “Taken” starring Liam Neeson, a similar-aged actor, to get Denzel Washington to star as spy-in-hiding McCall, now relocated from New York City to Boston in 2014’s brutally violent “The Equalizer” and its sequel. “The Equalizer” showcases Washington’s strengths — a man of conscience who can pull off scenes of fatherly care towards a drifting young woman minutes before his cold-blooded hit on the trafficking ring that enslaved her. Similar to “Daredevil,” it’s a bloody brand of vigilante justice even as themes ring true. 

1. Top Gun: Maverick (2022, in theaters and soon on Paramount Plus)

How do you top a movie that defined “cool” for a generation? Thirty-six years after “Top Gun,” with its confident crop of rival pilots and sizzling romance, a sequel reunites key elements: Tom Cruise’s magnetic charisma, a story that defines its stakes, polished realism via resourceful producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and visceral aerial combat driven by Cruise’s derring-do attitude. 

Jaw-dropping showmanship can obscure what makes this film work. Maverick, despite his many impressive missions, has been relegated to test pilot because he bucks authority. Two old friends help the cocky pilot progress. His reignited love interest Penny (Jennifer Connelly) sees past his tough-guy routine and gives Maverick a reason to return from a treacherous mission. 

Then former pilot rival “Iceman” (Val Kilmer), now Pacific Fleet commander, expresses the film’s heart of service and sacrifice. Mirroring their characters’ 35-year-friendship, Cruise and Kilmer, who has suffered in recent years with throat cancer, share only one brief scene together, but the meaning and mutual respect captured in it give “Top Gun: Maverick” its beating heart.