Blade Runner 2049 did something unbelievable. No one, including me, expects a belated sequel to be any good. Remember Crystal Skull? But 2049 took a 35-year-old movie and created an artistic triumph.
The best thing the new Runner does is it uses the original as a stepping stone for an entirely new experience. Most belated sequels, like Tron: Legacy or The Godfather Part III, are content to repeat the early films with some minor tweaks just to give audiences more of the same.
Blade Runner 2049 acknowledges the original film and brings back Rick Deckard, but it never focuses on him and the past three decades of his life. Instead, it imagines the world of the original film having to face its own future. How is everyone living in a world where the replicants have practically replaced humans? Where romance is created by artificial constructs? Where artificial humans are getting into race wars? The original Runner was bleak enough, but this film is even bleaker. It would be hard for someone to look at the 2019 of the original film and imagine someone referring to it as the “good old days,” but I could see it happening once I saw the follow-up.
Blade Runner 2049 made me think about other ‘80s cult films that introduced audience to strange, visually striking worlds. They only became familiar after we watch the film more. What would some of those worlds look like after thirty years?
I’ll be discussing five ‘80s cult films that introduced unique worlds whose futures I’d like to see. How did the world change from the first film? What issues are they facing? What happens in a person’s daily life?
Streets of Fire (1984): Famed action film director Walter Hill made Streets of Fire to recapture his youth. It’s the 1980s imagined as if the 1950s never ended. The cars are old, everyone talks like they’re a greaser, rock and roll is still considered rebellious and rude, and biker gangs are still the single biggest threat to the buttoned up society.
The film isn’t so much about thematically exploring the 1980s. The plot — about a mercenary named Tom Cody who has to rescue a Pat Benatar-esque rock star, Ellen Aim, after she’s kidnapped by bikers — is as simple as any classic western. Rather, Streets of Fire is the sort of film that the “Morning in America” crowd would love. Wasn’t it so much easier back in the good old days, when the worst you had to worry about was Willem Dafoe in leather overalls? And who cares if the woman kissing her ex in the rain is a trope that was exhausted before the outbreak of World War II? In this film’s universe, it still carries the weight of something sensual and exciting.
So what happens as time marches on in this world? Even if pop culture never changes, surely the people inhabiting this unnamed industrial metropolis would eventually have their simple world view broken from the outside. How does this town survive the Cold War? Or MTV? And what happens when Tom Cody and Ellen Aim find out they’re too old to be considered the masculine hero and the sexy rock superstar?
And who replaces them? The two lead characters were the manifestation of 1950s rebellion. That rebellion continued even after the previous generation grew a gut and ran for higher office. Who is the rock superstar of this new time? I’m picturing someone who is better known for their stage shows than for their music. I also think that the new era would see feuds between fans of different rock sub-genres.
I know there is a pseudo sequel featuring Cody called Road to Hell. I have not seen it but I am not sure if it would satisfy my questions, mostly because so few people who made the original are involved with it. Besides, Blade Runner had several follow-ups before 2049 was released. The world of Streets of Fire is so intriguing that there are no doubt other avenues people can explore.
Streets of Fire has always been on my list as of the most underrated films of all time. It’s a gorgeous film with a great soundtrack that really sets the mood. And, despite its clichéd western tropes, Streets of Fire is still a very engaging film with some interesting characters. It feels like a movie that’s made by aliens who only saw Rebel Without a Cause moments before they came to Earth. I would like to see more of that world.
Labyrinth (1986): The original Labyrinth is nominally about a young woman facing the new adult emotions as she’s growing up and taking on new responsibilities. That woman, Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) accidentally summons Gareth (David Bowie) to take her baby brother away. She must solve a seemingly impassible maze to get him back.
A Labyrinth sequel would be very difficult to make, especially now that some of the biggest talents of the original (Jim Henson, David Bowie) have died. But Labyrinth hinted at a world much bigger than either of them — a world that is well worth exploring.
There were moments in Labyrinth that hinted at something far darker that could be used in a sequel. For one, the Labyrinth has existed for millennia and not everyone has managed to get through it. For another the creatures in the goblin realm have to live under Gareth’s rule. If he’s willing to kidnap humans for entertainment, imagine what he does to them.
And what happens when that world is disrupted? First, David Bowie’s death would be a starting point for a Labyrinth sequel — namely, who Gareth’s successor would be. Additionally, Sarah has presumably reached middle age and is raising children of her own. It’s likely she has become increasingly obsessed with her own youth as she faces her mortality. But the person that replaced Gareth is likely to be an immature tyrant who is more concerned with causing chaos than providing leadership to his kingdom.
A belated sequel to Labyrinth would ideally be about that dynamic between an older Sarah and a younger Gareth replacement. It’s easy to pine for one’s youth, but it’s a lot different to remember how little you knew when you were younger. A sequel to Labyrinth would have Sarah, desperate to reclaim her glory days, fighting against the young tyrant who now controls the maze to save one of her own kids. To make it more interesting, Sarah easily solves the riddles of the Labyrinth. A more difficult challenge would be for her to make Gareth’s successor understand why he’s wrong and in confronting how her experiences have made her better, even if she can’t grow younger.
Labyrinth survived its initial rejection (the film was a box office bomb) by being endlessly inventive and by being honest about youth. It’s time to explore that from the other side. There would unquestionably be holes in the film, but that can be part of the point. A sequel would be trying to recapture the talents of people who are no longer with us. But that just means there’s still a lot to say using the universe they created.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984): Buckaroo Banzai, for many years, seemed like it would inevitably get a sequel. There’s one teased during the end credits and famed indie cult director and pot smoker Kevin Smith promised a TV revival featuring the further adventures of the Hong Kong Cavaliers.
Unfortunately, a sequel to Buckaroo Banzai is unlikely to exist outside of thought the creator’s imagination. But it’s easy to understand why the film’s fans have been desperate to see more of the Reagan Renaissance man. Buckaroo Banzai predicted the rise of the Marvel universe and the public’s obsession with perfect humans who are slowly destroyed by their own hubris. Banzai was a superhero by any stretch. He was a master at whatever he set out to accomplish, but his exploits nearly destroyed the world.
The original film is about an experiment gone wrong in which rock star/particle physicist Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller in his second-most ‘80s role) brings back an alien life form from the titular dimension. Banzai defeats the threat and manages to save the world despite calls from the president asking if it’s OK to go ahead and destroy Russia.
The film is steeped in Cold War politics, in which there’s a definitive hero and a definitive villain. But that’s not the world we currently live in. In the future, The Hong Kong Cavaliers have likely been forced to take on a more pro-active approach, but also have to realize that the world at large views their activity with high suspicion. I think the main villain would be an Alex Jones-mutant who rallies against the Cavaliers on the grounds that they’re secretly controlling the world. Which, even if they are, is only to save it.
And what of Buckaroo? It would be easy to say he’s settled for a quiet life in academia, but that wouldn’t fit his style. If anything, I picture him as the first man to record a platinum album on the moon and who is only forced to save the world because he has nothing better to do.
Buckaroo Banzai is a strange film that has, somehow, become more logical over time. Why shouldn’t aliens from another dimension threaten our world? It makes as much sense as anything else on the news. We need to see more Buckaroo Banzai and learn how heroes should act.
Akira (1988): I’m actually surprised that there’s never been an Akira sequel. It doesn’t need one to complete the narrative, but there are so many opportunities to build on what the first film discussed. Akira practically created an entire visual style that’s still being used to this day — even Blade Runner 2049 copied its lead.
The plot of the original film — about psychic warriors, city destroying monsters, young rebels who can defeat the villains, and a bizarre futuristic vision — has been copied so much that it will probably be lost on a modern audience. But it still makes an impact because the world is so fascinating. It captures the fear of Japan that their traditional values would be destroyed.
The original Akira ends with the main characters all riding off on broken motorcycles into an unknown future — a future that is completely open to anything. Tokyo has been destroyed — twice — and it was the biker youth gang that had saved the world the second time. How do rebuild a city where the old guard failed? It’s obvious that the future of Akria’s world would be in Kaneda’s hands. But NeoTokyo wouldn’t be the only aspect of that future. What of the alternate universe that now exists thanks to aforementioned evil Tetsuo? Does the universe he and Akira created interact with our own?
I imagine that Kaneda would remain a very important figure in this future, but would still be struggling with his new role. I also doubt that scientists would ignore the psychic powers people are developing. Have they figured out a way to trigger them and to properly contain them? Maybe there’s now an entire culture of ESPers who are still looked upon as outcasts.
Akira is one of the most influential animated films of all time. It introduced me to a world that I want to revisit. I think there are ways the film could accomplish this task. I want to see what happens to Kaneda’s generation. Eventually they will rule the world and will have to face that fact.
Repo Man (1984): In many ways, the future of Repo Man’s world would be our own. But the Los Angeles depicted in the film isn’t the 1980s that existed in our world. But there are enough differences to suggest that the future of Repo Man’s world would be vastly different from the real 2017.
The original film was about a teenage punk music fan named Otto who gets a job for a car repossession agency who becomes involved in a group that suggests every single conspiracy theory was true. Aliens are among us, interplanetary travel is possible, and there’s a guiding force that controls everything.
The world in Repo Man is so banal that a life of repossessing cars is the most intense thing imaginable. Shops are filled with bland products, people are addicted to watching bad TV, and any foolhardy rebellion (like robbing a convenience store) is doomed to fail — until the end, when people realize that aliens exist.
Much like They Live, any sequel to Repo Man would have to discuss the fact that humans are now aware there’s a power controlling their lives. Do they rebel? The whole point of the film is that people are far too lazy to do so. More likely, any spiritual sequel would be more focused on how humanity is still distracted by petty activities. Otto would probably be back trying to share the truth to people, but would be roundly ignored.
Strangely, Alex Cox did try to make a graphic novel sequel that postulated Los Angeles was an experimental prison colony being maintained by aliens. Otto (now Waldo) finds out about it while trying to take a trip to Hawaii. I have not read the novel, but it does address several of the elements that would undoubtedly be addressed in a sequel. Still, aliens would no longer be a secret so the fact that people would be understanding is unlikely. I would think that people are still trying to fight, even if Otto ends up watching televangelists on TV all day.
Ultimately, a sequel to Repo Man would be about the futility of people trying to create a new world. It would probably be the one sequel on this list that’s very similar to the original, but that would be the point. All punks eventually had to get day jobs.