Rebooting and remaking classic cartoon franchises from the ‘80s seems to be all the rage in Hollywood these days. With the upcoming announcement of a He-Man and the Masters of the Universe reboot, a live-action ThunderCats movie can’t be too far behind. This beloved action cartoon was a landmark of 80s culture, with a fandom that remains faithful even to this day.
ThunderCats is an American animated series based on a group of cat-like humanoid aliens. The show was created by Tobin “Ted” Wolf and animated by Japanese animation studio Pacific Animation Corporation. The characters were originally featured in an animated TV series named ThunderCats, running from 1985 to 1989.
Why Thundercats Was Cancelled
The cancellation of ThunderCats, a beloved series that still holds a special place in the hearts of many nearly 40 years later, remains a topic of intrigue. Despite its legendary status among those who grew up in that era, the show’s untimely demise after just two seasons left fans pondering the mysterious chain of events that led to its cancellation. How could a show with characters so popular get the boot?
ThunderCats, the brainchild of Tobin Wolf and Leonard Starr and brought to life by Rankin/Bass Productions, depicted the adventures of humanoid cats from the distant planet Thundera. These feline heroes were displaced to Third Earth after Thundera fell victim to the malevolent sorcerer Mumra. As Lion-O and his fellow Thundercats valiantly opposed Mumra’s sinister schemes, the show delved into themes that, initially, seemed innocuous to children. Sounds innocent enough, right? Well, not everyone thought it was.
What’s remarkable is that ThunderCats didn’t incorporate any extreme elements that would leave a lasting impact on the young minds tuning in. There was no blood, no weird magic concepts, no real violence and no religious themes. In short, no satanic messages.
The creators of the show, deeply concerned about the messages it conveyed, even went as far as hiring a psychologist to scrutinize the content, ensuring the promotion of moral values and family beliefs. Of course, public opinion varied significantly. ThunderCats often came under fire from parents and protest groups (you know the type) who saw it as a violent marketing ploy aimed at children, ultimately leading to its removal from syndication.
However, despite all the noise, the FCC found ThunderCats suitable for broadcast, albeit with the caveat of restricting merchandise advertising. Sadly, this controversy around ThunderCats‘ content continued to loom, casting a shadow over its future.
Following the success of the ThunderCats series, the studios recognized the potential for a cinematic release. Merchandise sales were booming (remember those cool glowing swords?), and a ThunderCats movie seemed like a lucrative venture. However, a grim reality soon set in as the studios remembered the disappointing performance of spin-off movies at the box office.
As a result, plans for a theatrical release were shelved in favour of a television debut. The movie was restructured into five episodes intended to precede the second season. While this move was pragmatic, it posed its own set of challenges. Transforming a seamless two-hour movie into a series of 20-minute episodes inevitably led to disjointed storytelling, leaving viewers perplexed.
In contrast to some other animated series like He-Man, ThunderCats was not initially conceived as a vehicle to sell toys. But it did. And although the creators were genuinely dedicated to crafting compelling narratives, the show’s merchandise became a sensation among young fans. So writers were frequently tasked with introducing new characters based on the toy manufacturers’ preferences. Sounds familiar.
Initially, the creative team embraced this challenge, weaving exciting backstories for these characters. However, toy sales took a nosedive when the manufacturers ceased production of action figures during the show’s second season. The toy line gradually lost its appeal, a development that eventually contributed to ThunderCats‘ cancellation.
Since then it’s been a rocky ride for ThunderCats both on and off the screen.
Will We Ever Get a Movie of the ’80s Animated Series?
In the ’80s, you were either a fan of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe or ThunderCats. From the animated series to the action figures, every kid had the opportunity to live their best life in Eternia or Third Earth. It seemed like those worlds would exist forever and never go out of fashion…
Even though both shows didn’t last too long—making way for the next flavour of the ’80s—they experienced several reboots and endless toylines over the past three decades. Of course, the most recent is ThunderCats Roar, which hasn’t exactly wowed the audience or critics with its Teen Titans Go!-esque approach.
On the film front, Masters of the Universe is due another live-action movie soon, with Kyle Allen playing He-Man in the Netflix adaptation. So, it should come as no surprise that ThunderCats fans are asking if there’s the possibility of a film for their franchise, too. And no, 2019’s Cats doesn’t count…
If you’ve followed ThunderCats, you’ll be aware that there was a plan to release a CGI animated feature in 2010. Jerry O’Flaherty was meant to direct the film; however, it was shelved before it could even generate any sort of excitement. Eventually, test footage and concept art leaked onto the internet, and let’s just say that this might’ve been a dodged bullet for everyone.
In the years since then, there have been numerous rumours popping up, saying there are plans for a live-action film. Yet, nothing ever materialises. It isn’t like there’s a lack of interest, though.
What’s odd is how so many other ’80s franchises have been revisited for film and TV when a property like ThunderCats is begging to be adapted into a fantasy epic.
Think about it: It’s the story of Lion-O, an anthropomorphic cat, leading his group known as the Thunderans against the evil Mumm-Ra and his gang of goons. Plus, Lion-O possesses an epic sword titled the “Sword of Omens”. Can you get more sci-fi than this?
To be honest, the chances of a ThunderCats film being greenlit are largely dependent on the new Masters of the Universe film and if it finds success. If the executives see there’s a demand for these ’80s prodigies again, rest assured that a movie will hit the cinema theatres quicker than you can say “ThunderCats, ho!”
Casting A Live-Action ThunderCats Movie
Considering that a live-action movie of the ThunderCats is almost a certainty, let’s take a look at which actors we’d like to see portraying Lion-O and the rest of his crew.
Tygra – Karl Urban
Karl Urban has had a recent popularity spike thanks to his roles in comic book adaptations. First, he starred as the no-nonsense Judge Dredd in 2012’s Dredd, and most recently, he’s known for playing Butcher in Amazon Prime’s The Boys. Tygra is popular for being the most pragmatic warrior in the ThunderCats, a role that fits Urban’s personality to a T.
Tygra is also known as the brains behind the ThunderCats: he’s responsible for designing their structures and some of their tech. While Urban might look too brawny for intellectual roles at first glance, he has certainly proved critics otherwise. His role as Dr. Leonard McCoy in the latest Star Trek trilogy of films proves that the actor can play scientifically inclined characters.
Sometimes seen as an older brother to Lion-O, whoever steps into Tygra’s shoes must be someone that can lead a team of their own. Urban has proved that he’s an actor with loads of charisma, a leader, and a believable action star. That’s also a common thing we have to keep in mind with these castings: the performers we choose must be able to pull off at least somewhat believable stunts.
Urban seems perfect for a live-action ThunderCats movie.
Panthro is one of the most pivotal members of the ThunderCats team. Not only is he a skilled warrior (one of the greatest of his clan,) but he is also a brilliant engineer and the pilot of the ThunderCats. His stone-cold fighting abilities are second only to his contagious good humour, cracking jokes no matter how dire the situation gets.
There’s hardly any other actor with the charisma of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The ex-wrestler has become one of Hollywood’s go-to action stars in films like the Jumanji sequels and the Fast & Furious franchise. He’s also proved to have an innate ability for comedy, with roles in movies like Baywatch and Moana.
His imposing physique and jolly personality make it the perfect fit for Panthro. The physical similarities between Johnson and Panthro are also an almost perfect match. Panthro’s burning passion and love for family will also fit The Rock’s WWE stage persona, as ‘The People’s Champ’ definitely knows how to charm audiences.
Again, The Rock might just be the star power needed for a live-action ThunderCats movie.
Cheetara – Milla Jovovich
Better known for starring in the Resident Evil film franchise, Milla Jovovich is a beyond capable action actress that’s proved that she’s got what’s needed to play the role of the iconic Cheetara. She’s also voiced her interest in playing the part, even though she fears she’s “getting too old” to play the part.
That said, Jovovich is only 45 years old; let’s not forget that Keanu Reeves starred for the first time in John Wick – a pretty action-heavy masterpiece – when he was 50. Jovovich is more than capable to play Cheetara, and her acting in Monster Hunter – as spotty as that flick might have been – proves that she’s still as nimble as ever.
Brave and caring, Cheetara is the athlete of the team. Her speed and acrobatic proficiency are unmatched by any other ThunderCat, and she’s also the bearer of the “sixth sense”: an ability that lets her see the future. Some versions of the character show her as a romantic interest of Lion-O, the team leader, but that idea seems to have gone nowhere.
While Jovovich might not be one of the leading stars in Hollywood, her natural charisma and physical attributes are perfect for someone like Cheetara. In fact, the actress has even expressed her interest to appear in a live-action ThunderCats movie.
WilyKit and WilyKat – Sophia Lillis and Jack Dylan Grazer
Kit and Kat are some of the most complicated ThunderCats to cast due to their apparent age. While the twins are technically older than Lion-O, they resemble 12 years-old humans, meaning that we’d have to look for very talented kid actors to play them. Fortunately, younger performers are enjoying a renaissance of sorts, partially thanks to the success of Netflix’s Stranger Things.
Although they don’t hail from Stranger Things, Sophia Lillis and Jack Dylan Grazer are well-known for their roles in the 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s It. The duo battled against the evil Pennywise and proved to moviegoers that these kids had some serious acting chops.
While both Lillis and Grazer are past Kit and Kat’s apparent age, the two actors are some of Hollywood’s most sought-after actors today, and for good reasons. Even though both actors have rarely appeared in scenes alone, their chemistry is quite clear, and they’d be more than capable of playing Kit and Kat, who could be considered the heart of the ThunderCats.
In the original cartoon, Kat is the older brother, acting more cautious than her rebellious little sister, Kit. That said, both twins are known for their mischievous pranks, usually being reprimanded by the older ThunderCats.
Simmons rose to popularity thanks to his portrayal of J. Jonah Jameson, Spider-Man’s despot boss in the Sam Raimi trilogy. He’s also known for his roles in Whiplash and, more recently, Amazon Prime’s Invincible. His trademark voice and volatile behaviour are a perfect fit for the menacing Mumm-Ra, the ThunderCats’ main antagonist.
The ever-living Mumm-Ra is a seemingly invincible entity that has terrorised the ThunderCats since times immemorial. Simmons might be perfect for the character for his voice and acting style, but the villain might have to be done in CGI, as Mumm-Ra’s physique in his muscular form might not be similar to that of Simmons.
Villains like Thanos have demonstrated that audiences are ready for CGI villains, and someone like Simmons could easily breathe life into a computer-generated Mumm-Ra.
Lion-O – Jason Momoa
Was there ever any doubt about who could portray Lion-O? Jason Momoa is one of Hollywood’s most imposing actors right now – and his roles as Aquaman and Khal Drogo have turned him into one of the most recognizable faces for sci-fi fans everywhere. His charismatic attitude and impressive physique are both perfect for Lion-O, the courageous leader of the ThunderCats.
The wielder of the legendary Sword of Omens, Lion-O may be a mighty warrior and a natural-born leader, but his immaturity is his biggest weakness. Due to an accident on his trip to Earth, Lion-O aged a bit too much, ending up being a kid in a man’s body. As such, he must learn about what it takes to be a leader from his experiences with the other ThunderCats.
This type of “fish out of the water” character is perfect for the guy who played Aquaman – pun absolutely intended. His character in Justice League also proves that Momoa works incredibly well in ensemble casts, and seeing him playing such an important role for 80s kids would be a dream come true.
Is there a better casting for Lion-O in a live-action ThunderCats movie?
Bonus: Snarf – Ryan Reynolds
Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about Snarf: the lovable mascot of the ThunderCats. The character is more certainly a comic relief, and there’s no one better right now to play this kind of character than Ryan Reynolds.
The Deadpool actor could use his experience playing Pikachu in the Detective Pikachu film as inspiration here. Snarf would be the obligatory CGI mascot that’s so important for action sci-fi blockbusters, and having Reynolds cracking jokes at every step of the way would be great to spice things up a bit.
A feature film adaptation of the beloved ’80s animated series is officially in the works at Warner Bros. and who better to helm the movie than self-professed ThunderCats superfan (and Godzilla vs. Kong director) Adam Wingard.
As per Deadline, Wingard is attached to direct a CGI and animation hybrid of the beloved Rankin Bass series about cat-like humanoid aliens and will also be co-writing the script with his long-time collaborator Simon Barrett (Temple).
The story will use the animated series as a jumping-off point, but then Wingard will take the ThunderCats movie in a direction he has been thinking about for many years.
Wingard expressed his enthusiasm for the upcoming project in an interview with the Hollywood entertainment news site calling the ThunderCats movie his “dream project”. It was also the first film he hoped to make when he decided to become a filmmaker back in the 10th grade.
“When I was in high school, I was obsessed with it. You’d think at that point, I was a little too old, that my years of obsession with ThunderCats would be when I was 6 years old. My real obsession with ThunderCats came in high school, the pinnacle of me deciding I wanted to be a filmmaker, and pushing in that direction…I actually spent most of my 10th grade year, I completely blew it … the screenplay itself ended up being 272 pages long. I still have it. It was one of those things where I would carry around my notebooks and talk about it. I didn’t even realize the kids in my class were making fun of me as they would ask me questions about my ThunderCats [movie] screenplay.”
This is obviously a passion project for the director and we certainly hope that his passion spills onto the screen. As for now, we simply wait to see if his years of obsessing over the ThunderCats will amount in a movie fans will love.
Milla Jovovich Wants To Be Cheetara In A Live-Action ThunderCats Movie
During an exclusive interview with We Got This Covered to discuss Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Milla Jovovich revealed that she secretly hopes to star in the Thundercats film as Cheetara.
Most actors and actresses would jump at the chance to be in a Marvel or DC comic book movie, but not Jovovich. The Fifth Element actress rather expressed her interest in playing Cheetara, a female Thunderian noble who was also a member of the ThunderCats.
“You know, I’ve always loved ThunderCats,” Milla Jovovich told We Got This Covered. “I don’t know, I heard they were making a movie and then they weren’t making a movie, but I’m probably getting way too old to play [Cheetara] anyway.”
Cheetara is a female ThunderCat based on a cheetah with an anthropomorphic humanoid physical form, along with an athletic build. She is normally seen wearing a one-piece orange leotard that has her ThunderCat emblem at the front of her bosom, and orange boots.