Hopping Screens: The Best Movie to TV Adaptations

Published 1 year ago by , Updated February 17th, 2014 at 2:40 pm, This is a list post.

The Best Film to TV Adaptations

Movie ScreenFilm and television are two very different mediums. What works when crafting the perfect theatrical film will likely not work when crafting the perfect episode of a TV series.That said, people still manage to get the translation from big to small screen right every now and then, sometimes to a degree where the adaptation becomes just as famous and well-regarded as the work from which it spawned. In more extreme cases, the televised adaptation can even go on to eclipse its progenitor, to the point where future audiences may not even realize that the show they love started as a movie.So, with the current onslaught of big to small screen adaptations coming our way (Ghost, American Psycho, From Dusk Till Dawn, Rambo, etc.), we thought it would be a good idea to highlight 10 examples of film to TV transcendence.

The Odd Couple (1970-1975)

The Odd CoupleThe Odd Couple focuses on two very different divorced men that share an apartment in Manhattan. It began life as a 1965 Broadway play by Neil Simon, which then became a 1968 film starring legendary actors Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.Due to the film's box office success, ABC chose to bring the duo of uptight Felix Ungar and sloppy Oscar Madison to its air in 1970. Now starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, the series quickly became a critical darling, although it didn't draw the ratings to match.The Odd Couple may today be considered one of the greatest sitcoms ever, but it was canceled multiple times, only to be revived later. A total of 5 seasons were produced, and Randall and Klugman's portrayals of Felix and Oscar are now generally considered the definitive renditions of the characters.

M*A*S*H (1972-1983)

M*A*S*HRevolving around the lives of an army medical unit during the Korean War, M*A*S*H started out as a 1970 film by Robert Altman. Starring such luminaries as Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould, the film had a very biting sense of dark humor, and was as much a drama as it was a comedy.When it came time to bring M*A*SH* to TV, the harsh satirical edge of the humor was lessened, and the characters made more likable. The series went on to run for over a decade, becoming a cultural touchstone along the way.When people think of "Hawkeye" Pierce, they think of Alan Alda, not Donald Sutherland. Some people don't even know there was a  movie. With a finale watched by over 125 million people, M*A*S*H remains the quintessential example of a TV adaptation done right.

In the Heat of the Night (1988-1995)

In the Heat of the NightBased on a 1967 film, In the Heat of the Night had a much longer gestation period then most TV adaptations. The film starred Sidney Poitier as Detective Virgil Tibbs, who gets forced to work a murder case along Rod Steger's racist southern police chief, Bill Gillespie. The two men begrudgingly come to respect each other as professionals, if not as people.In 1988, NBC brought Heat to television. Howard Rollins was cast as Tibbs, while Carroll O'Connor was cast as Gillespie. The characters' relationship is much less adversarial than in the film, with the two eventually becoming close friends.The series ran for eight seasons, with the last three airing on CBS. Like M*A*S*H, the TV version of In the Heat of the Night has in many ways eclipsed the film within the collective pop culture consciousness.

Highlander: The Series (1992-1998)

Highlander: The SeriesPowered by its signature hard rocking theme song by Queen, Highlander: The Series set out to resurrect a franchise that had been damaged by an incomprehensibly edited sequel.Starring Christopher Lambert as immortal warrior Connor MacLeod, the original Highlander film is widely regarded as a cult-classic. Once the second film bombed, it was obvious something drastic needed to be done. That ended up being the introduction of Adrian Paul as Duncan MacLeod, and the creation of an alternate-timeline TV sequel to Highlander. In this reality, Connor never won the battle to become the last immortal, and the fight for supremacy goes on.Highlander: The Series ran for 6 seasons, and is in many ways what the film series should have been. A spin-off, Highlander: The Raven, was also aired. It didn't last long.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)

Buffy the Vampire SlayerJoss Whedon has never hidden the fact that his vision for cheerleader-turned-vampire-killer Buffy Summers was heavily compromised on its way to becoming a flawed 1992 film.In 1997, Whedon gave  it another shot, producing a pilot for The WB that was set after the events of the film. Buffy moves to the small town of Sunnydale, where she starts at a new school, and meets her new "watcher," Rupert Giles. The town is built atop a "Hellmouth," and Buffy soon finds herself hunting again. Helping her are her new friends Xander and Willow, and eventually other additions like queen bee Cordelia, reluctant werewolf Oz, and morally conflicted vampire, Angel.The series ran for seven seasons, and the story has since continued in officially licensed comic books. Angel eventually got his own spin-off, which lasted five seasons of its own.

Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007)

Stargate SG-1When the team of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin created the 1994 film Stargate, I doubt that they had any idea what a juggernaut the franchise would become. The centerpiece of that extended lineage is of course Stargate SG-1, which premiered in 1997 on Showtime.Set a year after the ending of the film, SG-1 centers around Col. Jack O'Neill (now played by Richard Dean Anderson), the man who led the original mission to investigate the mysterious interplanetary portal from which the series took its name. Flanked by a loyal crew of both humans and aliens, O'Neill sets out to continue the journey of discovery that he began.Stargate SG-1 ran for a very impressive 10 seasons, and spawned the well received spin-offs Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe, along with several direct to DVD movies.

The Dead Zone (2002-2007)

The Dead ZoneBased on a novel by Stephen King, The Dead Zone was first adapted into a 1983 film. The plot follows Johnny Smith, a teacher with an ideal life. He's beloved by his students, respected by his peers, and in love with a beautiful woman. That all changes after a car accident leaves him in a coma.Johnny wakes up five years later, soon discovering that the trauma awakened a latent mental ability allowing him to receive visions of the past or future via touch. The TV series kept the premise intact, but expanded the universe. New characters were created, old ones altered, and Johnny given a son that he'd never met.The Dead Zone was one of USA's first original hits, debuting in summer 2002. Six seasons were produced, with the final year receiving a sloppily-executed retool.

Friday Night Lights (2006-2011)

Friday Night LightsClear eyes, full hearts, can't lose. That simple motto helped propel Friday Night Lights to the status of one of the most critically-acclaimed film-to-TV adaptations of all time.Based on both the 2004 film and the original non-fiction book, Friday Night Lights starred Kyle Chandler as Eric Taylor, high school football coach in the fictional Texas town of Dillon. In Dillon, football is less a sport, and more of a religion. Town morale lives and dies by how well the Panthers play.Of course, the lives of the players themselves are also heavily spotlighted, as is Coach Taylor's wife Tami (Connie Britton, who also appeared in the film). Leads Chandler and Britton both won Emmys for their work, and the show itself received many accolades as well. Coach Taylor finally called it a career in 2011, after five seasons.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-2009)

Terminator: The Sarah Connor ChroniclesIn 1984, James Cameron created The Terminator, the tale of a cyborg sent back in time to kill the mother of humanity's savior. This simple idea gave birth to one of the most beloved sci-fi films of all time, with 1991's T2 taking things to an even higher level. Then came the poorly-received T3.In an effort to rehab the series, producers collaborated with FOX to develop a proper sequel to T2. The Sarah Connor Chronicles premiered in 2008, retconning the events of T3, and returning the focus to a teenage John Conner and his mother Sarah. After a time jump, the Conners must again battle Skynet, this time assisted by friendly machine Cameron and John's uncle Derek.TSCC was sadly cut down in its prime, but its two seasons still ended up being an admirable attempt to right the ship.

Hannibal (2013-Present)

HannibalBased on both the titular film series and the Thomas Harris novels that inspired it, NBC's Hannibal comes to us via the mind of Bryan Fuller. Known primarily for black comedies like Dead Like Me, Hannibal represents Fuller's first foray into truly visceral horror.Hannibal functions as both a prequel to Red Dragon, and a continuity reboot. What were originally short passages in the book are now fully-realized subplots. Established character histories have been altered, and entirely new characters have been created. Despite the changes, Hannibal's battle of wits with Will Graham remains as fascinating as ever, bolstered by terrific performances from Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen.Despite low ratings, the show managed to earn a second season. Look for more of Hannibal's gourmet meals in 2014.


Bates MotelSo there you have it, Screen Rant's picks for the best film to TV adaptations. Of course, no list can be all inclusive, so feel free to point out any shows that you feel we overlooked.Here are two series that came close to making the cut:
  • Bates Motel (2013-Present) - While Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga both give standout performances as Norman and Norma, this prequel to the Psycho series is just too inconsistent to be considered one of the greats at this point.
  • The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (1992-1993) - This ambitious project featured Sean Patrick Flanery as a teenage Dr. Jones, but the ballooning cost of production cut it off at the knees early. Four follow-up telefilms were also produced.
Were there any series we didn't get to that you enjoy?
TAGS: bates motel, buffy the vampire slayer, friday night lights, hannibal, highlander, stargate atlantis, stargate continuum, stargate sg-1, stargate universe, the sarah connor chronicles


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  1. I’d have mentioned the animated versions of The Mask and Ace Ventura since they continued what was established in the movies and kept a similar (albeit toned down for children) tone. Same for the Dumb And Dumber cartoon actually.

    • could make a whole other list of animated.

      • Too true.

        I grew up with the Mask animated series. It was my favorite movie of all time when I was little. It remains one of my faves. I agree that the tv series captured the feel of the movie quite well, granted it was more G rated cuz it was a kids show, it was still good though.

        • It’s a shame no one reboots it to be more like the R rated comic books, where Stanley Ipkiss turned into a psychotic killer once he put the mask on. The original The Mask along with Tank Girl are my favourite comic books that aren’t from DC, Marvel or 2000AD.

    • If you’re going to include animated tv adaptations from films, include SPAWN!

  2. people seem to like that bates motel show.

    • I liked it up until episode 7 or 8 and then I found myself watching out of habit to see how it ended. Started off well but got a little silly towards the end.

      Can’t wait for season 2 though.

  3. Stargate SG 1 needs to return.

    • I might be in the minority but i actually really liked all the spinoffs. I was sad to se Atlantis go, even if it got a little silly towards the end, and i was really sad to see Universe go, but for different reasons.

      Atlantis had lasted long enough for me to become attached, Universe i was disappointed about because i saw a great potential there that really could have been something great.

  4. Stargate spawned a few shows

  5. You’re insane to say that Bates Motel is “too inconsistent” and not good enough to make this list. Bates Motel is arguably the best show—from top to bottom—on this list, with the exception of Buffy.

    • I hated Buffy, a few friends in high school (mostly female) were into Buffy, Angel and Friends and I honestly didn’t see the appeal of any of those three shows.

  6. -_-



    Ugh…ok so Friday Night Lights The Movie was good and so was the book to an “extent” (never got around to finishing it but will now), it did touch on how football is here in Texas but sadly I could never get into the show mostly because of how much I hated it filming its pilot episode in my hometown on my senior year of high school. I still remember the headaches from the bright lights beaming into the house at 3AM IN THE MORNING. Yes, I lived in a small town where the high school and the football field is literally right next door, everyone in the town complained and needless to say some people not all lost their re-elections. Muhahahahahaaa. But I was kinda glad to hear that some people enjoyed the television show so that at least the headaches weren’t wasted.

    Now to my REAL reaction

    Whaaaaaaaaat!?!? M*A*S*H – Wow, one of my all-time favorite shows that I used to have to sneak and watch as a kid was a Movie First!!!! How did I not know this???? And here I was thinking that a movie to T.V. translation seemed more of a gimmick (and yes this is aimed at Agents of Shield, I will give that show another try down the road when there are more episodes to give it legitimacy) that is only wired to work for certain franchises that should’ve been on T.V. anyways. I actually am pleased to hear about this making the list, thanks for enlightening me on the subject matter.

    -Rant Over-


    • I’d never heard of FNL until earlier this year when Sky Atlantic started airing it to fill the gap before Game Of Thrones returned. Haven’t seen it yet, never knew there was a movie and a book.

      M*A*S*H*…..I found out there was a movie version maybe a decade ago but by that time, I’d grown to hate the TV show so much that I still don’t care to try and watch it. My dad used to watch that show and whichever Star Trek show was on (Original, TNG, whichever BBC2 decided to air at any given time weekdays at 5pm) and they were all just so boring. Can’t bring myself to even watch a commercial for a re-run without feeling negatively about them.

      M*A*S*H* to me suffered the same problem that Friends and Seinfeld had…I never actually found them funny, not even a little bit.

      • I get your point, the shows you mentioned I never found extremely funny either but for me M*A*S*H sort of struck a tone. To each their own. I’m looking forward to catching up on Hannibal the T.V. show in full.

  7. Beautiful that you included ‘Hannibal’. I adored it. A remarkably intelligent show with gorgeous visuals, a clearly thought out white board connectivity and two main players utterly on top of their game (Mads was just uber).

    I remember Bryan Fuller once saying in an interview he remembers being a boy at a funeral of a family member he did not know and deriding a perverse pleasure out of imagining all possible scenarios that led to the death of the deceased. That alone is evident in all of his work. With ‘Hannibal’ (and possibly his age), he seemed to move onto the grim side of mortality, accepting both the practicality of fate for us all and the jarring nature of having it interrupted.

    Simply cannot wait for S2 because it has to be a different kind of show now. One way or another, it will get its desired seven seasons whether it be primarily on NBC or otherwise. I just hope copyright issues can be resolved so Clarence Starling et al can be included.

    • I agree.

      I didn’t like episode 1 but episode 2 had me hooked. Can’t wait for its return.

  8. Damn I miss Stargate!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. I didn’t think it was good compared to the first movie but surprised no one mentioned The Crow: Stairway To Heaven.

  10. I want too see a list of the worst now

  11. How could you forget La Femme Nikita 1997-2001?

  12. I thought Friday Night Lights was OK but I didn’t stick with it long enough to really care that much about it. It’s still in my Netflix queue so maybe I’ll give it a second shot.

    Hannibal on the other hand was such a welcome surprise. My first thoughts were that it would be awful and the fact that it was going to be on NBC had me expecting the worst. Once it got going though I was hooked and I am beyond pleased that there will be a season 2. Hopefully it will stay around long enough so that we get to see Fuller’s entire plan for the series.

    Bates Motel might join the list but season 1 had just as many highs as lows. I still have plans to watch season 2 but there’s a short leash.

  13. SPAWN!