It might be true that Hollywood is running out of places to look for ideas, that there are only so many comic books, old movies and TV shows left to update. That’s not to say that stealing from old material doesn’t yield exceptional results from time to time.
A lot of the best films had their origins on the small screen, successfully taking years of plot and condensing them into an approximation of a show’s best episodes. It’s not an easy task and only a few brave souls have pulled it off, but the ones who did made something worth remembering for reasons that have nothing to do with nostalgia.
Here are the 10 Best Movies Based On TV Series.
21 Jump Street (2012)
Phil Miller and Chris Miller have proven they can mine comedic gold from any idea. The Lego Movie in anyone else’s hands would just have been branding. When they got their hands on 21 Jump Street, the results were sheer anarchy; a film that knows it’s a film based on a TV show.
Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are two police academy wash outs who get sent undercover to unearth a drug ring in a high school, probably because they both have the babyfaced good looks of movie stars. Miller and Lord throw their heroes against the conventions of high school movies and TV shows like a bully pushing a nerd into his locker, proving that just because none of what you see on screen is real, doesn’t mean it can’t be mined for hilarity.
21 Jump Street proved that post-modern rehashes could be done right, and that there’s no reason a studio running out of ideas also has to be a creative dead-end.
Joss Whedon’s luck has turned around in the movies, but for years he couldn’t catch a break. His screenplay for Toy Story was routinely ignored in favor of discussing its groundbreaking animation, and scripts for the movies Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Alien: Resurrection and Titan A.E. didn’t prove to anyone that he belonged on the big screen at all. When his third TV show Firefly was unceremoniously cancelled, he took one last shot at blockbuster gold and made Serenity, the final adventure of space cowboy Mal (Nathan Fillion) and his intrepid crew.
Less self-consciously a western than the show, Serenity is a straight-up sci-fi action film, and an uncommonly thrilling one at that, with real emotional stakes and dramatic payoffs that work whether you know these characters already or not. Whedon knew he wasn’t ever going to get a second chance aboard the Firefly, so he made sure that everybody could get the most out of his high-flying adventure.
The gamble finally paid off: the film has developed a huge following and it proved to execs that he could handle the demands of a movie like The Avengers (yes, those Avengers).
The Fugitive (1993)
The days when Harrison Ford was one of the most bankable dramatic action stars are a distant memory at this point, but he left behind a formidable legacy. His brand of action film benefited from his gruff charm and all-American good looks. He appealed to men and women alike because he was handsome, but he was also Han Solo.
The Fugitive, based on a much-loved but now largely and unfortunately forgotten series about a man on a quest for justice running from the law, was what brought Ford megastardom in the 90s. It combined his stoic leading man intensity with his action credentials. Ford is Richard Kimball, who, deep breath, has to stay one step ahead of a hungry police task force while healing accidents sustained in a prison bus crash and solving the murder of his wife for which was blamed.
It’s knockout stuff and a real shame more blockbusters don’t have The Fugitive’s cool demeanor and procedural elements anymore.
Jackass series (2000-2010)
There was no guilty pleasure equal to that of watching Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Steve-O and their friends beat the living hell out of each other week after week in the early 2000s. No story, no pretext, just handsome guys pulling pranks on the public and each other that usually end in someone on the floor writhing in pain and laughing about it.
When they decided to take their insanity to the big screen they didn’t have to catch anyone up on who they were or what the story was. They just had to rent a car and take it to a demolition derby, drive golf carts into each other, pay professional boxers to fight them in department stores and jump on to a hundred mousetraps. That is just about all the exposition anyone needs to enter the happily sadistic world of Jackass. The films will never lose their ability to make you cringe and smile in equal measure.
The Mission: Impossible Series (1996-2015)
Tom Cruise was always a star. He was born with a million dollar smile, perfect hair and inhuman confidence. A string of macho action films in the 80s gave way to an attempt at respectability in a few legal thrillers in the 90s, but we all know what we wanted to watch Tom Cruise do.
When he found the Mission: Impossible series, it was love at first sight. For Cruise and the intense physical demands of the series stunts, for the public and watching Cruise run, jump and fight his way through laser precision set pieces.
Through five increasingly excellent movies, Cruise’s Ethan Hunt has traveled the globe fighting megalomaniacal terrorist organizations, proving time and again why he’s the biggest name in American movies. He can sneak into the most heavily guarded building without letting his sweat hit the floor, play chicken on a motorcycle, repel off of the tallest building in the world and hang onto a plane as it takes off.
They never did that on the TV series.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
As the story goes, the original Star Trek television series never attained any kind of widespread popularity during its short three season run in the late 1980s. Instead, it picked up a cult fanbase who watched enough reruns over the decade after it was cancelled that Paramount Pictures eventually decided it would be a good idea to bring it back to the big screen. While Star Trek: The Motion Picture attempted to reach the thematic depths of 2001: A Space Odyssey (and fell well-short), The Wrath of Khan hit a sweet spot, delivering a thrilling sci-fi picture without giving up the nerdy bonafides that made Star Trek so popular to a certain subsect of people in the first place.
As the aggrieved Khan, who holds Kirk (William Shatner) responsible for the death of wife, Ricardo Montalban is an imposing presence, creating a fearful iteration of the character that Benedict Cumberbatch couldn’t hope to live up to in 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness.
Shaun The Sheep (2015)
Aardman Animation, the brainchild of claymation guru Nick Park, has made as many children smile as Walt Disney. Aardman has never been less than good-hearted and hilarious. Their TV show Shaun the Sheep is a spin off of their beloved Wallace & Gromit shorts, and follows a barnyard menagerie’s low-key shenanigans led by the adorable Shaun.
Using old school silent comedy technique, Shaun the Sheep is a marvel of vocal performances and hand-crafted stop-motion animation. When the farmer gets lost in the city, Shaun and his fellow sheep have to come his aid. Really that’s just a pretext for a host of unbelievably funny and typically cute jokes from the Aardman team.
Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie (2012)
The phrase “acquired taste” must have been invented knowing some day Tim & Eric would come along. Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are razor sharp pop culture satirists who did everything in their power to seem like outsider artists. They’ve appropriated odd, deliberately limited animation, public access and infomercial production values, and low budget movies in their search for the funniest, saddest parts of the American experience.
Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie strangely looks nothing like their TV show Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! while still maintaining tonal continuity. The movie is loaded with appalling bodily humor, indecent, inhuman behavior from seemingly ordinary people, and a funhouse mirror version of consumer culture. Tim & Eric may not be for everyone, but in American comedy they’re like Picasso and John Cage, two Andy Kaufmans let loose on each other and the world at large, and the Billion Dollar Movie is unapologetically hilarious.
Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
Perhaps a short cultural memory span accounts for the American public not clamoring to go see Guy Ritchie’s sleek update of the 1960s spy series. The good news is that this gave Ritchie a more or less free hand to indulge in stylistic excess and create his own version of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. This one is impeccably dressed, impossibly sexy and the kind of fun you can only find in a movie theater.
Henry Cavill, Alicia Vikander and Armie Hammer are a pack of mismatched operatives who don’t like or trust each other, but have to come together to bring down a family of spoiled arms dealers. Ritchie has more fun than he’s ever had in his career mixing cocktails and car chases, thankfully knowing that just because he has the most lovely cast in the world doesn’t mean he can skimp on the action or darkness.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)
David Lynch has been keeping American art weird, mysterious and sensual for nearly 40 years. Movies like Blue Velvet, Wild At Heart and Mulholland Dr. changed the way America looks at itself in the mirror by telling us not to trust our reflection. To dig deeper. When he moved to TV in the early 90s, he played by a few of TV’s rules, but the weird stayed put.
Twin Peaks, the story of a town coming together to mourn the loss and solve the murder of high schooler Laura Palmer, eventually abandoned its central conceit and became more about the dark heart of suburbia. When the series was cancelled he decided to wrap the story up in a movie, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. But of course, wrapping things up isn’t really Lynch’s style. The film is a purposely oblique, hideously disturbing trip into Laura Palmer’s life that hews much closer to his other movies than to the tone of Twin Peaks the TV show.
It may not provide the closure fans of the series wanted, but that’s not why David Lynch makes art. He wants to show us the light by confusing and upsetting us and we should all be grateful he never explains himself.
TV shows frequently bring out the best from movie directors because creators want to go bigger, to paint on a larger canvas, to get away with things they can’t on the tube. What did we miss? What TV shows would you like to see turned into a movie?
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