It’s tough to translate a TV show into a movie and vice versa, because they’re two completely different mediums. TV shows are designed to have longevity, with stories told in short installments, while movies need to have a more rounded and self-contained narrative with a wide enough scope to warrant a trip to the theater.
Naturally, with this being the case, while there have been some TV-to-movie adaptations that have succeeded, there have been a lot more that have failed. That’s what makes the good ones so special. So, here are The 5 Best (And 5 Worst) Movies Based On TV Shows.
10 Best: The Simpsons Movie
The best TV-to-movie adaptations are the ones that show us where an episode of a TV show would go if it wasn’t confined to a 22-minute runtime. That’s what The Simpsons Movie does brilliantly. It shows us what would happen if Homer screwed up so badly that he couldn’t fix it in 22 minutes. He gets Springfield quarantined by the government, moves the family to Alaska, and is finally left by Marge.
The Simpsons Movie gives us everything we wish an episode had time to take us through. Homer and Marge always face problems with their marriage, but the movie went more emotional with it than any episode could, because it had a feature-length runtime. And the tight script written by all the best Simpsons writers ensures that the joke rate is left untampered with.
9 Worst: Baywatch
Despite the best efforts of Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, and Alexandra Daddario, 2017’s Baywatch movie was a resounding failure. The problem is that director Seth Gordon couldn’t seem to decide if he wanted to do a sly, meta take on the original’s campiness or go all in and take it seriously, with a game cast caught in the middle, looking confused about the movie’s tone.
And it seems like Gordon was too preoccupied with making his action sequences look like they were filmed by the lovechild of Michael Bay and Zack Snyder to make sure the jokes landed. The result is pretty much a disaster.
8 Best: Scooby-Doo
The live-action movie based on the Scooby-Doo cartoons went above and beyond. It didn’t just faithfully adapt the characters and their team dynamic, with staggeringly authentic performances from the cast; it also got meta with it and depicted the Mystery, Inc. gang as real-world celebrities. And for a kids’ movie, some of its horror elements are actually genuinely scary, even to adult viewers.
The CGI used to create Scooby looks a little dodgy and dated today, but that’s hardly the movie’s fault, since it was made in 2002 when CGI was still in its infancy. At least they didn’t go overboard like George Lucas with the Star Wars prequels and only used the CGI to add Scoob into scenes with actual sets and practical effects.
7 Worst: Charlie’s Angels
Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu would’ve made a great cast in a movie that was better directed. McG’s action sequences have spectacle thanks to the crutch of a big budget, but they’re not exciting and they fall completely flat. The comedy could redeem it if there was any comedy.
There are painfully unfunny moments that make you wonder why anyone thought they were funny in the first place and how they ended up in the movie, especially considering the brilliant and notoriously picky Bill Murray signed on to play Bosley. Charlie’s Angels is an action comedy with boring action and tired comedy that inexplicably got a sequel.
6 Best: 21 Jump Street
No one expected Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum’s movie version of 21 Jump Street to be successful, but they really showed those people. From Nick Offerman’s self-aware references to Ice Cube’s self-aware play on the angry black captain, 21 Jump Street’s meta-ness made it a TV show adaptation like no other.
The movie works as a play on the John Hughes coming-of-age high school comedy formula with the added twist that the characters aren’t really who they say they are. That’s all well and good, but really, what made the movie work at its core was Hill and Tatum’s terrific chemistry.
5 Worst: The Last Airbender
Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed animated series in recent memory. It’s been showered with awards and praise and it’s beloved by millions of fans across the world. Contrast that with the critical reception for M. Night Shyamalan’s live-action film adaptation and it’s like day and night.
Shyamalan’s movie is often ranked among the worst movies ever made and it was given five Golden Raspberry Awards, including Worst Picture. Roger Ebert called watching the film “an agonizing experience,” while Ain’t It Cool News said that it was “so outrageously bad it’s a wonder it ever got before cameras.” Ouch.
4 Best: South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
By its second or third season, South Park had become one of the highest rated shows on cable. So, Paramount execs were quick to ask creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone for a feature film adaptation. Parker and Stone don’t go for shameless cash-ins. Just look at their hands-on involvement with the recent South Park video games to see that if they’re going to put their names on something, they put the work in.
They killed themselves making the movie, left so exhausted by it that the following season of the show was phoned in. But the results are clear. It’s a hilarious musical with catchy songs and a strong message that goes above and beyond feeling like a long episode of the show. The movie goes after the ultimate comedic target: the very parents who criticize South Park in the first place.
3 Worst: Entourage
Does it count as a bad movie adaptation if the TV show it’s adapted from was also generally bad? If you’re going to retain the misogyny and the bro humor, then at least stay true to the characters. But the Entourage movie doesn’t even do that.
Eric’s story arc is particularly out of character. He was always characterized as a one-woman guy and we watched him pine after one girl for eight seasons, only to finally get that girl and spend the whole movie going after other women. The worst thing is that there’s nothing in the movie that compels you to see it on the big screen. It looks exactly like what you can already find on HBO.
2 Best: Borat
Sacha Baron Cohen introduced his Borat character in Da Ali G Show and he was only ever featured in short interview segments that pranked people into thinking they were taking part in a real documentary with a real Kazakhstani reporter.
While that doesn’t sound like it could be stretched to feature-length, the wildly successful movie adaptation Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan turned out to be one of the funniest mockumentaries ever made. It has an interesting storyline, stitched together with a series of gags that landed. The filmmakers shot so much material that only the very best made it into the final cut, ensuring it was a tight, hilarious movie.
1 Worst: Wild Wild West
In what turned out to be possibly the worst decision in any actor’s career, Will Smith turned down the lead role in The Matrix to star in Wild Wild West. Its steampunk visual style might make it unique, but it also makes it too weird to be enjoyable – there’s even a giant robotic spider.
The robot spider is framed in the narrative as if it’s the movie’s big selling point. But there’s hardly an audience for westerns these days as it is, and even diehard western fans will be put off by a robot spider, because it simply doesn’t belong in a western. If a mistake that huge was made, then the movie itself must be a mistake – and in this case, it is.