It always seems like a good idea at the time: take a successful movie, figure out what works, and translate it into the weekly format of television. So simple, right? Not so much. What works in a movie is the combination of cast, director, and those lightning-only-strikes-once circumstances that often separate hits from flops. Of course, it can go any way: some movies make great shows. Some are even better than their source material. Others work well enough, at least as well as the movie. And some are unmitigated disasters. Here’s a look at all three types of series-cum-movies.
TV Shows That Are Better Than the Movie
It’s strange enough that Parenhood is based on the movie of the same name that was released 21 years earlier; it’s even stranger to think that the show improved on the original in almost every way (with the exception of the unfortunate lack of Steve Martin). But the tale of the Braverman family is funny and heartbreaking, expanding on the themes of the movie. It’s also got a spectacular cast in Lauren Graham, Peter Krause, Craig T. Nelson, and more. The movie is great; this is better.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Probably the most famous modern example of a show that far exceeded its movie source. Buffy‘s creator, Joss Whedon, was sorely disappointed by the campy final product culled from his movie script. So annoyed that he created a TV show himself, making sure that the small-screen version captured the heady mix of horror, drama, and comedy that have become Whedon’s signature style. Though the movie boasts a cult following, the TV show has inspired pretty much every supernatural program that’s come after it — and a legion of Whedon-worshiping fans.
The Dukes of Hazzard
The Dukes of Hazzard is actually based on the film Moonrunners. What? Never heard of it? Now you see why Dukes falls into this category. While the series isn’t the most complicated show of all time, it’s undeniably a ton of fun. The adventures of Bo and Luke Duke may have been worth revisiting on a weekly basis, but the original movie? Just not that great. Oh, and one more thing that puts the show over the movie: in Moonrunners, there’s no Daisy Duke.
TV Shows That Are As Good As the Movie
It’s nearly impossibly to say which version of MASH is better, the film or the TV show. The movie is one of the best dark comedies ever made. Heck, it’s even one of the best war movies ever made. The iconic series fleshes out the characters, giving birth to a classic sitcom and one of the most watched television finales of all time. Both versions of MASH changed the way we, as viewers, thought about how war could be portrayed onscreen.
Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin’s adventure sci-fi throwback was a ton of fun in theaters, pairing the unlikely duo of James Spader and Kurt Russell in exploration of the alien origins of the pyramids (among other things). But who could have guessed the movie would spawn three TV series, including the long running Stargate SG-1? Not only that, but the series are pretty good, too. Turns out that Stargate is sort of a Star Trek lite — and we’re happy with that.
The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles
It’s tough to top the Indiana Jones movies. So luckily the TV spin-off didn’t try to. Instead, we were treated to the historical adventures of Doctor Jones through three different time periods — and very rarely from the Harrison Ford-aged Indy. Smart move, and it paid off. Whereas the movies were swashbuckling adventures, the shows were educational romps for kids — and they both work, in their own ways.
TV Shows That Are Worse Than the Movie
Not that Highlander or its sequels are exactly Star Wars, but at least the first Highlander is fun and good enough that it spawned a whole franchise of immortals hacking heads off. The TV show was typical syndication goofiness, but stretched on way, way, way too long. Some ideas are only meant to be played out over two hours, and Highlander falls into that category. After more episodes than we care to count, the TV series is pretty unwatchable.
Nope, this is an earlier version. Yes, there was also an early-nineties series also based on the Steve Martin feature, complete with an insanely talented cast featuring future stars David Arquette, Thora Birch, and some guy named Leonardo DiCaprio. Despite having more firepower than the average movie, the show simply doesn’t recapture the magic of the original movie (or the 2010 remake, for that matter) and floundered, lasting only twelve episodes.
My Big Fat Greek Life
Taking Nia Vardalos’s sitcom-y movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding and turning the adventures of the charismatic cast into an actual sitcom (called My Big Fat Greek Life) probably seemed like a great and simple idea. But the idea was too good to be true. Everything seemed to break right: nearly the entire cast returned. The lone holdout was male lead John Corbett. And he was the lucky one. The unfunny, awkwardly paced sitcom was mercifully canceled after seven episodes.