Adapting a hit television show into a hit movie should be a piece of cake, but in reality, the field of tube to screen updates is littered with the corpses of attempts noble, but flawed (The Monkees’ Head) — or just outright cynical (Scooby Doo). For a film version to work, the movie requires the right mix of audience-expected staples and new twists that add complexity to the stories. The few who succeed achieve a certain immortality and become as beloved as their source material. The honor roll:
10. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)
The increasing strangeness of eccentric filmmaker David Lynch’s noirish ABC melodrama reached its, well, peak in this movie prequel released after the show’s untimely cancellation. All traces of the Pacific Northwest small town quirks — lovable rubes and “damn good coffee” — that initially drew viewers to Twin Peaks in 1989 all but vanished in Fire Walk With Me, a mindbending psychodrama that takes the duplicitous characters and supernatural forces of the show into even darker, more subterranean places.
9. Miami Vice (2006)
Fans of the original Miami Vice television series were in for a surprise when executive producer Michael Mann remade the show — a glitzy, fashion-oriented pop phenomenon — into a film with a haunted, gloomily romantic atmosphere and storyline. The movie version, starring Colin Farrell as Crockett and Jamie Foxx as Tubbs, left many scratching their heads, but Mann’s visionary use of digital cinematography left the show’s more superficial style in the dust.
8. The Muppet Movie (1979)
Jim Henson’s The Muppet Show — the razzamatazz hipster version of more educational-minded Sesame Street — launched in 1976 to tremendous results, and by 1979 it was time for the inevitable move to the big screen. Henson took full advantage, amping up the dimensions of the Muppet universe and hiring several movies worth of guest stars (Mel Brooks, Bob Hope, and even Orson Welles) without losing any of the show’s intimate adorability. Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, the Electric Mayhem and the rest of the Muppet gang had found a permanent place (five movies followed) at the cinema.
7. The X-Files (1998)
Also known as The X-Files: Fight the Future,
this movie continuation of the cult hit TV series expanded on its main
thread of alien cover-up/conspiracy theory. Where the show bounced back
and forth from government redacted UFO sightings to Twilight Zone-esque episodes of self-contained paranormal occurrences, the original X-Files
movie condensed Special Agent Mulder and Scully’s adventures in the
unexplained into one tightly paced thriller for maximum weirdness and
6. The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988)
the 1982 television series produced by the groundbreaking comedy team
of Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker, lasted a mere four episodes before
having its plugged pulled, but there was an eventual silver lining: The Naked Gun
series. Using many of the same sight gags and deadpan humor of the
show’s ’50s cop drama parody format while adding tons of hilarious
originals (like the full body condom), with the first Naked Gun, ZAZ found the audience Police Squad! should have attracted.
5. The Untouchables (1987)
Fugitive creator Quinn Martin’s first success in television was The Untouchables,
a weekly series from 1959 to 1963 about Eliot Ness’ crack unit of
mob-busting Prohibition era cops starring Robert Stack as the upright
nemesis to the greedy evil of Al Capone (Neville Brand). Brian De
Palma’s film version took that premise and ground it into high concept
pulp, pitting Kevin Costner’s Ness against Robert de Niro’s Capone in
excessively tense set pieces like the famous baby carriage down the
stairs homage to Battleship Potemkin, creating a new form of tough guy cinematic ballet.
4. South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut (1999)
de rigueur for a television show to go epic when made into a feature
length motion picture, but in translating controversial animated hit South Park
to the big screen, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone pulled out all
the stops, placing Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny in a plot centered
around a Canadian-American civil war featuring the romantic couple of
Saddam Hussein and Satan. A full-blast Hollywood musical with lyrical
content a long way from The Little Mermaid, South Park took mainstream animation to previously unscaled satiric heights.
3. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1995)
Monty Python’s Flying Circus
ended its run on British television in 1974, but the comedy troupe was
just hitting its stride and the laughs were just beginning. A film
anthology of Monty’s best sketches were compiled in 1971’s And Now For Something Completely Different, but their ultimate achievement in the theater was Monty Python and the Holy Grail,
a spoof of medieval times (and medieval movies) containing some of
their most memorable bits (the Knights Who-Say-Ni, the Killer Rabbit,
the delusional, undaunted Black Knight) that have been imitated ever
2. Marty (1955)
Marty began as Paddy Chayefsky’s 1953 contribution to The Philco Television Playhouse, a series that introduced audiences to a gritty, unassuming style of depicting everyday Americans’ hopes and dreams. The 1955 Marty,
also written by Chayefsky, stayed close to the original’s love story
between the eponymous Bronx loser, played by Ernest Borgnine, and a
similarly unappealing schoolteacher, and its uplifting yet uncontrived
working class romance earned it both the Palme d’Or and a Best Picture
1. The Fugitive (1993)
The film version of The Fugitive,
starring Harrison Ford as the titular framed hero on the run from the
law and seeking the one armed man who really killed his wife, was
released 30 years after the debut of the television series, but in the
hands of Andrew Davis, it was like a good friend who had never left.
Keeping true to the show’s weekly beatification of Richard Kimble in
having him help some poor soul while retaining his anonymity, the film
set a delirious pace of non-stop action with the help of Tommy Lee
Jones as U.S. Marshall Philip Gerard, a gruff, self-deprecating turn
that won the actor a deserved Academy Award.
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