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Ten best movies adapted from TV series

southparkcomedy-central-filmsLast week I did a little dumpster diving on the Hollywood backlot and pulled out a collection of vomit-inducing big screen adaptations that failed miserably to live up to the TV series that inspired them. The putrid stench of their incompetence still clings to the walls at FOX, Warner Bros., and Universal. No amount of Lysol can combat these odious bombs.

Out with the bad; in with the good. Once in a great while, Tinseltown gets it right. The small screen to big screen transition — when placed in the hands of skilled practitioners — can be quite smooth. The following list of successes is the exact reason why TV series are such popular fodder for movie producers. Without further adieu, let’s frolic in a jasmine-scented meadow and drink from the cool refreshing waters of a babbling brook. It’s time to inhale some cinema goodness.

Here are ten sterling examples of films that upheld the honor of their television brothers:

10) Miami Vice (2006) – Seventeen years after Crockett and Tubbs put away their guns, Writer/Director Michael Mann gave the series he executive produced a treatment on film. The neon glitz and glamour of South Florida is beautifully captured in hi-def video. This movie is all about atmosphere and that’s where it shines: fast cars, fast boats, and fast women.  I’m certain I’ll catch flack for liking it, but I’m cool with that.

9) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) – The pizza-loving quartet of humanoid turtles with fists and feet of fury looks better than ever on the big screen. Based on the hit animated ’80s series, the live-action version keeps the “stoner” dialogue intact, but adds a darker, more sinister tone to the proceedings. Not just for kids, TMNT is an entertaining cult classic.

8) Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (1996) – Before MTV completely sold-out, they allowed Mike Judge to unleash his dimwitted slackers, Beavis and Butt-Head, onto society. Judge’s movie adaptation put a capper on the adventures of the head-banging, foul-mouthed duo. Their beloved TV gets stolen. A gut-busting journey ensues. Uhh… it like, doesn’t suck, or something.

7) The Brady Bunch Movie (1995) – The series was beyond ridiculous. So is the movie. It’s the same naïve, milquetoast Brady clan from the ’60s plopped into 1990s culture. We get Johnny Bravo and we get “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” The plot has something to do with overdue property taxes, but it hardly matters. They didn’t screw with the original characters, which is why it works. Gary Cole’s Mike Brady is spot on.

6) South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999) – I can’t believe this came out ten years ago. I’m getting old. I don’t even like the show, but this movie is an absolute riot. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone ratchet up the raunch for their multiplex masterpiece. “Asses of Fire,” war with Canada and intercourse between Satan and Saddam Hussein are just a few of the highlights.

5) The Untouchables (1987) – Sean Connery nabbed an Oscar for his role in this crime saga that — for better or worse — put Kevin Costner on the celebrity map. Director Brian De Palma borrows liberally from Hitchcock to tell the story of Eliot Ness and his team of incorruptible federal agents. Robert De Niro hams it up playing Al Capone. Watched it again recently; it holds up pretty well.

4) The X Files (1998) – One of my favorite TV series translated wonderfully to film thanks to creator Chris Carter’s detailed and revealing screenplay. “The Truth Was Out There” and Mulder and Scully finally found it, sort of. The X Files had the luxury of hitting the big screen while the series was still on the air, making it a perfect complement to a truly groundbreaking sci-fi show.

3) The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988) – Most people don’t recall the six episodes of Police Squad in 1982. That’s because no one saw them. Thanks to Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker — the geniuses behind Airplane! — the movie version took slapstick sight comedy to a new level. Unfortunately, the box office success of The Naked Gun franchise unleashed a vicious cycle of awful clones and parodies that continue today.

2) The Fugitive (1993) – Harrison Ford plays Dr. Richard Kimble: falsely accused of murdering his wife, on the run from the law, and in search of the one-armed man. The cat and mouse plot is high on action and suspense. This is one of the more faithful adaptations to grace theaters. It received seven deserved Oscar nominations, with Tommy Lee Jones taking home gold as Marshal Sam Gerard.

1) Serenity (2005) – FOX botched the handling of Firefly back in 2002. I’m still pissed about that. Thankfully, creator Joss Whedon was able to tie-up the loose ends of his brilliant but unappreciated sci-fi series with this stellar movie. The origin of the “Reavers” and a truly menacing villain make Serenity one of the best science fiction films I’ve ever seen. Check that. It’s just a damn great movie period.

I feel so much better after writing this list. Good movies always improve my mood. I’m sure there will be some dissension regarding my selections, but that’s to be expected. So tell me, what’s your favorite movie adaptation?



Photo Credit: Comedy Central Films

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22 Responses to “Ten best movies adapted from TV series”

February 15, 2009 at 10:50 PM

Very nice list! As I was reading it, I was thinking, “He’d better not leave Serenity off this list!” It was nice seeing it at number one. I loved Serenity, actually much more than I liked the TV series.

Oh, and I was one of the 7 people who saw Police Squad and loved it back in the ’80s — good thing I had a father with a warped sense of humor or that one never would have made it to me!

February 17, 2009 at 12:06 PM

And I thought I was the only one watching Police Squad back in the ’80s ;o)

February 16, 2009 at 11:15 AM

O.K I’m ready to take the hits, here it goes. In my opinion, Serenity was a downgrade from Firefly, not an upgrade, so I don’t think it should make the list. If it had been better, maybe we would would have more from the Firefly Universe to enjoy.

February 16, 2009 at 11:25 AM

BSG: As yours in an opinion I respect a great deal, can you go into more detail? I thoroughly enjoyed Serenity… The only things that I didn’t like was how they had to reintroduce everything, but that had to be expected in order to capture new audiences.

I know Akbar was always bothered by the continuity issues, but those didn’t bother me either.

What was it that made it less than the TV show to you?

February 16, 2009 at 12:16 PM

I was late finding out about the series/movie. I caught the movie on cable and I did like it, then Akbar turned me on to the series. After viewing the series, I could only see the movie as a heretical piece of work (thus a downgrade). If I never watched the series at all, the movie might still hold some appeal, the series was just that superior to the movie.

Continuity was an issue, yes and that’s a biggy, but also the characters felt watered down, their lovable nuances seemed missing. And I did the appreciate them killing characters!

February 16, 2009 at 12:28 PM

That should read, I did NOT appreciate them killing characters – see what a difference a nuance makes :)

February 16, 2009 at 12:31 PM

But Joss has made a habit of killing characters I particularly liked (Jenny Calendar, Tara, Anya, Lilah, Fred, Book), so I guess you have to get used to it ;)

February 16, 2009 at 11:37 AM

I’m with you… I don’t know what people expected out of the Miami Vice feature. I liked it quite a bit, and thought the leads played very well off of each other (Li Gong seemed a bit out of place, though).

TMNT was also a great choice for the list!

I thought that the Beavis and Butthead feature was 10x better than anything they did on TV. Never thought the show as any good, but thought that the movie was pretty darn funny.

Every time I pop in the South Park DVD, I remember how good the movie was. This would probably top my list, as I thought the story was great, and the music was surprisingly good.

February 16, 2009 at 12:43 PM

Is “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” not eligible because it wasn’t the first try? Because that’s the best TV to movie trip ever.

February 16, 2009 at 2:08 PM

Mission Impossible and Charlies Angels. They would surely kick Beavis and Butthead and Miami Vice off the list.

February 16, 2009 at 2:31 PM

Chuck’s Angels blew. Mission: Impossible would have been #11 on my list.

February 16, 2009 at 2:54 PM

2nd That. I’m suprised Angel’s didn’t make the ‘Worst Of’ list.

February 16, 2009 at 11:17 PM

Add Mission Impossible to the “worst of” list. They take an enjoyable, team-based series (in either of its incarnations), and laughably kill off the entire team in — what, the first 15 minutes? — so Tom Cruise could play a pre-Bourne Bourne for the rest of the movie. Oh, and making the beloved old team leader the villain for no apparent reason.

February 16, 2009 at 3:00 PM

I’m with Scott, where is Star Trek?

February 16, 2009 at 4:43 PM

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan definitely should be near the top. Especially since it was a continuation of a story that originated on the original series.

February 16, 2009 at 5:26 PM

Sorry, guys. I’m not a Star Trek fan. Seen all the movies. Didn’t dig them. That’s not to say they aren’t, at least II, well-made movies, but none will grace my list ;o)

February 16, 2009 at 8:36 PM

- Star Trek: First Contact (first ST:TNG movie without the old crew)

– Tim Burton’s Batman.

The only two movies I saw twice at the cinema in my whole life

– The Dark Knight.

Took a 300 mile trainride to the only IMAX in Germany showing it (Berlin).

How those movies aren’t at the top of the list but X-Files made it… boy oh boy. Phew. Sorry but… Wow…

Seriously, how can Batman not be number one on this list? And I’m not even talking about “The Dark Knight”

February 16, 2009 at 9:36 PM

Because I don’t think most would consider Batman or TDK as adapted from a television show.

February 16, 2009 at 10:37 PM

First of all, all Best/Worst lists are subjective. IMO, all of the Batman movies stink. Including, the so-called cinema masterpiece “The Dark Knight.” Frankly, it was a borefest when Ledger wasn’t on screen. And listening to Bale’s guttural attempts at being mysterious are annoying and laughable.

Yes, “Batman” was a comic book first, but so was TMNT.

February 16, 2009 at 11:24 PM

You are absolutely right about TMNT, I had forgotten that.

Scott, that’s the best part about lists like this. The great discussion that follows… I mean, I think Sebastian is cucoo for Cocoa Puffs for having First Contact be one of the two movie’s he’s seen in the theater twice, but then again, I’m the same guy that likes the Prince and Me (I’m not proud, trust me), so who am I to judge?

February 17, 2009 at 6:21 PM

Hey Scott I don’t hate you for this list I just have my own opinion and you know me – I like to state that opinion in a kind of… hrm… straightforward manner :-)

Your list is very coherent to say the least, it has a certain flavor to it and to be honest my list would look so much different than yours. Because I also liked the Knight Rider Mo… *ouch* who threw that stone? ^^; No I didn’t like it. But I loved TDK and the original Batman and anyone who doesn’t is a blasphemist ;-)

Oh and to be honest your whole list didn’t include Anime.

The best (OVA) Series to Movie is “Ah! Megamisama”. ;-P