Top Five movies adapted from TV (original cast)

This is a category that kept popping into my head back when I was doing this post and this one. With "Sex and the City" fans all atwitter about their gal pals being back, I thought first, "would a Sopranos reunion on the big screen be a good thing?" I decided not, as a large part of its appeal was its serial, episodic nature, day-in, day-out, life goes on (except for those who are whacked).

But this raises the question, "Can any TV series yield a movie worth the price of the popcorn (which, when you think about it, is a pretty high standard)?"

And the answer is yes — just look at "Serenity." So I compiled this list. Admittedly, it’s a pretty restrictive list, and doesn’t contain any movies that would make even a Top 100 list from among films in general. And I’m not allowing movies inspired by TV series, but with a different cast — a la "The Untouchables," or "The Addams Family." So the list is what it is. And what it is is an excuse to urge you to see "Serenity" if you haven’t. The rest is just a nod to the Top Five art form, in keeping with the Nick Hornby standard:

  • "Serenity" — I saw this without having ever seen "Firefly," upon which it is based, which means I was like most people in the known ‘verse. "Firefly," probably the best sci-fi series ever, lasted less than a season. I now own the whole catalog on DVD, including several episodes never aired. How to describe it? Basically, it’s a classic western translated to outer space (in the vein of the "Outland" remake of "High Noon," only wittier), complete with the residual tension of the Civil War thrown in. The protagonists are a motley ship’s company built around a captain and exec who were Browncoats (rebels) back in the war. Their side lost to the Alliance, which rules all the core planets in the settled universe, and their ship (a Firefly-class relic named "Serenity," after the pivotal battle in which the Browncoats lost the war) bounces around the frontier fringe planets (where Alliance authority is shaky), making an iffy living off of smuggling and other shady enterprises. There are all sorts of cool little side notes in this future world, including the fact that their Old West diction is laced with Chinese-derived profanity — when they’re not resorting to such everyday epithets as "gorram," and "ruttin’". The characters are a lot of fun, especially Jayne the mercenary, and Kaylee the mechanic. And the best news of all is that you can see and enjoy "Serenity" without ever having seen the series, and it gives nothing away. But after you see the movie, you’ll want to see the series. Oh, one more thing — the Browncoats are essentially libertarians who just want the authoritarian Alliance to leave them alone. But I enjoyed it anyway. It was shiny.
  • "The Simpsons Movie" — It lived up to the standard set by the series, which is all you can ask.
  • "The Blues Brothers" — This one’s kind of obvious, to the point that I’m almost embarrassed to include it. Everybody picks this one.
  • "The Naked Gun" — A fitting translation of "Police Squad," it is what it is (just to thoroughly overwork a phrase).
  • "Batman (1966)"  — Give me a break on this, too. I was 12 years old, and it was everything I expected.

As you can see, a very restrictive category. I would have included "Wayne’s World," but I wasn’t going to allow more than one SNL spinoff (and as long as I’m being absurdly pedantic, I probably shouldn’t have included either of them, since a skit is not a series). "Star Trek" fans would probably have included one or more of those films, but I was never really into that ‘verse.

4 thoughts on “Top Five movies adapted from TV (original cast)

  1. Guesspert Greg

    My theory for why the “SATC” flick was a hit: it all had to do with the timing. And I don’t just mean that the movie works as summer counter-programming to all the superhero and kiddie cartoon movies.
    They originally wanted to make a movie right after the series ended, but a deal with Kim Cattrall couldn’t be nailed down. But if that movie had come out only a year after the HBO series ended, the core audience might not have found it that big a deal. “Hey, we’re still trying to catch up on all our DVD copies.”
    If they had waited another five years until 2013 or so, the audience might not care anymore about what the characters were up to — or care to see how much makeup these women needed after all that time.
    But 2008 was just the right amount of time for the fan base to think, “Gee, I haven’t caught up with the gal pals in about four or five years now. I wonder what they’re up to?”
    Result: $55.7 million opening weekend box office.
    In show biz, timing is everything. Cha-ching.

  2. Guesspert Greg

    Other TV-to-big-screen candidates:
    [] You’re not a fan of “The X-Files”? I’ve maybe watched three total episodes of the TV show from start to finish, but I dug the 1998 feature film. They’ve finally got a sequel this summer — “X-Files: I Want to Believe” beams to Earth July 25.
    [] Fair enough that you only picked one representative “SNL” movie. But what about Canadian sketch comedy? SCTV gave us Bob and Doug McKenzie in 1983’s “Strange Brew.”
    [] And are you only counting North American TV shows? If England is allowed, I’d like to know which “Monty Python” movies are eligible.
    [] Sure “The Simpsons Movie” proved that the citizens of Springfield belong on the big screen … but maybe “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” took what was allowed on cable TV and belched it a million miles beyond the censor’s line.
    [] David Lynch’s “Mulholland Dr.” was originally filmed as a TV pilot. But ABC rejected it, Lynch reworked the script and added new scenes, and it ended up on a lot of “10 best” lists for 2001.
    [] If you’re allowed to add the 1966 “Batman” from your youth, I’m allowed to nominate “The Muppet Movie” from 1979.
    Worst TV to big screen movie? My biggest disappointment was “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.” Our friend Mr. Lynch took a great show and drove it into a telephone pole. Or is that a plot from one of his other movies?

  3. Phillip

    If you are counting the Simpsons, then I feel we have to have “South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut” on the list.
    I am totally with you re “Serenity” and “Firefly.” Incidentally, I hear that Joss Whedon, the creative whiz behind “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly,” is launching a new series next season on Fox.

  4. Phillip

    …sorry Guesspert Greg, I only read Brad’s original post and missed that you had already cast your vote for “South Park B..L..U…”


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