Weekend Roundtable: Best and Worst Movies Based on TV Shows

This week’s theatrical release of ’21 Jump Street’ is just the latest example of Hollywood dragging an old TV show to the big screen, hoping to convince nostalgic fans to pay cinema ticket prices for something they used to watch for free every week. This strategy works better in some cases than others. For today’s Roundtable, we look at both the best and the worst movies based on television series.

Luke Hickman

Worst:Get Smart‘. As a kid, I grew up watching old reruns of ‘Get Smart’ after ‘The Price Is Right’ every morning. The big screen Steve Carell version of ‘Get Smart’ was downright awful. I remember watching a 1980-something made-for-television ‘Get Smart’ movie that was a thousand times more entertaining than that Steve Carell turd.

Best:The Fugitive‘. When ‘The Fugitive’ opened in 1993, as a 13-year-old dumb kid, I fell in love with it. I went back several times to see it while in theaters, and I watched my VHS copy of the film so much that it literally wore the tape out. When it was re-released on the big screen prior to the Academy Awards, I went back to see it yet again. I was much too young to be familiar with the television series, but my mother was a huge fan, so we made a combined super-fan of the property. When it was released, the movie had the right amount of action and spectacle to keep a young mind like mine entertained, and a solid complex story that got my cinematic wheels turning. I still love ‘The Fugitive’ and hope that someday it will get a decent Blu-ray release.

Mike Attebery

Best: ‘The Fugitive’. Hands down. I’ve seen this movie dozens of times since it came out. It was probably one of the biggest reasons I ever wanted to make movies. It’s perfect in every single way. I’m ready to watch it again right now!

Worst:The Dukes of Hazzard‘. If I could strangle Jay Chandrasekhar with my bare hands, I would. He’s the most untalented director working in Hollywood, and ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ is the most pathetic of all his worthless, unfunny directing gigs. I hate this movie. Willie Nelson and Jessica Simpson almost, almost make it worth checking out, but watching this bullshit really is like having a frat boy walk in and piss on your childhood.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

Best: This is probably considered heresy in the wake of the billion dollar success of ‘The Dark Knight’, but my favorite Batman movie is still ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm‘. Never mind the fact that it’s animated or spawned from a network TV cartoon; there’s a far greater element of psychological torment in ‘Mask of the Phantasm’ than any live-action incarnation of the Dark Knight to date. The bleaker side of Bruce Wayne’s all-consuming obsession is a focal point. The relationship between Bruce and Andrea feels far more genuine than any of the love interests cast in Christopher Nolan’s films. The emphasis is more heavily placed on story and characterization than one might expect for an animated Batman movie, and the action sequences are swift and brutal. I greatly prefer the origin story woven here than what would later be explored throughout ‘Batman Begins’. The dark-deco art style that defined the animated series is carried over faithfully, establishing a brilliant sense of atmosphere. Though it’s entirely appropriate for younger viewers as well, Mask of the Phantasm is so thoughtful, mature, artfully crafted, and emotionally resonant that it clearly refuses to pander. Here’s hoping a 20th anniversary release on Blu-ray is on Warner’s release slate next year.

Tom Landy

Best:Star Trek: First Contact‘. In their second feature film, the original ‘TNG’ cast must travel through time to take on the menacing Borg and save humanity. The movie has everything: action, suspense, drama, a drunk Betazoid, robot porn and so much more. Patrick Stewart’s speech (“The line must be drawn He-YAH!”) is just awesome, too. Hands down, it’s my favorite of all the ‘Trek’ films.

Worst: Well, they definitely don’t get much worse than the 1994 live-action version of ‘The Flintstones‘. Actually, wait a sec, they do, thanks to ‘The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas’. Eww… Ewww… EWWW!!! I’m so creeped out by both of these movies that I’m giving myself the willies just writing this stupid paragraph! All I keep having flashbacks of is feet – lots and lots of feet. Maybe it’s because director Brian Levant’s foot fetish seems to be instilled with the power of Dr. Scholl’s, judging by the sheer amount of disturbing foot imagery on display here. Thanks, Josh, for bringing up painful memories.

M. Enois Duarte

Worst: I think one of the worst TV-based movies ever made is ‘The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle‘ from 2000. It’s simply one of the worst executed experiments of bringing a clever, beloved animated series to the big screen. An expensive film to make, it was intended to be Des McAnuff’s follow-up to the far-more successful ‘The Iron Giant’, in which he served as producer. Even worse, and terribly embarrassing, the debacle stars Robert De Niro, Rene Russo and Jason Alexander in the lead roles.

Best: The best movie based on a TV show, in my opinion, is ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan‘. It’s a terrific continuation to a rather middle-of-the-road beginning. It’s full of drama and emotion, and has a great finale. The real genius and beauty of this movie is that it’s both a sequel to the franchise’s big-screen debut and a direct follow-up to the episode ‘Space Speed’. This is an intentional meta moment for fans of the show, one that beautifully relates the film series to its television origins and finishes with a heartbreaking conclusion.

Josh Zyber

Best:The Untouchables‘. Brian De Palma’s biggest mainstream commercial success (nominally based on the old TV series starring Robert Stack) is what every Hollywood movie should be. It combines a talented director, a great script, a top-flight cast, and the sort of lavish production values that only a major studio can provide. The movie has gangsters, cops, guns, booze, vintage cars, huge operatic shootouts and some of De Palma’s best suspense set-pieces. ‘The Untouchables’ works on every level. I’m also a fan of the director’s adaptation of ‘Mission: Impossible‘.

Worst:Speed Racer‘. I’m aware that the Wachowskis’ mega-flop based on the beloved 1960s anime series has some fans, including one member of the Bonus View staff who didn’t participate today, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out why. A film critic friend of mine described the movie’s seizure-inducing visual design as like having someone repeatedly puke Skittles directly into your face for two-and-a-quarter hours. I couldn’t put it better. The movie is a gaudy eye sore. It’s also dead-stupid, repetitive, and (at its inexcusable length) agonizingly boring. Flawed as they are, I’ll still defend the ‘Matrix’ sequels. But this, no. This is the Wachowskis’ real fall from grace.

Tell us your picks for the best and worst movies based on TV shows in the Comments below.


  1. Wow, no mention of The Mod Squad, The Saint, The Avengers, or the dreaded Brady Bunch movie. Starsky and Hutch was pretty bad as was The Dukes of Hazard, The A-Team, and SWAT.

    Some of the better TV to film adaptions in my opinion are of course Star Trek as a whole, Miami Vice, Maverick, The Addams Family, and of course The Fugitive.

    • Alex

      “The Saint” rocks (I don’t care what you say), but technically that’s an adaptation of a book series which has, itself, been adapted into a number of radio serials, movies, and tv series over the years.

  2. Josh Zyber

    Never thought much of The Fugitive, personally. I mean, it’s OK, but I never saw what all the fuss was about. It’s a pretty run-of-the-mill thriller. You can tell that it went through 25 script drafts and started shooting without a finished screenplay.

    In the Line of Fire came out the same year, and was a much better thriller, IMO.

  3. Chris McLarty

    What about Miami Vice? That was one of the worst adaptations I’ve ever seen. Totally ignored the series, and shit all over the 80’s, and any nostalgic feeling anyone watching it felt. A-Team was one of the best adaptations I’ve seen yet. It proved you can stick to the original formula, but change it up a bit and make it fresh and relevant for a modern audience.

    • CK

      I thought the point of Miami Vice was to “change it up a bit and make it fresh and relevant for a modern audience”, not to appeal to nostalgia or have anything to do with the 80’s.

      And, The A-Team was a little better than I expected from the trailers, but I thought it was still a mess and any good will it earned in the middle it undid with a goofy ending.

  4. Actually fell asleep during Speed Racer in the theater. It was the movie based on a TV show that nobody asked for. Even with all the bright colors and loud noises this boring movie still knocked me out. I only remember the scene where they beat up the ninjas and Pops is like “More like Non-jas”. Complete turkey and i can’t believe these guys made a movie worse then Matrix Revolutions.

    • Luke Hickman

      I actually enjoyed Speed Racer quite a bit – but then again I’m an unapologetic Wachowski fan.

  5. JM

    Sex And The City
    Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
    Charlie’s Angels
    Wild Wild West
    The Naked Gun
    The X-Files
    The A-Team
    Lost In Space
    Jackass: The Movie
    Mulholland Drive
    Land Of The Lost

  6. Ryan

    Speaking of falling asleep during movies, I fell asleep during Lost In Space. It was the only time I have ever fallen asleep in a movie theater. So I guess that would be my personal worst. I’m also not a huge fan of Fire Walk With Me. Twin Peaks just can’t be done in a two-hour pop.

    Like Luke, I fell in love with The Fugitive as an impressionable 12 year-old and have always liked it. The current Blu-ray release desperately needs an upgrade.

  7. Totally agree with Luke on Get Smart. That movie looks like the fake movies they’ll show clips of in sitcoms when they’re making fun of how crappy movies can be.

    The jokes are bland and unfunny and the production value looks excessively cheap to be a real Hollywood film. The score even sounds like a fake movie score. I like Carrell, and I love the original series, but this movie was godawful.

    For best: No takers on Traffic or The Muppets? What about Monty Python and the Holy Grail or Life of Brian?

    • Hadn’t really thought of Monty Python or the Muppets being movies based on TV shows. As much as groups that make both movies and TV shows, but if they qualify, than YES.

      • This is kind of my thinking too. Hadn’t really thought about it, but yes, I have to agree. The Seasame Street movies, like Follow That Bird, and the tv specials like Big Bird in China, are quite good as well (if you can rake that in with the Muppets).

        • Nothing in Holy Grail or Life of Brian is based off of any particular comedy sketch like Run Ronnie Run was based off one “Mr. Show” sketch, but Python’s first gig as Python was “Flying Circus.”

          There’s a much better case for The Muppets since they feature the television show within the film, and Henson loved television and created the Muppets to be on television.

          I feel the same way about Star Trek, that the U.S.S. Enterprise just became so much bigger than its televised origins.

  8. motorheadache

    One of my favorites is the first Addams Family film. I also am a fan of “Speed Racer.” though I at least agree with Josh that it was too long and needed a bit of trimming.

    Worst? There’s so many bad ones its hard to say.Off the top of my head I’d say Lost in Space or The Beverly Hillbillies.

  9. Kevin

    Best: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek (2009), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Serenity, The Untouchables, The Fugitive

    Worst: Dudley Do Right, My Favorite Martian, Sex and the City 2, Star Trek: Insurrection, Star Trek Nemesis, Mission: Impossible 2

  10. Best: Star Trek Generations

    Worst: Dr Who and the Daleks (although the movie was better than many of the original episodes, the movie was so far removed from the show, you have to ask if the filmmakers had even seen the original TV show)

  11. Niea Vickstrøm

    Two points Mr. Zyber:

    1: At this point it’s a bit disrespectful to refer to the Wachowski siblings as brothers, considering one of the pair isn’t a brother. You might want to consider making a correction to the blog post.

    2: I disagree with your assessment of Speed Racer. It seemed to offer no more than being an honest adaptation of it’s source material. I felt it had some flaws in regards to run time and arrangement of scenes, but on the whole a lot of quality work went in to it’s production.

    It’s understandable to maybe not find appeal in the production design (I think they called it pop-timistic) due to personal tastes, but it’s unreasonable to dismiss the hard work that went in to it as being “dead stupid.” It has many cliches, it has cheese, and isn’t the most original story… but it’s Speed Racer! It doesn’t need that over blown super serious gritty morality play treatment that every comic or animation gets these days. Ham, cheese, and nutso visual design are hallmarks of the material, and the Wachowski’s seemed to honor that pretty well!

    In all honesty, I was rather amazed in regards to the editing and production design, for it really did embody the qualitative aspects of an anime, but transformed in to a quasi-live action. It was innovative, and I’ve never seen a another film like it before.

    Surely there are worse adaptations of TV material in to films? It makes sense that you’d might not like the Speed Racer anime, and would of course not like the film it’s based on… but how can you fault an adaptation successfully aimed at those who found enjoyment in that source material? Isn’t that the most one can hope for in a TV to Film adaptation?

    • EM

      Gender identity can be problematic both for the person in question and for other persons, particularly when the identity changes or does not neatly fall into categories that a given language or other social construct handles well. I doubt Josh meant any disrespect (outside the critical panning, of course). At the time of the release of the film Josh was talking about, the siblings were known as the Wachowski Brothers, and Lana was known as Laurence/Larry (for example, see this poster: http://www.impawards.com/2008/speed_racer_ver5.html). A subsequent change does not require a rewrite of history.

      • Niea Vickstrøm

        I agree with you EM that Mr. Zyber meant no disrespect apropos the words he chose. Simply felt it was important to make note of this fact considering many know little of it.

        Lana is credited as such in the latest material that she appears in, as well as in established materials. It’s important to respect this given that transgender folks have it hard enough as it is.

        Anyway, I’ve stumbled across this article, which I feel articulates my thoughts about Speed Racer in a superior way: http://www.spoilerfreemoviesleuth.com/2012/02/didnt-like-speed-racer-youre-whats.html

        • Josh Zyber

          I understand and appreciate the point you’re making. However, in my defense, the directors are credited on screen as “Wachowski Brothers” in the movie, which was made well after Larry started referring to him/herself as Lana and publicly living as a woman. Nevertheless, I will edit the post if that’s helpful.

  12. @Tom Landy: I respect your opinion (why wouldn’t I?), but I really like “The Flintstones”. I was 10 years old when I saw it on the silver screen, I bought the VHS, I bought the DVD and I’m currently awaiting the Blu-ray. Call it nostalgia, call it “I was a child when I saw it” or call it bad taste (maybe a combination of all three). I guess everyone has a certain movie they shouldn’t like. Childhood memories can taint good judgement.

  13. paramedic0112

    I really like Michael Mann’s Miami Vice. Yeah, it’s got Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx trying to act super cool the whole time, but it’s still pretty awesome. The cars, the boats, the guns, the action, what’s not to like? Come on, it’s Michael Mann!

    • Sorry. I came down with strep throat this week and haven’t been able to do anything.

      My worst would have to be ‘The Last Airbender’. That movies was AWFUL.

      For the best, I really, really enjoyed the first and fourth ‘Mission: Impossible’ films.

        • I hated ‘M:I2’. Thought ‘M:I3’ was okay, but really didn’t like the ending. The whole CPR scene was laughable. It was like Abrams ripped it straight from a scene in ‘Lost’ where Jack beats on the chest of (I think it was) Charlie to resuscitate him.

          • JM

            ‘M:I2’ is classic shit, and my favorite of the series. I love every bit of it. Tony, and the Tom-Fu. The Woo gunplay and the spinning car of love. $546M, Baby! Kick the sand and suck it.

          • CK

            I would probably go with the Mission Impossible series as the best, as well. I like them all pretty well.

            The ending of MI3 was a bit weak, but I’d still put it over the most recent one. To me, the action scenes didn’t seem so obviously contrived, the end fight didn’t seem like it should have slapstick music and sound effects and the “outcast Ethan Hunt” plot (which was a small part of the third, but seemed to me like a key element of the marketing for the fourth) had only been used once already and managed to actually have some influence on how the mission played out.

      • I was actually watching The Last Airbender last night with my friend’s kid. We are about half-way through, and are both really enjoying it. I did see it in the theater, and had 2 issues with it – 1) The 3D conversion was HORRIBLE and 2) they tried to squeeze like 10 hours of a TV show into a movie. I felt that if the movie was, say, 30 minutes to an hour longer, and paid some more attention to character development, the movie would have been great. The movie felt rushed. Maybe they looked at Disney movies, and determined that kids just don’t have an attention span beyond an hour, but the movie had great potential. They didn’t change the story too much from the cartoon, and the acting and visual effects were actually pretty good. Yeah, if it was just longer, and more time spent on character development and events, it would have been great.

  14. JM

    ‘Transformers’ and ‘Mulholland Dr.’ improved the source material.

    ‘Charlie’s Angels’ pissed on it.

    • Josh Zyber

      Transformers isn’t based on a TV show so much as it’s based on a toy line that also happened to have spawned a cartoon that the movie series ignores.

      I also wouldn’t say that Mulholland Drive is “based” on a TV show. It is itself a failed TV pilot that never aired and was reworked into a feature film after some reshoots and editing.

      • JM

        ‘Transformers’ is kind of inbred, but it’s anchored by the voice of Peter Cullen, from the tv show, who gave the toy line a soul.

        You don’t think ‘Mulholland Dr.’ improved the source material? Would the television version have been better? Are you anti- lesbian sex?

          • JM

            ‘Mulholland Dr.’ was written, shot, and sold to Disney as a tv pilot. Groundwork was laid for multiple story arcs. Disney refused to air it because of the cigarette smoking. 300 original copies are still floating around on cheap tape.

            David Lynch, with some funding from the French, adapted it into a film, adding new text, the darkness, the depth, and the lesbian sex “of a lyricism practically without equal in contemporary cinema.”

          • CK

            I’d say that would make it more like a director’s cut, but still essentially the original source material.

    • YESSS,

      However, while I love the Naked Gun movies and I believe that at least two of them are great examples of a great series turned into successful movies. The show itself is comedy genius and actually outshines the very great movies that came after it.

      Leslie Nielsen and company are so funny in that show that it’s really hard to not miss episodes when the movie only gets to mine “SOME” of what made “Police Squad” so great.

      Certain things that never made it, didn’t fit, or barely made it into the movies are things like,

      The Shoe Shine guy who seems to have way too many contacts and too much information for one man.

      The tall cop jokes ( ingeniously cast with Richard Moll )

      The classic ending sequences, (everybody freezes in mid laugh except for a criminal who then realizes his luck and attempts to escape)

      And those are just off the top of my head.

      Police Squad and the Naked Gun series are absolutely one of the best TV to Movie adaptations but I love me the original series, and really need to find a good copy of it so I can own it.

  15. EM

    For best, I’m torn between two Star Trek movies. E. has already made an eloquent case for The Wrath of Khan. My other pick, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, gets a lot of grief, particularly from Trekkies; but I think that ever since the theatrical cut came out on Blu-ray (plus DVD), I have watched it a little bit more than even The Wrath of Khan. They’re both terrific examples of Star Trek, with The Motion Picture spotlighting the series’ classic mantra: “To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before!” Khan is rightfully a sentimental favorite, but The Motion Picture is a worthy philosophical epic that happens to owe more to 2001 than to Hornblower or Ahab.

    For worst…well, I don’t know. Maybe The Brady Bunch Movie or Dragnet (1987).

    • I must agree, the theatrical cut of TMP is definately better than all the extended versions and director cuts that I had seen over the years. But I, myself, was never a fan of Wrath of Khan – it is my second least-favorite Star Trek film, behind Final Frontier. Yes, I like Insurrection better than I like Wrath of Khan.

      I feel that The Motion Picture is greatly under-appreciated. I love it, and it is probably my fourth-favorite, behind Generations, The Undiscovered Country and the 2009 remake.

      • Dimwit

        The thing about TMP that all the revisionist forget is the overwhelming sense of space when you slide past that Bird of Prey as it meets V’ger for the first time.
        On the large screen, after waiting a decade for *something* Trek, this was mindblowing. You would forgive everything for the beautiful visuals alone. Sure, it’s passe now, but back then… wow!

        • I would LOVE to see this movie on the big screen! I have a local theater that plays retro-movies every Friday and Saturday night. They have played Wrath of Khan a couple of times. Maybe they will play this at some point. I saw all the Star Trek movies since 5 at the theater (that is about the time I became interested in it)

  16. JM

    Michael Bay’s new ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ are going to be aliens.

    “When you see this movie, kids are going to believe one day these Turtles actually do exist. These turtles are from an alien race, and they are going to be tough, edgy, funny and completely loveable.” – Michael Bay