“Based on the movie so-and-so…”: how many times have we read this in opening and end credits of TV shows, and how many times have we heard the voice-over in trailers tell us of the big-screen origins of a TV series? The television adaptation of successful movies has proved to be a rather safe investment and risk-free operation over the years, from Disney productions such as “The Lion King’s Timon & Pumbaa,” based on “The Lion King,” or “The Emperor’s New School,” based on “The Emperor’s New Groove,” up to more recent and critically acclaimed TV series like “Fargo,” “Bates Motel,” and “Westworld,” to name but a few. Did you know that as much as many screenwriters and directors persist and succeed in making TV series based on films, many creatives are also really into the exact opposite kind of adaptation? And most of the times the movies based on TV series turn out as successful (if not more successful) as the original episodic shows. One of the most appropriate examples of this could be “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” the award-winning sequel and epilogue to the popular television series “Breaking Bad.”
Looking for advice on other must-see adaptations from the small to big screen? Check out our selection of the best movies based on TV series, from popular sagas to young adult material.
SAGAS & MULTIPLE-CHAPTER MOVIES
The “Star Trek” saga (1979-2016)
Based on the popular TV series created by Gene Roddenberry which aired from 1966 to 1969, the “Star Trek” sci-fi franchise encloses 13 long feature films, released worldwide between 1979 and 2016. Both the saga and the TV show tell the adventures of the humans and aliens from different star systems of the future, serving the peacekeeping armada of the United Federation of Planets. Over the chapters of the saga, the protagonists explore the cosmos looking for new forms of life and civilization, with the first six films maintaining the cast of the original TV series. On the other hand, the following four movies feature a brand new manned spacecraft where captain Jean-Luc Picard (portrayed by Patrick Stewart) replaces old captain Kirk (played by William Shatner in the TV series and in the first seven movies). The seventh movie is the only chapter that features both of the casts, while the 11th, 12th and 13th respectively released in 2009, 2013 and 2016 are a reboot of the TV series: the story is set in a new time line and features new actors playing the regular characters, such as Chris Pine as Captain Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Zoe Saldana as Nyota Uhura, and Chris Hemsworth as Kirk’s father. In 2016, director J.J. Abrams confirmed plans for a fourth (and 14th) film, so, fans of “Star Trek,” get ready for a very exciting come-back!
The “Mission: Impossible” saga (1996-2018)
The six-chapter saga was inspired by and a sequel to the 1966 television series of the same name by Bruce Geller. Named the 16th-highest-grossing film series of all time, the popular action spy films follow the adventures of Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), head of the IMF’s (Impossible Missions Force) team, who fights to stop enemy forces and prevent global disasters. Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams, Brad Bird, and Christopher McQuarrie directed each chapter with due respect for the original spirit of the TV series, and with the only significant difference of focusing on Hunt as the lead character, while the TV show featured an ensemble cast structure. And for those who still haven’t had enough of impossible missions, just know that a seventh chapter of the saga, “Mission: Impossible 7,” is scheduled to be released on November 19, 2021, and a further sequel to it will open in theatres in 2022. Now, dare I say, “adaptation accomplished”?
“Sex and the City: The Movie” (2008); “Sex and the City 2” (2010)
Written and directed by Michael Patrick King, the two movies are based on and a sequel to the HBO series of the same name which originally aired from 1998 to 2004. The life and love adventures of America’s most famous group of female friends, Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte York Goldenblatt (Kristin Davis), and Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon,) continue in the streets, cafés, shops and houses of New York City. The first movie focuses on Carrie and Mr. Big’s wedding preparation, while the second one is set two years later and features a trip to Abu Dhabi where the four women help each other shed some light on their personal life matters. A third sequel was rumoured to be in the making, but recent news confirm that the project had to be shelved due to some disagreements between Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall.
THE “MAYBE-YOU-DIDN’T-KNOW-ABOUT-IT” KIND OF MOVIES
“Dark Shadows” (2012)
The fantasy horror comedy film by Tim Burton is (very loosely) based on the American gothic soap opera of the same name aired on ABC from 1966 to 1971 and created by Dan Curtis. The episodes followed the adventures of the wealthy and peculiar Collins family, with a number of supernatural events taking place in their daily lives, starting from the resurrection of their vampire ancestor Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid). The 2012 movie adaptation features Johnny Depp as the new Barnabas Collins, the 18th century vampire who resurrects in 1972 and meets his lunatic descendants, played by Helena Bonham Carter, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Lee, Chloë Grace Moretz, and the witch who had turned him into a vampire, played by Eva Green. As a matter of fact, Tim Burton took from the TV show nothing more than the gothic atmosphere and a few characters, also featuring a cameo by original series actor Jonathan Frid for his final appearance before passing away.
“The Man of U.N.C.L.E” (2015)
The 2015 long feature film directed by Guy Richie is the movie adaptation of a TV series of the same name aired between 1964 and 1968. The story is set in 1960s, during Cold War, when Russia and America decide to join forces for the sake of a crucial international operation. American CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is required to co-operate with Russian KGB operative Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), and British secret agent Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander ) to prevent the enemy forces from creating a weapon of mass destruction. The black comedy spy film turns out as a rather funny display of different local customs and life styles, fantasizing on how heavily they can affect international espionage operations, while breaking away from the original TV show and transforming it in a brand new set of adventures.
“Downton Abbey” (2019)
Based on the popular British TV show of the same name by Julian Fellowes, with 52 critically acclaimed episodes aired from 2010 to 2015, the movie adaptation and sequel was directed by Michael Engler, and created and written by Julian Fellowes himself. The cast of the original TV show (Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith) makes its comeback in a film narrating a new adventure in the lives of the Grantham family and their servants. It’s 1927, one year after the events told in the sixth season finale. The story revolves around the preparations for the upcoming visit of King George V and his wife, Queen Mary, to Downton Abbey, which is chosen as one of the stops of their tour around the English countryside aimed at strengthening the relationship between the royal family and the British aristocracy. The fans of the TV series will be glad to get back to Downton Abbey’s evocative settings and greet the people from Upstairs and Downstairs once again reunited for a new series of amorous intrigues and bad blood spreading.
(NOT JUST) FOR YOUNG ADULTS
“Scooby-Doo: The Movie” (2002)
The live-action film starring Freddie Prinze, Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Matthew Lillard, Linda Cardellini, and a CGI Scooby, directed by Raja Gosnell, is based on the animated television series “Scooby-Doo” created by Joe Ruby Ken Spears and produced from 1969 to the present. The film tells yet another adventure of the old, famous group of four, Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy, and their talking dog Scooby-Doo, together forming Mystery, Inc.. This time, they investigate a mystery on Spooky Island, a horror-themed beach resort. In 2004, the unsuccessful sequel “Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed” was released, while a computer-animated movie produced by Warner Animation Group and titled “Scoob!” was digitally released in June 2020, topping the digital rental charts in its first three weekends of release.
“Glee: The 3D Concert Movie” (2011)
Based on the musical comedy-drama television series “Glee” created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan, the 3D documentary film features the original cast of the show (Darren Criss, Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Chris Colfer, Naya Rivera, Mark Selling, etc.), recounting the Glee club concert in North America, during the Glee Live! In Concert! tour. Between performances of the most famous songs from the first two seasons of the show (such as “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Fat Bottomed Girls,” “Valerie,” “Born This Way,” and many more) and behind-the-scenes footage, the film includes fan segments documenting the influence that the TV series and the themes it deals with has had on teenagers and young adults all over the world. Directed by Kevin Tancharoen and produced by Ryan Murphy, the documentary film has certainly given a wider audience of fans a chance to experience the tour and relive some of the best and most beloved musical moments of the TV series.
“The Simpsons Movie” (2007)
The 2007 animated comedy film is based on the popular, Fox animated television series “The Simpsons” by Matt Groening which has been running since 1989 up until today, with new seasons coming out on a yearly basis. Directed by David Silverman, the film features the regular television cast with the voices of Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson), Julie Kavner (Marge Simpson), Nancy Cartwright (Bart Simpson), Yeardley Smith (Lisa Simpson), and focuses on Homer Simpson and the consequences of his irresponsible action of polluting Springfield’s lake causing the isolation and imprisonment of the town under a giant glass dome. “The Simpsons Movie” became the eighth highest-grossing film of 2007, the second highest-grossing animated film (behind “The Lion King”) and the highest-ever grossing film based on an animated television series. Moreover, a sequel seems to be in talks, as director David Silverman announced back in 2018 and an insider source confirmed earlier this year. What we know for sure is that it will be a Disney production, so maybe a bit of a change is to be expected?
“The Addams Family” (1991) and “Addams Family Values” (1993): based on ABC sitcom “The Addams Family”(1964-1966)
“Borat” (2006) and “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (2020): based on Channel 4/HBO “Da Ali G Show” (2000-2004)
“21 Jump Street” (2012): based on Fox “21 Jump Street” (1987-1991)