Cinema #1: The Harsh Reality of Film Adaptations of TV Shows

The cinematic history of old television shows brought to the big screen is a sad one, to say the least. Time after time, great shows have been adapted to film with less than stellar results. Sure, there have been a few good ones, but they’re the exception, not the rule.

So, I’ll spare you the long critiques and give you my one word reviews of TV shows adapted to film:

1. Fat Albert (2004) – Crap
2. Bewitched (2005)– Lame
3. The Honeymooners (2005) – Horrible
4. Get Smart (2008) – Awful
5. The Flintstones (1994)– Garbage
6. Charlie’s Angels (2000) – Lousy
7. The Mod Squad (1999)– Excrement
8. Speed Racer (2008) – Worthless
9. McHale’s Navy (1997) – Dung
10. The Avengers (1998) – Godawful
11. The Beverly Hillbillies (1993) – Mess
12. Dragnet (1987) – Trash
13. George of the Jungle (1997) – Shit
14. My Favorite Martian (1999) – Hellish
15. Lost in Space (1998) – Foul
16. Sgt. Bilko (1996) – Sinful
17. Wild Wild West (1999) - Waste
18. Dukes of Hazzard (2005) - Blows
19. I Spy (2002) - Fail

Starsky & Hutch doesn’t count considering it was much more of a parody than a faithful recreation. The same can be said for The Brady Bunch films.

I can count on one hand the number of TV to film adaptations that I did like: The Addam’s Family, Star Trek movies, The Naked Gun, Twilight Zone, and Scooby-Doo weren’t too bad. I have yet to see Land of the Lost (2009). Judging by why what I’ve read, I’m not in any hurry to see it.

So, what is it? Why is it so damn hard to bring a TV show to the big screen? Perhaps, it’s because the shows were designed for 30-60 minute episodes, and translating it to a feature length film stretches them beyond their intrinsic limitations (i.e. Boss Hogg was funny in small doses, but not for an hour and a half for $8.00). Or maybe it has a lot to do with Hollywood’s laziness – just riding on the name and coasting. For example, relying on the “Mod Squad” title on the marquee to lure in audiences – actually trying to construct a quality script with quality acting does not seem to be of primary concern.

I’m inclined to think it has more to do with laziness. Case in point: both A Night at the Roxbury and The Blues Brothers were both movies based on popular skits from SNL. One became a classic, and the other…. well, the less said about it the better.


  1. Excellent critique! I personally thought the movie version of The Dukes of Hazzard does an injustice to the original TV cast. It's basically an excuse for movie execs to have Jessica Simpson in either a bikini or short shorts.

    As much as I like Burt Reynolds, he could never recreate the magic that Sorrell Booke brought to Boss Hogg.

    Wish the Dukes reruns will come back to TV!

  2. Great critique! And you pretty much summed it all up. And it IS laziness, cause look at the care put into the casting and story of "The Addams Family" - wonderful! And then look at something like "The Dukes of Hazzard".

    Although, out of your list of dislikes, I did like "Get Smart". And "Bewitched" shouldn't count, because they took the whole premised and screwed it. And the fans.

  3. AnonymousJune 23, 2009


    You've hit the nail on the head. If the Hollywood brass don't have an original idea, they defile a great show from TV. OK, maybe not all were great, but good. And the whole Saturday Night Live "take a five minute mildly amusing skit and make it into an awful movie" thing is getting so tired, it's laughable. They must have thought they had a formula with the Blues Brothers, and have been trying so hard ever since. And failed time and time again. Maybe this is why I like 30 Rock so much. Shows the in-depth behind the scenes look at making something awful.

    Wonder when CHIPs or Beretta is coming? And Green Acres?

  4. AnonymousJune 23, 2009

    I think they should make a Fall Guy movie. Make Colt like a country western James Bond.

  5. I mostly agree with your critique except I actually liked the Get Smart remake. I was particularly disappointed in I Spy.

    Could some of our disappointment stem from the fact that most of these remakes are of shows from years ago when we were much younger. I think we perhaps tend to look back on an idealized past where our memories of a show are tied up with other pleasant memories like watching with our family or our best girl or just that we were younger and more open to stuff.

  6. capewood- Maybe for some of these films, it does stem from an unrealistic idealism. However, for most of these (i.e. The Honeymooners) it stems from the movie sucking. :-)

  7. I want them to make movies of Cannon with Seth Rogan, he's fat and has a mustache, sometimes. They should do Happy Days and have Fonsie be the same guy and he's old and teaches high school to the other characters kids and Mr. Cummingham can be the mayor now.

  8. So true, sir.
    To add to your considerable compilation, I might humbly add;
    Swat - Contrived,
    Inspector Gadget - Sad,
    McHale's Navy - Shocking,
    The Untouchables - Forgettable,
    Josie and The Pussycats - Gag-reflex tickling,
    and Dudley Do-Right; Unsurprisingly omitted from Brendan Fraser's resume!

    I would put Dragnet in the Starsky and Hutch/Brady Bunch-style parody, myself. But it still comes nowhere near to GOOD movies based on TV Shows list, i.e. The Fugitive, The Transformers, (at least according to box-office numbers,) and Popeye, (and this one I a know I am alone in.)

    Not to mention the stacks of movies based on comic book heroes, Batman, Spiderman, Hulk, The Fantastic Four, The Phantom, The Shadow, et cetera, ad nauseum.
    (Perhaps fodder for a future posting...)

    Hollywood loves lazy writers.

  9. C: You are not alone. I love the POPEYE movie, too. :)

  10. Oddly enough, there's plenty of examples for the reverse (TV adaptations of movies) being quite good.

    Logan's Run
    Bewitched (from Bell, Book, and Candle)
    The Odd Couple
    The Dukes of Hazzard (from Moonrunners)
    McCloud (from Coogan's Bluff)
    What's Happening (from Cooley High)
    Hell, I even liked the Fast Times at Ridgmont High TV show.

    Of course, there's been a lot of bad ones too ("Scarlett" anyone?)

  11. Great post. I'm in agreement with your reviews. I have not been impressed with any remakes. I'm afraid we can expect movies based on Different Strokes, Sigmund and the Sea Monster, and The Jeffersons in the future since Hollywood doesn't seem to understand what works.

  12. I tend to think adaptations work best as parodies of the original TV series, like the "Brady Bunch" movies. Most of these shows are really too much of their time to survive updates!

  13. I thought the Speed Racer movie was alright. The races made me dizzy and could have been done differently, but it was okay.

    Other good examples of show adaptions from movies for me would be...
    The Highlander
    Planets of the apes
    Swamp Thing

  14. Oh, yeah. I forgot about the Planet of the Apes TV show. That was a great one!

    And glenh, you are absolutely right. Could you even imagine a Brady Bunch movie plaight straight and NOT a parody?

    I'm waiting for the movie adaption of CPO Sharkey.

  15. I totally agree with you. I have hated almost all of the tv shows made into feature films that I've seen. I've tried to avoid most of them. I have no desire to see the Land of the Lost movie. It looks like most people are avoiding that one.

  16. I've only seen 3 of the 19 you've listed. I make it a rule to NOT watch re-makes, sequels, or movies from TV shows. There are a few exceptions, but as a general rule, this works for me.

  17. Wow, your blog is awesome! I want to be like you when I grow up! Thanks for checking mine out...definitely going to bookmark yours for return visits.

    P.S. I agree that they stop need to making movie remakes of classic shows. I think I heard they want to make a Knight Rider movie...say it ain't so!

  18. I think a lot of it does have to do with the limited bandwidth between genres. What works on TV isn't what works in the movies, and when they try to make it work, they end up losing what made the TV show good, so it just ends up sucking all around. Also, Hollywood is lazy in that it would rather plunder old TV shows than come up with an original idea, but it's not lazy enough when it comes to resisting the urge to take a classic and "update" it to make it "relevant" to "the kids," usually with CGI and explosions.

    Plus, a lot of those shows are really rather era-specific. I mean, does Charlie's Angels really work in a feathered-hair-less world? How can you have the Mod Squad when there's no mod? Waiting twenty years builds nostalgia, and that's really why they like TV adaptations because Hollywood is really conservative in that they want a built-in audience for everything, but then that nostalgia gets inevitably disappointed, and everyone's pissed and doesn't go to the movie.

  19. And yet, despite all these disappointments, I still find myself excited when the latest film adaptation is announced. I was downright giddy when I heard Land of the Lost was being made into a movie.... that is, until I saw the lame previews.

    And Frank, brilliant comment. You summed the problem up nicely.

  20. Why, thank you, sir! You're far too kind; I just babbled, as is my wont, until some sort of point emerged. Love the blog and your work!

  21. Personally, I think the problem is that Hollywood these days is run mostly by marketing people, who tend to see everything in marketing terms. To them, old movies and TV shows are brands that can be "extended," i.e., the public is already familiar with the name and often the premise of the old property, so half the work is already done when a remake is greenlighted, from a marketing perspective.

    I doubt if anyone gives much thought as to why an older property worked or why its fans love it, which is why the remakes are so often unsatisfying. The idea is just to slap together something with the same name and more or less the same premise and get it out there...

  22. Howdy, first I have to apologize for my comment yesterday, I had a bad day and was a little drunk. Most old TV shows were pretty dumb and they take them and try to make serious movies and they turn out even dumber. I still stand by using the old actors and having the movies set now years later so we can see what happened to the characters. If they get some young hollywood kid to play Fonsie it will incite me to violence. Hank Winkler is the one and only Fonsie!

  23. Jason - This then begs the question as to whether a faithful adaptation would actually make more money. In other words, would a quality film adaption of Land of the Lost created in the spirit of the original show have made more $$$ than the weak tongue-in-cheek 2009 remake? Hmmmm...

    Tim - Yes, much you're more coherent now that you've sobered up.

    I agree - and my understanding from the reviews of Land of the Lost is that it was "torn between two lovers" and couldn't decide if it wanted to be a faithful adaptation or a gag.... and shuffling between the two just didn't cut it.

  24. I agree with you there, i.e. the new dukes of hazzard is a sad waste of movie film. Daisy Duke was actually hot back in the 1970's and so were the Duke brothers, the current ones, eewww!

  25. I'm holding out for Three's Company starring Ashton Kuthcer,Selma Blair and Tara Ried. Not to mention Steve Buchemi in the role of Mr. Firley.Remind me to tell you my theory about how Hollywood gets ideas for movies this days.

  26. For the most part I have to agree with you on your list, though I did like Dragnet and Bewitched was as much a skew as Brady Bunch.

    HOWEVER, that said, I am still amazed at the universal raz that "Speed Racer" gets. I thought that this was one of the few times that Hollywood GOT IT RIGHT! The color, the pace, the camera style, all hearkened back to odd cartoon that got so many of us into aname.
    They even got the sounds right. Great movie up there with Citizen Kane or GWTW? No, of course not. But it was a fun film version of a classic cartoon.

    Now, for the quintessential example of how Hollywood gets it wrong, "The Avengers." Who had pictures of the studio head doing a goat? That would have been needed to green light this awful excuse for a film.

  27. I think this time no reality in the reality tv shows. I have watch tv shows online free lot of about reality tv shows. After watching lot of tv shows I realize that there is no reality in the reality tv shows.