Top Ten Movies Based on TV Series

The Idiot Box's Sax Carr and Blair Marnell pick the best movies ever adapted from a TV show.

Sax Carrby Sax Carr

Sax: Hello, this is Sax Carr, the humor channel editor for Crave Online.

Blair: And I’m Blair Marnell, the TV channel editor for Crave Online. We're also the co-hosts of The Idiot Box podcast.

Sax: Our colleague William Bibbiani is the latest addition to the Crave editorial family. And to help welcome him to our crew, Blair and I put together a list of the top films that were originally based on TV series.


10. Maverick

It’s the 1990s film that featured Mel Gibson in the title role. James Garner returning from the original series. This time… well let’s not spoil the surprise, but he has a very big role in the movie as does Jodie Foster as the female lead.

This is one of those pre-modern adaptations where it’s not about trying to capture that Maverick audience that they thought was just hoping to go out and see a movie loosely based on the show. They made it because a Maverick film was a good idea. A lot of the movies that are gonna be on this list are based on that. They’re good ideas where someone said “well if it makes a good TV show, we’ll make it a movie.” As opposed to say The A-Team, which is basically just saying, “People are nostalgic for this, we’ll put together a piece of crap.”

Blair: Well that s the other thing about Maverick. It’s really really entertaining. I mean it even makes the card games visually interesting, and especially when he throws that last card down, That was such a great shot.

Sax: Yeah the whole movie is really well put together and this is also sort of a pre-bulls****y Mel Gibson; so I think you’ll really enjoy it. Definitely go out and see Maverick if you haven’t already. It’s one of my favorite movies and you’ll see a bunch of great stars in it, including Alfred Molina as the major villain and so on and so forth.


9. The Saturday Night Live Films

Number 9 is the series of films based on Saturday Night Live. Now of course, there are some bad films and some good films in this universe. But as far as Blair and I are concerned as long as it contains The Blues Brothers then it’s a massive success. There’s a bunch of great movies here but The Blues Brothers is the real one taken from essentially a musical routine on one or two SNL episodes that became a major movie franchise to the point there I think there are more people who know The Blues Brothers than probably SNL.

Blair: Well The Blues Brothers is just a legitimately great film by itself; it’s easily one of my favorites. There’s also some other good ones I’ve enjoyed, like Wayne’s World. What were some of the other good films from the SNL universe?

Sax: Well, I enjoyed Stuart Saves His Family. Believe it or not, the Stuart Smalley film. (Laughs) – For some strange reason, the current Governor of Minnesota. Or is he a senator? What’s his name?

Blair: Al Franken.

Sax: Yeah, Al Franken is really fantastic in this film; which is essentially about broken relationships and alcoholism. There are some good ones and then there are some…

Blair: Some that suck, like Coneheads.

Sax: Yeah… Well, I think Coneheads has its moments.

Blair: Ladies Man is horrible.

Sax: Ladies Man is horrible.

Blair: Night at the Roxbury is epically bad.

Sax: Yup, that’s not good at all. Night at the Roxbury is not good.

Blair: Superstar is an abomination.

Sax: Yup, nope, not a good movie. Jeez there’s a lot of bad ones. But again: Blues Brothers wins.

Blair: Yes, Blues Brothers could make the list by itself.

Sax: That’s right. Let’s just say that The Blues Brothers counteracts ten thousand MacGrubers.

Blair: But MacGrubers could also be used as a term for nuclear explosions.

Sax: (Laughs) – That’s true. So, what have we got next?



8. The Untouchables

Blair: Well number 8 on the anti-MacGrubers list is The Untouchables. It came from the ’80’s based on the TV series. Kevin Costner stars as Eliot Ness with Sean Connery as his mentor. It really seemed like filmmakers tried a lot harder to make the TV adaptations work as actual movies in the ‘80s as opposed to what Hollywood does now.

Sax: Also The Untouchables is one of those things that you can’t just be silly about. You know what I mean. Like, when you’re remaking Charlie’s Angels you can say “well let’s just make it into a farce. Let’s put bullet time in it!” (Laughs) – But when you’re remaking The Untouchables into a film you have to take it seriously. I mean people died. And I think we can all, we all remember the scene where the dead agents were in the elevator and it just says “touchable” written behind them. That was really cool. Although creepy for kids to think about.

But the point is that it’s a great film, and it was actually a good series. This was…unlike Maverick, where I could have sort of taken or left the TV show. The Untouchables TV series is also quite good if you’ve never seen it. Definitely worth watching and this is a great film. It’s one of those great mob films that everyone talks about. I guess it’s not about the mob so much.

Blair: Yeah. It’s a Prohibition Era film.



7. The Naked Gun

Moving on to number 7, we have The Naked Gun.

Sax: “The Naked Gun” series of films and basically every film that the Zucker brothers did is based on “Police Squad,” which is a fantastic series. If you haven’t seen it yet, you have to check it out. “Police Squad” is one of those things that takes TV and turns it on its head. You’re looking forward to the same sort of strange jokes in every episode. The opening sequence is fantastic. The closing sequence is fantastic. This list could be a top ten things to look for in Police Squad episodes. But it’s not.

And the Naked Gun movies, (I mean mostly when I was a pre-teen) are some of the funniest movies ever. Looking back now, they’re a little bit heavy handed. But there’s still some great stuff. Plus you get some vintage OJ Simpson, pre-murdering people! (Laughs.)

Blair: Yes, that’s always a plus. Also the Naked Gun films are kind of unique among the parodies that come out these days. You have these films like Scary Movie and Superhero Movie that have no plot. But The Naked Gun movies actually have stories of their own that hold together and make sense.

Sax: Well, the Zucker brothers have a way of making every little thing in the background or in the foreground or every little turn of phrase funny… that the Scary Movies couldn’t even reach even if they had a rocket ship. I mean the Scary Movies are basically just a bunch of poop jokes farted out by bad actors. Whereas in The Naked Gun films, literally you can just have a straight scene and in the background a window washer or someone is going through a lot of hilarity. And the same is true in many ways of Police Squad. Again, if you take anything out of this list, watch more Police Squad.

Blair: I’ll tell you my favorite sequence from The Naked Gun 2 comes when Frank Drebin is interrogating Robert Goulet’s character while hanging him outside of a window. Goulet falls, seemingly to his death except that he lands on an awning, He gets up, straightens his tie, and then he gets immediately mauled by a lion.

Sax: Yup, that’s right. And then he gets run over by a marching band, and then…

Blair: No, no. That’s in the first movie. What I loved about that sequence in the second movie was that they actually set up the lion earlier in the movie, when the zoo animals escaped.

Sax: It is such a great series because it never lets anything drop. It’s the same thing as Archer and The Venture Bros, those great animated comedy series that make sure that every plot point they deal with comes back. That’s why those movies were so good.



6. Serenity

Number 6 is Serenity, the film that was based on the Firefly TV series; which essentially also serves as a wrap up for that series that was ended before its time.

Sax: Of course Firefly is probably one of the best shows that has ever been on television. Certainly in the top 3 shows set on a spaceship, in my mind, I would say number 1. But it’s a very hard fought battle. And I thought Serenity was probably a B or a C movie, but an A in terms of wrapping up those plot points. Also those were characters that we needed to see again, and it actually made me cry.

Blair: Which part made you cry?

Sax: Oh, Wash’s death made me cry.

Blair: That caught me by surprise. At that point I thought “Good Lord, Joss Whedon’s gone insane! He’s going to kill them all!”

Sax: (Laughs) – I happened to be alone in the theater or I probably would have held it back. But… you know how well the movie did in it’s opening week, I was alone in the theater in Maine. But it was really… I mean like they made you love those characters, and basically Wash dying suddenly in the middle of him rehearsing that poem. You know, “I am like a feather in the breeze” or whatever it was.

Blair: Yeah.

Sax: So, so, so beautiful. And then at the very end when they’re looking at all the hologravestones. Holo like Holodeck, not holo like “those graves are hollow! Crumble crumble.”

Blair: (Laughs) – Well honestly, Serenity… it’s only failure is that it doesn’t really work as a stand alone piece. But as a continuation of the Firefly TV series, it was beautiful, and I would love to see those characters again.

Sax: Agreed. There’s a continuing movement to get that show back on the air, including the joke in Community recently where if Abed or Troy die they’re going to set themselves up to appear as a suicide over the cancellation of Firefly to hopefully get it back on the air.

Blair: I missed that episode. Must have been a good one.

Sax: Well worth it. What’s next?



5. The Addams Family

Blair: Number five on our list is The Addams Family.

Sax: Now this is a show that I probably could have taken or left as a TV series. But as a series of movies, it was actually quite fantastic. And there was something really funny about it, The Addams Family was a show that should never have existed. It was basically “let’s put a bunch of New Yorker cartoons on the air. Let’s put some random monsters together into a family.”

Thing, Cousin It and all of those other characters were so farcical. But somehow, you put all the crazy together and it comes out as one fantastic piece that you actually care about.

Blair: And Raul Julia was the perfect Gomez. I think, that guy brought like a little bit of romantic flair to the character. He was a swashbuckler and hilarious!

Sax: It’s sort of a casting win all together: Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams is absolutely fantastic.

Blair: And Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester.

Sax: Oh yeah. It was a really fantastic film. That was, again one of those films where they kind of wanted people to be nostalgic for The Addams Family. But at the end of the day, they looked at it and it was like “if we can get some great actors in this it’ll actually be kinda fun to watch.” And it was. It was also good enough to have a sequel, which is amazing.

Blair: I did like the sequel, Addams Family Values. But the original film was by far the best.

Sax: Right. No. It is definitely a good adaptation. And again I think it would be, because it came from a wholesome place, definitely check it out. Alright. Let’s keep going.



4. Dragnet

Blair: The Dragnet TV series was one of the early cop dramas and one of the best. But when they adapted it into a film, they made Dragnet the movie into a comedy, And it was surprisingly good!

The got Tom Hanks when he was really young and Dan Aykroyd in the lead and it works so well. It’s very, very funny. And again, in the ‘80s filmmakers really tried a lot harder to make TV adaptations work on the screen.

And people have already forgotten about Dragnet; that’s the surprising thing. When people bring up the best films inspired by TV series, almost no one brings up Dragnet.

Sax: And it’s such a good film. But the thing that I had a problem with it, (which almost kept it off this list for me) which was that it really did not have to b e a Dragnet film. It could have been These Two Cops: The Film, because the aspects of Dragnet really didn’t add much to it.

They borrowed nothing from the TV Show except the title and the fact that there were two cops, in many ways.

Blair: Well… they had the character names. Aykroyd was Joe Friday. They did use the “Dragnet” theme occasionally too.

Sax: Right. Which is a great theme by the way, one of the great classic themes of all time. It’s just a great film and it’s a reimagining. This is the strongest reimagining on our list.



3. The Fugitive

Sax: Number three is one that I don’t think a lot of people know is actually an adaptation of a TV show, and that’s The Fugitive; which of course starred Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones in the theaters, and I forget who was in the original series.

Blair: David Janssen and Barry Morse.

Sax: Even The Fugitive sequel is okay.

Blair: But U.S. Marshals is basically the same film except with Wesley Snipes in the Harrison Ford role.

Sax: That’s true. But the original was just SO good. It was a great sort of crime drama, in that we want to try and figure out who the one armed man is, it was fantastic to see Tommy Lee Jones running his sort of department. And Harrison Ford’s jump off the dam is one of those iconic movie scenes.

Blair: And the train wreck was also iconic.

Sax: Oh yeah! There’s SO much going on in this film that was so well done. And unbelievably it’s an adaptation. The original series was good to, but that was in sort of a heavy-handed concept show. I feel that if The Fugitive was done as a TV show now it would be way better.

Blair: Except you’d be wrong. They did The Fugitive as a TV show about ten years ago with Tim Daly in the title role. And it was horrible.

Sax: Huh, I haven’t even seen it.

Blair: Well that should tell you something. There was something about The Fugitive that really lent itself as a film. They were able to wrap up the entire history of the series into that movie.

And the one-armed man, for people out there in TV land, was G’Kar from Babylon 5, Andreas Katsulas.

Sax: That’s right. I think the film was a real standout for every actor, but definitely for Tommy Lee Jones, Tommy Lee Jones’ character is such an interesting guy, like the scene where’s Kimble’s like ‘I didn’t kill my wife!’ and Jones’ says “I don’t care.”

I totally dug that film, and it’s worthy of being number three on our list.



2. Mystery Science Theater 3000

Sax: Number two on our list has a special place in our hearts: Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Blair & Sax: (Both singing) – Normal view! Normal View! Normal VIEW! NORMAL VIEWWW!

Sax: This film is basically, a long, a movie length version of the TV show. Which is easy to do when the TV show is essentially just 3 guys commenting on films.

There was something about MST3K when you watched it late at night on TV as a kid. It seemed like such a brilliant idea and it was so funny. Two of the best episodes of MST3K are Touch of Satan and The Bat People. Definitely check both of those out.

But, when the movie came out and it finally broke into the mainstream I remember I saw it with my father, and he didn’t know what MST3K was. And afterwards he was just grinning ear to ear. It’s so good and with This Island Earth they picked exactly the right film to deal with.

The interstitials were fantastic. MST3K is probably one of those great things that will go down in the annals of history as a fantastic idea. And it was as good as a film as it was a TV show.

Blair: I saw it with a friend, and I’m sad to say we were almost alone in the theater.

Sax: No one knew what it was when it came out. Because the TV show had not gotten a wide audience, it was still a cult audience.

Blair: I don’t think it ever got beyond a cult audience, but I love that show so much, I wish it was still going, but apparently there are some rights issues that are keeping a lot of the guys from coming back, That’s why they’ve moved on to RiffTrax and The Cinematic Titanic.

Sax: Rifftrax by the way is totally worth it though, go to if you have a second. The Rifftrax for Twilight is probably one of the most insightful commentaries on Twilight I have ever seen.

Blair: Did that mean you had to watch the movie again?

Sax: Yeah, with the sound off. But I would definitely recommend…

Blair: Doesn’t that mean you own a copy of the film?

Sax: (Sheepishly laughs) I didn’t pay for it, thank you. But, MST3K was a great series, it’s a great movie, and again, we were talking about it- there’s that moment where the guy just says ‘switch to normal view’ and then they sing along with the random, overly dramatic theme. I don’t think I ever would have thought of doing that. And when you finally see it, it is so powerful. Definitely a great film.


1. Star Trek

Sax: The last film in this series is actually a series of films based on a famous TV show. And that is Star Trek and even Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Blair: Star Trek would not be around today if the first film, or especially the second film, not done really well in the theaters. Star Trek II: The Wraith of Khan is especially a special classic among fans. It featured the original death of Spock, a great story, a great score and a lot of terrific perfomances. That’s why Star Trek is still alive today.

Sax: My understanding is that the TV show launched the movies and the movies helped launched the Star Trek: The Next Generation TV show and basically resurrected the franchise.

It’s unusual that after the end of Next Generation none of the subsequent Star Trek television series have really prompted any movies. And all the movies with the Next Generation cast have been predominantly bad, in comparison to the originals.

Blair: Yeah, there was only one Next Generation film that I really liked. But there’s no underselling how much the Star Trek films saved that franchise and basically made it what it is today.

Sax: Star Trek was just this weird, wacky series from the ‘60s that was cancelled after three seasons. And in many ways these are perfect examples of what to do when you make a movie out of a TV show… provided the TV show is fundamentally popular.

There are really no attempts to bring you up to speed in any of these movies. They basically just say “this is going to be a long Star Trek episode, but it’s fantastic.” And if you don’t know who the characters are, you’ll kind of get it. They’re not unapproachable, but we’re not gonna stop and re-examine who Kirk is in every movie.

They basically just go on and make a movie out of Star Trek as if they were making a movie about chess. You already know what all the pieces do in chess, so we don’t need to reexamine that. They just do a different, larger version of chess.

In terms of adaptations of TV shows, or Star Trek is the absolute pinnacle. And even the new Star Trek reimagining Is also incredible. It’s re-launched that franchise, despite being probably the most plot-holey movie in recorded history. (laughs)

Blair: What, you mean you can’t transport through light speed? Hey, there’s Spock in the ice planet! That’s convenient!

Sax: We’d be remiss, by the way, to speak about the Star Trek films without directing you over the, where you can see the pointed reviews of The Next Generation films; which are some of the most insightful reviews and biting commentary on any films ever.

And we are definitely not speaking of say, Star Trek Nemesis when we talk about great adaptations, But we are speaking about Star Trek II and the other great Trek movies. So check out red letter media to watch those. And now we return you to normal view.

Blair & Sax: (Both singing) – Normal view! Normal View! Normal VIEW! NORMAL VIEWWW!

Sax: I wish people could actually hear that and it wasn’t just typed.


Anyway, William Bibbiani, welcome to the Crave Online family. And from two editors to one, you’re a great addition to our team, and we hope you enjoy the list!

And to you out there in the internet, we hope you enjoyed the list too. You can always Tweet us at @saxcarr, @blairmarnell and @craveonline.