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The 10 Greatest TV to Film Adaptations

Successful victories from the idiot box to the silver screen

The Fugitive
The Fugitive (Warner Bros.)
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    Television has proved quite groundbreaking in recent years. Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Friday Night LightsGame of Thrones, Curb Your Enthusiasm, True Detective, Louie, and countless other series worth binge-watching have all turned our collective heads away from the silver screens and overpriced popcorn stands. Yet that hasn’t stopped producers and filmmakers from taking past serials and turning them into big blockbusters for cinemas worldwide.

    This week, Dax Shepard and Michael Peña star in CHiPs, a modern reimagining of Rick Rosner’s original buddy cop series that ran on NBC from 1977 to 1983. In anticipation, Consequence of Sound decided to revisit the more successful adaptations over the years and slotted out their 10 favorites. Not all of them surpassed their source material, but each one hit the mark nonetheless. So, flip ahead and share your own recommendations below.

    Note: We did not include any films adapted from material outside the original TV series (e.g. The Untouchables) or continuations of an established program (e.g. Wayne’s World).


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    10. Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

    Twilight-Zone-the-Movie

    By 1983, creator Rod Serling had been dead for eight years. So, why The Twilight Zone was ever up for grabs is beyond me. But the groundbreaking television series wound up making for an exceptional anthology movie, namely for its use of talent: Steven Spielberg, John Landis, Joe Dante, and George Miller. Working with some diamond source material — specifically, episodes “A Quality of Mercy”, “Kick the Can”, “It’s a Good Life”, and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” — the directors were paired with exceptional casts and top-of-the-line SFX. While the shift to horror certainly takes away from the show’s original intent, it’s also what makes the film so sinister. “Wanna see something scary?” Dan Aykroyd asks a National Geographic-singing Albert Brooks. The answer, of course, is what follows: the movie. The real answer, however, is reading why second assistant director Andy House replaced his name with the pseudonym, Alan Smithee, in the film’s credits. Blech. –Michael Roffman


    09. Miami Vice (2006)

    miamivice The 10 Greatest TV to Film Adaptations

    Michael Mann’s reimagining of his iconic ’80s hit proved polarizing in 2006. Nostalgic filmgoers went in expecting witty dialogue, playful banter, and bright colors, all attributes of the original NBC series. Instead, they found a grim, mostly silent film about two undercover detectives amidst an international drug war. At its core, though, Miami Vice does a fine job in capturing the essence of its namesake. Moody long shots, peppered with some of the best ambient (Moby) and post-rock (Mogwai) of its era, capture themes of identity, forbidden love, and trust. Released long before the term “mumblecore” was coined, Mann’s gritty exercise in realism, from the minimal dialogue to the eye-popping violence, isn’t for everyone, which was technically the film’s undoing. However, Mann focused on what made the original so great and iconic — not the characters, but the moods — and turned in that year’s most gripping action vehicle. That Nonpoint cover, though… –Michael Roffman


    08. Edge of Darkness (2010)

    edge of darkness The 10 Greatest TV to Film Adaptations

    There are teenagers reading this feature who will recognize Mel Gibson not as Mad Max, but Mad Mel, thanks to his infamous drunken interaction with the police in 2006 and taped, vicious phone calls in late 2010. Edge of Darkness, adapted from the BBC miniseries of the same name (and with the same director), was filmed and released in between the aforementioned incidents and sadly got lost in the shuffle. It’s Gibson’s first lead role in nearly a decade, as a father trying to figure out why his daughter was killed and track down those responsible. You know who is a convincing griever on screen? Mel friggin’ Gibson, dating all the way back to that final shot in Peter Weir’s Gallipoli back in 1981. Edge of Darkness has action, but it’s much more of a drama than the previews would lead you to believe. –-Justin Gerber


    07. Maverick (1994)

    maverick The 10 Greatest TV to Film Adaptations

    There are teenagers reading this feature who will … oh. I just mentioned that. However, there was a period of nearly two decades when Gibson was an A-lister, and during his reign he opted to star in and join up with Lethal Weapon director Richard Donner for an adaptation of a comedy-western TV series about a gambler and the trouble he finds himself in on a near-daily basis. The movie Maverick is more than faithful to the series — a fun romp through the wild west with Gibson, Jodie Foster (playing way against type), James Garner (TV’s “Maverick”), and James Coburn playing cards and risking their lives in rapid succession. Favorite moment: the brief Lethal Weapon reunion between Gibson and Danny Glover, when they somehow recognize one another from that action series. –Justin Gerber


    06. The Brady Brunch Movie (1995)

    the brady bunch movie The 10 Greatest TV to Film Adaptations

    The term “too many cooks in the kitchen” applies to about every industry — especially film. Somehow, the writing team of powerhouse duo Bonnie and Terry Turner, alongside Laurice Elehawny and Rick Copp, assembled a smart and tight parody of America’s most iconic family on television, The Brady Bunch. Their decision to pluck the Brady gang straight out of the ’70s and wedge them between angsty Generation Xers and unhappy baby boomers was brilliant, providing an enviable comic landscape and a medium for astute cultural criticism. Director Betty Thomas does an admirable job bridging the ’70s and ’90s together, though it’s the performances that stand out the most, specifically Gary Cole as do-gooder Mike Brady. The way his lessons become more extravagant and esoteric speaks to the film’s overall ingenuity. That Davy Jones cameo is pretty groovy, too. –Michael Roffman


    05. Mission: Impossible (1996)

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    The most successful franchise in the realm of tv-to-movie adaptations is easily Mission: Impossible. With Tom Cruise as its lone constant (Ving Rhames to a lesser extent), every M:I movie has its own identity, thanks to the distinctive styles of each director. While it would be easy to include III or Ghost Protocol, it’s difficult to argue against the original. The first entry has the style and intrigue that drove the ‘60s series and even features someone other than Ethan Hunt from its TV source (Jon Voight’s Jim Phelps). Brian DePalma’s style was a perfect match for the film’s globe-trotting plot and holds the distinction as being the last good movie he directed. The mission to adapt successfully was accepted and executed. As for John Woo’s Mission: Impossible II–Justin Gerber


    04. 21 Jump Street (2012)

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    “We’re reviving a canceled undercover police program from the ’80s and revamping it for modern times,” Nick Offerman’s Deputy Chief Hardy deadpans early in 21 Jump Street. “You see, the guys in charge of this stuff lack creativity and are completely out of ideas, so all they do now is recycle shit from the past and expect us all not to notice.” And with that, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller acknowledge that they know, dear viewers. They know it’s Hollywood bullshit. They know we’re over this exploitation of nostalgia. But this speech? It’s not just a wink, but a confession: Nobody here cares about honoring the original 21 Jump Street. Rather, Lord and Miller’s film mines the bottomless potential of the original’s gimmick — young cops go undercover in a high school — for its possibility, not its nostalgia. The best part, though? Since Lord and Miller’s vision is wholly their own, there’s no need to slap shades on a Chipmunk or turn “Smurf” into a curse word to appeal to a younger audience. –Randall Colburn


    03. Addams Family Values (1993)

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    Addams Family Values has all the trappings of a Hollywood sequel: new characters, fresh locales, and lots of cleavage. But where most sequels feel diluted by this influx of contrivance, Addams Family Values is enlivened. By shifting focus from parents Gomez and Morticia to the newly teenaged Wednesday and Pugsley, Addams Family Values deftly navigates the intersection of morbidity and puberty in ways its source material ever could. Same goes for the film’s pitch-black humor, which pushes the limits of its PG-13 rating by going deeper and darker than its film and TV predecessors. In the first several minutes, we see repeated instances of infanticide, and what follows touches on animal cruelty, incest, and rape. The true feat of Addams Family Values, though, is how, in the midst of that darkness, it maintains a tone that’s as madcap as it is relentlessly positive; for every pie in the face, there are children roasting adults over an open flame. Not only is Addams Family Values an adaptation done right; it’s a sequel done right. –Randall Colburn


    02. Traffic (2000)

    Traffic

    What if some enterprising filmmaker tried to adapt David Simon and Ed Burns’ HBO mini-series The Corner into a film? Would it work? Could it possibly resonate as much as the series? Of course not, dummy, but it’s worth a try. Take a look at Steven Soderbergh’s Oscar-laden adaptation of the UK’s Traffik, a critically acclaimed 1989 mini-series about the drug trade that blazed the trail for a show like Simon and Burns’ The Wire with its realistic and humanizing gaze. Soderbergh adopts the UK series’ structural template, thematic concerns, and a few of its character arcs to tell a timely tale of drug-running at the turn of the century, transplanting the action from Europe to the US-Mexico border in the process. Sure, a few characters are given short shrift — Erika Christensen’s descent into addiction feels particularly rushed — but it’s rather astounding the way Traffic satisfies in the same way multi-season dramas do in this HBO/AMC/FX era. –Randall Colburn


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