Over the years, countless television shows have become feature-length movies, and it's fair to say that the results have been highly mixed.
Some adaptations have been roaring successes, resulting in entire movie franchises spawning, while others have been massive commercial flops and had critics panning them.
In this piece, we'll rank the adaptations from worst to best. The criteria for them to be considered “classics” is that the television shows in question must not have started airing any later than the 1980s. Let's get to it.
23. The Mod Squad
The Mod Squad is a crime drama that aired from 1968 until 1973. It's a counterculture police series about a trio of reformed juvenile delinquents working as undercover cops. It was highly acclaimed and received several prestigious awards and nominations.
Reformed Juvenile Delinquents Working as Undercover Cops
In 1999, a movie hit theatres starring Claire Danes, Giovanni Ribisi, and Omar Epps in the leading roles. It had the same premise as the television series but was terrible.
The big problem with the movie is that, although it tried to emulate the cool, stylish, and thrilling nature of the series, it was more than two decades late and felt incredibly dated. Moreover, unlike the original cast, the star trio had no chemistry.
22. The Avengers
The Avengers is a British espionage show that aired from 1961 until 1969. It follows the eponymous team – the eccentric and sophisticated John Steed and a succession of his predominantly female partners – as they solve mysteries and kick butt. It was hugely popular worldwide and spawned a sequel series, The New Avengers, that aired for a year from 1976.
A British Espionage Show
In 1998, a movie version with a satirical comedy twist came out, and it starred Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, and Sean Connery. Unfortunately, it was one of the most disappointing movies ever made and flopped massively.
The movie went wrong in countless ways. While it tried to emulate the mood of the series, it was woefully miscast, terribly written, and lacking the contagious energy the franchise initially had. The only improvement on the series was how it looked – everything else was awful.
21. Fantasy Island
Fantasy Island is a fantasy drama series that aired from 1977 until 1984. In the series, a unique resort island in the Pacific Ocean, run by the mysterious Mr. Roarke, fulfills any fantasies its guests crave. However, they rarely turn out as planned. Its popularity was enormous.
A Unique Resort Island in The Pacific Ocean
We got a big-screen prequel with a horror-themed reimagining in 2020. In the movie, a group visiting the island sees their fantasies become the most horrific nightmares imaginable. It stars the likes of Michael Peña, Maggie Q, and Michael Rooker.
The movie's attempt to take the dark premise to an even darker place was so flaccid it hurt. It's poorly written, contrived, and works only as a prime example of why long-dead franchises should remain that way. Even its talented cast fails to come close to saving it.
20. The Honeymooners
The Honeymooners is a sitcom that aired from 1955 until 1956. Based on a recurring Jackie Gleason comedy sketch of the same name, it follows the lives of New York City bus driver Ralph Kramden and his friends and family as they get involved with various schemes. It won numerous Emmys, its popularity continues today, and its catchphrases are legendary.
Follows a New York City Bus Driver and His Friends and Family
In 2005, a movie adaptation with a predominantly-African American cast – Cedric the Entertainer, Gabrielle Union, Mike Epps, and Regina Hall – hit theatres. It saw Kramden coming up with get-rich-quick schemes as he did in the television series.
The attempted modern update wasn’t a success. Trying to improve on the classic characters was never going to work – they all came across as incredibly generic. The jokes were stale, and the whole thing just felt pointless.
19. The Dukes of Hazzard
The Dukes of Hazzard is an action-comedy series that aired from 1979 until 1985. It's about two young male cousins, Bo and Luke Duke, who live in rural Georgia. The duo are on probation for moonshine running and must evade the corrupt county law enforcement as they embark on their escapades. Its popularity was unmatched at the time.
Two Young Male Cousins on Probation for Moonshine Running
In 2005, a road movie version with the same premise came out, starring Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott. The all-star supporting cast included the likes of Jessica Simpson, Burt Reynolds, Willie Nelson, Lynda Carter, and David Koechner.
Whereas the series was witty and charismatic with its comedy, the movie went over the top and ended up being goofy, vacuous, and outright dumb. It feels outdated and like one big excuse to squeeze in as many car chases as possible.
18. Wild Wild West
The Wild Wild West is a Western show with elements of sci-fi and espionage thrillers. It aired from 1965 until 1969. It's about a pair of Secret Service agents who work for the government in the Old West, equipped with a wide array of gizmos. It was a very violent series, but people liked it.
A Western Show With Elements of Sci-Fi and Espionage
In 1999, a movie called Wild Wild West hit theatres, loosely adapted from the series. It was a steampunk Western starring Will Smith and Kevin Kline in the lead roles, trying to protect the U.S. President from many dangerous threats.
The show had exceptional ratings and only ended in response to complaints about television violence, but the movie was horrendous. Unlike the show, it tried to be funny, but it failed badly at that. Instead, it was a manic mess with too much focus on special effects and none on the story. The show combined its concept with great content, but the movie was too focused on the former.
Baywatch is an action drama series that aired (in its original form, at least) from 1989 until 1999. It follows lifeguards who patrol the beaches of Los Angeles County, California. It wasn't great, but it was still hugely popular, thanks mainly to its beautiful and popular cast, which included David Hasselhoff, Pamela Anderson, and Yasmine Bleeth.
An Action Drama Series About Los Angeles County Lifeguards
A Baywatch movie came out in 2017, with the location changed to Emerald Bay, Florida, with a more comedic feel. It stars Dwayne Johnson in Hasselhoff's role as the leader of a team of lifeguards who must take down a drug lord to save their beach.
The movie is arguably better than the series, but ultimately isn't that great. It plays even more on the sexiness of its cast, with gratuitous jiggling aplenty. Johnson is entertaining, and Zac Efron and Alexandra Daddario ably support him. However, it needs a better plot and dialogue, and its attempts to mix serious action with a sendup don't work.
CHiPs is a crime drama that aired from 1977 until 1983. It focuses on the exploits of two motorcycle officers in the California Highway Patrol (C.H.P.). Episodes often had a lighthearted subplot with comedic elements, and the show was hugely enjoyable to watch.
A Crime Drama Following Two Motorcycle Officers
A movie adaptation came out in 2017. It was a buddy cop action comedy starring Michael Peña and Dax Shepard. Shepard's rookie character learns his partner, Peña's seasoned professional, is an undercover F.B.I. agent investigating a heist that may involve some crooked cops.
While the series had an endearing innocence, the movie steered away from it with some uncultured humor and jokes. The result is that it's rather absurd. The plot is boring, and neither of the two stars performs to the best of their abilities.
15. Leave It to Beaver
Leave It to Beaver is a sitcom that aired from 1957 until 1963. It's about Theodore “The Beaver” Cleaver, a curious and naïve boy, and the events of his everyday life. It's a genuinely iconic show with sincerity, warmth, and charm. It doesn't make you belly laugh but is a source of constant smiles.
A Curious and Naïve Boy's Everyday Life
In 1997, a comedy movie based on the show hit theatres. It has the same premise as the series, following Theodore's daily life at home, in school, and out and about in his suburban neighborhood.
The movie utilizes similar humor and in-jokes to the series and features some cameos from the original cast. However, it lacks the show's charm, and failing to update it in any significant way for modern audiences was a huge mistake. It just isn't funny.
Bewitched is a fantasy sitcom that aired from 1964 until 1972. The show focuses on the life of a witch who, after marrying a mortal man, attempts to lead the life of an everyday housewife. It had very high ratings and remains hugely popular to this day.
The Life of a Witch Who Marries a Mortal Man
2005 saw the release of a theatrical movie based on the show, and it stars Nicole Kidman as the magical Isabel Bigelow and Will Ferrell as the mortal Jack Wyatt. In the film, in meta fashion, they portray actors playing the roles of Darrin and Samantha in a remake of the original sitcom.
The movie intends to be a rom-com, but it provides neither comedy nor romanticism, as Kidman and Ferrell don't have the chemistry of the original actors, Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York. Unlike the series, it feels like it has no direction.
13. Land of The Lost
Land of the Lost is a children's adventure series aired from 1974 until 1976. It's about a family fighting to survive in a mysterious land of dinosaurs and other strange creatures. A remake of the show also aired in 1991.
A Family Fighting To Survive in a Land Full of Dinosaurs
In 2009, a movie adaptation hit theatres starring Will Ferrell, Anna Friel, and Danny McBride. The film sees a scientist, his assistant, and a survivalist getting sucked through a vortex into a world inhabited by fierce creatures.
The movie is loosely based on the 1974 series and is less child-friendly. It's funny at times – or perhaps “goofy” is the better word – but it feels very disjointed. While Will Ferrell is usually the best part of his movies, only Anna Friel emerges from this one smelling of roses.
12. Lost in Space
Lost in Space is a sci-fi series that aired between 1965 and 1968. Inspired by the 1812 novel The Swiss Family Robinson, it's about the adventures of the Robinson family, who are colonists struggling to survive in the depths of space. While it pales compared to the original Star Trek series of the same era, it's still enjoyable and had decent ratings.
The Adventures of Colonists Struggling To Survive in The Depths of Space
In 1998, a sci-fi adventure movie based on the series came out, and it stars William Hurt, Heather Graham, Matt LeBlanc, and Gary Oldman. The Robinsons head to a nearby star system in the film to escape a soon-to-be uninhabitable Earth. However, they get knocked off course by a saboteur and must find their way home.
None of the series's intrigue is present in the movie, as it gets dumbed down to being nothing more than a shoot-em-up. The one thing making it watchable is a very talented cast, which does everything it can with the material given to it. That said, the stars don't save it from its lack of imagination.
11. Dark Shadows
Dark Shadows is a gothic soap opera that aired from 1966 until 1971. It focuses on the lives of the affluent Collins family in Collinsport, Maine, where many supernatural occurrences occur. Watching this show is a truly unique and brilliant experience, and it's become a bona fide cult classic.
A Gothic Soap Opera
In 2012, Tim Burton directed an epic dark fantasy movie based on the show. It has a mystery element to it and is teeming with black comedy. Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Helena Bonham Carter star in it. The film sees imprisoned vampire Barnabas Collins set free and returning to his ancestral home, where shenanigans await.
The movie looks fantastic and successfully translates the show's mood, but it doesn't achieve what it set out to do. It doesn't know what genre it's meant to be, the jokes fall flat, the plot is directionless, and while it starts with a lot of promise and energy, it quickly regresses.
10. Charlie's Angels
Charlie's Angels is a crime drama that aired from 1976 until 1981. It's about the crime-fighting exploits of three women working for an unseen boss (Charlie) at a private detective agency in Los Angeles, California. It wasn't brilliant, but it was hugely popular, thanks mainly to the sex appeal of its female leads.
The Crime-fighting Exploits of Three Women Working for an Unseen Boss
The series has spawned three movies; 2000's Charlie's Angels, a 2003 sequel called Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, and a 2019 reboot. The first franchise stars Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu, while the reboot stars Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Balinska. Both movie franchises share their premise with the series.
The first movie franchise is a self-aware comedy franchise with strengths but some significant weaknesses. While its camp humor is enjoyable, both movies lack originality and coherent plots. The reboot, which is a little more offbeat, has similar traits. Overall, the films all compare pretty favorably to the series, with all six lead stars performing well – but they don't offer anything new.
Dragnet is a police procedural drama based on the radio series of the same name that aired from 1949 until 1957. The first show aired from 1951 until 1959, and the revival ran from 1967 until 1970. In both series, Los Angeles police detective Sergeant Joe Friday, along with varying partners, goes about his business apprehending criminals. It's a highly watchable show.
A Police Procedural Drama
Two theatrical Dragnet movies were released, in 1954 and 1987, respectively. In the 1954 version, Joe Friday and Frank Smith investigate the brutal shotgun murder of a crime syndicate member. In the 1987 film, Friday and Pep Streebek – played by Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks – investigate a cult called P.A.G.A.N. (People Against Goodness and Normalcy).
Both movies are respectable. While the 1954 version takes the series's straight-laced route and has a more harsh and realistic feel, the 1987 film is more comedic. Aykroyd plays Friday better than anyone, and he deserves more praise than he got for his performance.
8. Get Smart
Get Smart is a sitcom parodying the secret agent genre that aired from 1965 until 1970, with a sequel series airing in 1995. It focuses on Maxwell Smart and his partner, Agent 99, working for the CONTROL agency as they combat the evil forces of the rival spy agency KAOS. Mel Brooks created it, so you know it's good, and it's received credit for broadening the parameters for the comedy presentation on television.
A Sitcom Parodying The Secret Agent Genre
Hollywood has made two theatrical movies based on the show. The first, 1980's The Nude Bomb, sees Maxwell Smart recalled to duty to defeat a villain threatening to detonate a weapon that destroys clothing. The second, 2008's Get Smart, stars Steve Carell and sees him taking on KAOS.
While The Nude Bomb was terrible and more focused on dumb action sequences than the show, the 2008 movie was much better. It still wasn't up to the show's standards in terms of its humor, but Carell is charming in the lead role, and it gets a pass as a run-of-the-mill action comedy.
7. Starsky & Hutch
Starsky & Hutch is a buddy cop action series on air from 1975 until 1979. It follows the adventures of two streetwise Southern California police detectives who chase criminals in their red-and-white Ford Gran Torino with the help of police snitch Huggy Bear. It's a thrilling show, and it's not a stretch to say it's genuinely iconic.
A Buddy Cop Action Series
In 2004, a comedic movie adaptation hit theatres, starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. The film – a prequel to the television series – portrays Starsky and Hutch when they first got together as a duo. They must team up to take down drug kingpin Reese Feldman and his right-hand man Kevin Jutsum.
Given the word “comedic,” it should go without saying that the movie is more lighthearted than the show. While it was never going to win any Oscars, and while it's uneven at times, it benefits hugely from Stiller and Owen's famous chemistry. There are some hilarious moments.
6. The Brady Bunch
The Brady Bunch is a sitcom that aired from 1969 until 1974. It's about the eponymous blended family with six kids and their everyday lives. Although never specified, the suggestion is it takes place in Los Angeles. It's one of the most popular series ever and spawned several spin-off shows.
A Blended Family With Six Kids and Their Everyday Lives
It also spawned two theatrical movies in 1995's The Brady Bunch Movie and 1996's A Very Brady Sequel. The first movie focuses on the family seeming out of place in the 1990s, while the second sees a man claiming to be Carol Brady's long-lost first husband turning up at the Brady home. They both starred Shelley Long and Gary Cole.
The series is charming and lighthearted without ever being outstanding, and the movies pay homage to that satisfactorily. The films are part spoof, so they're notably sillier than the show but aren't quite as funny. That said, they aren't terrible in general.
5. The Equalizer
The Equalizer is a spy thriller series that aired from 1985 until 1989. It's about a retired intelligence agent, played by Edward Woodward, who uses the skills he acquired in his career to exact justice on criminals on behalf of innocent people. Though sometimes erratic, The Equalizer was intriguing and atmospheric. A reboot series with a female lead, played by Queen Latifah, started airing in 2021.
A Spy Thriller Series
Two movies based on the original series exist. 2014's The Equalizer and 2018'sThe Equalizer 2 starred Denzel Washington in the eponymous role. In the first movie, Washington's character protects a teenage prostitute from Russian gangsters. In the second, he sets for revenge after one of his friends gets killed.
With more room for a plot, the series was much more interesting than the movies. The films tried to cram in as much visceral violence as possible. There's much more of an action feel to the cinematic offerings, but it's fair to say that both they and the series have their merits.
Maverick is a Western comedy series that aired from 1957 until 1962. It's about a pair of skilled poker-playing brothers, played by James Garner and Jack Kelly, traveling through the 19th-century American frontier and their exploits on riverboats and in saloons. The show earned excellent ratings and is considered Garner's career breakout role.
A Western Comedy Series
In 1994, a Western action comedy movie based on the show hit theatres. It stars Mel Gibson as a card player and con artist who collects money so he can enter a high-stakes poker game. It has a great supporting cast that includes Jodie Foster and a returning Garner (albeit in a different role).
While the movie is slightly more silly than the show, both are great. The cinematic offering also has much more action per minute, but it still provides just as much wit and charm as its source material. Gibson certainly does Garner justice.
3. The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a spy action show which aired from 1964 until 1968. It's about two troubleshooting agents who work for the secret international counterespionage and law-enforcement agency U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement). The show was a phenomenon that led to a spy-fiction craze on television and a spin-off series, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.
A Spy Action Show About Two Troubleshooting Agents
A movie with the same name and premise hit the big screen in 2015, with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer in the roles previously played by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. In the movie, the pair go on a mission to take down a mysterious criminal organization working to proliferate nuclear weapons.
Almost every television show episode had a more exciting story than the movie. However, the latter is still enjoyable thanks to its charismatic leads and more energetic action sequences. The film is well worth a watch, so it's a huge compliment when we say the show is even better.
2. 21 Jump Street
21 Jump Street is a police crime drama that aired from 1987 until 1981, with Johnny Depp as its main star. It's about a squad of youthful-looking undercover cops investigating crimes in high schools, colleges, and other typical teenage venues. It was a huge hit, becoming the first Fox series to win its timeslot against a Big Three network series.
A Squad of Youthful-looking Undercover Cops
In 2012, a 21 Jump Street movie came out, and in 2014, a sequel called 22 Jump Street hit theatres. They're both action comedy movies starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. The first movie sees the pair playing officers going undercover as high school students, while the second sees them doing the same in a college.
Both movies are satirical takes on the show, with more action and more humor – and they're both fantastic. The show is excellent in its way and takes itself a lot more seriously than its cinematic adaptations, but the films are arguably better. Frankly, we'd recommend watching both.
1. Mission: Impossible
Mission: Impossible is an espionage series that aired from 1966 until 1973, then again in a 1988 revival. It's about a small covert team of secret government agents known as the Impossible Missions Force, and it chronicles their sophisticated and subtle methods of defeating various enemies. It's an iconic show that thrilled audiences worldwide.
A Small Covert Team of Secret Government Agents
The series has spawned a franchise of six movies, all starring Tom Cruise. They are 1996's Mission: Impossible, 2000's Mission: Impossible 2, 2006's Mission: Impossible III, 2011's Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, 2015's Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, and 2018's Mission: Impossible – Fallout. Two more movies, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Parts One and Two, will be released in the coming years.
The movies have, understandably, been far more ambitious and spectacular than the show, with much more extensive set pieces and top-class Hollywood special effects. In particular, the three most recent have been fantastic, with Cruise on top form. The show is excellent, but the movies are even better.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.