Remakes are part of Hollywood’s bread-and-butter, so it should come as no surprise that studios frequently dip into the well of classic television for properties to turn into big-budget movies. However, you might not have realized just how often studios look to TV for properties to turn into big-budget movies. How many of these major films did you know were based on old TV shows?
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E is a 2015 Guy Ritchie film starring Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer. It’s a Cold War spy thriller, replete with secret Nazi plots involving nuclear weapons, and an unlikely truce between the CIA and the KGB to stop those dang old murderous Nazis.
It’s based on a 1964-1968 television series by the same name, also about intelligence agency shenanigans. There were plenty of notable guest stars, including William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, two years before Star Trek had even aired.
Maverick is a 1994 comedy about a card shark con man, portrayed by the once-likeable Mel Gibson. (And honestly, the movie is so dang charming that not even Gibson can ruin it.) It’s based on the 1957-1962 television series, also named Maverick, which aired on ABC.
In addition to a big-budget movie, the show spawned a litany of spin-offs: a TV movie called, The New Maverick (1978), a new series called Young Maverick (1979), Bret Maverick (1981), and the incongruently named, The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw (1991).
Harrison Ford stars as Dr. Richard Kimble, a man wrongly accused of murder in The Fugitive (1993). It’s the movie with the famous dam scene, where Kimble chooses to do a sick jackknife dive into the water rather than face down an armed and angry Tommy Lee Jones.
The movie is based on a 1963-1967 American drama TV series by the same name, and followed roughly the same plot. Dr. Kimble is on the run from a doggedly persistent U.S. Marshal while trying to find the one-armed man who framed him for murder. There was even a 2000 TV remake of the series.
The A-Team was an action television series that ran in the 80’s, featuring Mr. T and a bunch of other people who really don’t matter. The group are ex-special forces, court martialed for a crime they weren’t guilty of, who go on a series of mercenary shenanigans. But did you know there was a 2010 movie called The A-Team, with frickin’ Liam Neeson in it?
In addition to Neeson, the movie featured a fresh-off-The-Hangover Bradley Cooper. However, it’s arguably best to remember The A-Team by their television stint: the movie remake got so-so reviews by audiences, and critics were far less forgiving. Though, to be fair, Mr. T is a hard act to follow.
The Avengers (1998)
We’re not talking about Big Green Man vs. Big Purple Man Avengers, but rather, the 1998 movie, The Avengers, starring Uma Thurman, Ralph Fiennes, and Sean Connery. If you haven’t heard of it, there may be a good reason for that: it’s a spy thriller where the villain (played by Connery) is a mad scientist whose evil plot is to control the weather.
Needless to say, it was panned to smithereens by critics, and is considered one of the worst films ever to violate audiences’ eyeballs. How did this abomination come to fruition? A 1961 British television series is to blame: The Avengers was a fairly campy TV spy show that gained cult status. Sadly, the movie wasn’t able to capture lightning in a bottle.
1987’s buddy cop comedy, Dragnet, is actually a parody of an old TV series. 1951’s Dragnet is a black-and-white cop drama, which was fashioned as a fictional “documentary.” It opened with the famous line, “What you’re about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.”
The over-the-top hardboiled melodrama was ripe for being satirized, and thus the Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks remake was born. It’s not dissimilar from other jokey remakes of old properties that have become popular in recent years, such as The Dukes of Hazzard and 21 Jump Street.
The Mod Squad
Sometimes, however, a movie adaptation of a campy show takes itself far too seriously. This was the problem with The Mod Squad, a 1999 thriller about three former delinquents-turned-police-informants who must solve the murder of their boss. The film starred a then-white-hot Claire Danes, Omar Epps, and Giovanni Ribisi as the titular teen crime fighters.
It was based on an award-winning TV series (also called The Mod Squad), with roughly the same plot, but with superior execution. It was a trailblazing show in terms of portraying race relations, counter culture, police brutality, protest movements, and other important social issues. The movie, however, almost won a Razzie, only barely being beaten out by another title on this list (hint – it stars Will Smith).
Wild Wild West
There’s nothing wrong with the concept of “sci-fi-meets-the-Wild-West” (Westworld managed to pull it off). However, Wild Wild West (1999) starring Kevin Kline and Will Smith, won Worst Picture in the Razzie awards. The plot is mostly inscrutable, but roughly speaking, it’s a western but with steampunk elements and cool futuristic weapons. Oh, and sunglasses!
It was based on the 1965 science fiction western TV show, called The Wild Wild West. This incarnation of the concept actually had high ratings. However, it was cancelled due to “violence.” Too bad it came before the glorious times of HBO.
The golden age of SNL was the source of a whole host of comedy films. Wayne’s World (1992) starring Mike Myers and Dana Carvey as a couple of rock fans suddenly given a network TV show, was spun off from a recurring SNL sketch in which the two future megastars played a pair of losers filming a public access show in their basement.
The sketches explored the many adventures of Wayne and Garth, a couple of metalheads, with catch phrases like, “Party on,” that became permanently woven into the cosmic spacetime fabric of the 90’s. Surprisingly, this sketch translated well to film: it remains a beloved classic, and has an 84% on Rotten Tomatoes.
A Night at the Roxbury
Like Wayne’s World, A Night at the Roxbury started off as a recurring skit called, “The Roxbury Guys” (a superior title in our opinion). Chris Kattan and Will Ferrell portrayed a couple of overly greased up clubbing dudes, who spent most of their time violently undulating to the song “What Is Love.”
Despite the talent and likeability of the comedians involved, one might be tempted to ponder how such a sketch could be drawn out over the course of 82 minutes. Well, as Roger Ebert put it, “…the sad thing about A Night at the Roxbury is that the characters are in a one-joke movie, and they’re the joke… It’s the first comedy I’ve attended where you feel that to laugh would be cruel to the characters.”
While by no means a new practice, there was a period of time in the 90s and early 2000s wherein Saturday Night Live tried to adapt several of their popular recurring sketches into feature films. One of those films was Superstar, a tale of the trials and tribulations of a hyperactive Catholic schoolgirl named Mary Katherine Gallagher.
Mary Katherine Gallagher was a recurring character played by Molly Shannon on SNL, usually paired up with Will Ferrell as she is in the film. In small doses, this character was quite funny (Shannon perfected the mannerisms of a gawky teenager to an incredible degree). But when stretched out over an entire film, it felt like watching someone being slowly tortured on a medieval rack.
It may be obvious to some readers that the Coneheads movie was based on “The Coneheads” Saturday Night Live sketch, but for those who were children when the movie came out, it may be surprising that it had a TV predecessor. The film follows a family of aliens trying to blend in with suburban Earthlings and failing miserably.
The movie suffered from the same syndrome as the previous SNL spin offs: a funny, enjoyable sketch was forced into a longer format for which it was never intended. Watching a beloved sketch being drawn out to such an extent was as disquieting as looking at the elongated, pointy heads of the titular characters.
The Mission: Impossible Franchise
Though Mission: Impossible has become synonymous with Tom Cruise dangling from a rope in a variety of high-stakes situations, it actually had its humble beginnings as a 1966-1973 television series. It even featured Leonard Nimoy as a “master of disguise.”
The show had a successful run and garnered plenty of awards. Back when the first MIssion: Impossible movie was released in 1996, the cast of the original series was given the option to appear in cameo roles, but they all turned it down. Interestingly, the TV show was actually inspired by an even earlier heist movie called Topkapi (1964), so the Tom Cruise remake is actually a movie based on a TV show based on a movie.
The Addams Family
The Addams Family is a 1991 comedy with our favorite family of ghouls. Though the movie only managed average reviews, the chemistry between Anjelica Huston and Raúl Juliá as the ghastly-and-deeply-in-love Morticia and Gomez Addams, as well as the antics of Christopher Lloyd, has earned this movie a special place in our hearts.
The movie and its sequel, Addams Family Values, are based on the 1964 TV series, The Addams Family, which came on the heels of the “Monster Mash” era of movies and TV that included The Munsters. There’s a new CGI animated The Addams Family movie coming out in 2019, and if you’ve noticed, the character designs are quite different from both the TV and movie incarnations of the franchise: instead, they’re based on the original artwork of Charles Addams, a cartoonist who concocted the family in a series of strips for The New Yorker.
God bless Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway, but the 2008 spy comedy Get Smart fell short of expectations. Carell starred as the buffoonish secret agent Maxwell Smart, who blunders his way through every mission and still manages to succeed. Not even dutiful straight-man performances from Hathaway and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson could help Smart’s movie succeed, though.
The film was based on the 1965 comedy series Get Smart, which satirized the secret agent genre for five successful seasons. Powered by the writing talents of Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, and a strong comedic performance from Don Adams as the titular agent, the show became a much loved cultural icon, with memorable gags such as shoe phones and bumbling spy antics.
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Though Mike Myers is an SNL alum, the goofy British super spy he created for Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) never appeared on the sketch comedy show. Myers and a creative circle of friends formed a satirical retro-mod band called Ming Tea, and he created his Austin Powers character as a member of the band.
They were featured in live club performances and on television, as Myers continued to perfect Austin’s voice and mannerisms. His wife encouraged him to develop the idea into a movie. Of course, it was a rampaging success, spawning two sequels. Ming Tea can even be seen during the end credits of the first film, performing the song “BBC One.”
There’s a reboot of the Charlie’s Angels franchise coming out in 2019, directed by Elizabeth Banks. It’s the next in a long line of Charlie’s Angels incarnations,beginning with a 1970’s TV show starring Farrah Fawcett. The TV series was the patron saint of the somewhat crudely named “Jiggle TV,” which referred to shows featuring greatly objectified and conventionally attractive female leads. Regardless, it became a hugely popular show and something of a cult icon.
The version you’re most likely familiar with is the 2000 film starring Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu. The first big-screen adaptation of the action-comedy show was such a huge box office success that it got a sequel in 2003 titled Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.
The Shaft franchise is a film-turned-TV-series-turned-back-into-film. The original 1971 Shaft is a film about John Shaft (Richard Roundtree), a private detective that must contend with gangsters and other street villains. The movie eventually became a TV series after the third Shaft film bombed at the box office.
The TV series failed to thrive, in part due to being toned down due to greater restrictions placed on television shows. In 2000, it was resurrected as a movie starring Samuel L. Jackson as the original Shaft’s nephew. Now it’s been re-resurrected as the 2019 film Shaft, starring multiple generations of Shaft actors: Roundtree, Jackson, and Jessie T. Usher, who plays Jackson’s son, John Shaft, Jr. Whew!
21 Jump Street
The 2012 film 21 Jump Street, starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as a pair of young detectives going undercover as high school students, was a surprise hit that completely changed Tatum’s career into someone that audiences actually liked. The off-the-walls comedy was based on a TV show that took itself far more seriously.
The show follows the same premise: youthful looking cops who can somehow manage to pull off the high schooler look, in order to work undercover amongst students to bust them for drug related offenses and more. It was an after-school-special type show, with public service announcements and Very Important Lessons involving crime, drugs, AIDS, alcoholism, and so on. It was also Johnny Depp‘s first big acting break, which is referenced in the film remake by Depp’s surprise cameo, in which he is shot to death by drug dealers.
While you may not care to explore the origins of Tim Burton’s big-budget flop Dark Shadows (2012), it’s a surprisingly fruitful endeavor. The movie follows Barnabas Collins, a 300-year-old vampire who awakens in the 20th century with predictably comedic results.
The original Dark Shadows was a 1960’s Gothic horror soap opera, and has accrued a loyal cult following due to its zany melodrama and over-the-top characters. When you watch the TV show, it’s easy to see why Burton chose to remake it as a comedy – the show is a master class in unintentional hilarity, featuring obvious props, costume mishaps, and numerous other mistakes owing to its low-budget quality.
Starsky & Hutch
Starsky & Hutch (2004) features big-haired Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller as a Bay City police detective dynamic duo in the 1970s, sporting period-appropriate track suits and mannerisms. Directed by Todd Phillips, the comedy follows these street savvy undercover cops go on investigative and dance-off adventures together.
The movie was based on a 70’s action television series called Starsky & Hutch. While the show wasn’t a comedy, it broke with trends of the day by emphasizing the friendship between the two lead actors. In a time when male heroes were typically stoic and emotionally repressed, Starsky and Hutch helped pioneer the “buddy cop” genre by being characters who actually enjoyed each other’s company.
Apologies in advance for bringing up Borat (2006) in 2019, lest we inadvertently provoke some “My wife” jokes. The Sacha Baron-Cohen movie, which merged the fictional antics of the vaguely-foreign Borat with real-life reactions of hapless non-actors, became a deep cultural icon (or scar, if you’ve been traumatized by the endless cries of “wa-wa-wee-wa” by frenzied Borat fans).
This movie was based on a character in Baron-Cohen’s comedy TV series, Da Ali G Show (2000-2004). The show, like the movie, featured the interactions between outrageous fictional characters and oblivious guests, even including famous (and infamous) interview subjects such as Buzz Aldrin, Donald Trump, and Noam Chomsky.
Aeon Flux is an ill-fated 2005 apocalyptic science-fiction action movie, with a flagrantly miscast and poorly utilized Charlize Theron (who, fortunately, would later get to star in a truly great apocalyptic action film, Mad Max: Fury Road). The movie disappeared in the glut of similar Matrix-inspired action movies of the early 2000s that all featured leather-clad heroes backflipping and/or shooting their way through enemies, including Equilibrium, the Underworld movies, and Ultraviolet.
Aeon Flux was based on a 1990’s animated TV series that premiered on MTV. It was created by the Korean American animator Peter Chung (who, appropriately, also directed a segment of The Animatrix). The art & animation style was avant-garde and highly stylized, and is considered to be a notable work of animation.
CHiPs, the 2017 comedy starring Dax Shepard, follows the zany antics of the California Highway Patrol, stumbling upon criminal conspiracies that they are vastly underprepared to handle. Shepard and his partner Ponch (Michael Peña) uncover a vast ring of corrupt cops and have no choice but to combat them with violent hijinks.
The original CHiPs was a 1970’s crime drama TV series, with over-the-top action sequences, freeway pileups, car chases, motorcycle stunts, high-waisted pants and thigh-high boots, and explosions. Lots and lots of explosions! It’s the pinnacle of tongue-in-cheek campy action.
The Equalizer (2014), starring Denzel Washington, is about an ex-Defense Intelligence Agency operative named Robert McCall who is trying to leave his highly dangerous old life behind, but gosh darn it he can’t turn his back on people in need. So he uses his training to enact vigilante justice on behalf of people who come to him for help, which includes beating drug dealers to death with a hammer.
The 1980’s TV show on which the Washington film was based has a similar concept, but in this version, Robert McCall (British actor Edward Woodward) is a bit more assertive in looking for trouble: he puts out classified ads in which he promises to fight for the underdog. You’d think that would make it super easy for the cops to track him down and arrest him, but he manages to operate under the radar.
Penguins of Madagascar
The ingenuitive flightless birds of Penguins of Madagascar are an example of animated side-characters who managed to find greater popularity and success than the original movie in which they appeared. In this case, the penguins originally showed up in small roles in Madagascar, one of DreamWorks’ earlier movies. The penguins are a gang of insane birds who operate within a vaguely militaristic hierarchy to accomplish their goals, which tend to involve wacky inventions and general calamity.
Luckily, the penguins haven’t reached total saturation-levels à la the Minions from Despicable Me, but they did have their very own Nickelodeon TV show, Penguins of Madagascar, that actually preceded the movie. The show takes place in an “alternate universe” in which the penguins never escape the zoo, and must engage in a series of undercover “missions.”
The Blues Brothers is a comedy classic, featuring the legendary John Belushi in one of the only film roles in his brief career before he died of a drug overdose in 1982. Directed by John Landis, the movie follows Jake and Ellwood Blues, played by Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, as they try to save the orphanage in which they were raised by putting on a benefit concert.
In addition to cameos from iconic R&B performers such as Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles, the movie features one of the most elaborate car chases in film history.
Believe it or not, The Blues Brothers started out both as an SNL skit and a parody blues/soul revivalist band. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd created the characters and appeared as “musical guests” on a 1978 episode of Saturday Night Live. The band even released a few albums, including Briefcase Full of Blues, and opened for the Grateful Dead on New Years Eve, 1978.
It’s something of a Canadian blasphemy to think only of Strange Brew, the 1983 comedy classic, when discussing the exploits of Bob and Doug McKenzie, the dim-witted beer-drinking brothers played by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas. These two flagrantly Canadian brothers first appeared on SCTV (Second City Television), a Canadian sketch comedy show.
They even had a couple of comedy albums: Bob & Doug McKenzie: The Great White North, and Bob & Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew, which earned both triple platinum status and a Juno Award (Canda’s Grammy’s). If you’re a fan of the movie and this is news to you, go ahead and binge listen to those albums now: you won’t be “sorry.”
The Ernest Movies
Throughout the 80s and early 90s, America (and indeed the entire world) was treated to a series of films about the bumbling adventures of Ernest P. Worrell, a dim-witted handyman played by Jim Varney. Modern audiences may recognize Varney better from his role as the voice of Slinky Dog in the first two Toy Story films, but the Ernest character was his big claim to fame.
Before making his feature film debut in 1987’s Ernest Goes to Camp, Varney played the character on TV in a series of commercials for both national and regional products, including Marva Maid, Coca-Cola, and Chex. The character was spun-off into the aforementioned film series, as well as a children’s television show called Hey Vern, It’s Ernest!
All records of its existence have probably been scrubbed from the universe for obvious reasons, but before his hit sitcom The Cosby Show, comedian Bill Cosby played an undercover super spy posing as a tennis pro on I Spy. The show ran from 1965 to 1968, and was Cosby’s first big acting break.
The show was remade as the 2002 action/comedy film I Spy, bizarrely starring Owen Wilson in the Cosby role and Eddie Murphy as his new partner. Considering the film released nearly 40 years after the show originally aired, it’s understandable that not many people realized it was based on a show, or had anything to do with Bill Cosby.