These days, it might seem like you can't turn on your television without being met with a TV series adaptation of, or prequel to, a well-known movie. We are currently in a golden age of original television programming. But the lure of a recognised brand being transferred from the big screen to the small screen is too great for many studios to ignore. To be fair, it makes perfect sense. More people will tune in for the upcoming Lethal Weapon TV show than if it was a new buddy cop action-comedy. Despite many fans complaining that the studios should just leave well enough alone, many will watch simply out of curiosity and a love for the original movie franchise.
The list of current, ongoing TV shows with big screen origins is extensive. Scream, From Dusk Till Dawn, Rush Hour, Ash Vs Evil Dead, 12 Monkeys and Teen Wolf, to name a few. Then there's the upcoming prestige TV version of Westworld, which looks amazing. Now, there are ones that don't work out. The recently cancelled Limitless and Minority Report are testament to that. But there are enough hits that they'll keep coming regardless.
Now, this doesn't mean that the notion of turning a movie into a TV show is a new phenomenon. Far from it, actually. Hollywood and the TV studios have been doing it for decades. And there have been some truly incredible shows to come out of it. Shows which prove that even if the initial intention is to milk some extra viewers out of a known quantity, that doesn't mean that the creative talent behind the shows won't make something that transcends. These are our top 5 shows based on movies. These are so good that they actually expand upon the film's stories in innovative ways and even bring new elements to their mythologies.
5. Bates Motel (2013 - present)
When Bates Motel debuted in March 2013, questions were understandably asked about how the creators intended to extend the story of Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1960 horror film Psycho. How do you take Norman Bates' story and make several seasons of television out of it? Well, it turns out that series developers Carlton Cuse, Kerry Ehrin and Anthony Cipriano knew exactly what they were doing. 4 seasons and 40 episodes after the pilot and it has established itself as a popular and well-received show, one that doesn't even really require knowledge of the original movie series.
The creators were smart in two main areas when developing the show. The first was in casting. Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga are utterly incredible as Norman and Norma Bates respectively. Without actors of this quality in the main roles, the show's tone of dysfunctional-family-drama meets black-comedy meets serial-killer-horror would have collapsed upon itself very quickly. The two actors sell their roles perfectly, and their on-screen chemistry is palpable.
The second area that they got right is the setting of the show. White Pine Bay is a character all of its own. It's a small town that has as many dark, dirty secrets as the Bates family does, and the various criminals that they encounter over the course of the series are often as interesting as the main characters.
We also love how the show sometimes feels like it exists out of time. Norma and Norman both dress in an old-fashioned manner, and Norma's car is straight out of the 1960's. Yet, they use all the accoutrements of the modern world, and the rest of the denizens of the town are more modern. It's an interesting way to present these characters who had their origins in the '60s.
4. Hannibal (2013 - 2015)
Making its bow less than a month after Bates Motel, Hannibal was another dark and twisted take on an enduring movie villain. Hannibal Lecter had already been realised on the big screen 5 times. The adaptations were based on 4 novels by Thomas Harris. But when writer and developer Bryan Fuller got his hands on the property, he had something altogether unique in mind for everyone's favourite cannibalistic serial killer psychiatrist.
Hannibal ended up as a bizarre and hallucinatory show, with flashes of truly disturbing and bloody violence. Fuller said that he felt he wasn't making a TV show, but an art movie on a weekly basis. He's not wrong. Some viewers were expecting something more conventional. They were put off by the sometimes pretentious dialogue and trippy, dreamlike storytelling. But the show connected hard with horror fans who had been wanting something literary to sink their teeth into.
In the end, it was a minor miracle that Hannibal lasted the 3 seasons it did. Especially considering it was airing on NBC instead of a premium cable channel like HBO. It was challenging, potentially alienating and also unrelentingly brutal and disturbing. Every time it was renewed for another season fans breathed a sigh of surprised relief. When it finally ended, after giving us a brilliant TV version of the Red Dragon story, fans were understandably upset but also satisfied at the conclusion. Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy, so note perfect in their roles as Lecter and Will Graham, went out as only the characters could: bloodied in each other's strange embrace.
3. Fargo (2014 - present)
The Coen Brothers are true auteurs of cinema. Their films are resolutely Coen-esque, with a very particular off-kilter style. When the Fargo TV show was announced, fans of the original 1996 movie struggled to imagine how anyone other than the Coen's could get what makes their work so unique. How would a showrunner/writer capture that particular brand of foreboding drama juxtaposed with black comedy? Well, it turned out that Noah Hawley, the creative force behind the show, not only was able to tap into the same tone as the Coen's, but it could be argued that over the course of two seasons of the show, he has actually improved upon the movie.
The first season, set in 2006, was a massive success. Nominated for 18 Emmy Awards, it won 3 - Outstanding Directing, Outstanding Casting and Outstanding Miniseries. With a few careful links to the movie, the series managed to carve its own unique path while simultaneously staying true to the source. The central performances are uniformly amazing. Billy Bob Thornton exudes malevolence as Lorne Malvo, and he plays brilliantly against Martin Freeman's quietly despicable Lester Nygaard. Alison Tolman and Colin Hanks formed the beating heart of the show. They always made sure the proceedings never went too far into the darkness or into the slightly goofy humour.
The second season might have been even better. It was again nominated for a litany of awards. This season was set in 1979 and starred Patrick Wilson, Kirsten Dunst, Ted Danson and Jesse Plemons. It told a more expansive story this time and with a much larger cast. Hawley showed his gifts for razor-sharp dialogue, quirky wit and a true sense of danger again. He also took a creative risk towards the end of the season. While it was not entirely successful, it was a ballsy move that many applauded him for taking.
2. Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997 - 2003)
This show was such a phenomenon that it eclipsed the source movie completely. In fact, many (if not most) fans of the show might not have seen the original movie. That incarnation of Buffy The Vampire Slayer was a complete misfire, a comedy-horror that was neither funny nor scary. Joss Whedon (who later, of course, went on to direct The Avengers movies for Marvel) said that the film was crushing. He felt he had written a scary film about an empowered woman, but the studio turned it into a broad comedy.
Whedon was able to reimagine Buffy in 1997 as a television series, though. It went on to become one of the most popular and beloved series' of all time. With a deep, rich mythology, Buffy lasted for 7 seasons. It also spawned a spin-off (Angel) that last for 5. There have been countless Buffy tie-ins over the years. From novels to comic books to video games, there has even recently been talks of rebooting it as a movie again.
What was it that made the TV show so brilliant, though? First and foremost, Whedon's vision was fully realised this time. Buffy is scary when it wants to be, and very funny when it wants to be. The character is very much empowered, and her chemistry with her 'Scooby Gang' is dynamite. Over the course of the series, Whedon and company created so many compelling villains and supporting characters that the franchise could theoretically continue forever. Whedon created a whole fictional universe with Buffy. That is the kind of thing that earns a feverishly dedicated fanbase.
1. M.A.S.H. (1972 - 1983)
We said earlier in the article that the idea of converting a movie into a TV series was not new. In 1972, CBS debuted M*A*S*H, a spin-off of the 1970 satirical black comedy war drama directed by Robert Altman. The series, a dramedy that tugged at heartstrings as much as it tickled funnybones, ran for 11 seasons and clocked in at 256 episodes. It's 1983 finale broke the record as most watched and highest rated single episode is US TV history. The New York Times reported a mind-boggling 125 million viewers. Put into context, current mega-hits like The Walking Dead and Game Of Thrones have peaked at around 20 million and 23 million viewers per episode respectively. Obviously, there is a lot more competition these days and more avenues to watch your TV. But those viewing figures for M*A*S*H are still staggering.
The show followed a team of doctors and support staff stationed at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in South Korea, during the Korean War. The series lasted more than 3 times longer than the real-life 3 year military conflict. Many of the stories in early seasons were based on stories told by real MASH surgeons.
The show became allegorical to the Vietnam War, which was occuring simultaneously to the show for its first 3 years. The show made Alan Alda a star. He took over the role of Hawkeye Pierce from the movie's Donald Sutherland. It also spawned a spin-off, Trapper John M.D. and a much-maligned follow-up, AfterMASH. Overall, the cultural impact of M*A*S*H can't be understated.
Have we missed any of your favorite TV shows with their origins in film? Let us know below.