20 TV-To-Movie Adaptations That Were Wildly Different From The Series They Were Based On


Movies borrow good ideas wherever they can, so it’s only natural that plenty of TV shows have provided the basis for big-screen blockbusters. However, the result isn’t always just the exact same thing on a larger screen with a longer running time. Take the new feature-length take on TV hit Fantasy Island: far from the light-hearted wish fulfilment show of the 70s and 80s, this new big screen adaptation from horror production company Blumhouse puts an ultra-sinister spin on the original concept.

Fantasy Island isn’t the first movie to take a familiar title from the small screen and completely turn it on its head. Take the following movies, which surprised and in some cases thoroughly outraged fans of the original TV show by taking the concept in a radically new direction.

20. Dragnet

This 1987 adaptation of the popular 60s cop show was arguably a major turning point for TV-to-film adaptations, as never before had such a movie based on a TV show wound up quite so intensive a send-up of its source material.

This to be proved a highly influential approach, which many later movie versions of TV shows would follow (as we’ll say later in this list).

Dragnet actually started life as a radio drama in 1951, but reached the height of its popularity as a long-running TV series – the most recent iteration of which aired in 2003.

Lead actor and co-writer Dan Aykroyd may be an avowed fan of Dragnet and the show’s creator, Jack Webb, but he still has a huge amount of fun playing the format for laughs.

Akyroyd and Tom Hanks star as LAPD detectives Joe Friday and his partner Pep Streebeck, investigating an outlandish case involving a cult; much weirder stuff than the original show ever got into.

19. Tom and Jerry: The Movie

The names Tom and Jerry are synonymous with two very specific qualities: mindless violence, and the total absence of verbal expression.

One might anticipate, then, that a feature-length take on the time-honoured cartoon superstars would be similarly low on dialogue and high on ridiculous fisticuffs (none of it ever doing any apparent long-term damage to the much-loved animals, of course).

As such, audiences were more than a little bit taken aback by 1992’s Tom and Jerry: The Movie.

Not only did Tom and Jerry: The Movie give its title characters the power of speech, but also it suddenly made them both caring, sharing types.

The film sees the cat and mouse put aside their differences to help a lost girl from a broken home. Who would have expected such sensitivity from animation’s most celebrated pugilists?

18. Star Trek

Created by Gene Roddenberry and first broadcast in 1966, Star Trek was a major landmark in small screen science fiction.

As well as launching numerous spin-off shows, Star Trek also became a long-running movie series, with six films featuring the original series cast, followed by a further four with the crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Even so, the films had never had quite such a wide appeal as studio Paramount would have liked, and so when director JJ Abrams was hired to helm a big screen reboot, hopes were high that it would reach a broader audience.

Under Abrams, the 2009 Star Trek movie boldly went where no previous incarnation of the series had been before: it was hip, sexy and geared toward a youthful audience.

Many Trekkies were horrified by the casting of a good-looking new crew headed up by Chris Pine as Captain Kirk, but Star Trek 2009 proved enough of a hit to spawn two sequels (although the future of the movie franchise is in doubt at present).

17. The Untouchables

The Untouchables marked the first time that director Brian De Palma brought an old TV series up to date on the big screen (and, as we’ll see, it wasn’t his last such film).

First aired in 1959, The Untouchables ran for four seasons, and presented a dramatised take on the real-life Chicago cops who struggled to take down mob boss Al Capone in the 1930s.

The series was adapted from the memoir of real-life cop Elliot Ness, and this book also provided the basis for David Mamet’s screenplay on the 1987 The Untouchables movie.

The key difference between the movie and the show is the greatly increased sense of scale and realism, and far more graphic violence and bad language than ever would have been allowed on TV in the 50s.

The Untouchables was a huge hit which helped elevate Kevin Costner to Hollywood superstar status, as well as winning Sean Connery a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

16. Miami Vice

Before Michael Mann became an acclaimed filmmaker (directing such hits as The Last of the Mohicans, Heat and Ali), he made his name with TV hit Miami Vice.

Running from 1984 to 1990, Miami Vice cast Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas as Crockett and Tubbs, vice squad detectives on the seedy streets of Miami.

The show drew a huge audience largely based on its sense of glamour: lavish lifestyles, expensive sports cars, designer suits worn with day glo T-shirts, etc.

It was a bit surprising, then, that when Mann decided to reboot Miami Vice on the big screen with Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx as Crocket and Tubbs, that old-school cool was largely absent.

Instead, the 2006 Miami Vice proved to be a surprisingly gritty and grounded cop thriller with a greater emphasis on blood, sweat and tears than neon, polyester and espadrilles.

15. Dora and the Lost City of Gold

Not so long ago, the idea of a live-action movie centred on an adolescent Dora the Explorer seemed like a complete joke.

Indeed, a teen Dora movie was the subject of a series of CollegeHumor videos in 2013 featuring actress Ariel Winter.

However, director James Bobin (The Muppets) delivered a teen Dora adventure for real, in this underrated 2019 update of the Nickelodeon preschool favourite.

Similar in tone to Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Dora and the Lost City of Gold casts Isabella Moner our jungle-loving heroine, who struggles to fit in at her new school until she and her new classmates are kidnapped by treasure hunters.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold delivers all the fun that the kids could hope for, but also piles on the tongue-in-cheek humour for the benefit of older viewers, and even packs in some surprisingly exciting action sequences.

14. Bewitched

Writer-director Nora Ephron’s 2005 update of ever-popular 60s sitcom Bewitched puts a distinctly strange, ‘meta’ spin on its adaptation of the much-loved 60s sitcom.

The original small screen Bewitched cast Elizabeth Montgomery as a doting housewife who is also a witch, and Dick York (later replaced by Dick Sargent) as her more down-to-earth husband, with Agnes Moorhead as the inevitably overbearing mother-in-law.

Whilst the 2005 film itself is technically a reboot of the show, it’s really a film about a reboot of the show (hope we didn’t lose you there).

Will Ferrell stars as an actor cast in the husband role of a new Bewitched series, who wants someone special for a co-star – and finds Nicole Kidman, who happens to be a real-life witch.

As clever a take on the material as this might be, sadly the Bewitched movie never really finds its feet, and Ferrell in particular seems out of sorts playing it relatively straight.

13. The A-Team

When writer-director Joe Carnahan’s The A-Team landed in cinemas in 2010, it marked the end of a very long period in development hell for the big screen adaptation of the 80s TV hit.

Created by Frank Lupo and Stephen J. Cannell, The A-Team was one of the most popular shows in the 80s, thrilling viewers worldwide and leaving many of us dreaming of having our very own A-Team truck.

By 2010, The A-Team’s leading man George Peppard had long since passed away, while the rest of the cast were getting on a bit, so an all-new cast was a given.

Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper were a natural fit for Hannibal and Face, although Sharlto Copley and Quentin ‘Rampage’ Jackson were perhaps more unexpected choices for Murdock and BA Baracus.

As gun-crazy as The A-Team got on TV, that’s nothing compared to how outlandish the action gets in the movie – but, perhaps most shocking of all, when The A-Team get in shoot-outs in the film, it seems that people actually get shot! (Which, of course, never happened on the show.)

12. Masters of the Universe

Off the back of the Hasbro toy line and the Filmation animated TV series, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was close to the heart of just about every kid who grew up in the 80s.

There was naturally a great deal of excitement, then, when we found out there was a Masters of the Universe live-action film on the way.

However, many viewers were left a bit bemused once they got to see the 1987 Masters of the Universe movie starring Dolph Lundgren as He-Man and Frank Langella as Skeletor.

Produced by notorious mini-studio Cannon Films, Masters of the Universe aspires to present epic action on a Star Wars scale, but clearly doesn’t have nearly enough money to do so. Subsequently, the characters shown on screen barely resemble those of the cartoon, and many fan favourite characters – including Battle Cat and Orko – are notable by their absence.

Even more bewilderingly, Masters of the Universe spends very little time on He-Man’s planet Eternia, and instead sets most of the action in small-town America, marking the somewhat inauspicious film debut of Courteney Cox as a high school girl caught up in the interstellar conflict.

11. The Brady Bunch Movie

Though launched in 1969, The Brady Bunch became a staple of 70s television, notorious for its garish fashions, upbeat songs and perpetually optimistic attitude.

The absurdly good-hearted nature of The Brady Bunch saw it the subject of widespread parody and derision in the years that followed – so it’s little wonder that, when it came to the big screen, it had a bit of a sting in its tail.

Directed by Betty Thomas, 1995’s The Brady Bunch Movie cast Shelley Long and Gary Cole as the new figureheads of the Brady family, and presented the characters in much the same way as they were back in the 70s – but in a 90s world.

Where the show was very much for all ages, The Brady Bunch Movie got a PG-13 thanks to the somewhat darker, more topical overtones of its humour.


The Brady Bunch Movie proved popular enough to spawn A Very Brady Sequel in 1996, and its culture-clash humour arguably paved the way for the Austin Powers movies which came later.

10. Thunderbirds

When the Thunderbirds movie hit screens in 2004, kids of the time enjoyed it as a simple, Spy Kids-esque adventure movie just right for the pre-teen matinee crowd.

However, older viewers who had grown up with the 60s Gerry Anderson show on which the film was based were considerably less pleased by the scant resemblance between the movie and the source material.

The original series, made using Anderson’s patented ‘supermarionation’ (a fancy word for ‘puppet show’), centred on International Rescue, a family of heroes who come to the aid of those in need with their ultra-high tech vehicles the Thunderbirds.

The problem isn’t so much that the Thunderbirds movie ditches puppets in favour of real live people; it’s more that it centres on a teenage Alan Tracy (Brady Corbet) and his similarly youthful pals (including a pre-High School Musical Vanessa Hudgens) as they fight to save his siblings and their father (Bill Paxton) from the villainous Hood (Ben Kingsley).

Audiences are left to puzzle over why director Jonathan Frakes and company decided to make a Thunderbirds movie which sidelines all the central characters of the show, and spends more time in the jungle of Tracy Island than it does in the iconic vehicles. It’s fine as a simple kid’s adventure film, but it doesn’t capture the spirit of Thunderbirds at all.

9. Transformers

When director Michael Bay took the helm on 2007’s long-awaited big screen take on the beloved 80s cartoon and toy line Transformers, it proved enough of a winning formula for Bay to return for four sequels.

However, while the box office tills may have been ringing loud, a great many fans of the franchise were less than pleased with how far Bay and co. had strayed from the source material.

For starters, the Autobots and Decepticons barely resembled the characters as shown in the TV show, Megatron didn’t turn into a gun anymore, Bumblebee wasn’t a VW Beetle, and Optimus Prime had flames on his side for some reason.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was also the rather noticeable lack of focus on the robots in disguise themselves, with the bulk of Transformers centring on Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky, and his budding romance with Megan Fox’s Mikaela.

On top of this annoying focus on humans over the Transformers themselves, the film also alienates the young kids making up a large portion of the audience thanks to its excessive violence, garbled plot, overly lewd humour, and uncomfortably voyeuristic treatment of Megan Fox.

8. Head

Often classed as the original manufactured boy band, The Monkees were formed both as a recording act and as the stars of a TV show, their producers having taken inspiration from The Beatles’ popular film A Hard Day’s Night.

When The Monkees got a film of their own, then, it’s fair to assume this was expected to be their own Hard Day’s Night, and every bit as light-hearted and popular.

However, 1968’s Head is something rather different, very much carrying that crazy late-60s spirit, but also being surprisingly dark and confrontational.

Tired of being widely mocked as a fake band, The Monkees went out of their way to tarnish their squeaky-clean mainstream-friendly image with Head, hiring none other than Jack Nicholson (then more prominent as a writer than actor) to provide the bizarre screenplay.

Head hit the big screen within months of The Monkees’ TV show getting cancelled, and its box office failure probably wasn’t helped by the fact that its marketing campaign failed to mention that The Monkees were even in it.

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

Considering what a cultural phenomenon Twin Peaks was, it’s easy to forget that (in its initial run) the show was short-lived, cancelled after barely a year with two seasons behind it.

While the series had already solved its central conundrum – who killed Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) – Twin Peaks fans still had plenty of questions they wanted answering.

Director and series co-creator David Lynch addressed these questions in 1992’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, a prequel movie detailing Laura Palmer’s final days.

The show might have been considerably darker and weirder than anything else on the small screen at the time, but on the big screen where the same restrictions on content don’t apply, Lynch was able to take things even further.

The result is an at-times extremely unsettling movie whose violence and adult content gets a whole lot more explicit than would have been allowed on network television at the time.

6. Scooby-Doo

2002 saw the first live-action adventure of Mystery Inc, the young detective gang from Hanna-Barbera’s long-running cartoon series Scooby-Doo.

As with many properties which arrived on screens at the tail end of the 60s, Scooby-Doo is another show whose dated fashions and dialogue have been widely parodied in the years since, with many fan theories giving all manner of slightly unsavoury interpretations of the characters and their relationships.

The 2002 Scooby-Doo movie took these reinterpretations of the cartoon on board, all of which informed the film’s off-the-wall, not entirely family-friendly humour.

Screenwriter James Gunn (who went on to make Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy) says that Scooby-Doo was always intended to be a PG-13, with a great many jokes geared toward older viewers.

Surprisingly, this approach saw the first cut of the Scooby-Doo movie given an R-rating, until studio Warner Bros insisted on toning things down for an all-inclusive PG rating instead.

5. Charlie’s Angels (2019)

70s small screen smash Charlie’s Angels had already been adapted for the big screen in the 2000 Charlie’s Angels movie and its 2003 sequel Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.

While those two movies played fairly fast-and-loose with the format introduced in the Aaron Spelling-produced TV series, the 2019 Charlie’s Angels movie went even further out there.

Written and directed by Elizabeth Banks, this new take on Charlie’s Angels showcased a Townsend Agency which had gone way beyond the small private investigation firm of the series.

Instead, the new Charlie’s Angels are an international agency of super-spies with untold numbers of agents worldwide (a far cry from the traditional trio), and multiple handlers using the codename Bosley – one of them played by Elizabeth Banks herself.

On top of which, whilst the original Charlie’s Angels tended to place their adversaries under arrest (and the 2000 Angels didn’t even carry guns), in the 2019 movie the Angels seem alarmingly unconcerned about how many dead bodies they leave in their wake.

4. The Avengers (1998)

As we’ve seen, in a lot of big screen adaptations of TV shows produced a few decades after the original, the filmmakers choose to take an aloof, ironic approach, making fun of what went before.

This approach backfired spectacularly on 1998 movie The Avengers, based on the British spy series of the 60s and 70s (and not to be confused with the Marvel Comics super-team).

The film from director Jeremiah S. Chechik attempted to parody the original Avengers TV series, failing to appreciate just how tongue-in-cheek that show had always been in the first place.

While The Avengers TV show had more than its share of far-fetched plots, they were never anywhere near as confused and illogical as in the film, which deals with weather control and cloning, but leaves story threads hanging all over the place.

Completely wasting the substantial talents of Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman and Sean Connery, The Avengers has long been consigned to the garbage dump of celluloid history, and director Chechik has never directed another major film.

3. The Banana Splits Movie

Famed for its colourful costumes and ridiculously catchy theme song, The Banana Splits was a short-lived but endlessly rerun late 60s TV show aimed squarely at children (but with more than a hint of adult appeal).

Given the show’s original target audience, one would assume that any feature-length take on the property would be similarly kid-friendly.

As such, many viewers were taken aback when The Banana Splits Movie arrived in 2019, replete with an R-rating in the US and an 18 in the UK.

Director Danishka Esterhazy’s take on The Banana Splits is a strictly adults-only affair, a dark and grisly horror movie that sees the audience trapped in the studio as the once-cuddly protagonists of the show turn out to be homicidal maniacs.

The Banana Splits Movie was produced by TV network SyFy, and there has been widespread speculation that was reworked from an unused script for a movie adaptation of horror video game Five Nights At Freddy’s.

2. Mission: Impossible

When Tom Cruise accepted his first mission as top secret agent Ethan Hunt in 1996’s Mission: Impossible, few would have expected that it would become the role he would still be best known for almost a quarter-century later.

However, while it may be the actor’s signature franchise today, it’s easy to forget just how shocking this big screen take on the 60s spy show was for fans of the original series.

As well as introducing Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, Brian De Palma’s film also brings back one of the original heroes of TV’s Mission: Impossible, Jim Phelps – played by Peter Graves in the show, with Jon Voight taking over in the movie.

Nothing wrong with bringing back a character from the Mission: Impossible TV show – but the movie then proceeds to make Phelps the bad guy.

Those unfamiliar with the show might not have been too concerned, but imagine an A-Team movie with an evil Hannibal Smith, or a Knight Rider movie with an evil Michael Knight (we’d find it pretty hard to process).

1. 21 Jump Street

The Jump Street movies have to be the most unlikely success story of recent cinematic history.

First off, it’s a big screen update of a once-popular TV show of which the contemporary audience is almost entirely unfamiliar (even though 21 Jump Street launched the career of Johnny Depp).

Secondly, this adaptation was fronted by a comedy actor who was relatively unestablished as a leading man, and a heartthrob with no readily apparent comedic skills.

Yet against all odds, 2012’s 21 Jump Street wound up one of the best, funniest comedies of the century thus far – and its 2014 sequel 22 Jump Street proved to be almost equally hilarious.

Once again, it’s a very liberal take on the source material: the original Jump Street TV show played its undercover-cops-in-high-school premise straight, whereas the movies are anything but.