20 TV-To-Movie Adaptations That Were Nothing Like 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 recent 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 TV show by taking the original concept in a radically new direction.
20. Dragnet (1987)
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, one which many later movie adaptations of TV shows would follow.
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 in his 1987 big screen take.
Akyroyd and Tom Hanks star in the film as LAPD detectives Joe Friday and his partner Pep Streebeck, investigating an outlandish case involving a cult. It’s much weirder stuff than the original show ever got into.
19. Tom and Jerry: The Movie (1992)
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 (2009)
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 in the late-2000s, 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 (1987)
The Untouchables marked the first time that director Brian De Palma brought an old TV series up to date via the big screen (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 it was this book that also provided the basis for David Mamet’s screenplay for 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 television in the 1950s.
The Untouchables movie proved a huge hit, which helped elevate Kevin Costner to Hollywood superstar status and won Sean Connery a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
16. Miami Vice (2006)
Before Michael Mann became an acclaimed filmmaker (directing such hits as The Last of the Mohicans, Heat and Ali), he made his name producing the TV show 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 dayglo 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 (2019)
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 parody videos in 2013 featuring actress Ariel Winter as Dora.
However, with the underrated 2019 update of the Nickelodeon preschool favourite, director James Bobin (The Muppets) delivered a teen Dora adventure for real.
Similar in tone to Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Dora and the Lost City of Gold casts Isabella Moner as 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 (2005)
Writer-director Nora Ephron’s 2005 update of the ever-popular 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 (2010)
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 (1987)
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, where Courteney Cox makes a somewhat inauspicious film debut as a high school girl caught up in the interstellar conflict.
11. The Brady Bunch Movie (1995)
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 (2004)
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 (2007)
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 of the movies barely resemble the characters as seen in the TV show, Megatron can no longer turn into a gun, Bumblebee isn’t a VW Beetle, and Optimus Prime has flames on his side for some reason.
The 2007 film is also guilty of a lack of focus on the robots, instead 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 (1968)
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 (1992)
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 only two seasons behind it.
While the series had already solved its central conundrum – that of 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 with Fire Walk with Me.
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)
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 that 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) has insisted that Scooby-Doo was intended to be a PG-13, but 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, the 2019 take on Charlie’s Angels showcases a Townsend Agency 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 great many 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, which is based on the British spy series of the 60s and 70s (and not to be confused with the Marvel Comics team-up movie).
The film from director Jeremiah S. Chechik attempted to parody the original Avengers TV series, while 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 hasn’t directed another major film.
3. The Banana Splits Movie (2019)
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 it was reworked from an unused script for a movie adaptation of horror video game Five Nights at Freddy’s.
2. Mission: Impossible (1996)
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, but 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 (2012)
Comedy directing duo Lord and Miller’s 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 a contemporary audience is almost entirely unfamiliar (21 Jump Street did launch the career of Johnny Depp, but he’s long since left the series behind).
Secondly, this adaptation was fronted by a comedy actor who was relatively unestablished as a leading man (Jonah Hill), and a heartthrob with no readily apparent comedic skills (Channing Tatum).
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.