My Favorite TV to Film Adaptations

Power Rangers (2017, dir. Dean Israelite)

I can’t say I loved this movie at first, but thinking about it in the years since has endeared it to me. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is a ridiculously cartoonish show, so a movie reboot seemed like a bad idea. However, this adaptation does a lot of unexpected things. Our group of friends starts out in conflict, all given detention which becomes their bonding experience. We don’t see the Power Rangers in costume, using their animal-like Zords well into the picture. The characters are incredibly nuanced and layered. Billy is the biggest stand out to me in this version; they present him as being on the autism spectrum. The result is someone whose neurodivergent way of seeing the world makes him better at being a Power Ranger. There are some flaws, of course, and a case of sequel bait, but I think few adaptations of this kind have elevated the source material in the way Power Rangers does.

The Brady Bunch Movie (1995, dir. Betty Thomas)

I was pretty into the Brady Bunch in the late 1980s, watching the reruns aired in the early afternoon on our local Fox affiliate. Then, I watched A Very Brady Christmas, the tonally wild made-for-TV movie that aired around that time. I did see the show for being the cheesy family show it was, but I still enjoyed it. I was particularly delighted with the tongue-in-cheek film directed by Betty Thomas that found ways to preserve that early 1970s sitcom naivete by contrasting it with the drippingly sardonic Gen X critiques of the 1990s. This movie makes the Bradys more endearing than the original series. The star of the picture is without a doubt Jennifer Elise Cox as Jan. This is one of those all-time great comedic performances, helped with Christine Taylor as Marcia as her recurring scene partner. I think the comedy here still holds up though it is a movie that needs familiarity with the original show for some of the jokes to hit.

The Naked Gun (1988, dir. David Zucker)

From my full review: I suspect many people don’t even know it was based on a television show. In 1982, ABC broadcast half a dozen episodes of the spoof series Police Squad! […] Some of the jokes [in the film] are intentionally obvious. When Drebin first visits Vincent, we are immediately aware of the wealthy man’s aquarium tank full of rare exotic fish and an antique pen with historical importance. If you are familiar with comedy, then you see the coming slapstick joke being telegraphed. It sounds like sloppy writing, but the way it’s delivered, the writers extract even more humor from knowing the audience will be expecting certain things to happen. When they do, the laughs serve as a release of that tension being built up. It’s an exceptionally dumb comedy, but damn if it doesn’t make me laugh […] You must like a particular type of comedy to enjoy The Naked Gun. If you aren’t into dumb slapstick & sight gags, I don’t think you’ll enjoy much of this. However, there are clever, quick bits of wordplay and slightly more intelligent jokes; I think that’s why I love this movie so much.

Batman: The Mask of the Phantasm (1993, dir. Bruce Timm & Eric Radomski)

Batman: The Animated Series was a dominant element in my life during the early to mid-1990s. The show employed particular stylization that brought a sense of illicit danger you didn’t quite feel with other children’s programming. When a feature film was announced, it was clear that the filmmakers were going to push beyond what children’s television censors would allow. This meant slightly more cursing and actual blood. Of course, it could not be too gratuitous, but the inclusion of these elements pushed Mask of the Phantasm into a different class than your average animated feature. The film is centered on an important relationship from Bruce Wayne’s past, the Joker’s latest crime spree, and the emergence of a lethal vigilante called The Phantasm. It was incredibly well-made at the time and still holds up today. It’s a shame more animated films didn’t look to pictures like this to guide them tonally. It would make for much more interesting theatrical fare than the cookie-cutter assembly line dreck we currently get. 

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982, dir. Nicholas Meyer)

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is not a bad movieā€¦ it’s fine. But this second outing was what really won audiences over. It did this not by presenting them with something brand new but by looking to older dramas for inspiration. Wrath of Khan is a film about sea captains with a decades-long grudge engaging in their final battle, which leads to much death & destruction. Both leads lose so many things throughout the picture, and it’s not until the end that anyone gets a moment to breathe & grieve. Wrath of Khan also rewards longtime fans by building on the beautiful relationships established in the original series. Kirk & Spock’s friendship is explored so well that the emotional impact of the finale strikes so hard. Ricardo Montalban as Khan is also one of the most enjoyable hamming-it-up performances of all time. Not an inch of screen is left after he’s done consuming it. Unfortunately, this is also the beginning of the diminishing returns aspect of Star Trek movies, where each subsequent entry, save maybe two, are worse than this one. 

The Addams Family Values (1993, dir. Barry Sonnenfeld)

This is one of those magnificent rarities, a sequel that is better than its already great predecessor. The first Addams Family film feels like a proof of concept, broken into episodic bits with an overarching story. The first movie captures the original Charles Addams New Yorker comics with its setups and punchlines. Addams Family Value delivers a more cohesive narrative, still with sight gags and puns, but with stronger character arcs. Screenwriter Marc Shaiman smartly spotlights Uncle Fester and Wednesday in his story, two of the more popular and complex members of the Addams Family. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Christopher Lloyd and Christine Ricci are absolutely fantastic in these parts. But please, do not forget Joan Cusack’s Debbie, arguably one of the best villains of the 1990s. This is everything you loved plus so much more you didn’t realize you would love.

Mission: Impossible (1996, dir. Brian De Palma)

I haven’t ever seen a single episode of the original Mission: Impossible, but the films are one instance where the source material is entirely irrelevant. The key to this film’s success lies in its screenwriters (David Koepp & Robert Towne) and its director Brian De Palma. These are all people who have a strong love of the craft of filmmaking. You can see it is all their previous meticulously structured and filmed work. Koepp & Towne refuse to chain themselves to fan service with endless references to the original show. Instead, they created one of the best spy films ever made, enough to inspire one of the most prolific film franchises ever. I don’t think the later installments ever quite live up to what this movie established. This is also one of those occasions where you see why audiences are so drawn to Tom Cruise. He’s very compelling as Ethan Hunt, undoubtedly helped by De Palma’s direction and love of thrillers.

The Fugitive (1993, dir. Andrew Davis)

This is the best television to film adaptation I’ve ever seen. My reason for this statement is that you do not need to know anything about the original show to appreciate the presented movie. Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) is introduced, and everything you need to know about his character is clearly communicated in the picture’s first act. The action sequences in the picture are beautifully staged and never feel exceptionally overblown. The prison bus accident scene is fantastic, as is Kimble sneaking through a hospital trying to go undetected. There’s the famous scene at the dam between Ford and Tommy Lee Jones that has become iconic. What makes The Fugitive such a compelling movie is that it’s grounded in emotions we can connect with. This would be the horror of having someone we dearly love taken from and then framed as the one who killed them. To be seen by the world as capable of killing your love would just be unfathomable. This is why Kimble’s struggle to prove his innocence and bring the real killer to justice still hooks audiences today who probably don’t even know this was once a television drama.

One thought on “My Favorite TV to Film Adaptations”

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