Top List Thursdays – Best Movie To TV adaptations

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Anybody else as surprised as I was that the recent Minority Report TV series looks as decent as it does? I’m not even sure why I was so surprised though, because while movies based on TV series have a track record more spotty than a hormonal 12 year old boy, the inverse has actually given us some great TV hits over the years.

So here are a few of those small screen classics that actually started life on the big screen.

  • Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Whenever the conversation of “TV series cancelled before their time” gets raised, you will inevitably see Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles show up on numerous lists. And for damn good reason. I mean forget following on from the pedigree of James Cameron’s Terminator and Terminator: Judgement Day, how about successfully managing to wash the acrid taste of T3: Rise of the Machines out of our mouths by completely ignoring that it even happened. Bravo!

Throw in perennial badass Lena Headey as Sarah Connor and Summer Glau as the hottest Terminator since Arnold Schwarzenneger got toasty in a vat of molten steel, and you have yourself a recipe for serious success. Critics loved it, fans adored it, and yet somehow, it never saw a third season. Silly US ratings system!

The show had a solidly clever premise (rogue Terminator sent to protect the Connors helps them time-jump into the future) that allowed the writers to continue the story of the movies, without stepping on any continuity toes and allowed for some great action and character beats. I mean, where do you think the idea for all that time travel shenanigans in the upcoming franchise reboot Terminator: Genisys came from?

  • Friday Night Lights

The 2004 Peter Berg directed movie about an American football coach in a small town where high school football has taken on an almost religious devotion was good already. When Berg decided to translate his movie to a TV series two years later though, it became so much better. The show was never the gigantic audience rating supersmash like some others, but it just kept pulling incredible critical love for it’s dramatic and nuanced portrayal of middle-America, that it was kept on the air for five years. As the coach, Kyle Chandler was amazing, but it was Taylor Kitsch as troubled quarterback Tim Riggins that was the true breakout star (Pity Hollywood wasn’t as kind to him). There’s even a certain Agent of SHIELD to be seen slinking about here.

To validate it’s entry on this list, just check how may people/sports teams around the world have used the show’s mantra of “Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose” as their rallying cry.

  • Highlander: The Series

There can be only one. Except then there wasn’t as Highlander: The Series took the mythology of the classic Queen scored 1986 flick (just the one movie, because everybody knows that the sequel was just a mass hallucination) and blew it wide open. Christopher Lambert’s big screen bound immortal Connor MacLeor suddenly found some tough competition in Adrian Paul’s younger, more charming and more physically astute Duncan MacLeod on TV, as the series spun out some incredible adventures and introduced intriguing new characters on a weekly basis.

When the Highlander: Endgame movie finally landed (admittedly with the messy, sloppy squelch of failure) in cinemas in 2000, it would actually see Duncan acting out the metaphor for the TV series running ahead of the movie, as he is forced to kill off Connor.

  • Hannibal

Sociopathic serial killer Hannibal Lecter has been played on screen by 5 different actors. Of the lot, Sir Anthony Hopkins’ performance in Silence of the Lambs is easily the most memorable. Was it the best though? Well, Mads Mikkelsen has something to say about that. Usually over the most delicious looking food you’ve ever craved while also being simultaneously repulsed.

The endlessly charismatic Danish star has been always been great, but in Hannibal he is just flawless, chewing all the scenery with gusto. And a chianti, of course. Surrounded by solid co-stars, ridiculously good writing and art direction that makes most big budget movies look like Darryn’s home videos, the show has been nothing short of incredible.

  • Stargate SG-1

Roland Emmerich’s 1994 smash-hit Stargate holds a bit of a special space in my heart. Though I loved going to the movies as a kid, there was a portion of time in my younger teens where I never saw the inside of a cinema for some silly reason. Stargate changed that. I saw that movie 4 times within the first two weeks of its release, and was a regular back at the cinema ever since then.

As much as I love that movie though, I love Stargate SG-1 more. Full props to Kurt Russell and James Spader, but Richard Dean Anderson and Michael Shanks simply are Col. Jack O’Neill and Dr. Daniel Jackson now and forever more. Ol’ MacGuyver especially made the role of O’Neill an iconic one, flipping the character completely on its head, and infecting the very tone of the show. What was a thrilling sci-fi action film before, had now become a ridiculously fun and inventive sci-fi adventure extravaganza.

Expanding the franchise’s mythology exponentially, introducing numerous other characters and alien races, and even producing two spinoff shows, Stargate SG-1 left a hole in the sci-fi landscape that is yet to be filled when it was finally cancelled after 10 awesome seasons in 2007.

Like fan favourite character Teal’c would say: Indeed.

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Know what the best thing is about the 1992 Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie with Kristy Swanson? It sucked. Seriously sucked. This was mainly due to the director and producers completely not understanding what then relatively unknown screenwriter Joss Whedon was trying to do with his script, camping things up unnecessarily, completely getting the tone wrong and just outright changing things he had written. And it’s a great thing they did, because that prompted him to rather go and try to tell his story right on TV. And just like that, a cultural phenomenon was born.

Well, almost, because that first half of its opening season was a bit rocky (and hasn’t aged well at all, effects-wise). But once Whedon and co found their footing, it was all go for Buffy and her Scooby gang to take over the world.

Born out of Whedon’s idea to give the finger to the overplayed, sexist Hollywood formula of “the little blonde girl who goes into a dark alley and gets killed in every horror movie,” Buffy was a pretty high school girl who finds out that she is the latest in a long line of Slayers, superpowered female ass-kickers that battle the dark demonic forces of the world, all made the more difficult by the fact that her quaint little hometown was built on top of a giant entrance to Hell.

The character would become a serious figure in female empowerment and make actress Sarah Michelle Gellar not just a star, but a hero to many fans. Throw in Whedon’s trademark witty dialogue, awesome characters (Spike FTW!), incredibly creative episodes (Puppets, anyone? Or maybe, you prefer everybody singing?) and epic storylines that developed the show’s universe in ways that a 90-minute feature film would never allow for, and you had a show that just kept raising the bar for genre television, and *cough* staking out its claim as one of the best.

  • M*A*S*H*

Here’s an indicator of just how good a TV series M*A*S*H* was: Most people don’t even remember that M*A*S*H* was a movie. The fact that that movie was a Robert Altman directed Korean War film starring at the time big name stars like Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould makes that over-shadowing even more impressive.

Subsequently, if you were to ask somebody today which actor played the character Hawkeye, they would say… Well, they would probably say Jeremy Renner (damn it, Marvel! Stop ruining my pop culture references!). But if you were to ask anybody a decade ago who played Hawkeye they would undoubtedly say Alan Alda and not Sutherland.

Toning down the film’s darkly acerbic bite and allegorical musings on Vietnam, and keeping things a lot more jovial (though it certainly had its drama), M*A*S*H* would become a perennial favourite around the world for a whopping 11 YEARS! as it ran from 1972 to 1983, making household names out of its stars and becoming one of the highest rated shows in US TV history. In 2013, the Writers Guild of America ranked M*A*S*H* as the 5th best written TV series ever. EVER.

But it’s the show’s 1983 two-and-a-half hour final episode that really proves just how beloved it was. Despite the 14 hour time difference, TV sets were placed over all the US military bases in Korea allowing marines to watch it. It’s reported that 125 million viewers worldwide tuned in to watch it, and the New York City plumbing system apparently broke down when hundreds of thousands of city-dwellers, who had been holding off on their bathroom breaks the entire time the episode was running, all decided to use the loo at the same time when it ended!

Honorable mentions: 12 Monkeys, Alien Nation, La Femme Nikita, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, The Real Ghostbusters

Last Updated: May 14, 2015

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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