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From Small To Silver: Moving To The Big Screen

Written by , on June 11, 2010 at 2:20 pm 

In honor of this week’s The A-Team, we decided to look back at some of the best and worst films based on TV shows. The A-Team, which hits theatres June 11th, stars Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.

Based on the 1980′s television show of the same name, the film tells the story of a group of Iraqi War veterans who are framed for a crime they didn’t commit. Now fugitives on the run, they try to clear their name while finding the guys who set them up. This is one of my most anticipated films of the summer as I’m a huge fan of both Neeson and Cooper.

Let’s look back at some great and not-so-great big movies that come from the small screen.

I just want to clarify, the films I’m talking about are not films that use the same cast as the TV show, so films like Jackass, Borat or Sex and The City won’t count. Films like Miami Vice or The Dukes of Hazzard are the types of films based on shows that I’ll be talking about.

For the most part, movies based on TV shows don’t work. In fact, most don’t just not work; they turn out terrible.

Films like Mission Impossible, S.W.A.T., Star Trek, The Untouchables, Transformers and The Fugitive are a few of the (precious) few television adaptations that really hit the nail on the head.

These films seem to work for a few reasons. For starters, these are ideas that should have been on the big screen in the first place. The television versions, while enjoyable, never had the budgets to really magnify the scope of their respective concepts.

Consider S.W.A.T. While a reliable show, it worked much better as a film thanks to the budget. The film takes everything we loved from the show and just fancies it up. S.W.A.T. also works because they updated it for the audience at the time. The action scenes are more flashy and frenetic, which appeal to younger viewers not familiar with the show.

The same thing goes for all of the films listed above: action films benefited by large budgets and crews. In Mission Impossible, the action set pieces were considerably more extravagant than ever before. Where once gadgets sufficed, they play a supporting role to exploding aquariums and train-top chase scenes. The celluloid sequels only up the ante.

More important than cash and crews, however, are the writers/directors hired to revamp the vision of the original show and guide that vision to the big screen. Be aware of the past, but mindful of the present.

The recent Star Trek film not only had a large budget, but the benefit of a cleverly-constructed script (courtesy of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman), great directing (courtesy of J.J. Abrams) and fully-realized performances (courtesy of everyone from Chris Pine to Zoe Saldana to Karl Urban).

The film – an origin story – is wildly entertaining. Rather than spend significant time paying homage to what came before, the film starts before, devising a conflict that allows for a complete re-do of the Star Trek canon, without obstruction its history. The result is refreshing, new and inspired.

Recalling films like this makes the countless (The Dukes of Hazzard, Lost In Space, Scooby Doo, Charlie’s Angels, Starsky and Hutch, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle to name a few) failed adaptations harder to understand? But let’s try anyway.

The most obvious answer: a lot of these shows weren’t good to begin with. Just because a show is being made into a movie doesn’t mean it was necessarily good when it was on television. They may have been popular at the time, but shows like Charlie’s Angels or The Dukes of Hazzard were never good, not by any means.

An example of a good show turned into a bad movie is Miami Vice. Michael Mann’s small time Miami Vice was always popular among critics and audiences. It was one of the first television shows that felt like a movie, sporting a lush budget and intricate storylines throughout the series.

The show perfectly captured the era it was set in: the 80s. Mann‘s film adaption is barely that. Much darker than the show, Colin Farrell and Jaime Foxx are given little more to do than scowl and brood throughout a surprisingly standard drug-ring plot. It’s stuff Don Johnson would’ve solved in 15 minutes.

Wild Wild West is an example of a film that totally lost sight of the original source material. Director Barry Sonnenfield did away with everything that made the television show enjoyable and got lost in the special effects. The characters and little nuances that made the show great disappear.


Kevin Kline and Will Smith look confused and befuddled throughout, much like the majority of audiences.

So how will The A-Team do? I’m not expecting a deep intricate plot or well-developed and fleshed-out characters, but hopefully a fun popcorn flick.

You can take a look at our review of the film here and see what we thought of it.

What were your favorite TV-to-movie adaptions? Have you seen The A-Team? If so did you like it?


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