Hollywood is always coming up with new, exciting ways to rehash old ideas. Since time immemorial, movie studios have adapted films from novels, comic books, video games, other movies, Disney theme park rides and, of course, TV shows.
The latest such TV adaptation is “Downton Abbey,” out this Friday. The film is a continuation of the hit “Masterpiece” series that ended its run in 2015, but “Downton Abbey” is hardly the first TV show to make the jump from small screen to big screen, and it certainly won’t be the last.
Odds are, it’ll be decent. Julian Fellowes, who created the upstairs-downstairs drama and wrote the screenplay for its movie adaptation, won an Oscar for penning the screenplay to 2001’s “Gosford Park.”
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But not all TV-to-movie adaptations turn out well. To celebrate the release of “Downton Abbey” (and because it’s a slow news week, entertainment-wise, anyway), we took a look at some of the best and worst TV shows to make the jump to the big screen, as well as a few upcoming adaptations.
Note: For the purposes of this highly subjective list, we made up a couple highly subjective rules. 1) The movie must have originated as a TV show. Sorry to “The Addams Family,” which began life as a comic strip (though it’s getting the reboot treatment next month with an animated film). 2) The movie must have been theatrically released. Sorry, “Deadwood” movie, which might have made our “best” list if it hadn’t come out on HBO.
21 Jump Street
Adapted from: “21 Jump Street,” 1987-91
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
The original Fox series, which helped launch Johnny Depp’s career (for better or worse), was a fairly straightforward police procedural. So reimagining it as a buddy cop action-comedy was an odd choice, to say the least. But directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s irreverent style, combined with Channing Tatum’s sweet frat-bro energy, somehow makes the whole thing work. And the scene with cameos by original “Jump Street” stars Depp and Peter DeLuise getting gunned down absolutely slays.
Adapted from: “The Fugitive,” 1963-67
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
So far, this is the only movie adapted from a TV show to be nominated for best picture at the Oscars. (It lost to “Schindler’s List,” though Tommy Lee Jones took home the award for best supporting actor.) The movie condenses the TV series’ 120-episode hunt for the one-armed man into a tight, 130-minute action thriller following a surgeon (Harrison Ford) framed for the murder of his wife. The movie is probably best remembered for its bravura action setpieces, including Ford’s iconic leap from a dam’s storm drain during a confrontation with Jones’ U.S. Marshal.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Adapted from: “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” 1969-74
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
With apologies to “Life of Brian,” this is the greatest thing to ever come from the British sketch comedy troupe. Packed with inane jokes and endlessly quotable (and possibly now overquoted) routines, its comedic take on the King Arthur legend has stood the test of time. It’s so timeless, in fact, that it was adapted for the stage in 2004 as “Spamalot,” which went on to win three Tony Awards.
Adapted from: “Saturday Night Live,” 1975-present
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
“SNL” sketches have served as the basis for several movies over the show’s lengthy run, most of them bad. “Wayne’s World” is a notable exception to that trend (as is “The Blues Brothers,” which might have merited inclusion on this list if either of us and been alive when it came out). Like the other sketch comedy adaptation on this list, “Wayne’s World” leans heavily into oddball comedy and endlessly quotable routines (“sphincter says what?”). It also gets a bump from Rob Lowe’s sleazy, smarmy villain and Alice Cooper’s cameo/history lesson about Milwaukee.
The Muppet Movie
Adapted From: “The Muppet Show,” 1976-1981
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Kermit, Miss Piggy and all the other beloved Muppets probably didn’t need an origin story, but Jim Henson and Co. at least gave us a good one. The goofy, self-referential movie is packed with jokes and celebrity cameos (Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks and Steve Martin among them). It also spawned several sequels, most of them good (2011’s “The Muppets,” in particular).
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
Adapted from: “South Park,” 1997-present
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
Even though this movie features one of its main characters getting burned to death by a flaming fart, it’s honestly a pretty brilliant piece of work. Matt Stone and Trey Parker (who’d go on to create the Broadway smash-hit musical “The Book of Mormon”) put together a perfect movie musical, with “Blame Canada” scoring an Oscar nom for best original song. And while the movie is insanely profane and full of fart jokes (including a fart “solo” during one of the musical numbers), it’s also a brilliantly biting satire of censorship that still holds up today.
Adapted from: “Mission: Impossible,” 1966-73 and 1988-90
Rotten Tomatoes: 57% to 97%
When talking about quintessential action movies, there’s really no beating the long-running “Mission: Impossible” franchise. What started in the ’60s as a spy procedural has become a full-on action series with amazing special effects, brilliantly choreographed chase scenes and increasingly daring stunts that Tom Cruise performs himself — the guy jumped from a plane at around 25,000 feet for 2018’s “Fallout.” Though the first three in the series are inconsistent, it wasn’t until Brad Bird took the helm of the fourth installment, “Ghost Protocol,” that the series really got rolling.
Adapted from: “Star Trek: The Original Series,” 1966-69
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
With six shows and 10 movies — many of which were quite successful, critically and at the box office — before it, J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” had a lot to live up to. Abrams had said in interviews leading up to the premiere that he just wanted to make a good movie, not just a “Star Trek” movie. And that’s exactly what he did. It was also the big-screen debut for Chris Hemsworth, who has a small role in the beginning as Kirk’s father, so that’s something to be appreciated.
Adapted from: “Firefly,” 2002-03
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
“Firefly” creator Joss Whedon’s sci-fi Western dramedy about a band of space pirates didn’t get the fan base it deserved while it was on air, getting canceled before the first season fully aired. Fortunately, it gained a huge following after the show went to DVD, giving Whedon the push to finish out the series with this film. “Serenity” delivers all the closure so many people desired after the show’s 14-episode run.
Rugrats in Paris: The Movie
Adapted from: “Rugrats,” 1991-2004
Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
As far as movies from animated children’s shows are concerned, “Rugrats in Paris” has got to be one the most memorable. It centers around Chuckie trying to find a new mommy on a family trip to Paris, because his actual mother died when he was just a baby. Chuckie is undoubtedly the best character in the show, so having the second movie focus on him makes it that much better. Another great thing about these movies is what they add to the series. The original film in ’98 added Tommy’s brother Dill to the cast, and “Rugrats in Paris” introduced Chuckie’s stepmother Kira and stepsister Kimi.
The Brady Bunch Movie
Adapted from: “The Brady Bunch,” 1969-74
Rotten Tomatoes: 62%
“The Brady Bunch Movie” is what you would get if you took the happy-go-lucky gang of the Bradys from the 1970s and tossed them into the ’90s. It’s absolutely as ridiculous as it sounds and absolutely as hilarious. Whether it’s Jan having a mental breakdown, someone misunderstanding Cindy because of her lisp, Peter’s voice cracking because of puberty or Alice making a self-deprecating wisecrack, everyone has their note, and the movie hits them over and over. It’s essentially “Airplane” meets “The Brady Bunch,” and just like “Airplane,” not a single moment of its 90-minute runtime is wasted.
Adapted From: “Get Smart,” 1965-70
Rotten Tomatoes: 50%
The story of the inept secret agent has been told many, many times, but the original “Get Smart” is definitely one of the pioneers of this genre. While it wasn’t a critical success, Steve Carell’s take on Maxwell Smart in the modern era is chock-full of laughs. When the movie was originally developed in the ’90s, Jim Carrey was set to play the lead role, but luckily that didn’t happen, because part of what makes Carell’s portrayal so great is the way he’s able to channel Leslie Nielsen for many of the driest comedic moments.
Adapted From: “Bewitched,” 1964-72
Rotten Tomatoes: 24%
This is less an adaptation and more of a weird in-universe continuation of the original series, but it still counts. In the movie, a TV studio decides to reboot the original “Bewitched” sitcom because nostalgia (sound familiar?), with Nicole Kidman’s Isabel as the witch Samantha. Except Isabel is a real witch (really), and she uses her powers to boost her role on the show and make Will Ferrell fall in love with her for some reason. Basically nothing in the movie works.
Masters of the Universe
Adapted from: “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe,” 1983-85
Rotten Tomatoes: 17%
This is definitely more in “so bad it’s good” territory than just “bad.” The He-Man universe was already pretty silly (one of the villains is named Evil-Lyn), but this movie takes it to another level. Dolph Lundgren dons a ridiculous leather get-up and a glorious — GLORIOUS! — mullet as He-Man, and Tony-winning thespian Frank Langella slums it to spout silly one-liners as Skeletor. The movie also ends with a gratuitous post-credits sequel setup, which, hey — there’s still time, Dolph.
Lost in Space
Adapted from: “Lost in Space,” 1965-68
Rotten Tomatoes: 28%
“Joey from ‘Friends,’ but he’s a spaceship captain.” That’s really all we should need to say about this movie for you to know how bad it is, but there’s so much more here worthy of our derision. A stupid time travel plot. Lacey Chabert’s hair. A terrible CGI alien-monkey named Blarp. Gary Oldman, cranked up to maximum GARY OLDMAN. Oldman, again, but he’s a spider now for some reason.
Wild Wild West
Adapted from: “The Wild Wild West,” 1965-69
Rotten Tomatoes: 17%
Will Smith reportedly turned down the role of Neo to star in “Wild Wild West,” which ... well, things turned out OK for “The Matrix.” Smith, not so much. “Wild Wild West” bombed, hard. It’s easy to see why. Kevin Kline spends most of the movie in drag (because it’s funny, I guess?), Kenneth Branagh has a really bad beard, Salma Hayek is mostly only here to be ogled, there’s a giant steampunk spider for no particular reason.
Adapted from: “The Yogi Bear Show,” 1961-62, and other assorted Hanna-Barbera cartoons
Rotten Tomatoes: 13%
There really wasn’t a lot to the “Yogi Bear” cartoons. He’s a tie-wearing bear who swipes pic-a-nic baskets and occasionally gets on the bad side of Jellystone Park’s Ranger Smith. Decent enough setup for a 7-minute cartoon; less so for an 82-minute movie. But “Yogi Bear” does its best to stretch out that thin material as far as it’ll go — which, it turns out, isn’t very far. Really, the only memorable thing about this movie now is that Justin Timberlake — he of “SexyBack” and “The Social Network” fame — inexplicably voices Yogi’s sidekick, Boo-Boo. A true man of the woods, indeed.
Adapted from: “Inspector Gadget,” 1983-86
Rotten Tomatoes: 21%
This is barely even a movie, as evidenced by its 78-minute running time. It basically plays out as kid-friendly version of “RoboCop,” which is a really weird concept for a kids movie. (Seriously, have you seen “RoboCop”?) Matthew Broderick, who plays the title inspector, isn’t really anyone’s idea of an action hero, even in a kids movie (that, again, borrows its plot almost wholesale from the ultraviolent “RoboCop”).
The Last Airbender
Adapted from: “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” 2005-08
Rotten Tomatoes: 5%
Largely regarded as one of the worst movies ever made, M. Night Shyamalan’s failed attempt to bring the whimsical tales of Aang and his friends to the big screen will forever be one of the biggest letdowns in film. Shyamalan took a playful Nickelodeon show and went all Zack Snyder on it, giving it a confusingly dark tone that didn’t at all make up for the horrible acting and awful writing.
Adapted from: “CHiPs,” 1977-83
Rotten Tomatoes: 18%
During the press tour for CHiPs in 2017, Dax Shepard went on “Conan” wearing a “#1 Comedy in America” shirt, mocking the movie he wrote, directed and starred in. Needless to say, it wasn’t well-received by critics or fans, and Shepard was playing into that. Shepard also said that this movie was a passion project for him, but what came of it was a nudity-filled, dumb cop comedy about an oblivious pill-addict (Shepard) and his sex-addicted partner (Michael Peña). At one point in the movie, Peña’s Ponch is carrying a naked Shepard to the bathtub when he trips and face-plants into Shepard’s privates before he slams into the tub. Hilarious.
The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas
Adapted From: “The Flintstones,” 1960-66
Rotten Tomatoes: 25%
I don’t think anyone asked for a prequel to “The Flintstones,” but here we are. This time around, the entire ensemble is recast and we’re introduced to Fred and Barney before they met Wilma and Betty. No Pebbles. No Bamm-Bamm. Just the adults, and that’s not that fun for the children. So, to make it more fun for children, they have the Great Gazoo come down to Earth to study the mating habits of humans. You know, kid stuff! And because that’s the overarching plot, there’s a lot of sexual innuendo and homoerotic jokes about Barney and Fred throughout the film.
Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed
Adapted from: “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” 1969-70
Rotten Tomatoes: 22%
At one point in the “Scooby-Doo” sequel, Shaggy and Scooby drink random potions, one of which causes Shaggy to turn into a busty woman with a crop top and Matthew Lillard’s head, and he says, “I’ve got a chick’s body!” For a movie that’s supposedly geared toward children, it certainly doesn’t shy away from sexualizing Velma or leaning very hard into the “Stoner Shaggy” persona, even at one point hinting at Shaggy smelling weed in the air. You know, kid stuff! The film often relies on farts to serve as the punchline. It’s a shame Peter Boyle and James Gunn are attached to this.
Sex and the City 2
Adapted from: “Sex and the City,” 1998-2004
Rotten Tomatoes: 15%
I know! Let’s take four white, privileged city women and give them a lavish vacation to Abu Dhabi and hear what they have to say about Middle Eastern culture. What could go wrong? Apparently, a lot, as this sequel was widely shamed for its portrayal of Muslim society. The first film was fine, but the sequel was nominated for seven Razzies, and it won three: worst actress (all four women), worst sequel and worst ensemble.
Adapted from: “Transformers,” 1984-87
Rotten Tomatoes: 15%-92%
Autobots! Please stop. What began as a fun-enough show to launch a toy line in the ’80s has become a high-volume, CGI-filled slopfest that somehow gets even louder and more CGI-filled with each iteration. The plotlines also get more and more ridiculous, ranging from Transformer dinosaurs to Transformers with King Arthur and Merlin. The movies have also performed increasingly worse at the box office. Even the series’ last effort, “Bumblebee,” which was a critical success — earning a series-high Tomatometer rating of 92% — still only made $127 million domestic on a $135 million budget. The films do historically perform better overseas, but hopefully with the dip in the domestic returns, Paramount will stop making these. At least until it’s rebooted in 10 years.