Ranked: The Best/Worst Movies Based on TV Shows

We love it when a list comes together

The Fugitive (1993) $353M
Mission: Impossible (1996) $326M
Mission: Impossible II (2000) $318M
Star Trek (2009) $275M
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) $261M
Highest Grossing Movies Based on Television Series *

* U.S. grosses only; adjusted for inflation. Source: Box Office Mojo

"If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire..."  Every episode of the A-Team began with those words, and the first trailer for Joe Carnahan's big screen take on the '80s television classic is no exception. Carnahan brings an interesting sensibility to the A-Team movie (arriving in theaters this weekend), having already tried dark and serious (Narc) as well as wild, over-the-top action (Smokin' Aces). How true the director's A-Team will be to the original show remains to be seen, but the characters, the theme music, and even the van are all present in the first two trailers, which is a good sign.

The A-Team is certainly not alone in making the jump from television to the big screen. For the last 30 years, there has been no shortage of movies based on TV shows. The most successful adaptations almost always take what made the original show fun and either update it (Mission: Impossible), expand it (The Blues Brothers) or poke fun at it without coming across as mean spirited (The Brady Bunch).

Of course, for all the adaptations that work, there are many that just re-tread the same ground already covered in the show (Lost in Space,Charlie's Angels) or put a spin on the original concept that turns off critics, fans and non-fans alike (Land of the Lost).  Finding the right balance can be tricky, but when it's right, TV adaptations can be very profitable and potentially give a franchise new life outside of TV (Star Trek). 

Below we look at the best and worst movies based on live-action television shows. (We'll examine movies based on animated programs in a future article.) And before you start complaining, we imposed a limit of one film per series for the "best" list, which is why there's only one Star Trek film listed.

The 10 Best Movies Based on TV Shows
Movie Year Netflix Metascore Users
1 Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan 2006 89 6.9
Based On: Da Ali G Show (HBO, 2003-06; Channel 4 [UK], 2000)
A hysterical examination of how people view and are viewed by an outsider, Borat exceeded expectations with its $26 million opening weekend. Sacha Baron Cohen's hilarious creation pushed every limit, creating a unique film-going experience as well as earning Cohen a Golden Globe. The shock value only seemed to work once, though, as a second Ali G spinoff, Bruno 54, couldn't duplicate Borat's success critically or financially.
  Budget: $18M U.S. Gross: $129M
2 The Fugitive 1993 86 8.7
Based On: The Fugitive (ABC, 1963-67)
Keeping the show's original story -- Dr. Richard Kimble's quest to find the one-armed man who killed his wife and framed him for murder -- The Fugitive features Harrison Ford in one of his best roles. Director Andrew Davis fills the movie with non-stop, character-driven action and Tommy Lee Jones turns in an Oscar-winning performance as Sam Gerard, the man determined to bring Kimble to justice (a role he would reprise in the inferior U.S. Marshals 47). A solidly entertaining thriller, The Fugitive appealed to original series fans as well as younger audiences who had no idea it had ever been a TV show.
  Budget: $44M U.S. Gross: $184M
3 Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan 1982 n/a n/a
Based On: Star Trek (Original series episode "Space Seed", NBC, 1967)
Wisely going back to the original series to find a villain worthy of challenging Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise, Star Trek II remains for most critics and fans the best of all of the Star Trek films. Full of everything that made the original TV series great and topped off with a heartbreaking ending, Khan set the stage for four more (original series) sequels and a successful reboot by J.J. Abrams in 2009.
  Budget: $11M U.S. Gross: $79M
4 The Untouchables 1987 n/a n/a
Based On: The Untouchables (ABC, 1959-63)
Taking on the role pioneered by Robert Stack on the original TV series, Kevin Costner became an overnight star and established himself as the vulnerable heroic everyman he's come back to play again and again in films such as JFK and Field of Dreams. Robert De Niro and Sean Connery (in his Oscar-winning role) deliver unforgettable performances in this Brian DePalma-directed and David Mamet-scripted take on how Elliot Ness fought and ultimately defeated Al Capone through accounting and the "Chicago way."
  Budget: $25M U.S. Gross: $76M
5 The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! 1988 76 9.0
Based On: Police Squad! (ABC, 1982)
A send up of TV cop dramas such as Dragnet, Police Squad! lasted only 6 episodes. Somewhat ahead of its time in 1982, the concept found its proper place on the big screen in 1988 and became a box office and critical smash. Leslie Nielsen's straight man approach meshes brilliantly with the Zucker Abrahams Zucker style of throwing every possible joke at the audience with no let up. Two sequels followed, and the film re-launched Nielsen's career, leading to many more (but lesser) spoofs like Dracula: Dead and Loving It and Spy Hard.
  Budget: n/a U.S. Gross: $79M
6 Serenity 2005 74 9.2
Based On: Firefly (Fox, 2002)
Joss Whedon's sci-fi western aired only 11 episodes on network TV, but the fan base was strong enough for it to receive a big screen adaptation. Although the film couldn't find mass appeal beyond its core audience, Serenity did offer something few films or even TV series get a chance to provide: a solid conclusion to many of the show's plotlines while leaving the door open for many more stories.
  Budget: $39M U.S. Gross: $26M
7 The Blues Brothers 1980 n/a n/a
Based On: Saturday Night Live ("Blues Brothers" sketches, NBC, 1978)
How do you take a less than five minute SNL sketch and turn it into a successful two and a half hour movie? You throw in amazing musical numbers, a handful of smart cameos, and the most spectacular car chases and crashes you can fit into the city of Chicago. Released the same summer as Empire Strikes Back, The Blues Brothers remains a cult classic, spawning a pale sequel in 2000 that fortunately could not tarnish the original.
  Budget: $27M U.S. Gross: $57M
8 Strange Brew 1983 n/a n/a
Based On: SCTV ("Great White North" sketches, CBC, 1980-82)
Originating from a series of SCTV sketches starring Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, Strange Brew features the McKenzie Brothers going up against the evil Brewmeister Smith (played by Max Von Sydow -- yes, that Max Von Sydow) who tries to take over the world using specially formulated beer. A modest success in 1983, Strange Brew remains a cult classic, continuing to introduce new generations to the word hoser.
  Budget: $5M U.S. Gross: $9M
9 Pennies From Heaven 1981 n/a n/a
Based On: Pennies From Heaven (BBC, 1978)
Based on Dennis Potter's little-known (in the States) BBC show from 1978, Pennies from Heaven tells the story of a sheet music salesman during the Great Depression who dreams of something more than his drab life. Filled with musical numbers and fantastic set pieces, Pennies was a critical success, but moviegoers weren't sure what to make of Steve Martin in a dramatic role after last seeing him in 1979's The Jerk. While never achieving cult status, Pennies showed Martin's aspirations to be more than just a wild and crazy guy, a seriousness he would again showcase in his roles in Grand Canyon and Shopgirl.
  Budget: $22M U.S. Gross: $9M
10 Miami Vice 2006 65 5.4
Based On: Miami Vice (NBC, 1984-90)
A fascinating combination of style and substance both fighting for the spotlight, Miami Vice was a cornerstone of '80s television. Original series producer Michael Mann wrote and directed the big screen adaptation, casting his Ali and Collateral star Jamie Foxx as Ricardo Tubbs and Colin Farrell as Sonny Crockett. Mann's signature style of action and emotion along with solid performances elevated Miami Vice from being more than just another episode of the show. Unfortunately, the film was never able to find a solid audience in the U.S., though it did earn almost $164 million worldwide.
  Budget: $135M U.S. Gross: $63M
The 5 Worst Movies Based on TV Shows
  Movie Year Netflix Metascore Users
1 Car 54, Where Are You? 1994 n/a n/a
Based On: Car 54, Where Are You? (NBC, 1961-63)
A goofy 1960's sitcom "reimagined" as a goofy full length feature with John C. McGinley (Scrubs) and David Johansen (aka Buster Poindexter), Car 54, Where Are You was filmed in 1990 but went unreleased until 1994 due to Orion Pictures' bankruptcy. Sitting on the shelf did nothing to help the film, which came and went quickly despite appearances by the original cast and newcomers like Rosie O'Donnell.
  Budget: n/a U.S. Gross: $1M
2 The Avengers 1998 12 2.2
Based On: The Avengers (ITV [UK], 1961-69)
Based on the classic 1960's action adventure show, The Avengers seemed like a can't-miss action film with Uma Thurman as the beautiful and dangerous Mrs. Peel teamed up with Ralph Fiennes as the dashing and quick-witted John Steed. Instead, the film managed to insult its core fan base by rejecting almost everything from the show except for the characters' names and Mrs. Peel's skintight leather outfit. And non-fans were given little characterization or plot to hold on to, thanks in no small part to the original 150 minute cut being reduced to only 89 minutes.
  Budget: $60M U.S. Gross: $23M
3 The Mod Squad 1999 16 5.0
Based On: The Mod Squad (ABC, 1968-73)
Once again a trio of teen criminals is recruited by the police force to go undercover in 1999's The Mod Squad. Unfortunately, Claire Daines, Giovanni Ribisi and Josh Brolin can't save this action-drama that tries to buck clichés by calling attention to them rather than coming up with something original. A critical and commercial disappointment, the Mod Squad plays out like a weak episode of the original show.
  Budget: $50M U.S. Gross: $13M
4 It's Pat 1994 n/a n/a
Based On: Saturday Night Live ("Pat" sketches, NBC, 1990-94)
The odd, one-note SNL sketch about a person who seems to be both (or maybe neither) a man or a woman opened in only 3 states and never did answer the question of just what Pat is. Memorable only for how forgettable it was, It's Pat couldn't even win a Razzie Award; it was defeated in every category by Showgirls.
  Budget: n/a U.S. Gross: $61k
5 The Ladies Man 2000 22 6.8
Based On: Saturday Night Live ("Ladies Man" sketches, NBC, 1997-2000)
Tim Meadows is Leon Phelps, a late night radio DJ who gives out idiotic love advice in The Ladies Man. Phelps is fired and has to go out into the world to find what might be his true love -- or at least his true sugar mommy. Another mildly amusing SNL sketch stretched out from an already too-long three to five minutes to a painful 84 minutes, The Ladies Man features many fellow SNL cast members and, surprisingly, Julianne Moore -- none of which made audiences care.
  Budget: $24M U.S. Gross: $14M

What do you think?

What is your favorite movie based on TV? Are you looking forward to the A-Team movie? Let us know in the comments section below.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (39)

  • MadChap  

    i can't believe any of the Monty Python films didn't make this list and Miami Vice did....

  • Rhetoric  

    Glad to have seen "Pennies from Heaven" up there.

  • Tom  

    Most of "top list" is only there because of moronic editorial bias. Yes, they're unrated, but most would be rated badly if they had ratings.

  • Adam  

    No kidding about the X-Files movie, the first one was excellent, the second not so much, it was pretty much like an extended episode from the show.

    It also looked like it must have cost as much as an episode costs.

  • Bruce_F  

    You should add "The X-Files: I Want To Believe" to the list of worst movies.

  • Steve-O  

    Serenity was/is good.

    Miami Vice was a terrible and miss-cast movie.

  • N8Schems  

    Terrible list. I love people that just make stuff up off the top of their heads.

  • Casey  

    South Park Bigger Longer and Cut? How is it not on this list? One of the greatest satires ever!

  • J.T.  

    Ladies' Man is a really funny flick... i don't know why people **** all over it all the time.

  • a  

    what? What? WHAT?! I loved Ladies' Man!

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