Ranked: The Best and Worst Movies Based on Animated TV Shows

Bigger, longer, and uncut

The Flintstones (1994) $248m
Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007) $246m
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (2009) $225m
The Simpsons Movie (2007) $212m
Scooby-Doo (2002) $210m
Highest Grossing Movies Based on Animated Television Series *

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

From classic shows like The Flintstones to more modern programs such as Aqua Teen Hunger Force, animated television programs have been making the jump to the silver screen for almost as long as they've been on the small screen. And with rumors of new takes on both He-Man and Voltron -- as well the Smurfs movie already in development -- there doesn't seem to be an end in sight to feature film adaptations of TV cartoons.

This week, Avatar: The Last Airbender, the popular and award winning Nickelodeon show, comes to theaters in 3-D courtesy of M. Night Shyamalan. Hoping to leave the disappointment of The Happening 34 and Lady in the Water 36 behind, Shyamalan wrote and directed The Last Airbender, losing the "Avatar" at the beginning of the title so no one would confuse it with a certain other movie of the same name.

Bringing a cartoon to the big screen offers filmmakers the chance to expand the original idea by taking advantage of either the longer running time, the freedom of a PG-13 (or even R) rating, and, in some cases, switching from animation to live action. Live action gives audiences and directors the strength of solid actors and real-world settings, while animation can allow for amazing set pieces and special effects for a much lower price tag. While sometimes the films end up feeling like little more than big-budget advertisements for toys, others have been fun and even smart entertainment (Cowboy Bebop, for example). We'll find out where The Last Airbender falls this Thursday.

Below, we look at the best- and worst-reviewed film adaptations of animated television series. (Note that one movie on the list of worst adaptations is too old to be in Metacritic's database, but we assigned it an appropriate ranking.)

The 5 Best Movies Based on Animated TV Shows
Movie Year Netflix Metascore Users
1 The Simpsons Movie 2007 80 7.2
Based On: The Simpsons (Fox, 1989-present)
Once again Homer's stupidity causes him, his family and all of Springfield great pain in The Simpsons Movie. TV's longest-running animated primetime show had a long journey to the big screen, with initial development starting as far back as 2001 and the ensuing years seeing over a hundred rewrites to the script. The result was a critical and commercial success, featuring a hilarious cameo by Tom Hanks playing himself.
U.S. Gross: $183m
2 South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut 1999 73 9.0
Based On: South Park (Comedy Central, 1997-present)
Free from the bonds of television, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut lives up to its name in every way. Providing brilliant musical numbers and some of the most shocking dialogue ever to hit the silver screen, the film also delivered brutal social commentary about the dangers of censorship. The song "Blame Canada" was nominated an Oscar but lost to Phil Collins' "You'll Be in My Heart," leading Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone to parody it (and Collins) on later episodes of South Park.
U.S. Gross: $52m
3 Teacher's Pet 2004 73 8.0
Based On: Teacher's Pet (ABC, 2000-02)
A clever and sharply written show, Teacher's Pet told the story of a dog, Spot, who pretends to be a boy and turns into a star pupil at his owner's school. The show won Daytime Emmys for best animated series and for Nathan Lane as the voice of Spot. Sadly, the movie was a box office disappointment despite good reviews.
U.S. Gross: $6m
4 The Wild Thornberrys Movie 2002 69 7.1
Based On: The Wild Thornberrys (Nickelodeon, 1998-2004)
Based on the popular Nickelodeon show about a family traveling the world in search of rare animals, The Wild Thornberrys Movie was viewed by most critics as solid family entertainment with a good overall message for children. The film pulled in a respectable box office take considering it was released against megahit Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
U.S. Gross: $40m
5 The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie 2004 66 7.5
Based On: SpongeBob SquarePants (Nickelodeon, 1999-present)
The goofy antics of SpongeBob and his dim but loveable pal Patrick appeal to both kids and adults, so a movie was inevitable. A hit with audiences, the animated film has action, humor, a truly tear-jerking scene, an awesome heavy metal musical number, and, above all else, David Hasselhoff.
U.S. Gross: $85m
BONUS MOVIE: An Underappreciated Gem
-- Beavis and Butt-Head Do America 1996 64 9.2
Based On: Beavis and Butt-Head (MTV, 1993-97)
The two idiot heroes of MTV's hugely popular 1990s show hit the road in search of their stolen TV in Mike Judge's big-screen take on his own creation. With voice work from Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, and Robert Stack as well as a great psychedelic dream sequence from Rob Zombie, Beavis and Butt-head Do America remains a hit with fans even if some of the critics didn't get it.
U.S. Gross: $63m
The 5 Worst Movies Based on Animated TV Shows
  Movie Year Netflix Metascore Users
1 Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer 1985 n/a n/a
Based On: Rainbow Brite (Syndicated, 1984-87)
Thrown together in three months by production company DiC Enterprises, Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer is more of an 85-minute commercial for Hallmark's Rainbow Brite toys and greeting cards than an actual film. Trashed by critics, the movie opened poorly at the box office, but not poorly enough to put an end to the character; a return to syndicated TV followed.
U.S. Gross: $5m
2 Digimon: The Movie 2000 20 7.6
Based On: Digimon: Digital Monsters (Various, 1999-present)
The chief rival to the hugely successful Pokémon franchise, Digimon has had nine different films released in Japan. The somewhat confusing U.S. version released in 2000 was cut together from pieces of the first three Digimon movies, which goes along way to explaining why critics and audiences did not respond well to its release.
U.S. Gross: $10m
3 Pokemon 3 2001 22 5.5
Based On: Pokémon (Various, 1997-present)

During the late '90s, Pokémon was everywhere: TV, videogames, toys, and then, in 1999, Pokemon The First Movie 35 arrived on the big screen, pulling in over $85 million at the box office. Two years later (after a 2000 sequel), Pokemon 3: The Movie -- with its weak $8 million opening weekend (nearly half of its overall box office take) and the worst reviews out of any film in the franchise -- showed that Pokémon had started to lose steam, on the silver screen at least.

See also:
Pokemon: The Movie 2000 28
Pokemon 4Ever 25
Pokemon Heroes 27

U.S. Gross: $17m
4 Scooby-Doo 2002 35 5.5
Based On: Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (CBS, 1969-70)
Trying for the best of both worlds with live action actors and an animated dog, Scooby-Doo was a hit with fans but not critics. Uninspired and not willing to make fun of itself enough, the 2002 film came across as little more than generic entertainment. A sequel (Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed 34) followed two years later, but with a box office take of just over half the original it was clear one Scooby-Doo movie was enough.
U.S. Gross: $153m
5 Aeon Flux 2005 36 6.2
Based On: Aeon Flux (originally part of Liquid Television) (MTV, 1991-95)
Even with Charlize Theron and director Karyn Kusama (Jennifer's Body), the big-screen version of Aeon Flux could not live up to expectations. A live-action version of Peter Chung's MTV cartoon seemed like a stretch to begin with, as a major part of the show's appeal was the unique animation and the bizarre way the characters looked and moved. A better idea would have been to give Chung the reins and let him create a fully animated movie with his own special vision.
U.S. Gross: $26m

What do you think?

Do you have any favorites among the shows listed above, or among those that didn't qualify for our lists? Are you looking forward to The Last Airbender? Let us know in the comments section below.

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

Comments (31)

  • Trent  

    im gonna have to disagree with the pokemon films, they were popular with fans tho, and the reason they get mostly negative critical reviews is that most movies based on a popular franchise like pokemon critics dont seem to like is cos u can only like the films if ur a fan of the franchise. i mean if u dont like them thats fine but i dont think they deserve to be on any "worst movies ever" list

  • Dave  

    Pokemon is based on a game

  • Neil Dunsmore  

    Finally someone gives recognition to the Teacher's Pet movie on a top list! Seriously, that movie does not get enough credit!

  • NoneOfYourBusiness  

    though still negative reviews, it should be pointed out that Pokemon 3: the movie had the BEST critical reception out of all the films. Not the worst.

  • Hannibal King  

    Did I actually just see some people berate Metacritic because of Metacritic's "reviews"?

  • PuppetmasterIX  

    How is Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie not in the worst list? Its Metascore is 15.

  • Jay  

    I like most of the Pokemon movies. I like how they incorporate their respective season's opening themes! So really, if the Pokemon movies are good for anything, that's it! Notice some of the bad ones are live action? In my opinion, that's the biggest mistake they often make. If it was a cartoon series, the film must be animated, too! See all the good movies listed? The people who made them, not only are they the same people who work on the series, but they actually understand the point I'm making!

    If you ask me, making them live action is the film maker's way to compensate for their inability to come up with an appropriately fitting storyline as well as lack of knowledge of the source material, and as a way of profiting from the show's popularity!

    As you can imagine, I do not have a very good feeling about that Smurfs movie...

  • ian  

    What about yu-gu-yo?

  • Jason  

    Airbender has to be one of the worst movies of all time. There, I said it.

    Futurama isn't there because it wasn't shown in theaters (which is a shame)

  • Jabberwock xeno  

    Huh, I really enjoyed the digimon movie.

    Well, glad to see it got noticed at least.

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