Big Screens, Bigger Stories: 5 Movies Based on TV Shows

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Feature film adaptation of the TV series, 'Veronica Mars', spawned from a Kickstarter campaign by the show creator Rob Thomas and bringing back the cast including star Kristen Bell.
Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
March 12th, 2014

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Sometimes, it seems like television and cinema are competitors, constantly vying for the attention of viewers and critics. In many ways, though, the two mediums are more allies than rivals. Plenty of beloved TV shows have inspired equally amazing movies, and vice versa. Working together, the film industry and the television industry have managed to give stories a richer platform. The following five movies offer some of the best examples of rewarding creative collaboration between TV and film.

1. "The Fugitive" (1993)

The original 1960s TV series spanned four seasons, tracing an innocent man's desperate quest to find his wife's true killer and clear his name. David Janssen played Dr. Richard Kimble, a respected doctor in a small town turned fugitive in search of the elusive "one-armed man." More than 25 years after the show's final episode, director Andrew Davis decided to consolidate the TV series into a shorter, snappier format. In the movie, Harrison Ford takes on the role of Dr. Kimble with Tommy Lee Jones playing his counterpart, the deputy pursuing him. The movie adaptation is crisp, suspenseful and smart, honoring the spirit of the original TV show without requiring four years to tell the story.

2. "Serenity" (2005)

Joss Whedon's "Firefly" is a prime example of Whedon's creative vision. The blend of Western and sci-fi elements shows off Whedon's willingness to play around with genre, while the TV series also features likeable characters and clever dialogue. Unfortunately for its devoted fans, the cult classic didn't last very long on the air. The cancellation of "Firefly" left legions of fans wondering what would happen next for brash Malcolm Reynolds, mysterious River Tam and the other crew members. In 2005, Whedon was able to find closure for his characters with the release of "Serenity." Although the movie is truly a tribute to viewers who already know and love the series, "Serenity" is also well-plotted and enjoyable as a stand-alone film. It neatly ties up loose ends left by the abrupt end of the series, making "Serenity" a smart way to use two mediums to tell one epic tale.   

3. "Star Trek" (2009)

One of the most beloved and iconic TV series of all time, Gene Roddenberry's "Star Trek" helped define the sci-fi genre. With such a prestigious legacy and so many loyal fans, many of them eager to nitpick a reboot, director J.J. Abrams' attempt to revive the series with a fresh new film could have been a disaster. Instead, Abrams manages to retain the adventurous spirit of the original characters and add a little twist of his own. The result is a film that straddles the generational lines, appealing to both old fans and total newcomers. Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana and Zachary Quinto bring famous figures back to life with great aplomb. Although not the first movie in the "Star Trek" franchise by a long shot, Abrams' 2009 film shows that old dogs are capable of learning new tricks.

4. "21 Jump Street" (2012)

Airing during the late 1980s and early 1990s, "21 Jump Street" mostly faded from the public eye after its final episode. The show is especially notable for starring a young Johnny Depp. In this serious, sometimes preachy crime series, youthful-looking police officers posed as high school students to crack down on crime among the younger generation. In the 2012 movie version of "21 Jump Street," directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller ditch the morals and instead find the ample humor in the scenario. The difference between the original TV show and the updated movie shows what a simple shift in mood can accomplish. The same premise works equally well as a straight-laced drama and a raucous comedy.

5. "Veronica Mars" (2014)

The "Veronica Mars" film is proof that TV fans are a loyal and ambitious group. Increasingly, fans have a chance to influence the fate of TV shows that are gone too soon. The original series starred Kristen Bell as the title character, a smart young student who has inherited her father's skills as a private detective. With a gritty, noir atmosphere, the series soon proved to be a critical darling. However, ratings were not high enough to justify the show's creator, Rob Thomas, releasing a movie version. In 2013, Thomas and Bell turned to the fans to fund the film. Through Kickstarter, they soon raised over $5 million. The film adaptation of "Veronica Mars" takes place nearly a decade after the events of the show's final season, bringing the same dark intrigue in an updated package.

Filmmakers who are working with television series have a number of directions to choose from. For TV shows that have a short shelf life, movie adaptations offer fans a second chance to reach closure. In other cases, outdated TV series get a breath of fresh air with upgraded big-screen versions.