It’s an instinct for Hollywood producers: find something people love and give them more of it. That’s why we have so many sequels, prequels, spinoffs and reboots—they come with built-in audiences clamouring for another glimpse into the lives of their favourite characters.
Try to think like a producer for a minute—how do you get the most mileage out of a cult hit without pumping tons of coin into production values? Easy, take the story and shrink it just enough to fit the small screen, then issue weekly instalments to keep fans coming back for more. That’s definitely why we’re getting a chance to revisit Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn and the Coen Brothers’ Fargo on Netflix and FX, respectively—both quirky mid-‘90s films that built cult followings.
The problem is, more often than not, allowing great characters and great stories to live outside of that special two-hour window robs them of their magic. It’s rare for a film to make the jump to TV and maintain some integrity—or better still, reinvent itself and build a whole new audience.
It’s still too early to say whether From Dusk Till Dawn or Fargo belong on this list, but here are just a few the best and worst TV series based on movies:
The movie was a send-up of commercialism and manufactured identity, while the series was a brightly coloured, tone-deaf attempt to cash in on popular characters. Alicia Silverstone, to her credit, had better things to do, but much of the movie’s cast returned—even the familiar faces couldn’t rescue this disaster, though.
Good: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Joss Whedon wrote the film script that introduced us to Buffy, but the movie ended up a little campier than he’d intended. Luckily he got a chance to see his vision through and we got seven captivating seasons of Sarah Michelle Gellar and co. battling supernatural beasts and saving Sunnydale from the depths of evil.
Bad: Robocop: The Series
Robocop was enough of a hit that it spawned two sequels—and eventually a reboot—but that just wasn’t enough. The original film was a dark, violent indictment of political lobbying and corruption, but the TV series attempted to recast the cyborg lawman as a sort of superhero fending off silly villains week after week, missing the point of the film entirely.
One of the most beloved TV series of all time had a hell of a pedigree: the film on which it was based was nominated for a handful of Oscars and won the top prize at Cannes. The show surpassed even those high standards, though, with its 256th and final episode drawing 125 million viewers—still the largest TV audience of all time.
Bad: My Big Fat Greek Life
The film cost $5 million to make and earned over $368 million—how could any producer not get dollar signs in their eyes looking at those numbers? My Big Fat Greek Life lost something in the translation to TV, though, and was canned by CBS after just seven episodes.
The first attempt at adapting Ron Howard’s 1989 comedy didn’t go so well—even though it included stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, David Arquette, Ed Begley Jr. and Thora Birch—but the second is deep into its fifth season and has taken on a life of its own.
Bad: Ferris Bueller
A show so bad that John Hughes, who wrote and directed the film, wouldn’t allow his name anywhere near it. The series not only rewrote the title character as the complete antithesis of his beloved inspiration, it was openly antagonistic towards the movie—the very first time we meet TV Ferris he’s bemoaning Matthew Broderick’s Ferris before taking a chainsaw to a cardboard cutout. Nothing could have saved this Ferris.
Good: Friday Night Lights
Directing a movie based on the book Friday Night Lights wasn’t enough for Peter Berg, who used the film as an inspiration and a jumping-off point for TV series. Despite low ratings, a devoted cult following kept the series on the air for five seasons, proving a TV show with clear eyes and full hearts can’t lose.