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Team Top Ten: Best TV to Film Adaptations of All Time

Amir here, to welcome you to another edition of Team Top Ten, a poll of all of the website’s contributors. The topic du jour given that it's Emmy season is Best Films Adaptated from TV Series.

For as long as film and TV have coexisted, their fates, stars, successes, failures and histories have been entangled. Their ever-shifting dynamic has had an immense impact on both industries. The complexity of their relationship made devising a list like this one quite difficult, beginning with the question of what really constitutes an adaptation. For example, The Holy Grail and Life of Brian are not adapted from Monty Python's The Flying Circus; they are inspired by it, but one is more inspired than the other, so we rendered the former film eligible and the latter ineligible. On the other hand, series like Mission Impossible and Naked Gun present a different type of challenge because the sequels are continuations of the original film, rather than the TV series, but we considered them eligible nonetheless. We faced another difficulty with franchises like The Addams Family and The Addams Family Values, based on a series that is itself based on comics. The extent to which the films were inspired by either source was taken into account and we considered only the former film eligible in this case though the latter has far more ardent fans among the team here.

And so on and so forth. The point is to take this list with a grain of salt and add your personal favourites in the comments below. Without further ado…


10. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me
Unlike these days, David Lynch needed to make a film in order to portray all of the incest, rape, pedophilia, murder and drugs that his and Mark Frost’s television series mostly only alluded to. While Twin Peaks, which ran for two seasons in the early 1990s, was a woozy blend of murder mystery, soap opera, dark comedy and surrealist imagery, the film was an altogether different beast. A dark and often brutally ugly ‘horror melodrama’, it angered many fans and even filmmakers (Quentin Tarantino was not a fan). For people willing to take the plunge, however, into the dark recesses of Lynch’s mind, it is a compelling and tragic affair that remains one of the definitive directorial statements of the ‘90s. Plus, David Bowie as an FBI agent who may be a ghost. Or an alien. Or a shape-shifter. Who can tell? –Glenn Dunks

9. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Ghost Protocol
seemed like a squeaker eligibility-wise, with the show a distant, tenuously related memory and three other movies interceding between them. But the film is one of the great pop entertainments U.S. studios have produced in recent years, dynamically edited and gorgeously shot by Robert Elswit without the self-conscious handsomeness of There Will Be Blood or Good Night, and Good Luck. With set-pieces as stunning as the Kremlin infiltration, the sandstorm chase, and everything else that happens in, on, or around the Burj Khalifa, this is top-notch, exuberant, and imaginative action filmmaking.  I liked De Palma’s gimcrackery and Abrams’ more traditional and character-driven suspenser, but Ghost Protocol is the franchise’s happiest marriage of scene construction, silliness, and star charisma (not just from Cruise, but from everybody).  Its division into discrete, flavorful sequences gives it the roaming energy of a television serial. You want to binge four more movies afterward. –Nick Davis

8 more after the jump

8. Serenity
Shiny! Glad we side-stepped the wrath of the Cult of Browncoats and placed Whedon's surprise Firefly big-screener so sweetly - they tend to rain down hard on unbelievers. I don't know that I could cast myself amongst their tight-panted lot – I watched the Fox series as best as Fox would let me (which was not well, not well at all) but in the nearly ten years since, it has been the movie I return to again and again. The slightly larger budget allows for appropriate scope, so while we might strangely get less Nathan Fillion butt, we do get stuff like truly kick-ass action of the space and hand-to-hand (to foot to mouth) sort, while cast-additions like Chiwetel Ejiofor and Sarah Paulson certainly don't hurt. And the revelations about What's What in this 'verse end up being satisfying, to boot. Now say it with me - I am a leaf on the wind... –Jason Adams

7. The Fugitive
Having never seen a single episode of the 1960s television series – Harrison Ford claims he never did either – doesn't seem to have any effect on the enjoyment of the 1993 thriller that took the series as its inspiration. Perhaps not being familiar with the series makes the story's premise – an innocent man accused of killing his wife is on the run from authorities while searching for the real killer – seem that much more suspenseful and plausible. The action sequences, like the train crash, are still impressive and we can marvel at the complex character studies so often absent from “popcorn” films. The intelligent action film was not just a runaway commercial hit, spending 6 weeks at the top of the box office the summer it was released, but a critical hit as well, with the summer blockbuster earning multiple Oscar nominations (and a Best Supporting Actor win for Jones). Its success might even exceed that of the television show that proceeded it, just don't blame it on a mysterious one-armed man... –Andrew Stewart

6. The Muppet Movie
Sometimes I feel immense sympathy for the generation that The Muppets skipped; how empty their childhoods must have been! The Muppet Movie is one of the earliest I remember seeing in a theater but the felt creations of Jim Henson and team were already family members from their TV show. The unique thrill at the time was seeing the TV show, which was filmed like live theater since it took place in one, "opened up". See Miss Piggy running through grass in slow-motion warbling to her amphibian lover. See Fozzy driving a car. And, the one that got the most publicity -- see Kermit riding a bicycle!!! These sights were, for little me, just as impressive as seeing Superman fly. There have been plentiful Muppet movies since, many riffing on other properties (treasure island, a christmas carol) or genres (caper movies) but none that were ever this purely or richly conceived again. What's often forgotten about the original movie these days is its musically rich Oscar nominated song score by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher (which lost to All That Jazz. Okay, tough break coming out the same year). There's more to it than just the immortal "Rainbow Connection". If you remove those crazy auto-tune averse Muppet voices they're real beauties: "I'm Going to Back There Someday" is a genuinely searching spiritual wonder;"The Magic Store" a joyous ode to showbiz; "Never Before" is still -- well maybe you need Miss Piggy or a similar shameless diva to sell that song's corny romantic bombast. In short, The Muppet Movie has something for everyone: the lovers, the dreamers, and me. - Nathaniel R


5. Traffic
It's hard to imagine the type of interpersonal, intricately-structured, and either vaguely or wholly political dramas that so often flooded the Aughts (i.e. Syriana, The Constant Gardener, even Crash) existing without Steven Soderbergh's Traffic. Adapted from the 1989 Channel Four miniseries Traffik, Soderbergh’s own American updating didn't necessarily set the template itself, but still deserves to be remembered for its own highly-lauded and quietly radical feats of modern-day moviemaking. The frozen blues of a dingy, buzzed-out hotel room and the earthy, sun-blanched browns of the Mexican desert in  “Peter Andrews”’s cinematography are given equal texture and smoothly interwoven through Stephen Mirrione’s oblique edits. Stephen Gaghan’s challenging yet cohesive narrative construction is able to see The War on Drugs as a deep-seated institutional study and a worthy piece of epic storytelling, but also on a whole host of other, much more intimate levels. He compiles a magnificent portmanteau of characters, gloriously given life by Benicio Del Toro’s stirring, sad-eyed conviction, Catherine Zeta-Jones’ ferociously-mobilized, high-heeled criminality, Erika Christensen’s foggy self-vanishings, and Don Cheadle’s crafty, workmanlike diligence. Soderbergh lends it his typically invigorating sense of style but also keeps his eye tightly trained on the people within the frame, making an Issue Movie that succeeds as something deeper and more penetrating solely because it sees the issue as we do: with our own two feet planted firmly on the ground. –Matthew Eng

4. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Some may argue that Monty Python and the Holy Grail is not, strictly speaking, an adaptation of a TV show. To them I say: “Ni!” Just as the bravely bold Sir Robin rode forth from Camelot, so the Pythons took on the foundation of the show – sketch comedy in short format – and added to it by tying the sketches together with a loose plot and a surprisingly strong filmic sensibility courtesy of director Terry Gilliam. And in the process, they gave us the weirdest, most quotable medieval absurdist comedy in existence. Possibly the only one too. And if I haven’t convinced you, then “I don't want to talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal food trough wiper! I fart in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!” –Anne Marie Kelly

3. Pennies from Heaven
When it was released, everything that could have gone wrong for Pennies from Heaven did: fans of classical Hollywood were appalled by the caustic bitterness of MGM’s very last musical, while acolytes of the newly white-hot Steve Martin were befuddled to find the comic playing such a dour straight role, and the film accordingly tanked. Time has done wonders for its reputation, though: this blackhearted attack on the peppy optimism of Depression-era pop culture has never looked so fresh or insightful. It lacks the grand scope of the 1978 BBC miniseries written by Dennis Potter, master of the form, but in condensing that six-part epic’s themes, it both honors the intentions of the original while creating an even more intense, deliciously unnerving experience. Most importantly, it has Christopher Walken playing a tap-dancing Mephistophelean pimp, and if you can’t fall in love with that, I can be of no help to you. –Tim Brayton

2. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
A bit of an anomaly, South Park co-creators Parker and Stone actually pursued an R-rating or higher for South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. Using the big screen as a leaping point into obscene levels of “adult themes” and vulgarity – Animated boobies! A Saddam-loving Satan! Those darn Canadians! – the film stands as one of the most successful TV-to-film adaptations of all time – taking in $83 million at the worldwide box office and receiving a strong albeit divided critical response (Roger Ebert was both “offended” and “amazed”). What really separates the film from the series are the spectacular musical numbers, from the Oscar nominated crowd number “Blame Canada” to the Milton’s Satan meets Disney’s Quasimodo in “Up There.” From the men who brought f-bomb-dropping fourth graders onto American cable, we get an excellent, ever-entertaining, epic satire of late 90s censorship. –Diana Drumm

1. In the Loop
If The West Wing was the starry-eyed escape from the politics of the 2000’s, then the BBC’s The Thick of It was the era’s corrosive soul laid bare. Utilizing a rat-a-tat verbal bravado that would make Howard Hawks proud, The Thick of It portrayed a landscape where issues were an afterthought, principles were a nuisance, and gutlessness was the rallying cry for a gang of bumbling political underlings. 2009’s In the Loop took to the big screen the show’s acid outlook and broadened its satirical targets to encompass the world of Washington. The result was the defining satire of Bush Era bellicosity and some of the most creative profanity since Full Metal Jacket. (“Climb the mountain of conflict? You sound like a fucking Nazi Julie Andrews.”) Barreling through both incarnations is Peter Capaldi's landmark performance as Malcolm Tucker, the terrifying, dark side of politics in human form. –Michael Cusumano

Previously on Team Top Ten
Working Cinematographers | Directors of the 21st Century | Oscar’s Best Actress Losers | Comic Book Adaptations | Women For Honorary Oscar | Awards Season Flops | Horror Films (Pre-Exorcist) | Horror Films (Post Exorcist) | Oscar’s Best Actor Losers

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Reader Comments (26)

Peter Capaldi in In the Loop has long been one of my biggest inspirations in the world of creative verbal abuse. And for that, I will thank him forever.

July 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

Great list. I'm particularly happy to see Ghost Protocol and Holy Grail on here, and In the Loop which would probably get my vote for #1 if the uniformly wonderful Addams Family Vales isn't eligible.

July 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

Traffic: I get the formalist mastery, but I'm surprised it got that high. None of you got headaches from the Michael Douglas scenes?

July 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Browncoat here. Yay! But I love the other choices on the list as well. Shiny.

July 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

@Volvagia that's a spot on comment about Traffic. The whole movie was a headache to me.

This is a good list. But one absolutely glaring omission is The Untouchables. That should be number 1. I'd have also included Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, The Brady Bunch Movie (or A Very Brady Sequel), The Naked Gun 33 and 1/3, or any one of the Stark Trek movies.

July 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSean Troutman

Fun read, though as a Monty Python die hard I admit that my favorite top two for the list would be Holy Grail and Life of Brian.

July 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBrianZ

Sean Troutman- The Untouchables did receive enough votes to place in the 20, but if it had made the list, I would have had to cut it off, since the series and the film are both based on an original book, not each other.

July 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

If anyone's curious I voted for 4 comedies that failed to make the top 10: Borat, The Blues Brothers, Wayne's World and The Naked Gun.

My ballot looked like this

1. In the Loop
2. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
3. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
4. The Blues Brothers
5. The Naked Gun
6. Wayne's World
7. Borat
8. The Muppet Movie
9. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
10. The Fugitive

July 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

Amir: Was The Wrath of Khan in the top 20?

July 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

In The Loop is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen...especially as a political professional. The scene with James Gandolfini typing on the little girl computer made me weep with laughter.

July 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGabby

I would've still added both of The Addams Family movies, they're total fun.
And where's The Simpsons Movie in here?!

July 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercraver

Volvagia- Here is what was placed 11-20, in descending order:
21 Jump Street
The Naked Gun
The Simpsons Movie
The Brady Bunch Movie
Charlie's Angels
The Addams Family
The Untouchables
Miami Vice
Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan
Sex and the City

July 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

1. Head
2. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
3. Pennies from Heaven
4. Miami Vice
5. Monty Python and The Holy Grail and The Life of Brian
6. The Muppet Movie/The Great Muppet Caper
7. In the Loop
8. South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut
9. Jackass: The Movie and the whole film series
10. Beavis & Butthead Do America
11. Batman (Yes, the Adam West one)
12. Winnie the Pooh
13. Blues Brothers
14. Sesame Street Presents Follow That Bird
15. 21 Jump Street

July 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

Jackass 1. Rental Car Demolition Derby. Inspired.

No Maverick?

July 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

I love what Tim B. said about Pennies from Heaven and what Michael C. said about In the Loop. Those were at or near the top of my list (can't remember), but I never would have come up with blurbs as good. Really enjoy doing these.

July 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

I don't think it's fair to call IN THE LOOP an adaptation. And my top ten would have to include The Trip.

July 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKyle

I would also put in a vote for "The Brady Bunch Movie", and would happily kick "Fire Walk with Me" off the list to do so.

I'm still angry at "Fire", in part because it always felt angry at me. The ostensible structure of "Peaks" was always a mystery story - we wanted to find out certain answers. Then the film shows us in graphic detail what the answers are, as if to say "Are you sure you wanted this? Stop hitting yourself. Why are you hitting yourself?" I don't care if it's intentional, it's an utterly miserable experience that feels like Lynch lashing out at ABC and fan demands.

July 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave

Kyle -- why wouldn't that be fair given its origins? curious to hear why

Dave -- these are reasonable issues with it. I go back and for the between hate and love but i think i was in a place of love this past year

Nick -- one reason i love group posts.

July 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR


Fire Walk With Me is the only genuine art on the list. It would be my number one if this were my list. I never saw the TV show before seeing Fire Walk With Me. Which allows me to be disappointed and horrified by it for reasons outside of closure. I think the lead actress gives the worst performance by an actor from a 90's studio release. Both of Lynch's television related theatricals: Fire Walk With Me and Mulholland Dr. suffer from he's playing it as straight as he can in the first act. Because everything else that follows must be throwing paint on the wall derange.

July 20, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Wow, I really should have included The Trip. Also need to see the latest film for that one too.

Fire Walk With Me, for me, is not that it unpacks the mystery or Lynch is being mean to ABC. He had every intention is stretching the first act to another film that never happened. You're seeing the final days of a young woman's life and it is startling, full of dread, unnerving, and very sad. I also thought Sheryl Lee was excellent.

July 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

Great post here! I actually didn't realize that most of these originated from tv series. That Adams Family meme cracks me up haha

July 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCourtney

3rdful, I'm not sure I understand what you're saying. You think TWIN PEAKS is the only art on the list and it'd be your no. 1, but... you don't actually like it?

My top ten read like this:

1. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
2. South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut
3. The Brady Bunch Movie
4. Pennies from Heaven
5. Miami Vice
6. Naked Gun
7. Charlie's Angels
8. In the Loop
9. The Simpsons
10. Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theatres

I'm genuinely surprised PENNIES FROM HEAVEN ranked so highly on the overall list. Not just because it's a very cynical, unloved film but because I just assumed not as many people had seen it and liked it enough. It's a pleasant surprise. That movie sits alongside the likes of Scorsese's NEW YORK NEW YORK, Coppola's ONE FROM THE HEART and Streisand's YENTL as somewhat strange and contorted indulgent auteur musicals that weren't well reviewed, but which I personally think are their respective directors' best films.

July 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn


Third full is funny. Though that has to be a typo. I like Fire Walk With Me. My main issue with the picture is the lead performance that takes up three fourths of the feature.

July 20, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

I stopped by just to say I decided to see Ghost Protocol after reading that short review above. Spot on. My first reaction after I finished watching it, was checking IMDB to see when the next one is coming. So, thank you Nick Davis.

July 20, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

I cannot wait for the big screen version of The Bionic Woman starring Charlize Theron. Lindsay Wagner must make a cameo.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Glenn, thanks for the shoutout to NYNY. I think it's so underrated, the music, art direction and editing are incredible, and it features Liza's best performance. She was this close to getting an Oscar nomination in a very competitive year for Best Actress. The scene where she sings The World Goes Round still kills me every time.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

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