In the age of branding and franchises, every existing story has added value. But not every film is fit for TV.
The challenge of adapting movies to a new medium is a tricky one with no clear-cut way to do it. Many new series credit “Fargo” as their benchmark, citing its tone and setting as inspiration for creating a new world around the best parts of what came before. That’s all well and good, but there are as many failed attempts to replicate Noah Hawley’s strategy as successes.
Similarly, some carbon copies — using the same characters and plot points as the preceding movie — are just as good, if not better than their cinematic predecessors. Because any way can work, many various attempts have been made. There’s no right way to do it, but there are a lot of wrong ways; as evidenced by the growing pile of canceled shows based on movies.
Below, IndieWire has assembled the best of the best; the series that have taken on one of writing’s greatest challenges and come out with an adaptation, inspiration, or spin-off to be proud of. The TV shows below aren’t all straight adaptations. Some include aspects from books. Some only borrow the title or a character from the film that preceded them. But they’re all great television shows that wouldn’t exist without a film that came first.
Whether they were made to cash in off a successful film property or out of the pure artistic vision of their creators, these small screen gems live up to — or surpass — their big screen brethren. Enjoy.
20. “Lethal Weapon”
Listen, the odds were stacked against this one. The four-film franchise hadn’t seen a new entry in nearly two decades when Fox brought Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh out of retirement. Moreover, it was the lead actors who literally kept the characters from being too old for this shit, and replacing them seemed like too daunting a task, even if elongating the story somehow proved sustainable.
But Matthew Miller’s semi-procedural made us forget all about Mel Gibson before the first season hit the halfway point, as Clayne Crawford proved himself a charismatic leading man. We knew he could do great character work thanks to four seasons of outstanding supporting service in “Rectify,” but Crawford’s attention to detail, addictive action-star swagger, and jovial camaraderie with Damon Wayans makes the “Lethal Weapon” series a more-than-worthy addition to the franchise.
19. “Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later”
“Wet Hot’s” first foray into scripted television — the Netflix prequel series, “First Day of Camp” — highlighted the best moments from the series, tossed in a number of additional characters, and played up the joke that these adolescent campers were being portrayed by middle-aged adults. It also felt a little overstuffed and never fully came together; at least, not compared to the movie itself.
The sequel season changes that. “10 Years Later” has a more creative and cavalier attitude toward its story, focusing instead on the core characters and actors who made up the original ensemble, while still utilizing a few favorite famous faces in key moments (instead of broad arcs). It recaptures the camp nostalgia of the film and has a good time doing it. We’ll have a formal review in time for its release, but for now, trust us: “10 Years Later” is the “Wet Hot” follow-up you’ve wanted.
18. “Stargate SG-1”
Who knew that the quirky Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich film “Stargate” would be the start of an entire franchise? MGM’s foresight created one of the longest-running sci-fi series, shepherded by “MacGyver” star Richard Dean Anderson as the steady leader Jack O’Neill. The concept of instantaneous space travel, however, opened up the series into a world of possibilities that extended to colorful alien worlds and a far deeper mythology that also encompassed ancient Egypt. Best of all, the often campy series was self-aware, and this was its saving grace, compared to other excellent, but heavy sci-fi series like “Battlestar Galactica.” Running for a healthy 10 years, “Stargate SG-1” showed how a solid idea could create a veritable universe, given the right resources and imagination. Now, 20 years after the series’ premiere, the “Stargate” franchise will be resurrected in the new web series, “Stargate Origins.”
Garnering inspiration from Roberto Saviano’s book as well as the heralded 2008 film, “Gomorrah” tracks an Italian crime family living in the suburbs of Naples. Though based on Saviano’s thorough research as a journalist, the series tracks the fictionalized Savastanos, a loyal and unforgiving crew led by Don Pietro (Fortunato Cerlino). The Don is getting up there in the years, and he’s looking to ensure his family’s future before it’s too late.
That’s harder said than done given his hot-headed son, but “Gomorrah” doesn’t merely dwell on the Italian crime syndicate known as the Camorra. It works from the ground up, depicting everyone from street dealers to middlemen to the Dons ruling over everyone. Because of this, the series has drawn many comparisons to “The Wire,” but it also adheres closely to “The Sopranos”: Each focuses on family. Each forces reality upon the viewer, and each makes for damn fine television.
16. “Black Dynamite”
The original film of the same name, starring Michael Jai White, was a clever and hilarious parody of blaxploitation films, and once it was adapted as a cartoon for Adult Swim, “Black Dynamite’s” voice really took off. The misadventures of the titular former CIA officer and Vietnam War vet (who knows kung fu) reached nose-bleed new heights of awesome ridiculousness as Black Dynamite is joined by his pals Bullhorn, Cream Corn, and Honey Bee to take on dangerous foes such as the IRS and encounter famous people in the day like Richard Pryor or Sidney Poitier. Animation from the same folks behind “The Boondocks” made “Black Dynamite” a stylish and kinetic treat to watch, while its playful dialogue and stories cleverly sent up pop culture and racism. A rotating group of guest voices like Snoop Dogg and music by Adrian Young, who had also contributed to the film, brought the series to the next level.
15. “About a Boy”
Jason Katims might be the master of transferring beloved two-hour films to hours and hours of equally enriching television. As you’ll see as this list progresses, the creator of this painfully short-lived NBC sitcom has dabbled not only in multiple film-to-TV adaptations, but multiple genres, as well. No matter the format, they all come back to family, and the chosen family in “About a Boy” is one for the ages.
A lively, likable comedy blending significant arcs of a drama with quick comedic payoffs, the David Walton and Minnie-Driver starring series takes its time establishing the neighborly dynamic between Will (Walton), the rich, aimless, single guy next door, and Marcus (Benjamin Stockham), the fatherless oddball whose mom (Driver) doesn’t know how to help him relate to his classmates. But the charm of these three actors is there from the start. They bring out the best in one another, whether they’re trying to figure each other out or working together against the man. Funny, sweet, and with an equally endearing supporting cast — Al Madrigal and Annie Mumolo have never been better — “About a Boy” was a keeper cut loose too soon.
14. “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles”
Created, co-written, and produced by George Lucas, “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” delved into the adventurous beginnings of a young Indy in great detail and with a keen eye toward his core character traits. Indy himself was played by four different actors, with Cory Carrier handling Henry Jones from ages 8 – 10, Sean Patrick Flanery from 16 – 21, George Hall as the oldest Indy at 93, and Harrison Ford(in one episode) reprising the role he created at the age of 50.
Similar to the creative means by which they tackled Indy’s portrayed adolescence, the series’ success stemmed from a clever reframing of the stories’ purpose. Rather than trotting out as many random adventures as possible, the series used Indy’s relationship with his father as a good excuse to visit factual historical events. In other words, Lucas turned Indiana Jones into an educational experience for young fans, without losing the fun and thrills of the original films. The professor would be proud.