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The 20 best movies based on TV shows

There has long been a symbiotic relationship between film and TV, with each medium drawing on and influencing the other. Very often, TV is known for creating new series out of established film properties, but it has also been the case that the direction of influence has run in the other direction. Indeed, there have been various films made out of successful television series. Some of these have ended up using the same cast as the original, while others have gone off in new and often very productive artistic directions. The most successful and enjoyable examples of this phenomenon are reminders of how integrated the entertainment industry has become. 


1 of 20

‘Twilight Zone: The Movie’

'Twilight Zone: The Movie'

Warner Bros via MovieStillsDB

Few television series have been quite as ambitious or as disturbing as The Twilight Zone which unsettled audiences of the late 1950s and early 1960s. In 1983, the series transitioned to film, with an anthology film of the same name. The four separate episodes are a mix of remakes of the original episodes and new material, and they are directed by some of the most noted names in Hollywood, including Steven Spielberg and John Landis. They don’t all land quite as effectively as they might, but there is still something refreshing about the film’s ambition, and it is a fitting homage to its small-screen predecessor. 


2 of 20

‘The Bob’s Burgers Movie’

'The Bob’s Burgers Movie'

20th Century Fox via MovieStillsDB

Throughout its several seasons, Bob’s Burgers has slowly established itself as one of the best animated series on Fox. Its unique formula carries right over into The Bob’s Burgers Moviewhich has the exact ingredients to replicate the success of the original series. It’s always a pleasure to spend time with the Belcher family, and the film allows their usual adventures and mishaps to have a bit more time to breathe than is the case in the show. As the proverbial icing on the cake, the film is also a musical, which adds yet another layer of pleasure to what is already a delightful romp of a film.


3 of 20

‘The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie’

'The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie'

Paramount Pictures via MovieStillsDB

It’s impossible not to love SpongeBob SquarePants, who is the very epitome of unbridled joy and enthusiasm. In 2004, the little sponge finally got his own movie, and he has to try to save Mr. Krabs from a nefarious plot to frame him for stealing Neptune’s Crown. The sweet and clever nature of the characters and the show is still present in the film, which manages to capitalize on the formula that made the series such a beloved favorite of kids in the 1990s and their parents. More than anything else, the film is quite simply fun, and that’s often more than enough to make it a success. 


'The X-Files'

20th Century Fox via MovieStillsDB

The X-Files was the perfect series for the 1990s, with its pair of FBI agents (played by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson) and their attempts to discover the truth behind various unnatural phenomena. The film expands on the mythology established in the original series, particularly concerning extraterrestrials and the government’s role in keeping their presence a secret. Though it can be a bit tough for those who aren’t familiar with the series, the film is still quite thrilling, and for those who have already immersed themselves in this universe and its complex rules, this is a must-see movie.


5 of 20

‘A Muppet Christmas Carol’

'A Muppet Christmas Carol'

Walt Disney Pictures via MovieStillsDB

There’s a great deal to love about A Muppet Christmas Carol which, as the title implies, features everyone’s favorite puppets in a surprisingly faithful adaptation of Charles Dickens’ beloved novel. The film is as warm and kind-hearted as Bob Cratchit (played, of course, by Kermit), and it is notable for Michael Caine’s performance of Ebenezer Scrooge. It is also uproariously funny, thanks in no small part to the narration provided by the Great Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat. It doesn’t shy away from the sadder parts of the story, and this, in combination with its beautiful and evocative songs, makes this essential viewing for both the Christmas season and throughout the year. 


6 of 20

‘Muppet Treasure Island’

'Muppet Treasure Island'

Buena Vista Pictures via MovieStillsDB

The Muppets are some of the most beloved puppets to have ever graced the small screen, and many people have found memories of The Muppet ShowIn addition to the beloved movies of the 1980s, they appeared in two literary adaptations, including Muppet Treasure IslandThis is, quite simply, a fantastic ride of a film, brimming with all of the adventure and delight of Stevenson’s original novel. In addition to the usual Muppet cast, which includes Kermit as Captain Smollett, Tim Curry puts in a memorable appearance as pirate-with-a-heart-of-gold Long John Silver. With its clever script and fantastic performances from both humans and Muppets, this film stands the test of time.



Warner Bros via MovieStillsDB

Few canines have been quite as famous as Scooby-Doo, who has starred in numerous TV shows, movies, and other media. The original series, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, remains a beloved part of many people’s childhood. It would have been very easy for the 2002 film version to travesty the original, but it manages to be a warm and loving homage and an enjoyable film. Much of this is due to the pitch-perfect casting, and each of the actors ably inhabits their roles (though special credit must be given to Matthew Lillard for embodying Shaggy’s doofiness). And, as if all of that weren’t enough, it also makes Scrappy a villain.


8 of 20

‘South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut’

'South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut'

Paramount Pictures via MovieStillsDB

If there’s one series that has consistently pushed the boundaries of good taste (and sometimes good sense), it’s South ParkIt’s thus not surprising that it got the movie treatment in 1999 with the cheekily titled South Park: Bigger, Longer, & UncutIts story about the moral panic that sweeps through South Park (and the US) due to the Canadian duo Terrance and Phillip is unabashedly ridiculous. Like so much of the show during its glory days, it manages to be a scathing satire of America’s purity culture and the attempts to censor the movies, and it never loses sight of its main mission: to make audiences laugh.


9 of 20

‘Downton Abbey: A New Era’

'Downton Abbey: A New Era'

Focus Features via MovieStillsDB

Julian Fellowes managed to hit just the right notes with his series Downton Abbeywhich has all of the nostalgia and costume drama delights one expects from British period pieces. The second of the two films based on the series is more of the same name, as the various estate members have to contend with the past and the future. As in the series, there is a clear sense of stakes in this second cinematic outing, particularly when it comes to Mary’s future and the ailing Dowager Countess. The cast is uniformly excellent, though Maggie Smith steals the show once again as the Dowager Countess. 


10 of 20

‘Sex and the City’

'Sex and the City'

New Line Cinema via MovieStillsDB

Even today, Sex and the City remains something of an anomaly, as a series focusing not only on one female desire but also on female friendship is something of a rarity. The fab foursome of Samantha, Charlotte, Carrie, and Miranda made their transition to the big screen in 2008 in the film that bears the same name as the show. While the film is a bit overlong (it clocks in at over two hours), there’s an undeniable pleasure in spending more time with these four women. The film version of their adventure is filled with more than a little wacky humor, but it also manages to go into some darker territory, making it a true joy to experience. 


11 of 20

‘El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie’

'El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie'

Netflix via MovieStillsDB

Breaking Bad remains one of the most extraordinary pieces of television to have emerged during the early 21st century. The crackling charisma of Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul as Walter White and Jesse Pinkman is still astounding to watch. Pinkman’s story actually continues in  El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie. The film gives Paul yet another opportunity to explore the many contradictions of Pinkman’s character. In addition to the film showcasing Paul’s phenomenal skills as an actor, it’s a genuine pleasure to spend more time in the dangerous and thrilling world established by Breaking Bad


12 of 20

‘The Simpsons Movie’

'The Simpsons Movie'

20th Century Fox via MovieStillsDB

By this point, The Simpsons are something of an American television institution, and it’s hard to imagine TV without them. Emerging as it did in 2007 — when the show was in one of its less successful periods — the film was a breath of fresh air. It features the same kind of snappy writing and polished animation that were the series’ hallmarks during its 1990s heyday, and the voice cast is, unsurprisingly, excellent. Even more extraordinary is that it manages not to outstay its welcome, which is no small feat for a film based on a television series. 


13 of 20

‘The Addams Family’

'The Addams Family'

Paramount Pictures via MovieStillsDB

There’s always been something quirky and strange (and sometimes creepy) about The Addams Family particularly as they were imagined in the 1960s TV series. They were brought back to memorable life in the 1991 film of the same name, in which Raul Julia, Angelica Huston, Christopher Lloyd, and Christina Ricci are superb as Gomez, Morticia, Fester, and Wednesday. There are some interesting story beats in this film, and it manages to capture the right mix of the humor and the bizarre that was such a hallmark of the show on which it’s based.


14 of 20

‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’

'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles'

New Line Cinema via MovieStillsDB

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are the type of characters who keep coming back to grace big and small screens. Kids growing up in the 1980s and early 1990s were understandably excited to see the 1990 film that bears their name, which adapted the comic books and drew on the animated series, which was still airing at the time. The film is fun and gritty, and there’s still a unique excitement to seeing the four title characters portrayed by actors in costumes rather than (as is so common today) via CGI. It also manages to stay true to the central tenets of the Turtles’ mythology while breaking into new territory. 


15 of 20

‘The Flintstones’

'The Flintstones'

Universal Pictures via MovieStillsDB

During the 1990s, there was a remarkable run of films made out of TV series. Some are sillier than others, and they don’t get much sillier than The Flintstonesobviously based on the beloved animated sitcom. However absurd it might be at times, there’s no denying it is perfectly cast, with John Goodman as Fred as a particular standout. Though it wasn’t particularly beloved by critics of the time, it is quite simply a very fun film, catering to the nostalgia of Baby Boomers and the millennials who were growing up. 


16 of 20

‘Mission: Impossible’

'Mission: Impossible'

Paramount Pictures via MovieStillsDB

By this point, the Mission Impossible  franchise is one of the most successful in Hollywood, so much so that some might forget that the first film, from 1996, is actually a continuation of the story told in both the 1960s and 1980s iterations of the TV series. From the beginning, though, it was clear that this kind of action franchise had legs, and it managed to have its own internal continuity and continue reinventing itself with the changing contours of Hollywood. Of course, the original film and the franchise it spawned would never have attained as much success as it did without the undeniable star charisma of Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt. 


17 of 20

‘Charlie’s Angels’

'Charlie’s Angels'

Columbia Pictures via MovieStillsDB

While it might not have been a financial success, Elizabeth Banks’ Charlie’s Angels  is still a fun addition to the series established by the original TV show and the two films from the early 2000s. In large part, this stems from the director’s sense of fun (Banks also wrote the screenplay). However, it also features some great performances from its central trio: Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Balinska. It’s a genuinely funny film, and there are also some nice twists and turns to the plot that help to make up for whatever shortcomings the screenplay itself might possess. 


18 of 20

’21 Jump Street’

'21 Jump Street'

Columbia Pictures via MovieStillsDB

It’s not every film that could take a crime procedural like 21 Jump Street  and turn it into a hilarious comedy, but this is exactly what happens in the film of the same name. Like the series, the movie focuses on a pair of cops, played by Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, who infiltrate a high school. The film understands how to thread the needle of nostalgia and homage, and Tatum and Hill have an undeniable comedy chemistry. The film was successful and beloved among critics and audiences, so much so that it produced at least one sequel (always the mark of true success in Hollywood).


'The Fugitive'

Warner Bros via MovieStillsDB

Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones give terrific performances in this film, in which the former plays Dr. Richard Kimble, who is wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife. After he goes on the run, he is relentlessly pursued by Jones’ Sam Gerard. There’s a propulsive momentum to the film that sweeps the viewer up from the very first moments. At just over two hours, the film is taut enough to be engaging yet expansive enough to do the original series justice. It’s a masterclass in how to transform television into film.


'Star Trek'

Paramount via MovieStillsDB

J.J. Abrams is a director well-known for his penchant for nostalgic filmmaking, and this is very much on display in 2009’s Star Trek the first in the rebooted film series. Though it features the same characters as the original television show, they are now played by new actors, many of whom are superb in their roles. Of particular note are Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, who portray Captain Kirk and Spock, respectively. The genius of the film and of the performances lies in their ability to pay homage to the original while being willing to strike out on their own and establish their own identity. 

Thomas J. West III earned a PhD in film and screen studies from Syracuse University in 2018. His writing on film and TV has appeared at Screen Rant, Screenology, FanFare, Primetimer, Cinemania, and in a number of scholarly journals and edited collections. He co-hosts the Queens of the B’s podcast and writes a regular newsletter, Omnivorous, on Substack. He is also an active member of GALECA, the Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics.

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