A League of Their Own
The 1992 movie A League of Their Own tells the fictionalized story of the very real All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. This entity was formed during World War II. While the movie is an absolute classic, there was plenty of story left to tell about these groundbreaking women.
CBS tried to continue that story back in 1993, with a direct sequel to the movie in the form of a sitcom. Unfortunately it was canceled before it aired six episodes.
Now, almost 20 years later Amazon is releasing its own series, one that amazingly lives up to the high standard set by Director Penny Marshall’s film. Equally as charming and funny, the hour-long comedy expands the scope of subject matter to include the stories of LGBT women and women of color. Fans of the original film and excellent television should ignore the complainers crying “woke” and check this series out.
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Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Writer Joss Whedon was famously disappointed with the way that the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie turned out back in 1992. His version, it is said, was much darker, more horror-focused, and included more of what would become Whedon’s trademark dialogue and humor. Instead, audiences were given a lighter, campier comedy horror film about a typical early ’90’s Valley Girl.
The 1997 series, created by Joss Whedon, was of course more in line with his original intent for the movie. A critical darling, the show would run for seven seasons and develop a strong cult following. Undoubtedly an improvement over the original movie, the original still has its charms. Look no further than the performances of Paul Reubens, Kristy Swanson and Luke Perry — who know exactly what movie they’re in and seem to be having a ton of fun
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Karate Kid/Cobra Kai
Released in 1984, The Karate Kid not only helped popularize the titular martial art in the United States, but also spawned a number of sequels. Also much later — a fantastic tv series. Now in its fifth season, Cobra Kai is simultaneously a love letter to the franchise and (at least in the first season) a subversion of the tropes of ’80’s teens dramas.
The series smartly focuses on the villain of the original film and re-contextualizes him as a victim of circumstance. Now, thirty-four years later, he’s down on his luck and looking for redemption. In doing so, Johnny Lawrence (Billy Zabka) will create a number of competing “Karate Kid” stories among his new students and their rivals. Cameos and references-galore, Cobra Kai is a fine installment in the larger Karate Kid universe.
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The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, Army of Darkness/Ash vs. Evil Dead
Evil Dead’s wild combination of splatter horror and hilarious physical comedy was a perfect fit for a premium cable series. Continuing the nearly 40 year saga of Ash Williams (which started with a fateful weekend trip to a cabin with five college friends — and left off with its hero stranded in 1300 AD), Ash vs. Evil Dead is a treat for new fans as well as franchise die-hards. It explores the fallout of those events and the trauma inflicted on our hero. However, it doesn’t get bogged down in looking back. It charges forward with a new story that stands on its own.
Though it was canceled after three seasons, there are rumors Ash Williams will return in some fashion, potentially in an animated series. As long as Sam Raimi is involved, it will be worth checking out.
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Terminator 2: Judgement Day/Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Here’s a franchise that has never let itself get bogged down by that pesky little thing called “continuity.” Though Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles premiered after the release of Terminator 3, the series is in fact a direct sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It proceeds like none of the lore presented in the third film is canon.
The show always had an uphill battle ; how could any show in 2008 even come close to replicating the action of one of James Cameron’s best films? Still, the show developed a strong cult following — probably due to the stellar cast anchored by Lena Headey and Summer Glau. Not a perfect show, but probably canceled too soon. Funny enough, despite only lasting two seasons and not jiving with the rest of the series canon, TSCC is probably the best Terminator product made post Terminator 2.
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Casablanca is widely considered one of the greatest films of all-time. A contemporaneous drama about a cynical American who must choose whether to help an old flame and her husband escape from Nazis in Morocco, the movie was small enough in scope that one could conceivably adapt it to the small screen.
There were two attempts, both of which failed. One was a 1955 series with the same name that was to serve as a sequel. Only ten episodes were produced. The other, made in 1983 and also called Casablanca, was a prequel. It didn’t make it past five episodes.
The ‘83 cast trumps the ‘55 version, but both were doomed to fail. The bar is just set too high.
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Werner Herzog’s Robocop is a satirical, blood-soaked masterpiece. It looked critically at the culture of the ’80’s and had interesting things to say about the media, corporations and the militarization of police. It was a major hit with critics and audiences alike.
As the franchise carried on though, the studio doubled down on Robocop’s merchandising opportunities. By Robocop 3, they were angling explicitly for a young, toy-loving audience. This explains the three tv series produced for the franchise.
First, in 1988, a twelve episode Saturday morning cartoon with a Robocop who traded his bullets for lasers. Then, a live action series in 1994 that ran for one season and was tonally in line with the kid-friendly Robocop 3. Finally, a second animated series named Robocop: Alpha Commando that ran for 40 episodes. All failures because they failed to capture any of the spirit or imagination of the original film.
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Has there ever been a more unremarkable movie that launched such an expansive media franchise?
Released in 1994, the original Stargate was a sleepy science fiction action film starring Kurt Russell and James Spader. It got decent reviews from critics and overproduced at the box office, but was unable to generate enough interest to garner any sequels.
Three years later, Stargate SG-1 would premiere on Showtime. It began a ten-season run that would lead to two more spin-offs and spark a devoted cult fandom. With SG-1, Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe combined, 354 episodes of television would have been produced under the franchise banner. That’s quite the legacy for an otherwise forgotten ’90’s blockbuster.
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Wet Hot American Summer
Wet Hot American Summer is a comedy classic. The plot is total nonsense, hanging loosely off of a premise that is a parody of ’80’s teen sex comedies. In 2001, most of the cast that weren’t original members of MTV’s The State were essentially unknowns. It came and went in theaters, and was dragged by critics (though over time through cable TV and DVD sales it has developed a strong cult following).
Strong enough, it turns out, to garner TWO Netflix series — one a prequel, the other a sequel. The prequel series, The First Day of Camp, is the stronger of the two, though both will please fans of the original. David Wain and company aren’t pretending any of this is high art, but its all very dumb and very, very funny.
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Bates Motel is a very interesting example of a TV series based on a movie.
A prequel series to the seminal horror film Psycho from 1960 (and not the shot for shot remake from 1998), Bates Motel is actually set in the 2010’s. It follows the lives of a young Norman and his mother. Also, A&E’s Bates Motel should not be confused with the NBC TV movie of the same name (from 1987). It ignored all of the other Psycho sequels and was actually a failed pilot to a potential series that had nothing to do with Norman Bates.
Running for five seasons, Bates Motel is an excellent series with two incredible leads: Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore. Its final seasons are particularly intriguing as they start to overlap with the source material. It’s obviously never going to have the kind of cultural impact that Psycho did, but it is still worth seeking out
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Two high school Dr. Frankensteins use an older brother’s computer to design their perfect woman who — through the power of accidental lightning — is brought to life and given the power to grant wishes (not unlike a genie).
The original Weird Science is a classic ’80’s sci-fi comedy from writer/director John Hughes. The movie actually plays out like a high budget pilot, even ending with a hint that our horndog teen leads’ adventures will continue. The TV series, which ran for five seasons on the USA Network starting in 1994, took that premise and ran it into the ground. The show isn’t nearly as funny or interesting as the movie, but it’s the kind of inoffensive, beige sitcom you’d expect from ’90’s cable TV.
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Also known as The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles was George Lucas’ attempt at bringing his iconic character to the small screen. Likely inspired by the scenes of the young archeologist in the opening of The Last Crusade, the series dropped into Indiana and different moments of his young life where he would find himself meeting an historical figure.
The biggest problem with The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles was that it was set up for failure. Kids watching the show went into it expecting Raiders of the Lost Ark. Instead, they got Raiders of History Class. There was some action here or there, but it was obvious that this show was attempting to be (gulp) educational.
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M*A*S*H ran for 11 seasons on CBS, from 1972 to 1983. 256 episodes were produced, with the final episode being one of the most watched programs ever aired on television. The half hour dramedy brought laughs and tears to audiences for over a decade, and was a cultural touchstone in a way that is impossible for a television show to be in today’s landscape.
It was so successful that you could argue it completely overshadows Robert Altman’s 1970 film of the same name. Also based on Richard Hooker’s novel about surgeons in the Korean War, the film was a critical and box office success. Despite its meandering, episodic nature and featuring an early version of Altman’s signature style, the movie is still a dark, biting comedy about dealing with the horrors of war. There are some moments that don’t quite work in a modern context, but they don’t take away from an otherwise excellent film.
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The Dead Zone
Stephen King’s The Dead Zone was first adapted as a film directed by David Cronenberg in 1983. It stars Christopher Walken, who had yet to become a parody of himself — and is a competent and enjoyable sci-fi/fantasy thriller.
The Dead Zone TV series began airing in 2002. While it is ostensibly based on the book, it did borrow a handful of tweaks to the original story from the film. The series ran for six seasons and was a platform for Anthony Michael Hall to rehabilitate his acting career after a period of decline in the late ’90’s.
Both versions are fairly obscure, despite being in the top 50-percent of Stephen King adaptations with regards to quality
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You have to love some of these absurd ’80’s comedy premises.
Released in 1985, Teen Wolf tells the coming-of-age story of a high school student athlete who discovers, much to his chagrin, that he is a werewolf. Naturally, this makes him very good at basketball (and car surfing). It’s all held together by Michael J. Fox at the peak of his powers. He’s an electric screen presence. The movie spawned two TV series. The first came in1986. It was your typical ’80’s Saturday morning cartoon.
The other was MTV’s 2011 series of the same name that ran for six seasons. Similar to later shows like Riverdale and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, this Teen Wolf was a darker, serious take on the silly source material. It also expanded significantly on the supernatural elements. A completely different flavor than the ’80’s original, and a great example of how a strong writer can adapt an existing property and make it their own.
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Don’t bother trying to wrap your head around the continuity of the Highlander franchise. With sequels that contradict one another and a TV series that, by nature of the franchise’s premise, has to negate the conclusion of the original movie, it’s best not to get bogged down in the details and just enjoy the ride.
The original Highlander from 1986 spawned three TV shows. Highlander: The Series came first, running for six seasons beginning in 1992. Following the trials and tribulations of Duncan MacLeod, it was the best thing the franchise produced — and was a solid syndicated TV show for five of its six seasons. It also got a spin-off of its own called Highlander: The Raven — though that was short-lived and unremarkable.
The final TV series in the franchise is Highlander: The Animated Series (first aired in 1994). For a children’s show, it was quite dark and expanded on the Highlander lore in interesting and ultimately non-canonical ways. Also, like Highlander: The Series, it is better than any of the movie sequels in the franchise.
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The Odd Couple
The Odd Couple is a charming 1968 comedy film starring Walter Matthau as Oscar and Jack Lemmon as Felix. Based on the play of the same name, it is about two diametrically opposed divorced men who end up living together. It’s a simple but winning premise that has made its way to television a number of times.
First, and most successfully was the 1970 series (starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall) that ran for five seasons. It was so popular, in fact, that a spin-off cartoon was produced in 1975. Called The Oddball Couple, it focused on a dog and a cat who shared a similar living situation to Oscar and Felix. In 1982, ABC premiered The New Odd Couple. Same premise of course, only this time the two leads were African-American. Hampered by a writers’ strike, the show was canceled in 1983.
The most recent attempt was CBS’ The Odd Couple in 2015. Back to the original formula this time, with Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon starring, the show ran for three seasons and was a modest hit. Looking at the timeline, we should expect another version of the show some time in the early 2030s — perhaps this time starring two women.
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The Girlfriend Experience
I don’t think anyone would have expected The Girlfriend Experience to be adapted into a TV series. The movie most famous for starring former porn star Sasha Grey, it’s one of Director Stephen Soderbergh’s most languid, stripped down entries in his extensive filmography. It was met with a mixed reaction from critics, and made less than a million dollars at the box office.
Seven years after the film screened at Sundance, The Girlfriend Experience TV show premiered on Starz to favorable reviews. The show is an anthology drama about escorts who provide the titular service, with each season following a different set of characters. The show is unafraid of reinventing itself from season to season, and it will be interesting to see how it develops if it continues on past its third season
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Police Academy was a surprise box office smash in the spring of 1984. By law, ‘80’s Hollywood was then required to crank out sequels every year until they stopped turning in profit. Ultimately, six sequels would be produced, each with predictably diminishing returns. Also by law, Police Academy was adapted in 1989 into a cartoon. Running for two seasons, it is remarkable only in that it is the one piece of the Police Academy franchise that didn’t feature the talent of series standout Michael Winslow.
After the movie sequel well ran dry, producers sprung into action with a Police Academy TV Series. Airing in syndication beginning in 1997, the show was shockingly canceled after one season.
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I wonder how many fans of the 2010 NBC dramedy Parenthood were aware that not only was it based on a movie, but also that it was not the first attempt to adapt that movie for series?
Ron Howard’s Parenthood was released in theaters in 1989, and featured an incredible cast including Steve Martin, Mary Steenbergen, Rick Moranis, Martha Plimpton, Diane Wiest and Keanu Reeves. It’s a cute slice of life story about the highs and lows of — you guess it — parenthood. In 1990, a TV adaptation was ordered — but it didn’t last a full season. The 2010 version was a different story, running for six seasons despite never being a ratings hit.
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Lassie/Lassie Come Home
Arguably the most famous dog character in the history of film and television, Lassie has been an institution since the 1940’s. Her first “starring” film was Lassie Come Home in 1943 (produced by MGM). All told, there have been at least 10 Lassie movies released to theaters, with the most recent being a German version in 2020.
Of course, Lassie was an even bigger hit on the small screen. Her first series was Lassie that started in 1954, and ran for an incredible 19 seasons that produced nearly 600 episodes. Since then there have been a number of other series, though none saw the same success as the first (The New Lassie in 1989, Lassie in 1997, and the animated series The New Adventures of Lassie in 2014). There was even an anime version released in 1996 in Japan called Famous Dog Lassie.
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What We Do in the Shadows/Wellington Paranormal
What We Do in the Shadows, the 2014 movie about a group of vampires living together in Wellington, is on par with any of the great Mockumentaries. It perfectly marries its ridiculous premise with the documentary form to heighten the absurdity that would be the practical life of a vampire. The FX TV series that premiered in 2019 takes everything that was right with the film and adds the extra layer of exploring a larger vampire society. It is one of the funniest, most interesting TV shows on the air.
Wellington Paranormal actually predates the What We Do in the Shadows TV series by a year, first airing in New Zealand in 2018. However, it only started being broadcast in the United States on the CW — and then uploaded to HBO Max in 2021. The two lead characters are the police officers briefly featured in the original movie. While not as funny as What We Do in the Shadows on FX, it is still worth watching if you enjoy the rest of the franchise.
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Friday the 13th
Friday the 13th: The Series is a blatant case of bait and switch. Sometimes, in the process of adapting a story from film to television, certain changes must be made. Maybe the premise needs to be tweaked to sustain the narrative indefinitely? Or the scope needs to change because of budgetary concerns? We can forgive that as an audience — to a point.
That isn’t the case here. Producers of Friday the 13th took a show that was being developed (called The 13th Hour) and slapped their film franchise’s name on it. Can you guess how many episodes featured Jason Voorhees? Exactly zero.
The horror series ran for three seasons starting in 1987 and followed two young antique store owners who must recover cursed antiques. It is only notable for being fairly graphic and outside the normal standards of late ’80’s television. One of the worst “adaptations” in TV history.
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All credit to Noah Hawley, the creator behind the Fargo TV series, for having the chutzpah to attempt to adapt a Coen Brothers film. Also, kudos to him for that adaptation being faithful and good. First airing in 2014, Fargo uses the anthology format to tell a different dark crime story with each season. The casting is incredible — it’s almost as if people are unable to say no to the series’ producers. Fargo is also lousy with references not only to the original movie but to the Coen Brothers’ entire filmography. This is one of the best movie to TV adaptations of all-time in that it focused more on getting the style and tone right instead of approximating characters and story beats.
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The first time Westworld was adapted to television was actually all the way back in 1980. Titled Beyond Westworld, the series followed a Delos security chief matching wits with an evil scientist who is trying to pervert Delos technology. It was quickly canceled.
The superior TV adaptation, of course, is the current 2016 HBO series. Borrowing not only from the original 1973 Westworld film but also the sequel, Futureworld, the modern Westworld television series is a dense, winding maze of a narrative. Some will find this intriguing, others will become increasingly frustrated. The first season, on its own, is a masterpiece. A self-contained story that you can walk away from feeling satisfied. Later seasons are still fine television, but the story manages to get even more vague and ponderous as it goes on.
The original movie, directed by Michael Crichton, is a fine little genre film — one that sets the stage for the slasher genre that would develop a few years later. That being said, the HBO series has improved upon the original premise in every way possible.
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