15 TV Shows You Didn’t Know Were Movies First

15 TV Shows You Didn’t Know Were Movies First

After years at the bottom of a contractual pond, the rights to the Friday the 13th horror franchise have landed in a truly fascinating new home: A24, producers of some of the weirder, artier, and more successful independent films of the past decade (X, Lamb, The Green Knight, and Everything Everywhere All at Once).

But instead of a movie, the company is creating the series Crystal Lake, described as a prequel, with Bryan Fuller (Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, Hannibal) as writer/producer/showrunner. That’s impressive talent to bring to bear on a story of a guy in a hockey mask who mostly murders sexually active teenagers. Some fans are already concerned that bringing elements of “elevated” horror to the Jason Voorhees saga is missing the point. Me? I’m genuinely intrigued.

Of course, it’s not the first time Friday the 13th has been a TV series — there was also Friday the 13th: The Series, a surprisingly decent late-night horror show that ran for three seasons in the ‘80s and had pretty much nothing to do with any of the movies (the plot revolved around a shop selling haunted antiques that were also mostly evil).

That title would have clued you in that the show was based on the films, even if the content wouldn’t have. In that spirit, here are other film-to-TV shows that aren’t quite so obvious with their inspirations, whether because the successful, long-running adaptations have overshadowed the movies that gave birth to them, or because I’m just very old and remember these things.

(As for how I determined “people” don’t know that these particular shows were based on movies: several very informal, non-representative, poorly sampled polls were conducted, each of which produced at least one slightly quizzical response. It’s called science.)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003)

Based on: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

Before Sarah Michelle Gellar, there was Kristy Swanson as the title Slayer, joined by an unusually impressive cast, including Donald Sutherland, Luke Perry, Rutger Hauer, Hilary Swank, and Paul Reubens as a memorably hard-to-kill vampire. The movie didn’t do big business but became a bit of a cult classic even before the seven-season-and-a-spin-off series took over a few years later. The TV show doesn’t entirely retcon the movie, roughly keeping the continuity intact while fudging the details as needed.

Teen Wolf (2011 – 2017)

Based on: Teen Wolf (1985)

Though dwarfed by the success of Back to the Future, the 1985 Teen Wolf film was one of two mega-hits for Michael J. Fox, released around the same time that his Family Ties series was moving from barely noticed to #2 in the TV ratings. So: good year for Fox. The following year saw an animated spin-off (sans Fox) and then a sequel, Teen Wolf Too, with Jason Bateman taking over. It bombed, but there was clearly something to the franchise, enough to inspire a the MTV revival a couple of decades later, which wound up lasting for six seasons with Tyler Posey in the lead. The sexier teen drama is to see a revival movie in 2023, with a Sarah Michelle Gellar-led spin-off to follow. There’s no real continuity between the ‘80s Wolf series and the more recent show, but there’s plenty to dig into for Wolfanatics.

Westworld (2016 – )

Based on: Westworld (1973)

A bit of high(-ish)-brow science fiction from writer/director Michael Crichton, the 1973 film has fun with the idea of androids run amok but never quite goes all the way in exploring the premise. Some have argued that the modern series goes too far (at times) in the other direction, but there’s no question that it’s made a mark on pup culture going in to its fifth season — for more than earlier spin-offs: Sequel film Futureworld was a slog, and the 1980 TV series ran for a whopping three episodes.

M*A*S*H (1972 – 1983)

Based on: M*A*S*H (1970)

Robert Altman’s breakthrough 1970 hit film (based on a novel) remains among his best, even when considered in the context of his long and impressive career. You might have also heard, however, of the related TV series; a show that managed to chronicle three years in the life of the staff of the title’s Korean War-era Mobile Army Surgical Hospital over the course of 11 seasons. It remains one of the most beloved and acclaimed series’ in TV history, with a finale watched by over 100 million viewers, a record for a scripted show unlikely to ever be bested.

Alice (1976 – 1985)

Based on: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)

Like M*A*S*H before it, Alice stepped from the shadow of a popular and critically acclaimed motion picture forerunner to last an impressive nine seasons, expanding the story of the titular waitress from Martin Scorsese’s 1974 Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. That film version won Ellen Burstyn an Academy Award for Best Actress, while the series won Linda Lavin a couple of Golden Globes and an Emmy nomination for the same role.

Black Dynamite (2011 – 2015)

Based on: Black Dynamite (2009)

The sharp, silly, and generally very fun live-action Blaxploitation riff became, for a time, a stylish, TV-MA Adult Swim animated series with Michael Jai White reprising his role from the film. One can be enjoyed without the other, but they’re both pretty darn enjoyable. There’s been chatter that a second live-action film is on the way.

Fame (1982 – 1987)

Based on: Fame (1980)

The more recent 2009 Fame film remake did decent business without staying too long on anyone’s radar, while the original 1980 Alan Parker-directed film spawned a musical, a number one hit song, a reality show, generations of theatre kids screaming about hot lunch(!), and, especially, the six-season spin-off that shaved off some of the film’s rough edges (and defied all suspension of disbelief by reducing the queer representation at the performing arts school from one to zero) while expanding the world of the young, hungry talents in interesting ways. While the various iterations of Fame are largely independent of each other, the great Debbie Allen appears in both films and the TV series, providing some connective tissue.

What We Do in the Shadows (2019 – )

Based on: What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

The show has become a bit of a phenomenon, and deservedly so (it’s one of the best and weirdest things on television), but it takes some its best cues from the smaller New Zealand cult film that inspired it. The Jemaine Clement/Taika Waititi film (which shares a loose continuity with the show — if anyone cares) also birthed the charming and goofy Wellington Paranormal spin-off.

Friday Night Lights (2006 – 2011)

Based on: Friday Night Lights (2004)

One of those shows that survived on viewer affection and critical acclaim more than ratings (at a time when such a thing was still possible), Friday Night Lights the series ran for five seasons without ever being a particularly big hit. The Peter Berg-directed movie, based on the same non-fiction book, was a similar case: it did OK business initially, but grew into a favourite over time.

The Librarians (2014 – 2018)

Based on: The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (2004) (and sequels)

A charming, Indiana Jones-light TV movie lead by Noah Wylie (aided by Olympia Dukakis) along turned into an unlikely franchise consisting of two sequel films that were followed by a spin-off series starring Rebecca Romjin and John Larroquette. While largely a standalone take on the premise (a secret annex of the New York Public Library that catalogues magical and occult objects), the series follows the continuity of the films, bringing back Noah Wylie, Jane Curtin, and Bob Newhart for occasional guest turns.

The Dukes of Hazzard (1979 – 1985)

Based on: Moonrunners (1975)

As with the series that followed it, Waylon Jennings narrates the ‘70s-era car movie Moonrunners, starring James Mitchum and Kiel Martin as the Hagg cousins (who became the Dukes for TV), running moonshine under the nose of Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane. The movie’s car is named for Robert E. Lee’s horse, but at least doesn’t bother to drape it in the Confederate flag.

Snowpiercer (2020 – )

Based on: Snowpiercer (2013)

Oscar-winner Bong Joon-ho’s international 2013 science fiction parable lost a little of its political bite in its translation to TV, but gained from the world-building that long-form storytelling allows for. An original TNT production, the show’s upcoming fourth season is to be its last, intended to close the door on original programming from that network.

Creepshow (2019 – )

Based on: Creepshow (1982)

Anthology film Creepshow represented a fun blend of sensibilities from George Romero and Stephen King, who teamed up to create five (mostly successful) scary stories with a most-star cast. The sequel did less well, but the current series is as solid as horror anthologies come, adapting stories from King, Joe Hill, Joe R. Lansdale, Daniel Kraus, and many others.

Gomorrah (2014 – 2021)

Based on: Gomorrah (2008)

Each based on a 2006 non-fiction book about dealing with the domination of the Camorra crime organisation in Campania, Gomorrah, the series, has been called to an Italian Sopranos (well, OK, a more specifically regionally Italian Sopranos), though it’s even a bit darker than that beloved HBO series. Both explore the global reach of crime in a modern, globally interconnected era, and pull no punches as to the brutality and cruelty of Camorra (the criminals here are far less cuddly than Tony). By its nature, the film is punchier and more succinct, while the series expands that world and allows for a broader scope.

The Odd Couple (1970 – 1975)

Based on: The Odd Couple (1968)

TV great Garry Marshall developed The Odd Couple from Neil Simon’s play and subsequent film, representing a pretty solid team-up of talent from two poles of the entertainment industry. The movie stars platonic Hollywood power couple Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, but the series still stands out by virtue of similarly good casting in the faces of Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. A 1998 sequel to the film bombed, while the 2015 revival of the TV series lasted for three seasons, but faded quickly — so each has a failed reboot in common.


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