Although TV-to-cinema projects have become increasingly popular in recent years, genuinely good adaptations remain few and far between. Mike McCahill counts down ten undeniable gems, from The Untouchables to Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Quatermass and the Pit (1967)

The British film industry, in the absence of better or more original ideas, has often looked to its small-screen relative for inspiration, as demonstrated by the ever-growing rash of spin-offs, both interesting (the Steptoe and Son and Likely Lads movies) and lamentable (Ooh… You Are Awful, Mrs. Brown’s Boys: D’Movie).

The business-savvy Hammer outfit were among the first to plant a clawed foot in both camps: here, veteran director Roy Ward Baker converted Nigel Kneale’s 1955 BBC serial—about the unearthing of a mysterious object beneath a Tube station—into rattlingly entertaining matinee fare.

 

 

Head (1968)

All boy bands have to grow up eventually. Fabricated pop sensation The Monkees broke away from their smash teatime TV series with this psychedelic curio, co-written by Jack Nicholson in collaboration with his Five Easy Pieces director Bob Rafelson.

The freaky foursome—Jones, Nesmith, Tork, Dolenz—wander dazed through a succession of different movie sets, seemingly in search of a new identity for themselves, their quest eventually prompting sign-off single “The Porpoise Song”, with its enduring refrain of “Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye”. Whether you follow its logic or not, it’s a decidedly far out viewing experience.

 

 

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

The Pythons had already filmed a sketch anthology for American release (1971’s And Now for Something Completely Different, which returned that dead parrot for more money); but it’s this Arthurian romp—released a year after the series ended—that endures as one of the period’s funnier, more ambitious TV-to-film crossovers. (It’s no Holiday on the Buses.)

Admittedly, there was a scant budget for horses (coconut shells sufficed), but Grail boosted its schoolboy humour with location shooting and rudimentary limb-lopping. 1979’s Life of Brian went further still, recreating the Crucifixion in widescreen—and with songs.

 

 

The Untouchables (1987)


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The explosion of TV-derived movies in the final years of the last millennium can be put down to a) a backward-looking culture, b) studios needing to hold onto expiring copyrights, and c) the roaring success of this Prohibition-era actioner.

Cult director Brian De Palma (who would later perform a similar trick with Mission: Impossible) took a turn-of-the-Sixties serial by then best remembered for its theme tune and rewrote it larger-than-large on the big screen, establishing a tense, muscular face-off between Kevin Costner’s square-jawed Eliot Ness and Robert De Niro’s brutish Al Capone. Watch out for that pram!

 

 

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988)


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Detective Frank Drebin—a born blunderer, incarnated by the peerlessly deadpan Leslie Nielsen—came to prominence on Police Squad!, a one-season wonder created by the Airplane! team of Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker. Six years later, these jokers reunited for a feature-length spin-off that fired off 90 minutes of silly-good to frankly magnificent sight gags while Drebin investigated plots to assassinate the Queen.

While cheekily puncturing the pomposity of certain US cop dramas, it subsequently acquired an odd pop-cultural cachet for casting OJ Simpson as hapless undercover cop Nordberg.

 

 

Wayne’s World (1992)

Industry structure and audience demand have often seen Saturday Night Live’s character comedians transferring to the big screen, with broadly mixed results: great claims for 1993’s Coneheads, 1994’s It’s Pat or 1998’s A Night at the Roxbury are few and far between.

This was the big commercial breakthrough, although it’s very much of its knowing Nineties moment: an affectionately goofy comedy in which hard-rocking buds Wayne and Garth (Mike Myers and Dana Carvey) ponder selling out while transferring their tiny cable-access show onto a grander stage. Back in 1992, its catchphrases (“Schwing!”, “We’re not worthy!”) were everywhere.

 

 

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

In Twin Peaks, the boundary separating one world (movies) from another (television) is fluid indeed; these two media, the giant and the dwarf, must be considered as a pair. An extension of David Lynch’s pilot played in European cinemas, and a year after the series finished, Lynch delivered this shattering prequel, which opens with a TV set being destroyed before shading far darker than its predecessor in examining Laura Palmer’s final days.

A later rerun saw Lynch converting his failed Mulholland Drive pilot into a much-acclaimed feature—and he hasn’t left Peaks behind, either.   

Read more: 10 Freakiest David Lynch moments 

 

 

The Fugitive (1993)


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Roy Huggins’ original series ran (literally) from 1963, with wanted man David Janssen navigating four seasons of varyingly plausible cliffhangers. Three decades later, Warner Bros. greenlit a new script by Die Hard’s Jeb Stuart that did all that—and more—within a two-hour closed narrative that saw framed surgeon Harrison Ford pursued through just about every variety of house in Chicago by obsessive marshal Tommy Lee Jones.

Action specialist Andrew Davis’s polished direction and rugged, old-school star performances made it a deserved megahit, and kept the recycling going—but does anybody now remember Maverick or The Mod Squad?

 

 

The Brady Bunch Movie (1995)

Here’s a film that took a markedly less reverent approach to its source material. Perhaps feeling she’d drawn a shortish straw when it came to reviving a broadcasting iron horse, comedy veteran Betty Thomas dropped the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, ever-smiling clan of America’s flower-power years slap-bang in the middle of the Nineties, and treated them as the basis of a (very funny) fish-out-of-water joke.

The Bradys’ virtuous front is here mocked, tested and finally exposed as a cover for all manner of perverse desires—although a cameo from the original’s Florence Henderson suggests it was ever thus.

 

 

Traffic (2000)


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Comparably few TV shows have crossed the Atlantic to become movies, but it’s a sign of director Steven Soderbergh’s curiosity that he should have seized upon Traffik, the unsparing Channel 4 miniseries of 1989, as the basis of his Oscar-garlanded epic about America’s costly war on drugs.

Rather than shipping heroin between the UK and Pakistan, Soderbergh’s heavyweight players (Douglas, del Toro, Zeta-Jones) shift crack either side of a vividly shaded US-Mexico border, to impressively punchy effect. In turn, the film inspired a 2004 miniseries, strengthening the story’s message: that what goes around often comes around.  

 

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