When TV Shows Become Movies

Charles Graham Dixon,

Being a massive fan of Steve Coogan's Alan Partridge from his introduction on BBC Radio Four’s On the Hour, through Knowing, Me Knowing You and the near-perfect I’m Alan Partridge, the news that this sublime comic creation was to be made into a film didn't really excite me greatly. Films made as a result of TV shows often feel rushed and seem to be made only to appease fans of the original series without bringing the depth and scale required for them to work as feature films.

With Alan's latest outing Alan Partridge in mind, it's time for a run-down of the most notable films borne from TV shows. Apologies for anyone hoping to see The Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation, Sabrina Goes to Rome and Hannah Montana: The Movie – these titles only narrowly missed the cut, great though they are.

The Thick of It – In the loop 

Armando Iannucci (writer, producer, director, satirist and one of the finest minds to emerge from the BBC in the early '90s) is behind an outstanding body of work including The Day Today, I’m Alan Partridge, the criminally underrated Armando Iannucci Shows and the brilliant political satire The Thick of It, which formed the basis for In The Loop, his directorial debut. In The Loop sharply satirizes British-American politics at the turn of this century, the Bush administration and the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of the cast from The Thick of It are present, including the brilliantly foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker and an appearance from the late James Gandolfini.

Miami Vice

Michael Mann’s film version of his highly influential 1980s TV series was fighting a losing battle before shooting began. People were expecting pastel colours, Jan Hammer on the soundtrack and Don Johnson. What they got was hand-held HD camerawork, Mogwai, and Colin Farrell. Mann didn’t want to simply make a feature-length version of a show he’d finished nearly twenty years before; he wanted to bring it to the present day using new actors, contemporary politics and modern technology. This isn’t Mann’s best and can’t stand toe to toe with Heat or Manhunter but the film is a compelling spectacle and is unfairly derided as merely a Colin Farrell vehicle.

The Fugitive 

Andrew Davis’ adaptation of Roy Huggin’s 1960s U.S. series is a brilliant Hollywood thriller, pure and simple. The film contains a variety of tense set-pieces and stand-offs but perhaps most effective is the casting. Harrison Ford as the wrongly convicted wife-killer Dr Richard Kimble, shows the right mixture of intelligence, vulnerability and strength to make us genuinely hope that the feds don't catch him. However, the real genius of the film is Tommy Lee Jones who, though not technically a ‘bad guy’, is the U.S. Marshall on Kimble’s tail. Jones looks to be actively enjoying playing the role, barking out orders, delivering withering put-downs and chomping on donuts with rare gusto.

Twin Peaks TV series – Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

TPFWWM is not really a sequel, a prequel or even a spin off – it’s the even more disturbed cousin of the TV show and contains a wealth of dark and evil characters and imagery that only the big screen could have done justice to. The film was booed at Cannes and bombed financially and critically. Only now and following a special edition DVD release is TPFWWM being recognised for what it is – a mind-mending psychological horror movie that can sit alongside the slightly more coherent TV series wearing a kind of depraved, twisted grin.

Police Squad – Naked Gun

The TV series Police Squad never quite made its mark and was cancelled after just six episodes. However, when creators and writers Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker snappily known as the collective ZAZ, decided to turn the short-lived spoof police procedural into the Naked Gun films, everything fell into place. Leslie Nielsen’s deadpan expressions juxtaposed with his character’s catalogue of mishaps, creates an almost endless stream of laughter. The jokes in the Naked Gun films are so regular (something like every ten seconds) that even if you don’t laugh at one you’ll be laughing at the next one.

The Monkees – Head

Written by Jack Nicholson and directed by Bob Rafelson – the man responsible for 70s counter-culture films such as Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens (both starting Nicholson) – Head is a trippy, psychedelic film starring The Monkess, whom, lest we forget, were created entirely on and for television.

Head, which is a essentially about the expression of free-will, destroyed both the squeaky-clean image of The Monkees as created by their TV show along with their teenage fan-base. Jack Nicholson reportedly wrote the film during an acid trip and the basic storylines and plot were brainstormed by Nicholson, Rafelson and the band while high on weed at a spiritualist retreat in Southern California.  


It still seems strange that Robert Altman, the director behind such New Hollywood classics as The Long Goodbye, MASH (also from a TV series) and McCabe and Mrs Miller, decided to direct a live action musical of Popeye.

The film starred Robin Williams in his film debut and contained a soundtrack composed by Harry Nilsson. Popeye is regarded as a notorious box office flop although it made more than double its budget. Years on, the film is actually an interesting watch. It is curious to see a director like Altman attempting to make a film almost purely to satisfy studio executives.

Wayne’s World 

Emerging from the vast talent-pool that graced Saturday Night Live, Mike Myers and Dana Carvey’s film adaptation of their SNL sketch was the highest grossing film of 1992 and became something of a phenomenon. The film has spawned a sequel, video games, and a variety of catchphrases. The film is still funny today…Not! No, it really is. Long live Wayne’s World. 


The great thing about the feature-length version of this MTV series is that Johnny Knoxville and co show absolutely no concern for making their show suitable for the big screen aside from the ridiculously brilliant opening sequence involving a giant shopping cart and some explosives. There is no attempt to create a plot or a narrative; it’s just the TV show but longer, more violent and on a larger scale. It is simple, brutal and very funny.

Addams Family

While The Addams Family is by no means a great film, it is visually striking. Director Barry Sonnenfeld whose early career as a cinematographer for the Coen Brothers on films like Blood Simple, Raising Arizona and Miller’s Crossing brings his visual talents to the fore, creating gloomy, stark and memorable imagery. Also, the film was a notable example of a feature outdoing its rather primitive TV predecessor with its improved production values, dark adult humour and excellent acting.

'Alan Partridge' is out in Canada on 7 March.
Main image via Organic Publicity.

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