Films based on television series are usually a safe bet financially, as the makers can almost guarantee that the pre-made fanbase will shell out to see their favourite characters make the transition from small to big screen. While the ten movies on this list are those which grossed huge amounts of money at the box office, they are closely followed by many other commercially successful adaptations and continuations of television shows. Charlie’s Angels (2000), Bean (1997), Get Smart (2008), Brüno (2009), Borat (2006), and The Addams Family (1991) have each earned between 100 million and 300 million. More television spin-off films are being produced all the time, with sequels such as 22 Jump Street and Transformers 4: Age of Extinction kicking off the summer blockbuster season next month and an Arrested Development film currently in the works.
Though films that follow on from television shows tend do well at the box office, they can struggle when it comes to the plot, character development and dialogue. They rarely win awards and critical reviews are often mixed or unfavourable. Some (Sex and the City for example) feel more like an extended episode than a movie, and the humour is sometimes strained when placed out of the context of the show. Bad adaptations occur quite frequently and can taint viewers’ fond memories of the original series (such as the 2005 version of Bewitched starring the woefully mismatched Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell, or the Dukes of Hazzard movie, released in the same year).
Not all of these films are critical disasters, however. Serenity, an adaptation of Joss Whedon’s short-lived sci-fi Western, Firefly, failed to set the box office alight, but was widely admired for its goofy humour and imaginativeness. The Veronica Mars movie, which came out in March, was equally praised for its sharp writing and strong performances. The Blues Brothers and Wayne’s World, which started out as sketches on Saturday Night Live, have become comedy classics. There’s hope for the film industry yet.
The following is a list of the highest-grossing films that were once television shows. Note that we've condensed films within the same franchise to one entry each to allow for a more widely representative list.
10 The Last Airbender: $319.7 million
The Last Airbender is a fantasy adventure film based on the first series of the Nickelodeon animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender. While the television programme was universally acclaimed and won numerous awards, the live-action movie was panned by critics, who criticised its inconsistent and incomprehensible plotting, terrible acting and detached direction. Despite this, the film managed to attract large audiences, presumably consisting of curious fans of the original show.
9 The Flintstones: $341.6 Million
The Flintstones movie was released in 1994 and stars many famous faces including John Goodman, Rosie O'Donnell, Halle Berry and Elizabeth Taylor. Based on the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon, it follows the exploits of Fred Flintstone, his wife Wilma and his neighbours, and is set in a fantasy stone-age world. Though the film received generally negative reviews, many children and adults enjoyed its light-hearted humour and stunning visuals, and it turned out to be a major box office success.
8 Alvin and the Chipmunks: $361.3 Million
Alvin and the Chipmunks is a 2007 semi-animated comedy film based on the television series of the same name. Revolving around a band of singing chipmunks, it was criticised for its lazy slapstick humour and rehashing of old formulas. It was a favourite with kids, however, and took in a whopping $361 million at the box office. The film’s sequels also did remarkably well commercially, raking in $443,140,005 and $342,695,435 respectively.
7 The Fugitive: $368.9 Million
The Fugitive is a 1993 thriller film based on the 1960s television series of the same name. The story revolves around a doctor who is wrongly convicted for the murder of his wife, but escapes from custody and sets out to track down the real killer. Unlike many of the other films on this list, The Fugitive was a critical success and nominated for several academy awards. On a budget of $44 million, it grossed a cool $368,875,760.
6 Star Trek: $385.5 Million
The original Star Trek television series debuted in 1966, and proved so popular that it spawned an animated series, four other spin-off shows, and twelve films. The highest-grossing films are part of the recent reboot of the series undertaken by director J.J. Abrams. The simply-titled Star Trek and its sequel, Star Trek: Into Darkness, earned $385 and $467 million respectively, and were favourably received by critics. Another sequel is currently in the pipeline.
5 Sex and the City: $415.2 Million
After six seasons of Sex and the City, audiences had grown quite attached to Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte. When the film was released in 2004, fans of the show turned up in their droves to see more of the sexually liberal, Cosmopolitan-drinking New Yorkers. A sequel was released in 2010, taking in over $300 million, and a prequel television series, the Carrie Diaries, aired for two seasons before being cancelled earlier this month.
4 Mission: Impossible: $457.7 Million
Mission: Impossible, with its catchy theme tune and thrilling action sequences, first won over audiences as a television show that ran for seven series between 1966 and 1973. It was made into a film starring Tom Cruise in 1996, and promptly broke box office records across the US. A number of sequels were then made, each hugely successful (the highest grossing being Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, which earned almost $700 million in takings). A fifth movie is due to be released next year.
3 The Simpsons Movie: $527.1 Million
Now in its 25th season, The Simpsons is the longest-running American cartoon ever. It revolves around a dim witted but well-meaning nuclear power plant worker, his wife and three children, as well as the other inhabitants of their home town of Springfield. Thanks to its irreverent humour and intelligent social commentary, it is often considered to be one of the best television shows of all time. Unsurprisingly, there was a huge buzz around the release of The Simpsons movie in 2007, and fans flocked to find out how their favourite dysfunctional family would fare on the big screen. Most were not disappointed - the film has a 90% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and is widely critically acclaimed.
2 The Smurfs: $563.7 Million
The Smurfs are a colony of small blue creatures that were originally created by Belgian artist Peyo for a series of comic books that started in 1958. The comics were then picked up by Hanna-Barbera and adapted into an animated television series that was broadcast between 1981 and 1989. Two French-language cartoon films were made, but their success has been dwarfed by that of the 2011 semi CGI, semi live-action film. Despite being trashed for its slapstick humour and uninspired plot, The Smurfs, like Alvin and the Chipmunks, was a roaring success with children. The sequel, which was released last year, did not do as well as its predecessor, but still grossed a hefty $347 million.
1 Transformers: $709.7 Million
In 1984, Transformers captured the hearts and minds of children as a series of toys with moveable parts that allowed you to change an animal, vehicle or device into a robot action figure. That same year, Marvel created Transformers comic books, and an animated television series was launched. After several cartoon films were made, a live-action film featuring computer generated effects was released in 2007. Starring Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox, the big-budget flick was a huge box office hit, as were its two sequels. When averaged to gross per film, it is the 4th highest-grossing film series ever, behind only Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean.