Basing a television show on a feature film is far from anything new. M*A*S*H, one of the most successful television programs of its time, comes from a novel by Richard Hooker first turned into a film by Robert Altman in 1970. But Altman’s overlapping dialogue and the crude fratboy humour to ease wartime tension would have never flown on television. So Larry Gelbart softened the filth of the movie, turning Donald Sutherland‘s roguish Hawkeye Pierce into Alan Alda‘s delightfully slapstick Hawkeye – the Hawaiian shirt wearing goofball. The show was insanely popular – and of its time, because the jokes and forced laugh track of yesteryear wouldn’t play well with a modern audience. It ran for eleven years – nearly three times as long as the war in which its set.
This season, we’ve seen adaptations of Lethal Weapon, Training Day, The Exorcist and the upcoming Time After Time and Taken. A quick search of wikipedia will bring you to a long, sad list of shows based on films. So few of them had any success. One season, sometimes even one pilot, wonders are plentiful.
The best of these shows usually spin off from movies with rich characters, or with a mythology that could be easily expanded. Here are just a few ideas for shows that might work well as a television show. Producers take note.
15. The Last Boy Scout
Shane Black’s script for this Tony Scott-helmed action-comedy was the first to sell for over a million dollars. It was popular in its day, however it seems to have fallen by the wayside since. Bruce Willis plays a hard-drinking P.I. who reluctantly teams up with a disgraced NFL star to solve a murder mystery involving legalized gambling.
Most of Black’s action scripts have the buddy element to them; he essentially defined the modern cop movie with Lethal Weapon – and there’s a reason the show is currently working. The character dynamic between an old family man and a loose cannon still crackles onscreen. At the end of Boy Scout, it appears all is well. Willis is re-united with his estranged wife and daughter, and football star Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans) is on his way to partnering up with him permanently.
The yin and yang of cop and football celebrity could play well on television, setting it against a gritty L.A. but retaining the film’s sense of humour. It also has the potential of lampooning the L.A. social scene – with Dix easily mixing with high profile cases and whoever plays Willis’ character acting more like a fish out of water.
14. Dazed and Confused
Richard Linklater’s lazy, hazy stoner comedy follows a group of students on the last day of school in the suburbs of Austin, Texas. There’s little plot, merely vignettes loosely linked together. It’s the ultimate hang out film. The success of Netflix’s prequel to Wet, Hot American Summer has proven there’s an audience for such shaggy material, and, preferably with Linklater’s guidance and blessing, a show expanding on that evening – or expanding it through the entire summer – has potential to be a lot of fun. Of course, it would come down to casting and character. What made the film endearing was the excellent roster of actors and richly realized – though subtly developed – characters.
13. The Devil’s Advocate
I’ve spoken before about my unabashed love for this ridiculous film. Keanu Reeves‘ southern lawyer travels to New York to work for a prestigious law firm that happens to be run by Al Pacino‘s Satan. There are two directions a Devil’s Advocate television show could work. The first is the currently popular 10-13 episode season which tells the same story as the film, only fleshing out the characters and detail over several hours. Since sex was an important factor in the film, it’d find a home more easily on HBO or Netflix.
The other direction is the more classical doctor-lawyer-cop formula of television: A CBS one-hour procedural legal drama in which the lawyers just happen to work for the devil. Both are equally intriguing. The casting, however, would be difficult. Finding someone to out-loud Pacino and out-Southern Reeves is quite a task.
In Bill Paxton‘s directorial debut, Mathew McConaughey approaches a cop with one hell of a story: His father and brother believe they were given a gift to see demons in plain clothing and must systematically slaughter them. In the end, it turns out McConaughey is actually the one with the so-called gift, leading the cop to his own demise for the murder of his mother. In the final reveal, we learn that McConaughey is also a small town sheriff.
It’s a surprisingly confident debut for Paxton. A television version could again go the direction of a procedural or serialized storytelling. Either way, a show that follows McConaughey’s Sheriff as he continues to kill, all the while trying to conceal his true nature from the small town sounds like the next, more supernatural Dexter.
11. John Carpenter’s Vampires
John Carpenter’s Vampires is about a group of vampire killers who ruthlessly and efficiently clear out nests of the undead for the Catholic church. Over the course of the film, they come into confrontation with not only a ferocious master vamp, but also a church conspiracy. What grounded the film as a cold-blooded western/horror hybrid was renegade James Woods‘ performance as Jack Crow – a vicious slayer with a snarky sense of humour.
If From Dusk Till Dawn could be adapted into a multi-season television show, then surely Vampires could work. There’s even more mythology than Dawn to work with, given that the film is based on John Steakley’s novel Vampire$. There’s only one question left to ask: who is the modern equivalent of James Woods?
10. The Believers
The Believers, based on the novel The Religion, follows Martin Sheen – still grieving after losing his wife in a freak accident – as he investigates a mysterious and powerful cult. Soon it becomes apparent the cult wants his child as a sacrifice. Another forgotten gem of the 80s, directed by Marathon Man‘s John Schlesinger, The Believers would be a welcome entry into the rising tide of supernatural television. If The Exorcist proved that network television could be a little gruesome, surely there’s room for some of the voodoo/Santeria rituals on display in this film.
9. 48 Hours
The film that ripped Eddie Murphy out of Saturday Night Live and into a major blockbuster star, Walter Hill’s film follows convict Murphy on a 48 hour leave to help racist cop Nick Nolte catch a killer. Race has played such a central role in American debate recently, particularly post-election, that putting it centre stage in an action-comedy weekly could be both funny and topical. For the first season, at least, Murphy’s convict character could keep finding excuses to get leave from his jail time. After a while, this would become implausible, so the character would be granted freedom so long as he continues to aid in police investigations – much to the chagrin of the cop.
1992’s Diggstown is a terriffic little con man film starring James Woods at what he does best: playing skeevy, conniving jerks. The con of the film is a bet that Woods’ boxer (Louis Gossett Jr.) can take on ten men in the ring over the course of 24 hours. By the end, Woods ends up owning the small town. The show could pick off there, with the con man dealing with others trying to move in on his enterprise or setting up other scams in order to retain control. We’ve seen a lot of shows about people in high positions of power and how corruption and greed lead to their downfall.
For light-hearted entertainment, however, going the route of the small time boxer failing up – the corruption actually assisting his rise and staving off a downfall – would be a joy to watch. Shows about political bosses and kingpins are always handled so darkly, so self-serious. The small town setting keeps the stakes low enough that a James Woods type would be the scoundrel you’d root for rather than love to hate.
7. King of New York
Abel Ferrera’s gritty mob drama tracks kingpin Frank White (Christopher Walken) as he rebuilds his empire after a long prison stint. There’s nothing particularly special or original about King of New York – it’s your standard mafia vs. corrupt cops story. There is, however, one interesting twist that could work well in a television format: Walken plays White like a ciphre. His MO may be ruthless and bloody, yet his motives are foggy and confusing until the very end wherein we realize he’s been playing a modern day Robin Hood.
The success of The Young Pope – at least within the first few episodes – hinges on Jude Law‘s unpredictability. We’re always on our guard, the same way the audience doesn’t know whether or not White will bless you or shoot you repeatedly in the middle of a poker game.
The movie Sneakers is an early 90s hacker film, following Robert Redford and his ragtag group of criminals who are hired to test the security systems of various companies by masterminding successful heists. Naturally, one of their assignments turns out to be far more deadly than they could have expected. The show could springboard from the basic premise – criminals testing security systems and getting in over their heads, or it could take place during the timeline of the film, wherein their on the run. Either premise shows promise as a thinking man’s A-Team.
5. The Lost Boys
It’s somewhat surprising The Lost Boys hadn’t already found a home on The CW, because the subject matter and the treatment of teenage hormones fits in perfectly with shows like Teen Wolf and The Vampire Diaries. Joel Schumacher‘s film essentially birthed the vampire-as-punk/emo trend. This is destined to be on The CW (writer Rob Thomas is apparently developing a TV adaptation for the network), appealing to a new generation by modernizing a lot of the dated 80s references and humour. There’s plenty of areas to expand on the mythology of the tribe of Lost Boys and their mysterious head vampire.
4. My Blue Heaven
Few people realize that Herbert Ross’ 1990 film – which finds gangster Steve Martin adjusting to normal suburban existence – is technically Goodfellas 2. The screenplay was inspired by Nicolas Pileggi’s book Wiseguy, which was the basis for the Scorsese film. There have been plenty of true stories about mobsters used to the high life having to deal with the day to day drudgery of suburbia – it didn’t take long for Sammy “The Bull” Gravano to resort to his old life.
3. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The Eighth Dimension
Television loves the doctor-lawyer-cop format so much that until recently, primetime television was nothing but one of those three occupations. Sometimes, the lead character would have more than one of those careers. An ex-cop-turned-lawyer. A doctor who solves murders. But never has TV had a brain surgeon/race car driver/rock star/test scientist rolled into one.
The high camp of Buckaroo Banzai, as well as the myth-building that could go into the movie’s rogue’s gallery and heroes, would go over like gangbusters for sci-fi nerds. The movie already plays like a television show picking up somewhere mid-season; there’s little to no explanation for the characters’ abilities or personalities. Leave it to television writers to fill all that in.
Clive Barker’s exceptionally bizarre film was panned by critics and audiences upon release, but it’s since found a solid cult following. The film follows Boone, an unstable mental patient who has been convinced by his doctor that he is a serial killer. In reality, the doctor is a murderer. After being killed, he is given new life and lives amongst the titular breed of monsters and outcasts living beneath a cemetery. The film ends with Boone charged with finding a new home for the Breed while, concurrently, the body of his evil doctor is resurrected with the goal of tracking down and destroying the breed.
And that’s precisely where the episodic television show could pick up. The strange mythos and visuals would be a delight on either SyFy or HBO, and the story could easily fit well as a cat-and-mouse chase story, with each episode ending with the breed still in search of safe haven.
1. Any James Ellroy
James Ellroy has been at the forefront of great crime fiction since The Black Dahlia hit bookshelves. The subsequent books of the L.A. Quartet built an entire alternate universe of the city circa 1948-1959. His next series of books, beginning with American Tabloid, traced the underbelly of American politics and dirty tricks.
Both Bruce Willis and Tom Hanks have tried to bring Tabloid to the small screen. And there was a failed pilot for an L.A. Confidential show starring Kiefer Sutherland. One can only hope Hanks or Willis or some unknown third party can finally greenlight a successful show. Ellroy’s deep focus on alternative history and world-building is the next logical step now that the 20s and 30s have been covered by Boardwalk Empire.
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