Classic TV Shows Turned Into Films

This article was originally published on showwatcher.com on 4/18/12.

Since the 1990’s, movie studios have mined television as feature films with such productions as The Fugitive, Mission: Impossible, The Addams Family, and The Brady Bunch Movie. This trend was a reversal of the habit of making TV shows based on feature films, one that shows no intention of slowing down (21 Jump Street is the most recent example of this). The argument can be made that this phenomenon was due to the success of the theatrical adventures of the crew of the Starship Enterprise, which kicked off with 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture and will continue with J.J. Abram’s sequel to his hit Star Trek of 2009 (which was the 10th film spawned from the TV show). The difference between that franchise and most other TV-shows-turned-movies is that it retains original cast members and is in continuity with the source material (also done in the film versions of The X-Files and Sex and the City). Most TV series adaptations are simply big-screen remakes. What most people do not realize is that translating small screen productions for the big screen has been around for nearly as long as television itself. A number of classic TV shows were turned into movies long before Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock made the leap, many of which were produced while the TV series was currently on the air.

Captain Video and His Video Rangers

Captain Video: Master of the Stratosphere – 1951

Premiering on June 27, 1949, Captain Video and His Video Rangers was one of the first science fiction series to hit the new airwaves, albeit one designed for kids (hence the science fictiony and kid-friendly titular character). The low-budget serialized half hour episodes aired live five to six days a week on the DuPont Network, and some of the estimated 1500 episodes were written by major science fiction writers like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke (only a couple dozen that were recorded on kinescope survived to this day). When FCC regulations changed the way network television operated in 1955, the DuPont Network went out of business, thereby cancelling Captain Video. However, this series became historic in 1951 when a 15-part theatrical serial, Captain Video: Master of the Stratosphere, was made based on the TV series. That was the first time a television show made the leap to the big screen, even if the production values were only slightly better than what was produced for TV.


Dragnet – 1954

Jack Webb brought his radio drama Dragnet to television in 1951, creating the first police procedural. This series, famous for Webb’s L.A. Detective Joe Friday saying, “Just the facts,” aired until 1959 and was resurrected three more times, once in 1967 with Webb returning as Friday and Harry Morgan joining him as Bill Gannon; then again in 1989 (six years after Webb died) without the character of Friday; and finally in 2003 with Ed O’Neill as Friday (the title changed during the brief second season to L.A. Dragnet). There was also a feature film in 1987 starring Dan Ackroyd and Tom Hanks that was a sort-of-sequel/satire of the original. What most people don’t know is that was actually the second time Dragnet hit the silver screen. The first time was in 1954 with Webb and his co-star at the time, Ben Alexander as Officer Frank Smith, making it the first time a feature film was made from a television series.

Our Miss Brooks

Our Miss Brooks – 1956

As with Dragnet, Our Miss Brooks started out in radio before transitioning into the burgeoning television medium in 1951 as one of its first sitcoms, lasting four seasons and winning an Emmy. The plot involved Eve Arden as the eponymous character, a high school teacher, who clashed with the principal (Gale Gordon) while chasing potential love interest and biology teacher Phillip Boynton (Robert Rockwell). In the fourth season, the format was changed where Arden and Gordon’s characters find themselves working for a private school. Boynton was cut from the cast, replaced with a gym teacher (Gene Barry) who pursued Miss Brooks. This change in the show resulted in a drop of ratings, despite bringing back former cast members including Rockwell, and the show was cancelled in 1956. However, the same year the show ended, Warner Bros. released a feature film of the series that had Miss Brooks finally marrying Mr. Boynton, though it seems that the film ignored the plot developments of the final season since the characters were again employed at the public high school.

McHale’s Navy

McHale’s Navy – 1964; McHale’s Navy Joins the Air Force – 1965

Staring live as an hour-long drama as part of the Fred Astaire-hosted anthology Alcoa Premiere, McHale’s Navy quickly evolved into a wacky sitcom about the crew of a PT boat in WWII (at least there weren’t hilarious holocaust overtones like in Hogan’s Heroes) and aired from 1962-66 and starred Ernest Borgnine, Joe Flynn, Tim Conway, and future Love Boat captain Gavin MacLeod (apparently this is where he earned his sea legs). In the final season, the Naval hijinks of McHale and his men moved from the Pacific theater to Italy, but like with Our Miss Brooks, the change proved fatal to the series. However, that didn’t prevent Universal from making two feature films while the show was still in production. Released in 1964, the film McHale’s Navy featured the entire TV cast in a plot involving a horse race; McHale’s Navy Joins the Air Force in 1965 starred everyone except for McHale himself–Ernest Borgnine was busy filming Flight of the Phoenix, trading an oceanic WWII setting for one in a desert during WWII. Also missing from the cast was Carl Ballantine, but the producers made up for it by bringing back former cast member MacLeod. Both films were as memorable as the 1997 remake with Tom Arnold.


Batman – 1966

Batman is probably the most well-known entry on the list, a 1966 film based on the popular cheese-fest TV series (which is actually more clever than many people give it credit as being). The show was a huge hit, but its popularity burned out quickly and it only lasted three seasons (though the half-hour episodes aired twice a week during the first two seasons). As an attempt at promoting the show, a feature film was released in the theaters after the first season using four of the show’s villains–Joker (Cesar Romero), Penguin (Burgess Meredith), Riddler (Frank Gorshin) and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether replacing Julie Newmar). The movie introduced the Batcopter, Batcycle, and Batboat (not to mention an exploding shark and bat shark repellent). It received surprisingly good reviews and has enjoyed a long life, and is now available on Blu-Ray.

The Munsters

Munsters Go Home – 1966

Like The Addams Family, The Munsters was a sitcom that premiered in 1964 about a monster-themed family–in this case, the characters were based on Universal’s movie monsters Frankenstein’s creature (Herman), Dracula (Grandpa and Lily), and the Wolf Man (Eddie). While only lasting two seasons with 70 episodes, The Munsters had an enduring impact with multiple versions in various mediums (including an upcoming reboot produced by Bryan Singer and Bryan Fuller that is reported as being an hour-long drama with Eddie Izzard as Grandpa). The first spin-off was the 1966 feature film Munsters Go Home, which was shot in color and was released in the theaters a month after the TV series ended its run. It featured most of the original cast, with the exception of the character of Marilyn (Beverly Owens was considered too old and Debbie Watson replaced her). While this was the only theatrical appearance of the Munster clan, they returned in a number of TV movies and TV shows (both live action and animated) with the original cast and replacement actors.

Peter Gunn

Gunn – 1967

Peter Gunn was a jazzy private eye series created by Blake Edwards of The Pink Panther fame that ran on NBC from 1958-60 and then switched to ABC for the 1960-61 season. It was nominated for eight Emmys and won two Grammys for composer Henry Mancini. Craig Stevens played the classy detective who did his investigating around a jazz club, and the music became a primary characteristic of the series. Six years after the series went off the air, Blake Edwards revisited the character, this time with a feature film written by The Exorcist‘s William Peter Blatty. Gunn hit the theaters in 1967 and died a quick death.

Dark Shadows

House of Dark Shadows – 1970; Night of Dark Shadows – 1971

No other soap opera created such a cult following as Dark Shadows, which ABC broadcast from 1966-71. Dan Curtis’s gothic creation told the story of the Collins family and their supernatural shenanigans in Collinwood, ME. The show really took off when vampire Barnabas Collins was introduced a year into the series run, and by the time it went off the air, characters included ghosts, witches, werewolves, zombies, and warlocks in stories about time travel and parallel universes. A remake series aired on NBC in 1991 and a second attempt for the WB was made in 2004, but was never picked up. Tim Burton directed a feature film version due out this year with Johnny Depp taking over for Jonathan Frid as Barnabas. What is not widely known is that two previous theatrical films were made. House of Dark Shadows was released in 1970 while the TV series was still in its prime. It’s plot, which was apparently independent from the TV series even though it featured the same cast (using the parallel universe ploy), was about Barnabas searching for a cure for his vampirism, though is apparently killed at the end (though an after-credit scene shows otherwise). Featuring more bloody violence than was allowed on television, the film did well enough to warrant a sequel, which came out in 1971. Jonathan Frid did not return for Night of Dark Shadows, which instead focused on Quentin Collins who is possessed by the ghost of ancestor Charles. The second movie was not a success, so that was the end of the Collins family–until the remakes.

H.R. Pufnstuf

Pufnstuf – 1970

Sid and Marty Kroft were heroes to children growing up in the ’70s, creating some magical (some might some hallucinatory) fantasies using puppets and actors in outlandish costumes. The first TV series that they created (after working on The Banana Splits Adventure Hour) was H.R. Pufnstuf, about 12-year-old Jimmy (played by 18-year-old Jack Wild) taking refuge on Living Island under the protection of the dragon Mayor Pufnstuf while being pursued by Witchiepoo (Billie Hayes), who is after Jimmy’s talking flute Freddie. A year into the show’s three-year trip, Universal Pictures and Kellogg’s Cereal pressured the Krofts into producing a theatrical movie that told the story of how Jimmy initially came to Living Island. Pufnstuf was a musical with songs by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, and featured Mama Cass and Martha Raye in the cast. While some of scenes were filmed on location, Living Island ironically was shot on the TV series set, composed of flat cardboard backdrops. Considering the audience was either young children or people too impaired to care, that didn’t matter much.

Get Smart

The Nude Bomb – 1980

Mel Brooks and Buck Henry created Get Smart in 1965 as a satire to the James Bond movies and the growing number of spy TV series hitting the airwaves during that era. The comedy was an instant hit and won seven Emmys in its five seasons, though like other entries on this list, switched networks in its final season from NBC to CBS. It took a decade for Don Adams to revisit Maxwell Smart with the motion picture The Nude Bomb (later redubbed The Return of Maxwell Smart for TV broadcast) came out in 1980. With the exception of Robert Karvelas as Larrabee, absolutely no one else associated with Get Smart worked on the film; even Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon), who had married Max in the series, was never mentioned. This unfunny comedy lived up to its name and bombed, and even ended up nominated for a Golden Raspberry. It was completely ignored by the 1989 TV reunion movie Get Smart Again! that brought back most of the actors from the series and was actually funny. That was followed up by a short-lived revival (with Andy Dick as Max’s son) and a successful theatrical remake with Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway in 2008.

Honorable Mention: The Monkees

Head – 1968

Like many TV shows made in the ’60’s, The Monkees had a longer cultural impact than its two season would imply. Inspired by The Beatles’s film A Hard Day’s Night, the show’s creators (including future filmmakers Bob Rafelson and Paul Mazursky) created a sitcom about a zany four-member boy band. They cast the roles, thereby creating a musical group specifically for the series, which aired on NBC from 1966-68 and won two Emmys. As a group, the Monkees recorded eleven albums between 1966 and 1966, and toured at various times with and without either Michael Nesmith or Peter Tork. After the TV series was canceled, Rafelson decided to make a film with the group, but it is not really associated with the television show (other than making fun of the theme song) and is a stark contrast to the tone of the show, which is why it doesn’t exactly belong on this list. Co-written by Jack Nicholson, Head involves the Monkees in several unrelated episodes which indicate that their lives are actually being filmed as part of a movie, thereby putting into question free will. The movie had mixed reviews, but found no audience other than ultimately a cult following.

© 2012 Jamie Helton

6 comments on “Classic TV Shows Turned Into Films

  1. I had no idea ‘Dark Shadows’ was based on a TV show! Well, there is one TV show I desperately wish would be turned into a movie, that is BBC’s Spooks!

    • Yeah, “Dark Shadows” was a daytime soap opera and has had several incarnations before the Tim Burton film. Netflix carries the first season, but it’s really hard to watch by today’s standards.

  2. Nice compilation, Jamie. I’m also one of the few who actually saw Blake Edwards’ ‘Gunn’ film during its theatrical release in ’67. Yes, I’m that old. That one is an under appreciated little film that not many have seen, especially since it doesn’t have any kind of disc release. Hell, it didn’t even get put out to VHS tape like a number of the Peter Gunn episodes. Thank God Netflix is streaming it. Hopefully, some made-on-demand program will pick it up. Thanks.

    • Thanks. I knew of “Batman,” “Munsters Go Home,” and unfortunately “The Nude Bomb,” but was surprised by how many old series were turned into movies. Of course, decades later other shows had reunion TV movies, but that’s not quite the same thing.

  3. All great classic TV, not so great movies I’m afraid.

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