RSS
9 memorable movies based on TV shows
What can the producers of Veronica Mars learn from these smashing successes and abysmal failures?
Wayne and Garth partied on from their recurring SNL sketch to two feature films.
Wayne and Garth partied on from their recurring SNL sketch to two feature films. Facebook/Wayne's World
L

ast week, the critically acclaimed (but short-lived) TV drama Veronica Mars, which aired on the WB and the CW, successfully raised more than $2 million through Kickstarter to revive the show as a movie. And when it comes to big-screen adventures for small-screen characters, Veronica Mars is far from alone. Some films come at the height of a show's popularity, and others — like Veronica Mars — give a show a second chance after premature cancellation. Here, 9 recent movies based on TV shows:

1. Wayne's World (1992)
One of the rare movies to successfully draw out a recurring Saturday Night Live sketch to feature length, Wayne's World stars Mike Myers and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth, the offbeat hosts of an Illinois public-access cable television show. Wayne's World earned mixed reviews, but was funny enough and had enough built-in catchphrases and iconic moments to do well at the box office — and even a spawn a sequel. Plus, it had the playful self-awareness to make fun of its own plot devises, contrivances, and even product placements.  And it deserves ample credit for helping to re-popularize Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody":

2. A Night At the Roxbury (1998)
The flipside of Wayne's World's success is A Night At The Roxbury, which failed to escape the one-noteness of the original Saturday Night Live skit it was based on. Starring Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan, Roxbury follows two nightclub-and-Haddaway-loving brothers who go around annoying everyone — including, as it turns out, film audiences, who couldn't be bothered to follow a contrived plot meant to stretch out a two-minute sketch that only had one joke to begin with. "What is love? Haddaway asks in the omnipresent soundtrack song. Not this time-wasting bilge, that's for sure," wrote Russell Smith at the Austin Chronicle. But despite the harsh critical reaction and tepid box-office gross, the movie did spawn at least one semi-iconic moment:


3. South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (1999)
South Park is still on the air, with a 17th season on the way in September. And as fans surely remember, back in 1999 creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone made a film version of their Comedy Central show, which enjoyed a healthy run at the box-office and surprising critical acclaim. Though the show had a devoted audience that likely would have seen the movie no matter what, the film version of South Park succeeded beyond expectations because it was sharp and funny, and boasted some awfully catchy songs. (It was even nominated for AFI's list of greatest movie musicals.) As Stephen Holden of the New York Times put it, "Beneath the hilarity, the movie is a scathing social parable in which desperate, paranoid grown-ups who long for an impossibly sanitized environment go collectively crazy to the point that they're willing to bring on World War III. And what are they so afraid of? Just some dumb off-color humor about bodily functions." That may be reading too much into it, but the film's Oscar-nominated signature song, "Blame Canada," takes plenty of satirical jabs at our neighbors to the north:

4. Serenity (2005)
Joss Whedon's space western Firefly aired for just a single season on Fox — but the show was so beloved by critics and a devoted group of fans that the series' impressive DVD sales convinced Universal executives to revive Firefly as Serenity, a big-screen feature designed to appeal to old fans and attract a host of new ones. Ken Tucker of New York called Serenity "a sci-fi saga that manages to be at once stirring and screwball, gut-busting and gut-wrenching, and more fun than you had at any bigger-budget movie this past summer." But despite the better-than-average reviews, ultimately the film version suffered from the same problem as the TV show: Limited appeal, which led to a so-so box-office gross that put discussions of any future Firefly films on hold.

5 and 6. BoratCultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan and Brüno (2006, 2009)
Sacha Baron Cohen released two mockumentaries based on recurring characters from Da Ali G Show. "Borat" (played by Baron Cohen) is a clueless reporter from Kazakhstan. Brüno (also played by Baron Cohen) is a flamboyant Austrian fashion journalist. In the guise of each character, Baron Cohen conducted uncomfortable interviews with real, unsuspecting victims. Borat was by far the bigger hit with critics: "It's so inventive, so rich with comic moments, so outrageous, so shocking and unexpected, and so blithely willing to be offensive that it consistently leaves viewers off balance — and howling," wrote Mick LaSalle at the San Franciso ChronicleBorat was hailed for revolutionizing the genre by successfully bouncing a fictional character off of real people. But by the time Brüno came out, the joke had worn thin. Brüno as a character was also more of a one-trick pony than Borat, and critics were not impressed: "In spite of Mr. Baron Cohen and Mr. Charles's high-level skills and keen low-comic instincts, Brüno is a lazy piece of work that panders more than it provokes," wrote A.O. Scott of the New York Times. And arguably just as damning, Brüno didn't inspire quite as many college kids to repeat its catch phrases ad nauseum, as Borat did with "Niiiiiiice," and "High five":

7. The Simpsons Movie (2007)
Like the South Park film, The Simpsons Movie was released while the series was still on the air, after six long years of work by the show's writers. And like the South Park movie, fans and critics were impressed by the big-screen effort. Funny and even a little bit heartwarming, The Simpsons Movie took the characters' shenanigans to the extreme, finding new ways to play the almost two-decade-old characters off of each other. "So, for those of you who were wondering if a great TV show could top itself at feature-film length, the good news is that The Simpsons did it! But South Park did it first," wrote Richard Corliss of TIME. Still, the success of The Simpsons Movie doesn't mean the writers are going to attempt a repeat performance: Series creator Matt Groening recently said that the movie "killed us," while producer-director David Silverman said that eager fans might get a second one in "another 10, 15 years." Whatever happens, we'll always have "Spider Pig":

8 and 9. Sex and the City and Sex and the City 2 (2008, 2010)
Though the trend-setting HBO series had only been off the air for four years when the first Sex and the City movie was released, the series' massive fanbase jumped at the chance to see Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte in a new urban adventure. But despite the high gross, Sex and the City was panned for a barely-there plot and an overabundance of pandering. "Ultimately, Sex And The City serves as a glitter-laced love letter to its fans, which is really all it needs to be,” wrote Genevieve Koski at the The AV Club. The sequel, which sent the four leading ladies to Dubai, came just two years later — and where the reactions to the first movie were tepid, the reception of the second were scathing. "What was once a playful, pretend-shallow soap opera with pockets of feeling is now shallow for keeps — a dunderheaded comic melodrama with clothes to die for and dialogue to shrink from. It's downright depressing," wrote Ty Burr of the Boston Globe. Fans seemed to agree, either tiring of the four characters or deciding that no amount of love for the show could convince them to endure bad menopause puns; though far from a flop, Sex and the City 2 grossed more than $100 million less than its predecessor.

Jillian Rayfield is a freelance writer in New York. In the past, she has written for Salon, MSNBC, Rolling Stone, New York Magazine's Daily Intel, and Talking Points Memo.

EDITORS' PICKS

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week