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All the best TV shows based on movies, from 'Cobra Kai' to 'Buffy'
Before there was the show, there was the movie. Which series made the cut?
We're living in a Golden Age of Television. The meteoric rise of streaming services in the last decade paved the way for "prestige TV" to no longer be limited to maybe one or two ongoing series – nowadays, it seems as if every week there's a new can't-miss show. In an industry that used to have a clear pecking order of "movie stars" and then "TV stars," this new era of television has blurred that line indefinitely.
Countless TV series not only have a cinematic budget to them, but also a cinematic feel (think Game of Thrones or The Mandalorian). With that being said, it's time we pay tribute to the shows that actually derive from movies themselves. From the MTV hit Teen Wolf to the Netflix sensation Cobra Kai and all the way to the animated Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous, here are 13 of the best shows based on movies.
1. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1997-2003)
Where else would we start?
Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a cultural phenomenon that vaulted Sarah Michelle Gellar to superstardom and turned The WB into one of the most popular networks on TV. Gellar played Buffy Summers, a young woman who's chosen to be a "Slayer" and protect her world from vampires, demons, and other supernatural foes – while also trying to be a normal high school student. Based on the 1992 movie of the same name starring Kristy Swanson, the show ran for seven seasons and spawned a spin-off, Angel, that ran for another five.
Buffy showed that fantasy/sci-fi television could be viewed as highbrow and artistic, while also creating a strong and powerful female lead who's become a true television icon in her own right. The "Buffyverse" has only grown since the show ended in 2003, with the release of countless novels, comic books, and video games that have expanded the world of America's favorite vampire slayer.
2. FARGO (2014-Present)
FX's anthology series based on the Coen Brothers' 1996 Best Picture-winning black comedy of the same name has been a critical and audience hit since its 2014 debut. Each season of Fargo takes place in a different time and location – for instance, the first season occurs in Minnesota and South Dakota in the mid-2000s, while the latest season jumps backwards to 1950s Kansas City. Because of its anthological format, a new cast is introduced each season; Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Ewan McGregor, and Chris Rock are just a few of the star-studded names that have entered this Coen Brothers-inspired world. Created and written by Noah Hawley, who's currently set to develop a new series based on the Alien franchise, Fargo is firmly in the elite tier of all-time anthology series.
3. SNOWPIERCER (2020-Present)
We're always down for more Bong Joon-ho content.
Based on the Oscar-winning auteur's 2013 film of the same name, Snowpiercer premiered on TNT at the beginning of the pandemic and is about to enter its third season on January 24 (because time has been a flat circle since March 2020). Set before the events of the movie, Snowpiercer takes place in a post-apocalyptic version of our planet in the year 2026. The world has been plunged into a second Ice Age and the remaining members of the human population all live aboard the Snowpiercer, a perpetually moving train circumnavigating the frozen tundra of Earth. The series further explores the issues of class structure and social injustice that are seen in the movie, while also having the space to create longer story arcs with a more expansive array of characters.
Snowpiercer has already been renewed for a fourth season, so clearly, this train won't be stopping any time soon.
4. STARGATE: SG-1 (1997-2007)
The long-running science fiction series about SG-1, a United States Air Force team tasked with exploring the galaxy and defending Planet Earth from alien threats, ran for an astounding ten seasons (on two networks, with Syfy being the home of its latter half) with a whopping 214 episodes. That's a lot of aliens, for those keeping score.
Stargate: SG-1 is actually based on the 1994 Roland Emmerich movie Stargate, which although was a financial success, didn't have nearly the cultural impact that the show has had. Not only did the series spawn four other spin-off shows – Stargate Infinity, Stargate Atlantis, Stargate Universe, and Stargate Origins – but it also inspired two feature-length movies (Stargate: The Ark of Truth and Stargate: Continuum). So, yeah, you could say that the Stargate franchise has done pretty well for itself. While the movie is the source text, it's this series that truly turned Stargate into the massive sci-fi property it is today. Stargate Command Forever.
5. TEEN WOLF (2011-2017)
If you thought high school as a human was stressful, just try doing it as a werewolf.
Based on the classic Michael J. Fox '80s movie of the same name, Teen Wolf doubled down on the awkward/supernatural adolescent experience so vividly captured in the movie. Tyler Posey plays Scott McCall, a normal high school kid who's bitten by a werewolf one fateful night. He learns soon after that his hometown of Beacon Falls is a hub of supernatural activity, and along with his friends Argent (Crystal Reed) and Stile (Dylan O'Brien), must protect it from a gnarly cast of demonic characters.
Teen Wolf tackles all of the high school genre's greatest hits: girls, bullies, Sports, and even a light sprinkling of partying. Except, of course, it's also about werewolves. It's a fun one – but be careful around those full moons.
6. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (2019-Present)
The second FX series on this list, What We Do in the Shadows is legitimately one of the funniest shows on television right now. Based on the 2014 movie from Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) and Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok, Jojo Rabbit), the hilarious show has developed a strong cult following since it premiered in 2019.
Using a mockumentary format, just like the movie, the series is centered on the lives of four immortal vampires living on Staten Island (the scariest borough, as everyone knows) and their interactions within a 21st century world that they are woefully out of touch with. Although it currently only has three seasons to its name, it's already firmly established itself as an essential of the vampire genre – I mean, with a scene like this, how could it not? What We Do in the Shadows is as funny and smart as television gets.
7. COBRA KAI (2018-Present)
Cobra Kai took the "turn a beloved '80s movie into a TV show" model and ran with it. After premiering on YouTube, Netflix picked up the show and turned it into a surprise hit. Based on The Karate Kid movies, Cobra Kai is currently in its fourth season and has already been renewed for a fifth.
The show features the two major players from the original film series – Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) – who are both now in their 50s and living in Los Angeles. The series follows their continued rivalry in their adult lives while also infusing a new generation of young kids who are eager to learn karate from two former All-Valley studs. Cobra Kai is built around nostalgia, and why not? It's clearly working. The "Miyagi-Verse" has a plethora of characters that fans already have a decades-long relationship with – people want to see them in new situations! If you loved The Karate Kid growing up, why wouldn't you want to see what Daniel LaRusso is up to 30 years later? Wax on, wax off, baby!
8. BATES MOTEL (2013-2017)
While no adaptation could ever do Alfred Hitchock's 1960 masterpiece Psycho justice, Bates Motel has come the closest out of any spin-off or remake based on the original movie.
Billed as a prequel, the series follows Norma (Vera Farmiga) and Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore), the infamous mother-son duo from the film, as they purchase the Seafairer motel in a small Oregon town. Norman's mental health quickly begins to deteriorate as Norma must find ways to protect him from harming himself and others. Bates Motel ran for five seasons on A&E and received mostly positive reviews, and while it's not on the same level as Hitchock's version, it's much better than the 1998 version with Vince Vaughn (who thought that was a good idea?), and what more could you ask of it?
9. NIKITA (2010-2013)
CW fans, stand up. The fan-favorite network was home to Nikita for its entire four-season, 73-episode run, which is a run that still feels too short.
Based on the 1997 French film La Femme Nikita, the second adaptation for TV (the first was a Canadian production in the late '90s and early 2000s) starred Maggie Q as the titular character, along with Shane West, Lyndsy Fonseca and Aaron Stanford in supporting roles. The series is about Nikita Mears, a spy and assassin who escapes from a suspicious government-backed organization known as "Division" and then avenges to destroy them. Filled with action, espionage, and in true spy genre fashion, the occasional romance, Nikita is an underrated installment of 2010's television that wasn't quite appreciated enough during its time.
10. ASH VS. EVIL DEAD (2015-2018)
Another underappreciated television series from the 2010s, Ash vs Evil Dead serves as a sequel to Sam Raimi's original Evil Dead trilogy – which encompasses The Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead II (1987), and Army of Darkness (1992) – and follows the continued exploits of Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell), the tortured hero of the movies.
The Starz series finds Ash broke and working at a local grocery store until one day, you guessed it, zombies show up and Ash must save the day once again alongside his friends Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo). The Evil Dead is a beloved franchise, so it was wonderful that its original creator Sam Raimi stayed on board for this series as a developer and executive producer. While the series ended in 2018, and Raimi has been busy in the MCU since then (he's directing the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness), we're still holding out hope for another zombie-filled spinoff from the legendary filmmaker.
11. 12 MONKEYS (2015-2018)
This SYFY series is based on Terry Gilliam's 1995 movie of the same name which, in turn, was inspired by Chris Marker's fantastic 1962 short film La Jetée. This cult show takes place in the year 2043 and follows scavenger James Cole (Nikita's Aaron Stanford) as he's sent back to the year 2015 to stop the release of a lethal virus created by a sinister organization only known as the "Army of the 12 Monkeys."
The series ran for four exciting seasons on SYFY and got increasingly better as it progressed, with more complex time travel-centered storylines that deepened the character development. While humanity has been living in its own virus-filled timeline for the last two years, 12 Monkeys is still worth the watch if you're a fan of Gilliam or Marker's original work (or if you just like time travel).
12. ALIEN NATION (1989-1990)
Add Alien Nation to the list of TV shows that should not have been cancelled after one season along with Firefly, Freaks and Geeks, and My So-Called Life. Based on the 1988 movie, Alien Nation follows a family of Tenctonese aliens, otherwise known as "Newcomers," who crash land on Earth and must assimilate to human culture as best they can. Although billed as science fiction, the show used the Newcomers' integration into American society as a way to explore big topics like racism, sexism, and social justice and what it means to be "human." As previously mentioned, the show was unfortunately cancelled after only one season due to the Fox Network's financial problems. Maybe if we're lucky, some Tenctonese aliens will crash land on Earth for real and we can finally get a Season 2.
JURASSIC WORLD: CAMP CRETACEOUS (2020-Present)
Man, they really churn out kids shows, don't they? Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous has been around for less than two years yet already has four seasons to its name (with a fifth on the way). The animated series based on the Jurassic World movies (which are a part of the Jurassic Park franchise) is about a group of teenagers who win a trip to visit the infamous island of Isla Nublar – you know, the one that has all of the dinosaurs on it. As anyone could have guessed, the dinosaurs break free (you would think the island's security wouldn't let this happen again) and the kids are forced to band together and find a way to survive. A ratings hit for Netflix, Camp Cretaceous should hold you over while you're waiting for Jurassic World: Dominion to come out in June. In the meantime, just remember to steer clear of any invitations to mysterious Costa Rican islands.