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Debate Club: The 5 best movies based on TV shows of all time

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Sep 19, 2018

Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.

The worlds of sci-fi and genre have always lent themselves perfectly to the world of television. There are just so many stories to tell. You can make them allegorical, or you can just do a bunch of cool space stuff; you can send a character to an infinite number of places, simply using your imagination. It’s no wonder movies have taken genre and sci-fi television shows and turned them into big event movies: They’re a brand you know, and by being sci-fi or genre, you’ve got the thing halfway sold already.

Thus, today, we look at the best movies based off of TV shows. There have been some pretty terrible ones — yikes, Lost in Space — but with the right property, your movie can soar.

Jackass, first movie-fied in 2002

A shamelessly entertaining TV show about a bunch of idiots performing stupid, physically painful stunts got transformed into a... bunch of shamelessly entertaining movies where those same idiots did even dumber, more painful stunts.

Angering prudes but embraced by others as an expression of avant-garde artistry (2010’s Jackass 3D had its premiere at New York’s Museum of Modern Art), the series co-created by star Johnny Knoxville only gets more luridly fascinating the more you watch. Male bonding rituals and bathroom humor collide with a homoerotic undercurrent and a warm embrace of weirdos and outcasts.

These guys are idiots, but they’re also sweethearts and loyal friends — watching these movies is like being one of the gang. 

21 Jump Street, first movie-fied in 2012

Nobody needed a big-screen remake of a cheesy Fox drama series about cops going undercover to bust teen baddies. Thankfully, the people behind 21 Jump Street and 22 Jump Street were Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the smart-a** geniuses behind The Lego Movie. (We’ll forgive them for Solo, which was taken out of their hands.) Lord and Miller gave the film series just the right amount of postmodern sass, mocking not just remake culture but also sequels and Hollywood’s I.P. dependence.

Plus, what a terrific pairing Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are. We knew Hill had comedic chops, but the Jump Street films allowed Tatum to be legitimately hilarious as a buff dumb guy who’s deep down a good dude. These films are so effortlessly funny and clever that it’s easy to overlook how much thought and care go into them. If you need proof, just check out the big-screen revamp of Baywatch, which tried to ape the Lord/Miller model and failed miserably. 

The Fugitive, movie-fied in 1993

One of a few classic TV series on this list, and the one most people probably don’t even remember was a TV series in the first place.

This Andrew Davis thriller is basically ‘90s-action-movie perfect, with a quintessential Harrison Ford innocent-man-wrongly-accused performance, a worthy adversary you can’t help but root for as well (Tommy Lee Jones in a role that would win him an Oscar), and some of the best location work the city of Chicago has ever had in a movie. (We still think of this movie every time we’re in that town.)

This is one of the most rewatchable-when-it’s-on-cable movies ever.

Mission: Impossible, first movie-fied in 1996

There was no Ethan Hunt in the original CBS series, which gave the film franchise the incredibly cool theme song and the general concept of spies trying to execute impossible missions.

Tom Cruise has served as the producer and star of the movies, which kicked off with 1996’s Mission: Impossible, and it remains his greatest vehicle for displaying what he does best. As Hunt, he’s all coiled intensity: He runs, he shouts, he runs some more, he kicks some ass, and then he runs again. And where other musty properties feel like they’re on their last legs, this series is still going strong. (This summer’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the highest-grossing yet in the franchise.) 

Star Trek, first movie-fied in 1979

There were only 79 episodes of the original series, but boy, this is why we have the word spinoff, right?

There were, of course, several follow-up series — including one that’s still ongoing, Star Trek: Discovery — but Star Trek was so powerful that it has had three different sets of spinoff movies, with different casts and different storylines and timelines, some of which crisscross back on each other (so many Leonard Nimoy as Spock performances to keep straight!) and some of which go out on their own. There have been so many Star Trek movies that they’re basically their own ongoing series... which may, of course, be the point entirely.

Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

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