Sometimes the small screen isn’t big enough to hold a hit television series. The transition isn’t always smooth; remember Wild Wild West? When even Kevin Kline and Will Smith can’t save a film, it’s beyond repair. But there have also been some major successes–some of these movies eclipsed their parent television shows to the point that few people remember that they started out on television.
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!
The most immediate example of a movie that far outshone its television progenitor is the Naked Gun trio of comedies. Police Squad! was a satirical pastiche of cop shows that ran for only six episodes in 1982. However brief that small-screen venture was, it spawned three huge hit comedies. The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! had the same mix of deadpan humor and unforgettably funny one-liners that made Airplane! such a success, and with good reason–the same team wrote and produced both films. Leslie Nielsen’s background as a serious actor gave him the gravitas to deliver some of the movie’s most outrageous lines with a poker face that made them that much funnier. His career was reborn as was the good name of Police Squad!, which despite its short run, amassed a small but devoted following.
The Addams Family
Although it never achieved the kind of success The Naked Gun did, The Addams Family stayed true to the mock-macabre charm of the original cult television show of the same name. Taken from the darkly humorous comic strips of Charles Addams, The Addams Family television show ran for two season in the middle of the 1960s and had moderate success as a competitor for the more blue-collar monster family, The Munsters. The movie suffered somewhat from a meandering plot, but Anjelica Huston as the elegant Morticia Addams and the late Raul Julia’s turn as Gomez made it sparkle regardless. As the original source of both the television show and the movie was a series of single-panel cartoons, the fact that the movie was more a number of vignettes than a cohesive plot felt surprisingly right.
The Muppet Movie
Comedy isn’t the only genre that seems to make the leap from the small screen to the silver one successfully. At least one children’s show has produced a hit that rivaled its parent in both popularity and quality. A variety show format featuring human guest stars and a regular cast made of foam and fake fur shouldn’t have worked, but it did, and brilliantly; The Muppet Show enjoyed a long run from 1976 to 1981. As one of the few offerings on television that kids and parents could enjoy together, the prime-time muppet show that Jim Henson and Frank Oz created was an unlikely, but still beloved hit. The two Sesame Street creators also worked on The Muppet Movie and brought the same charming blend of lovable muppets, talented human guest stars, and fast-paced (but kid-friendly) action that made The Muppet Show such a success. Human actors may not be able to make the transition to film, but the muppets remained just as appealing in theaters as they did on television (and Miss Piggy still looked terrific in her close-ups, a feat not all human actresses can manage).
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
The original Star Trek television show debuted in 1966 and ran for only three seasons, but its impact has lasted for decades despite not having high ratings in its original run. Memorable characters and sharp writing have kept the series relevant long past its final episode and its fan base is now vast. Movie-makers naturally wanted to tap into that immense audience and released the first Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979. The first movie got a deservedly lukewarm response; with its plodding pace and heavy reliance on special effects to the detriment of its cast, the film lacked much of what made the original series so engaging. Fortunately, lackluster box office results didn’t stop producer Herve Bennett from trying again, this time without series creator Gene Roddenberry. Although Roddenberry’s work on the Star Trek series was often brilliant, he took the first movie in an overly cerebral direction.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, released in 1982, was everything the first movie wasn’t and Gene Roddenberry’s original series was: fast-paced, character-driven, and tightly plotted. Instead of watching tedious sequences of starships docking and characters maneuvering in faceless spacesuits, viewers got all the Kirk and Spock they wanted as well as Ricardo Montalban as a gloriously scenery-chewing Khan. Not only was the film a blockbuster at the box office, but it renewed interest in the Star Trek franchise, eventually leading to a rebirth of the Trek universe on television as Star Trek: The Next Generation.