Hollywood has plundered its TV catalog for feature film fodder for so long, it’s getting harder to think of older shows that haven’t been put onto celluloid. Still, there are a few no-shows that do stand out, that make you wonder, “Why didn’t the studio chiefs put this property onto the big screen?”
I compiled my own personal list of surprises that stayed on the small screen, VHS, and DVD, and didn’t make that leap. Some could have been made when the show was still on the air and featured the TV cast, while others more likely would have been rebooted with a new cast. In ascending order of surprise, I give you my list of TV shows that I’m surprised never got made into movies.
Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman: Okay, I’m not actually surprised there wasn’t a Lois and Clark movie. Warners was obviously trying to reboot its Superman film franchise and any resulting movie would carry the Superman moniker and not be related to an existing TV show. At the time, however, the studio had picked Nicolas Cage to be Supes for its proposed Superman Reborn/Lives flick that ultimately never got made, which left a lot of people (myself included) wondering what the producers were thinking. At one point I wondered why they didn’t just port over Dean Cain, since he obviously looked the part and for five seasons played the part to no great complaint. It seemed like Warner Bros. didn’t have a clue how to properly cast Superman, so it seemed weird why they didn’t just go with a pretty good choice right under their nose. And painful memories of Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane in Superman Returns makes me retroactively pine for Teri Hatcher to have joined Cain on the big screen.
Kung Fu: This was a popular show in the early 70s and helped popularize kung fu action for American audiences. Given the rise of Asian martial arts movie stars and Hong Kong-style fight choreography in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it’s surprising Hollywood hasn’t rebooted this show for a feature film.
Max Headroom: Most people that grew up in the 80s remember Matt Frewer’s well-dressed A.I. with an occasional stutter (though I don’t know if anyone remembers the actual plot of the show Max was spawned from). The actual show never did better than cult status, but with decades of advances in computer technology, one would think someone would cart out an updated version of Max for the big screen. Be-be-be-believe it!
Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: Call this the Irwin Allen smorgasbord, outside of Lost in Space which did get a movie in 1997. Back then, it seemed Hollywood was going crazy plundering sci-fi and adventure shows for movies, but they seemed to miss (or just not care for) much of Irwin Allen’s produced catalog. Also, I’m only counting Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea as a reboot movie, since there was a 1961 movie that the subsequent show was based on.
Space 1999: Again, it’s a surprise this British-made sci-fi show got missed in the 90s’ TV-to-movie run, although I’m sure it’d end up called Space: 2099 for obvious reasons.
V: Actually, you could argue Independence Day is pretty much what you’d get from a V movie, minus the allegory of fascists-as-aliens walking among us. Plus I wonder how many people would think this is a prequel to V for Vendetta.
Babylon 5: An awesome sci-fi show that, for all of its quality, still suffered from being in the shadow of Star Trek. Still, it had enough name recognition that a movie could have been made. For a while in the late 90s, series creator J. Michael Straczynski was planning to make a movie, but then stated he’d rather wait until after the Star Wars prequels were finished, as his movie might suffer in comparison, f/x wise. For whatever reason, a B5 movie was never made, although recently JMS has talked up a reboot possibility.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: I know there was a 1992 movie starring Kristy Swanson as Buffy, but I’m referring to the much-better received TV show instead. Like Babylon 5, this is another cult TV show that never quite broke out into the mainstream, and getting a movie made might have helped boost its standing. A lack of a Buffy movie with its TV cast is a bit more surprising than B5 because teen horror movies (The Scream movies, for example) were hot in the late 1990s, and a Buffy movie could have easily ridden that wave. For whatever reason, it’s unlikely there will be any big screen Buffy except for a reboot, as the TV cast has likely aged too much out of the roles.
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess: Either one of these shows. This franchise was big back in the day, Xena especially, as it pretty much overtook Hercules in popularity (Xena got so big at one point you almost forgot Hercules even existed). Yet it’s surprising Universal never tried to parlay its success into a motion picture franchise, even when Lord of the Rings became a smash and memories of Herc and Xena were still relatively fresh, although the failure of the Kevin Sorbo-headliner Kull may not have helped.
The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman: Another male action show and its female protagonist (and arguably more popular) spin-off. Isn’t it strange that two well known shows featuring cybernetic humans, with stories rife with the possibility of big screen action and explosions, haven’t been adapted to the screen while Starsky and Hutch and The Dukes of Hazzard have? I heard at one point a comedy version of Six Million Dollar Man was being considered. Oy.
Quantum Leap: One of the most successful science fiction network TV shows of all time, although that’s probably because this is more Highway to Heaven than Star Trek when you think about it. Again, another Universal-made show that was big at the time, with talk that it would go to the big screen while the series was still on the air. But Scott Bakula never got to make that big leap (yeah I know, bad pun), even after the series was cancelled.
Magnum P.I.: The lack of a movie for this show must prove Universal really doesn’t give a rip about its TV catalog, as Magnum was absolutely huge back in the 80s. How is it that Universal never considered making a Magnum movie, particularly with Tom Selleck in the role? For years after the series wrapped, he could easily have reprised the role, and Selleck had already proven he could carry movie roles. Today a Magnum movie would likely be a reboot, but it’s quite surprising we haven’t seen that, either.
Family Guy: Out of the hugely popular teen and adult-skewering animated comedies of the past few decades (South Park, The Simpsons, Beavis and Butt-head), this is the only one I can think of that never got a feature film. I suspect it’s more because of lack of interest on the part of the show’s creator Seth McFarlane, although considering his recent spate of projects haven’t been as successful, like The Cleveland Show, the move of American Dad! to TBS, and the disappointing box office of his last two movies, he may end up going for it.
So, any titles I’ve missed? What TV show are you surprised that Hollywood hasn’t butchered, uh, I mean, “adapted” for the big screen?