No sooner had I written last week’s article about TV on film than did I see the weekend box office appeared to have put the official stamp of profitability on the genre.
Seeming to steal any potential thunder being drummed up by Breaking Bads’ El Camino, the box office flag for the week was deftly taken by the Downton Abbey movie; topping Ad Astra and the expected champion Rambo: Last Blood.
While it’s still got a way to go in being seen as something more than a type of fifth wheel to the respective series that spawned it; if movies based on PBS shows are topping the box office, it’s definitely time to take these pop culture curiosities a little more seriously. There’s good reason to be a little dismissive of the genre up to this point.
Atrocities like The Simpsons movie reached away from their core audience in favor of watered down, franchise bait that betrayed the spirit of the show in favor of appealing to a broader audience. Other films, like The A-Team, or The Brady Movie, or Dukes of Hazzard, have tried to find a line between parody and remake, and have uniformly fallen flat.
The successful ones are few in number. So few, in fact, that they’re long overdue for a top ten list. So here it is: the Top Ten Series Spin Off Films. (FYI: the topic of Star Trek films, and which Star Trek films to include on this list was just too exhaustive, so I’m giving a general nod of appreciation toward that entire mammoth franchise as a whole.)
Don’t pretend you weren’t totally immersed in this movie all the way through. As unlikely as it is, this movie is also a good template for how a series spinoff film should be made. It should have everything that you enjoyed about the show, but blown up to epic proportions. Getting beaten senseless by a professional boxer or shoving toy cars into intimate areas might not create the kind of scenes that get you into the AFI Top 100, but they certainly give the people what they want. Or think they want.
9. Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight
This is the only Tales From the Crypt entry not based on one of the classic EC comics, and it played like what you might get putting the whole series in a blender. It was a ridiculous mix of splatter and comedy that stands up just fine next to any other pulp horror film you might care to name.
8. The Fugitive
This film is a 90s action classic in its’ own right, and it brought the story to a generation of people who had never even heard of the series. It’s another film that perfectly demonstrates walking that fine line which uses the source material for maximum impact while bringing plenty of its’ own thrills to the table.
7. The Life of Brian
This honor could just as easily go to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but I saved the spot for my personal favorite of their films. The Pythons compromised nothing in making their way into features, bringing about the same absurdist brilliance as their television show, but on a much higher budget.
This insane comedy satirizing the fame of The Monkees is one of the few films that successfully takes a reflexive approach with its’ source material, taking the original boy band TV show into deep surrealism and demolishing their carefully crafted image along the way. It’s the cinema equivalent of The Monkees trashing the stage for ten minutes at the end of a show, Nirvana-style.
5. Mission Impossible
It’s very likely this was a risk studios were only willing to make because of The Fugitive, but it certainly paid off. It had a solid start with this original film, and has consistently delivered the stunts throughout its’ various installments enough to have it completely overshadow the TV show it was based on.
4. The Blues Brothers
We need some entry to represent the insane number of movies that have been made based entirely on Saturday Night Live, and this has got to be the best one. Seriously, does anyone even know how many there are? What movies were not greenlit because they needed the money for Night At The Roxbury? Think about that.
3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
You mind argue this isn’t really based on TV because it was a comic first, but if you’re familiar with the cartoon, there’s no question where the source material and style came from. It’s easy to forget all these sequels and remakes later that the first TMNT was actually a damn good movie.
2. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
This was a dark R rated return to the characters and strange forces around everyone’s favorite northern logging town. It was weird, it was bleak, and if you weren’t along for the ride, tough luck. A huge letdown if you insisted on seeing Twin Peaks as it appeared on ABC (something most of its’ critics seem to have wanted.) But if you wanted to see something fantastic and mysterious, this got more to the core of what the show was about than a traditional spin off flick ever could.
1.The Muppet Movie(s)
There was a whole slew of Muppet movies, and they’re impervious to all of the other expectations on this list. Though some of the films boast huge production values and intricate set pieces, The Muppets were always the same, and every film plays like a big budget episode of the show. They were pretty good movies, right up through the nineties. If only all spin offs could be as consistent as the Muppets made them.