These are the best movie-to-TV adaptations.
The world of TV adaptations is a tricky one to navigate, with horror stories like Blade: The Series and Clueless serving as constant reminders of the risk involved. Some series like the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars have seen success by expanding on material from the film that inspired them while telling their own unique stories. For fans of movie-to-TV adaptations, here are some of the best ones to watch.
10. Limitless (2015-2016)
2011’s Limitless starred Bradley Cooper as a man who uses an experimental and dangerous drug to unlock the full capabilities of the human brain. Although it unlocks extraordinary, genius-level feats of mental acuity, it also has some alarming side effects. The film proved Bradley Cooper could thrive as a leading man after his breakthrough in 2009’s comedy The Hangover.
The CBS spinoff of the series only lasted for one season, but it brought new legs to the compelling premise. The series saw Bradley Cooper reprise his role as Eddie Morra alongside the new lead character Brian Finch (played by Jake McDorman).
9. M*A*S*H (1972-1983)
Robert Altman’s 1970 film M*A*S*H film followed the workplace and personal drama of a group of doctors and nurses during the Korean War. It starred actors like Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, and Sally Kellerman in lead roles, and had a strong tinge of dark humor which saw the medical practitioners coping with raging war through a healthy dose of humor and practical jokes.
Although the film was a critical success and won the Oscar for best screenplay, the TV adaptation may have been even more successful. Running for 11 seasons, the series would prove it had longevity and serve viewers an endearing concoction of drama and comedy.
8. Lethal Weapon (2016-2019)
Unlike some other film-to-TV adaptations on this list, The Lethal Weapon movie franchise was already a smash hit. Led by iconic performances from Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, 1987’s Lethal Weapon is beloved by fans and has spawned numerous sequels to the original between 1987 and 1998.
The Fox television series was based on the films, but took some dramatic plot liberties that proved to be controversial with fans. The series ran from 2016 to 2019 and featured Clayne Crawford as Martin Riggs and Damon Wayans as Roger Murtaugh. The series also featured performances from American Pie’s Seann William Scott and The Fast and the Furious’s Jordana Brewster.
7. La Femme Nikita (1997-2001)
La Femme Nikita was a 1990 French action thriller directed by Luc Besson which combined style and action to entertain audiences. Despite mixed reviews in its home country of France, the film had crossover appeal and was well-received in the United States, where it was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The movie focused on the teen criminal-turned-assassin Nikita (Anne Parillaud) as she undergoes her first missions and struggles as a professional.
The 1997 USA Network TV adaptation series expanded on the film and mirrored much of the film’s combination of espionage and drama. Peta Wilson’s performance as Nikita led the series to a five-season run. The series would later be adapted again by the CW in 2010.
6. Parenthood (2010-2015)
The 1989 comedy-drama film Parenthood told the story of the eclectic struggles of the Buckman family. With an ensemble cast that featured Steve Martin, Joaquin Phoenix, Keanu Reeves, and Dianne Wiest, the film was a commercial and critical success. Still, it was 2010’s NBC drama TV adaptation that revived the content and brought new dimensions to the story.
Starring Gilmore Girl’s Lauren Graham and Heroes’ Peter Krause alongside an emerging Mae Whitman, the series follows the Braverman siblings as they struggle through the myriad challenges of adult life. Created by Jason Katims, the adaptation managed to capture the same mix of humor and heartbreak that made the original movie a hit.
5. Friday Night Lights (2006-2011)
The 2004 film Friday Night Lights is in many ways the quintessential sports drama, combining tense football action and social drama. Set in a small Texas town, Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) must create a spark in the team and the town when their star player Boobie Miles (Derek Luke) sustains a serious injury at the beginning of the season. The film was based on the book, Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H. G. Bissinger, which chronicled the real-life story of the 1988 Permian High School Panthers football team.
The NBC TV adaptation saw Connie Britton return in a starring role alongside Kyle Chandler as Coach Eric Taylor. Although the series does not follow the same storyline as the film, its combination of drama and storytelling launched careers for actors like Jesse Plemons and Taylor Kitsch.
4. Westworld (2016-present)
Although primarily known for writing the bestselling book Jurassic Park which would spawn the successful franchise, Michael Crichton is also the name behind another theme park gone wrong premise that many fans are familiar with: Westworld. The author wrote the screenplay and directed the film Westworld in 1973.
The HBO TV adaptation picks up many of the same themes as the film, but elevates them with great performances from Evan Rachel Wood and Thandiwe Newton and excellent directing in the series’ first season. Although subsequent seasons weren’t quite as beloved by critics and fans, the series was well known for its combination of Western and sci-fi genres.
3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
Many fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer may not realize that the series was actually an adaptation of a 1992 movie of the same name. The film wasn’t particularly critically successful, whereas the series became a quick hit that continues to hold cult status. The film follows Buffy Summers (Kristy Swanson) who has just begun her training to become a vampire slayer after being trained by Donald Sutherland’s mentor character Merrick, and features early-career performances from to-be stars Hilary Swank and David Arquette.
The TV adaptation hits on many of the same notes, but Sarah Michelle Gellar’s portrayal of Buffy elevated the material to new heights. The series is praised for its complex female characters and compelling writing.
2. Hannibal (2013-2015)
Beginning with 1986’s Manhunter, Thomas Harris’ novels featuring Hannibal Lecter has been adapted many times for the screen, including 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs, 2001’s Hannibal, 2002’s Red Dragon, and 2007’s Hannibal Rising. 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs may be one of the most successful of these adaptations, featuring Anthony Hopkins as the titular killer alongside Julianne Moore, while its sequel Hannibal brought on Gary Oldman.
The Hannibal TV adaptation was developed by NBC by Bryan Fuller and features Hugh Dancy as a criminal profiler charged with hunting down an elusive serial killer. When he decides to get help from psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter (played by Mads Mikkelsen), he has no idea that Lecter harbors a dark secret.
1. Fargo (2014-present)
This black comedy from The Coen Brothers debuted in theaters in 1996 to critical acclaim. With excellent acting from stars William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi, Fargo features a car salesman in debt who hires two thugs to kidnap his wife so that he can collect a ransom from her rich family. When the scheme goes wrong, it becomes a mad scramble as the scheme collapses.
Decades later FX made the move to adapt the film to television in 2014 with creator Noah Hawley. The TV adaptation turned the material into an anthology series that features different seedy characters in the Minnesota town. Notable actors like Billy Bob Thornton, Bob Odenkirk, Chris Rock, and Martin Freeman have all appeared in various episodes of the series.
- GFR Score calculated using averages of audience and critical reactions across multiple platforms.