As TV adaptations become more commonplace, Getintothis’ Nathan Pang compiles a wishlist of potential candidates.
Any great movie worth its salt probably warrants no small screen adaptation. And while my knee-jerk reaction to any such projects is a cynical groan, up until the past few years, the television industry has been surprisingly restrained in this area.
While movie to TV adaptations have always been around, the majority have been relegated to short lived, cut-price runs. But since spectacular hits like FX’s Fargo have paved the way for prestige TV to expand the world, rather than shrink it, it’s not hard to see what America’s ‘throw everything at the wall and see what sticks’ approach means for the TV industry.
They’re rolling into production in the dozens, from the intriguing (White Men Can’t Jump, The Departed), the inspired (The Truman Show, Metropolis), and the baffling (Tremors (again!), Galaxy Quest). And in all likelihood, most won’t get past the pilot. But once the forgotten failures are left forgotten, it does leave an interesting legacy of television successes, from M.A.S.H. and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to recent hits like Westworld and Fargo.
Adapting to film is a different beast. It’s the logical upscaling, in the scope, the stakes, and obviously the money. From tussling Reavers in Firefly to taking down the Alliance in Serenity, defeating Plankton in SpongeBob SquarePants to… defeating Plankton with the help of David Hasselhoff in The Spongebob Movie. It’s a big expensive, celebratory finale, letting the cast and crew throw everything they’ve got one last time.
But the purpose for television is not spectacle, but the story, interrogation, and breathing space. There are three threads that can be pulled from films to make a successful TV adaptation. The irresistible worlds, the stories and concepts worth retelling, and finally, the characters, iconic enough on their own.
It’s a unique set of requirements that has led me to curate this odd list, with spoilers ahead. So, in no particular order…
- Nightcrawler (Dir. Dan Gilroy, 2014)
It may be a long shot to call Jake Gyllenhaal to television, but then again, nobody is too movie-star these days to lead a limited run series. Dan Gilroy’s haunting thriller about a “stringer” who films violent events to sell to TV news stations, set up both an immortal protagonist in Lou Bloom, and a gloomy Los Angeles teaming with stories. Gyllenhaal’s impeccable character work can almost always warrant revisiting, but this killer combination of his soft predatory manipulation and a vast city and its inhabitants at his prey, makes this a potential series that could go a long way.
How far can Lou take his company? How far can he push his employees? The ethics of journalism and consumer demand, meeting the psychology of a sociopath. If it bleeds, it leads, and this story has only just begun.
- Submarine (Dir. Richard Ayoade, 2010)
Fans of this gem would probably want it to be a one-and-out untarnished little film. But I’d have thought the same about This is England, before the remarkable series aired. And true to both, the coming of age story can never fully be told in 90 minutes. Richard Ayoade directed a story that comes alive in its atmosphere, style and delicate observations. Craig Roberts may be in his mid-20s now, but the world created is enough to carry a 6-part return.
Based on the novel by Joe Dunthorne, a collaboration with the novelist/poet would be needed to translate his voice to 30-minute segments, like BBC One’s Love, Nina did so brilliantly from 2016, with Nina Stibbe’s similarly idiosyncratic book. Be it a continuation of the story of Roberts’ Oliver Tate, or a Skins like ensemble to follow a group, that takes the quirky insular world of the coastal Welsh landscapes, this is one for Channel 4 to get the gears rolling on.
- Time Bandits (Dir. Terry Gilliam, 1981)
Terry Gilliam’s first film, the terrifically underrated Time Bandits is a rollicking fantasy, about an imaginative 11-year-old who gets whipped up with a group of time travelling dwarven bandits on the run through history. In truth, any of Gilliam’s films are worthy of revisiting, but I’ve restricted it to one for this list. The story is not as much of a household classic as perhaps other 80s time travel flicks, so a reboot with a new ‘Kevin’ will be required, and against all my instinctive judgements, a slightly more serious take would be needed to sustain a longer run.
P.S. Both Bill and Ted, and Back to the Future have been treated with sequels and TV shows. Tragically, Time Bandits has had neither so far.
- What We Do in the Shadows (Dir. Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, 2014)
We may be a few years past the prime mockumentary era of television (and only two years removed from the unfortunate David Brent revival), but while there’s Christopher Guest, there’s always room for more. Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi created this ‘Being Human as a Modern Family’ gem of a movie in 2014, about a household of vampires, trying to get by, arguing about doing the dishes, taking victims, and rivalries with werewolves. It’s easily the best mockumentary film in a decade, that created a world that can endlessly be explored as a series.
Now, here’s the rug-pulling plot twist that I only came across after putting this film on the list. Alongside a sequel focusing on werewolves, there is a TV series in the works. Paranormal Event Response Unit, following two police officers from the film, is currently in production. But, I’m leaving this on the list because clearly its validation for its place.
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Dir. Robert Zemeckis, 1988)
Slap me in the face if I ever get tired of the novelty of animation and live action interacting. I will have ceased to possess a soul. Robert Zemeckis’ Who Framed Roger Rabbit is an unmissable classic for animation fans and film fans alike, and throws in a healthy dose of detective noir and comedy.
A sequel has been in various stages of non-development for decades now, and if a continuation in film is truly a lost cause, then let’s rally for a weekly return to the worlds of mid 20th century LA and its neighbouring Toontown on TV, bringing the further adventures of Private Detective Eddie Valiant and toon Roger Rabbit. A unique crime solving duo if there ever was one. I smell Netflix.
- Starship Troopers (Dir. Paul Verhoeven, 1997)
In this cult classic, director Paul Verhoeven brought his Robocop and Total Recall sensibilities to this ultra-violent alien bug smashing popcorn movie. Troopers has already spawned three direct-to-video sequels, each digging the franchise a deeper hole than the last, but we’ll ignore them. The original, both an action romp and (supposedly) a satire of fascism and the military, it’s essentially the anti-Star Trek, and it could do with a Battlestar Galactica style revamp. By modernising the story, and stripping the campy tone, a bleaker and more serious take on a humanity hell bent on endless, bloodthirsty war could make not just a gripping drama series, but even a relevant and scathing one for the current climate.
- District 9 (Dir. Neill Blomkamp, 2009)
Neill Blomkamp’s first film, like many, is his best. District 9 establishes an alternate present in which aliens have been trapped and living in Johannesburg, since 1982, where they are segregated from the rest of human society. Rebooting and condensing the story, the series could chronicle their arrival, relationship with humanity, and eventual fates within a few seasons.
Blomkamp brings science fiction to an intensely grounded and vérité-driven picture, and a series would allow his style to get into the weeds of not just the visuals, but further into the aliens’ treatment from the South African government among the apartheid era, examining xenophobia through a changing political landscape. This series is rife with possibility.
- L.A. Confidential (Dir. Curtis Hanson, 1997)
Curtis Hanson adapted this James Ellroy novel, with an incredible understated flair. Featuring star-making turns by the then-unknowns, Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe, it’s a delicately balanced 50s noir mystery, a pure classic. While the film could function pretty effectively as a 2 hour pilot, a Fargo style anthology could suit Ellroy’s universe by exploring the three other novels in his ‘L.A. Quartet’ series, spanning the 40s and 50s. Although the cast (which also includes Kevin Spacey and Danny DeVito) would be a mighty feat to pull, providing that the delicious dialogue, the double crosses and old-fashioned twisting narrative remains, it’s sure to hook audiences’ attention.
Crime noir has been curiously lacking from television, with a few notable exceptions. So this landmark of the genre seems to be the ideal vehicle to jump-start a new wave.
- Frances Ha (dir. Noah Baumbach, 2012)
… slash Mistress America slash Greenberg – really, the world just needs more Greta Gerwig/Noah Baumbach, and a film every 3 years isn’t enough. Frances Ha revolves around Gerwig’s Frances Halladay as she flutters and splutters through life in her late 20s. It’s nimble and playful, and yet has an incredibly fine tuned hilarity without all that much happening, and is the most colourful black-and-white film you could find. Gerwig‘s infectious spirit would translate to TV the same way Aziz Ansari has brought his own sensibilities to Master of None. One of many ‘modern Woody Allen’s’, the Gerwig/Baumbach combo can’t help but dig deeper into their character-studies as each film goes by, and can only be helped with 10x half-hours.
- Tank Girl (Dir. Rachel Talalay, 1995)
Ending on the oddest duck of a list full of odd ducks, we have Tank Girl. The world of the dystopian future has rarely been as ballsy and fun, as it is in this criminally underrated film from Rachel Talalay. This is quite universally, not a popular film, but to champion its corner, it’s furiously feminist, larger than life, and ripped straight from the punk-absurdist comic book series, the film is a pure pulp joy.
Starring Orange is the New Black’s Lori Petty as the eponymous Tank Girl, she is pitted against Malcolm McDowell’s naturally evil grin, in a tug of war for the remaining vestiges of water in the drought-ridden Australia. For all the best reasons, this would make a fantastically trashy Syfy “original” series.