With shows like The Walking Dead, Game Of Thrones, and Stranger Things dominating daily pop culture talk, folks are having real discussions as to whether or not television has surpassed film as the dominant medium. We like to think this change was super-recent, but while there has definitely been an increase in quality and budgeting for television in the last decade, TV's been kicking narrative ass for awhile. Sure, film has had the upper hand and the more immediate financial outcome, but more than a few times over the years, TV series have gone on to outshine the films based on the same concept.
Some of these examples are current, while some are older. One goes way back and I believe it will without a doubt will show you that while television is only getting recognized for its superiority today, TV creators been crushing it for a long while. Let's start off with one of the most popular examples.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
I'm sure not too many people will fight me on this, but there's so much about the Buffy The Vampire Slayer that makes the series better than the film. For starters, I mean no disrespect to actress Kristy Swanson, but Sarah Michelle Gellar is THE Buffy. While she may not have the unique ability to sense vampires via menstrual cramps, she did star at the center of a franchise that took an arguably forgettable film and made an iconic coming-of-age series that is still celebrated today. And in terms of the discussion as to whether the film is better than the series or vice versa, there are basically no arguments.
In all fairness, Buffy The Vampire Slayer's TV show offered stories and concepts that 90 minutes of film just can't wrap that quickly. The show opened us up to a deeper and more meaningful mythos involving vampire covens and demons, and actually gave these characters substantial enough backstory that fans still want more! Very few people were clamoring for a sequel to the Buffy film, and while an effort to reboot the film has popped up in Hollywood within the past decade, no one is biting.
Many seem to forget that one of 2016's hottest series was once was the creation of prolific science fiction icon Michael Crichton. While I'll give Crichton all the credit in the world for works like Jurassic Park and the primary concept of Westworld, I think we can all say the series has outshone his original film in more ways than one. Visually certainly, but it seems like a low blow to measure 70s special effects against the production budget and technology of a modern era HBO series, so we'll stick to the story elements.
The Westworld film only grazes the surface of what we now know to be a very expansive world, quite possibly because it's a Crichton film that isn't based on a novel of his. Granted, the film Westworld also featured a Medieval World and a Roman World, so they may have had a bit more to juggle, but the movie is basically people having fun until robots attack. It's the typical Crichton plot where humans foolishly think nothing could go wrong until it inevitably does. The robots attack, but for what reason? The series gives these androids a heart and voice to the point where they're more sympathetic than normal antagonists. Being able to explore the additional narrative of the "hosts" and their lives definitely gives Westworld the series an edge over its predecessor.
This may be a bit of a hot take, but after two seasons, I'm more than comfortable saying Noah Hawley's Fargo series has risen above Ethan and Joel Coen's original. Don't get me wrong, the film is a classic, and I'm not sure the TV series would be able to cast the likes of Martin Freeman, Ewan MacGregor, Kirsten Dunst and Ted Danson had the movie not been so beloved. That said, the casting on this show's first three seasons has been outright phenomenal. When you put the original actors up against the show's actors, the star power isn't even a competition.
The writing has been a thing of beauty as well, and Noah Hawley deserves all the awards in the world for the acclaim he's brought FX with Fargo (and more recently, Legion). It's one thing to make a film about the midwestern mindset's approach to criminal happenings of Fargo, North Dakota, and quite another to do the same thing over the course of a TV season, multiple times. When you don't have a big city setting like New York to tell part of your story, you really have to rely on your characters and storyline to keep things moving, and the show hasn't struck out on any ideas yet. If you've been watching and still aren't convinced the Fargo series is better than the films, Season 3 should definitely close the book (or the Blu-ray case?) on the argument one way or the other.
I'm not sure even Roland Emmerich predicted the Stargate franchise would survive far beyond the film's opening weekend after those reviews came in. While it went on to be financially successful, critics panned the film for a thin plot line, too many cliches, and too many special effects. Even a decade later, after seeing the success and critical acclaim of TV's Stargate SG-1, Roger Ebert still regarded the original Stargate as one of the worst films he'd ever seen. When your film ends up on a top critic's worst list alongside Spice World and Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, you know something went wrong.
Yet Stargate didn't merely survive after its release; it thrived! Stargate SG-1 ran for 10 years and 214 episodes before hanging it up. Stargate Atlantis would be less successful, but still hit the mark of 100 episodes, and the franchise also launched another live-action show and an animated series in its run, as well as launch two straight-to-DVD films. Of course, the latter two made nowhere near as much as the major motion picture, but neither of them was at the top of Roger Ebert's shit list either. Out of all the shows on here, Stargate really made lemonade out of lemons when it came to the original.
The original tale of a boy and his dog Lassie, Lassie Come Home, was one that struck a real chord with audiences in 1943. The film was a commercial success and spawned 7 sequels, all of which were well-received by audiences. That's pretty impressive, but not nearly as impressive as the Lassie television series, which would begin production in 1954 and finally end in 1973. In 19 years and 17 seasons, the show won 2 Emmys and the hearts of children everywhere, transitioned from black and white to color picture, and had a multi-part episode edited into a feature film Lassie's Great Adventure. Not too many shows based off films can claim they inspired another feature film! It's also a pretty good run for a show that spent it's first 10 seasons watching a boy get into trouble and his dog saving him. Side note, did you know little Timmy never actually fell down a well?
Yep, the popular trope made fun of again and again by numerous television show's isn't even a thing. The joke originated from some comedian back in the day, and folks have been running with it ever since. Somewhat ironically, there is an episode of Lassie in which she falls down a well and has to be rescued. That blows my mind even more than the fact that all 9 Lassie dogs were descendants of the original. Bark, er, talk about a talented bloodline.
Friday Night Lights
This is a case where even the director of the film will agree. Peter Berg is a second cousin to H.G. Bissinger, the writer of the original Friday Night Lights novel, and he went on the record to say he regretted having to drop many of the novel's interpersonal topics due to the length of his film. Berg later went on to create the NBC series, which used other fictional characters and a fictional town to tackle many of the book's topics that were excluded in the film. But while the serialized series was different, Berg still kept elements like the team name and even brought some of the movie's actors and actresses to the series in similar roles.
Let's also talk coaches. I take nothing away from Billy Bob Thornton's role as Coach Gary Gaines in the film, but Kyle Chandler never stopped killing it as Coach Eric Taylor, the better half of Connite Britton's wine-loving Tami Taylor. It's even more impressive when you start to look into the free-flowing nature of Friday Night Lights' filming process, and how much of the action and dialogue was the result of ad-libbing. The show did suffer in ratings and time shifts in its final years, but fans who stuck with it for all 5 seasons will tell you it was well worth it.
I think most people reading this will say the M.A.S.H series is better than the film, and that could be an age gap thing more than anything, but true nonetheless. The original film from iconic filmmaker Robert Altman was good, but watching it again after seeing the TV show makes it feel like it's the Earth-2 of the Korean War series. This is mainly due to the film being based more on the original novel by Richard Hooker. While I'm sure there are plenty willing to stick up for the film versus the television series, you can't really dispute the popularity of M.A.S.H, as it remains in syndication to this day!
Perhaps back in the day, you would've had more of a fight on this, as the initial launch of M.A.S.H implied this was a doomed project. Low ratings for Season 1 had the series headed towards cancellation until it was positioned behind the very popular All In The Family. From there, the show celebrated 11 seasons of success and only came to a close after the cast voted to end the series 4-3. Could you imagine any show giving their cast the vote behind whether to end their show today? I guess actors and actresses do still have that decision currently but it's usually a little more dramatic than a vote.
Are there any shows we missed that you think need to be added to the list? Did we completely screw the pooch on any of these choices? Share your thoughts on films vs. their tv version in the comments below, and head to our midseason premiere schedule and our summer TV guide to see what other film-to-TV projects are coming int he near future.