The ’90s Feature Film-Based-on-an-Old-TV-Show Craze

Nader Elhefnawy
3 min readNov 1, 2023

There were adaptations of old TV shows into films before the 1990s — as in the late 1970s when, amid the Hollywood studio executives being stunned by the success of the George Lucas project they had all sneeringly rejected, Paramount made its contribution to the stream with a big-screen version of Star Trek that proved a major hit and launched a screen series that has continued down to the present, or Twilight Zone: The Movie, or the ironic Dan Aykroyd-Tom Hanks Dragnet, or the un-ironic Brian De Palma The Untouchables.

There have certainly been such adaptations since the ‘90s — as with the decisions to make big-screen versions of The Equalizer, or The Man From U.N.C.L.E., or ChiPs.

However, such efforts seem to have been especially numerous in the ’90s (and the years immediately afterward, up to say about 2005, which given how long such projects take to come to fruition, can be thought of as a natural extension of them). Thus did we see the period produce hits out of ’60s and ‘70s-era television shows like The Addams Family, The Fugitive, Mission: Impossible and Charlie’s Angels, and S.W.A.T., and Starsky & Hutch, with live-action adaptations of The Flintstones and George of the Jungle and Scooby-Doo likewise successes, as Lost in Space and Wild Wild West, if not quite the hits some hoped for, still sold a lot of tickets, and The Brady Bunch Movie did well enough to rate a sequel of its own. However, the list gets positively staggering when we remember the ones that were less well-received — like the big screen Leave it to Beaver, or Sgt. Bilko, or The Avengers (those other Avengers), or The Mod Squad, or The Honeymooners.

There simply did not seem as much enthusiasm for this afterward, this fashion waning just like the brief ’90s boom in the Western (Dances With Wolves, Unforgiven) and other kinds of period pieces (Braveheart, Titanic, all that “Greatest Generation”-singing World War II stuff).

I am not sure that the flops came to matter more to Hollywood decision-makers than the successes. Rather, in an important moment in the history of the evolution of “high concept,” became more focused in its approach to this game, Hollywood zeroing in on the sci-fi action-adventure genre as the big moneymaker; while being a little more attentive to the fact that a movie version of an old TV show has little high concept cachet if their audience has never heard of that show, as is now increasingly likely with ever-exploding electronic entertainment options meaning that reruns of old TV shows are not the staple of people’s pop cultural diets they used to be. Thus Hollywood enthusiastically made big movies out of shows like The Transformers and G.I. Joe (and even the Chipmunks and Smurfs), but these decision-makers became more cautious when looking at dramatic fare, to say nothing of those sitcoms that even TVLand and Nick at Nite stopped running ages ago. Were their caution perfect there would never have been, for example, Dax Shepard’s ChiPs, or Elizabeth Banks’ Charlie’s Angels. But all the same, such things are rarities now — while confirming the change is the way that yesteryear’s big screen hits, rather than being remade for the big screen, are now made over into small screen TV shows. Hence Fatal Attraction is now a show on streaming — while if we ever get a new edition of Cheers or Seinfeld (I very much hope that we don’t, but to all evidences the typical Hollywood Suit is as shameless as he is stupid) it will probably be coming to your streaming service, rather than to a theater near you.

Originally published at https://raritania.blogspot.com.

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Nader Elhefnawy

Nader Elhefnawy is the author of the thriller The Shadows of Olympus. Besides Medium, you can find him online at his personal blog, Raritania.