Made-for-TV movies often face a bad rap, but what about TV tie-in films? Films that, despite being released onto the big screen, continue stories that began on the small screen?
The genre is a wee-bit of a mixed bag (for every “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” there’s a “Dr. Who and the Daleks”), but with the recent release of “The Many Saints of Newark” and the upcoming trilogy of “Walking Dead” films, TV continuation movies are arguably at an all-time high in terms of popularity.
This article explores the ten best TV continuation films. These set of films exemplify television translated into movies the right way — even if some might be more tailored to hardcore fans than others. Regardless, each film emerges as an individually enjoyable, engaging cinematic experience.
(Side-bar: this list is mostly fairly light on spoilers, though there might be a handful of plot points about certain TV shows revealed here or there. Fair warning.)
10. Transformers: The Movie (1986)
So “Transformers: The Movie” is a glorified commercial. News flash: Who cares, provided it’s fun?
“Transformers: The Movie” represents everything that the live-action Michael Bay attempts should’ve been — fast-paced, ridiculous, and wonderfully entertaining. It also possesses perhaps the single greatest piece of IMDb movie trivia: “Transformers: The Movie” contains the final role of Orson Welles, who portrays Unicron, the planet-devouring Transformer (no, really).
The film takes actually admirable (albeit in service of a corporate agenda) narrative risks, ruthlessly killing off nearly the entire original cast — including Optimus Prime — in the first act, clearing the path for a new set of characters. This, ironically, imbues “Transformers: The Movie” with much more grit than Bay’s iteration (or some of the other, hypothetically “darker” films on this list) and explains its lasting effect on a generation of youngsters.
There are too many moments of delectable sci-fi pulp to choose from in picking a favorite scene: Unicron’s transformation, Starscream’s ascent to the Decepticon throne, etc. And, of course, Optimus and Megatron’s final confrontation — “Megatron must be stopped, no matter the cost.” Truer words have never been spoken, Optimus. Perhaps you would’ve survived if not for that impulsive brat Hot Rod.
9. El Camino (2019)
In “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie”, Vince Gilligan is by-and-large disinterested in crafting a definitive condensation of the entire “Breaking Bad” mythos into a single film. Rather, “El Camino” emerges as an intimate character study centered on Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), and a deserved — if not necessarily warranted — member of the “Breaking Bad” canon.
Paul’s Jesse is front-and-center in this cinematic continuation of the iconic series. Only a handful of other original “Breaking Bad” veterans are allowed a proper reprise, and they mostly make sense within the context of Jesse’s ongoing quest to achieve physical and emotional liberation.
The film is all at once a psychological drama, gritty action thriller and an atmospheric neo-Western. Likewise, Paul delivers a brilliantly multi-layered performance. While consistently hinting at the trauma endured by his character, Paul ultimately paints a portrait of a wholly new and evolved individual by the time that the credits roll.
Though it’s difficult to deny that “El Camino” is on the weaker side of the “Breaking Bad” franchise, and handfuls of characters return jarringly aged, “El Camino” nonetheless provides a satisfying coda to an invaluable pillar of Peak TV. At the very least, it provided us with a plethora of entertaining internet memes (“Fat Todd”, anyone?).
8. Batman (1966)
Before Michael Keaton — or Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale, Ben Affleck, Robert Pattinson or even Kevin Conroy — the character of Batman was solely synonymous with one actor: Adam West. West’s landmark take on the character was a riot of self-aware, earnest camp and sly social satire.
1966’s “Batman” is like a perfectly curated “greatest hits” montage for West’s Caped Crusader. The story goes as follows: Batman and the Boy Wonder (Burt Ward) face off against a deadly supervillain team composed of The Joker (Cesar Romero), Catwoman (Lee Meriwether), Riddler (Frank Gorshin) and Penguin (Burgess Meredith).
The villains, though evil in their schemes to “hold the world for ransom” via creating a massive dehydrating device, still have some class and meet in a professional setting under the title “United Underworld”. Batman and Robin employ a wide array of colorful gadgets and Bat-themed vehicles to defeat their costumed foes, culminating in a cinematic experience which makes one yearn for a time when Batman wasn’t all doom-and-gloom (and the trailer for “The Batman” doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of hope that’ll change anytime soon).
7. Serenity (2005)
One’s enjoyment of “Serenity” depends entirely on one’s tolerance for the soapy, oppressively televisual sensibilities of Joss Whedon. Likewise, “Serenity” occasionally feels merely like a feature-length episode of “Firefly”, though it’s founded on a rock-solid foundation of compelling characters and boasts a worthwhile conclusion to a beloved cult series.
Whedon manages to balance the original “Firefly” ensemble reasonably well on the big screen, and the collective charisma within the cast remains intact. But really, it’s the climax that makes “Serenity” soar: a heat-pounding third-act blowout even if you’re not fully invested in the “Firefly” mythos.
6. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)
“South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” is a prime example of honest advertising in the movies. It promises an extended, more grandiose and “uncut” take on the original series, and the film 100% delivers.
In a delightfully meta storyline, “Bigger, Longer & Uncut” presents Stan, Eric, Kyle and Kenny sneaking into an R-rated film, and subsequently shocking the world with their newly-learned vocabulary.
Though, because it’s “South Park”, things don’t end there — Satan gets involved, the U.S. and Canada go to war, plus Saddam Hussein as Lucifer’s abusive lover. It’s a weird time, but unabashedly “South Park”.