5. The Muppet Movie (1979)
Once upon a time, the hottest gig in Hollywood was appearing on “The Muppet Show”, a sketch/variety show run and hosted entirely by a team of anthropomorphic puppets (“the Muppets”).
“The Muppet Movie” tells an (though, as Kermit points out in the opening scene, highly sensationalized) account of how the Muppets wound up together, creating the beloved TV show that ran in the mid-1970s to the early-80s.
There are A-list cameos galore: Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, Bob Hope, and (once again!) Orson Welles are all featured in the Muppets’ cinematic debut (Welles deals the Muppets their desired “Rich and Famous” contract near the end of the film). But it’s the original “Muppet Show” performers who anchor the film. Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson and Richard Hunt’s Muppeteering talents cannot be understated.
There’s even an origin story for Big Bird thrown in there. In the midst of a pause in between Kermit and Fozzie’s car-bound “Movin’ Right Along” number, they pull over to see Big Bird trudging along on the side of the road. They offer him a lift, but Big Bird remarks that he’s off to New York with hopes of breaking into public television. All three would eventually meet again on Season 3, Episode 18 of “The Muppet Show”, though no mention was made of their previous curbside introduction.
4. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004)
Much has been made of the precipitous decline of Nickelodeon’s “SpongeBob SquarePants”; what was once a chipper and clever show has since devolved into a sort of kid-friendly “Family Guy”, complete with mean-spirited humor and grossly exaggerated characters. Series creator Stephen Hillenburg wanted the program to end with “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie”, and it’s easy to see why.
“The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” earns its “generational touchstone” status via charming animation, rousing musical numbers and a host of colorful, vibrant undersea players.
Series antagonist Sheldon J. Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) has employed “Plan Z”, a mythic last-resort plan to conquer Bikini Bottom, and it’s up to SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) and his best friend Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) to stop him after the celestial powers of King Neptune (Jeffrey Tambor) are unwittingly drawn into the equation.
If “SpongeBob” were to have ended here, it would have been a tremendously satisfying finish, as SpongeBob finishes his cover of “I Wanna Rock” and Ween’s “Ocean Man” plays over an ocean-blue credits sequence (intercut with SpongeBob serving as manager at the Krusty Krab 2, of course).
3. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)
Yes, you read that right: “Borat” originally spun out of a TV show, specifically Sacha Baron Cohen’s “The Ali G Show”, which ran for four years in the early-2000s. Now, the Kazhak journalist has endured to become arguably Cohen’s most iconic character.
Largely composed of unscripted, raw interview segments, “Borat” is tremendously funny — even if there are some concerns to be raised about Borat’s existence as a racial caricature.
Cohen travels with Ken Davitan, who portrays Borat’s seedy, morbidly overweight producer (Davitan’s heft, though, comes in handy in one of the film’s most “memorable” sequences). Together, they attempt to make a documentary about American culture, and encounter a number of questionable characters along the way.
“Borat” eventually received a follow-up in the form of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”, however little can match the instant breath of fresh air that was the first appearance of Kazakhstan’s 3rd greatest journalist (as of 2020, Kazakhstan itself has officially embraced Borat, changing their tourism moniker to “Kazakhstan. Very Nice!”).
2. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
While 1979’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” might hold some value to hardcore Trekkies, to everyone else, it’s a bit of a slog. Captain Kirk and co.’s delightfully stagey space adventure, despite serving as perfect pulp entertainment on TV, didn’t fully translate to cinema nor retain much of its essential charm.
“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982) vaporised worries that “Star Trek” couldn’t work on the big screen, delivering some of the best and most iconic moments in the entire 55-year history of sci-fi’s second most famous brand.
Khan (Ricardo Montalbán) proves the greatest villain which the inhabitants of the USS Enterprise have ever faced. He’s a brutal evil presence, and Spock’s (Leonard Nimoy) sacrifice to defeat the genetically engineered metahuman stands as one of the ultimate tear-jerker moments in the geek canon.
The original “Star Trek” series and its brethren have since spawned several notable films (“The Voyage Home” and “First Contact” come to mind), but none of them can claim the impact that “Khan” had in confirming that “Star Trek” could function just as well on the big screen as it did on the small screen. The definitive “Trek” movie.
1. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)
Most feature-length continuations of TV shows seek to epitomize their series: serve as big-budget, extended episodes on the big screen. “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” does precisely the opposite, and is all the more powerful for it.
“Fire Walk With Me” is a film which forces its viewers to wonder — wonder about abstract concepts surrounding the show’s mythology. About whether or not certain characters ultimately deserved their fates. And, most affectingly of all: How did we ever sympathize with the town of Twin Peaks?
The soap opera kitsch of the original series is completely absent in David Lynch’s movie adaptation, but “Fire Walk With Me” suggests it might never have been there at all. We might have simply projected a romantic fantasy onto what was always a nasty and ugly setting — similar to how individuals valorize classic American values/suburbia without considering its simmering underbelly, which has been the driving thesis of nearly Lynch’s entire cinematic oeuvre.
Sheryl Lee is a fire-breathing, mesmerizing revelation as Laura Palmer, perfectly realizing a profoundly tortured character. Likewise, returning “Twin Peaks” cast members — notably Ray Wise, Grace Zabriskie, Mädchen Amick and Frank Silvia — arrive to play, this time delivering wholly naturalistic performances in order to fit Lynch’s new, cruel world.
Perhaps “Fire Walk With Me” could’ve benefited from some of the deleted scenes found on “The Missing Pieces” or via mitigating its phantasmagorical elements, yet there’s no denying that it is a tremendously impactful film — and the best TV tie-in movie of all time.