It's easy to underestimate the eighth ring of Hell that is television and film development. The process can be an arduous, years-long endeavor with no guaranteed end result outside of exhaustion and maybe some moderate anxiety. These cult favorites *really* went through it before entering pre-production, to the extent that stories envisioned for television had to be transformed for an entirely different medium: feature films. Still, all's well that ends well, and these labors of love paid off with some of the most beloved movies in history (and a few stinkers, but we give them points for trying).
Writers Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese tried to manifest Zombieland for nearly four years before it entered development as a feature film. Its original iteration was a 2005 spec script for a television pilot, but director Ruben Fleischer helped transform it into a feature by making one simple tweak: giving the road trip adventure a specific ending point at the theme park. The celebrity cameo also changed many, many times during development, originally being a deeply meta version of Patrick Swayze before eventually becoming Bill Murray, who only agreed to the role if the film’s set was environmentally conscious and if the director would give up dairy for a week. Ruben ended up becoming a vegetarian for eleven months because of Bill’s influence.
Buena Vista Pictures
Robin William’s 1987 war comedy was first pitched as an autobiographical sitcom by Adrian Cronauer, a former AFRS DJ, but networks were put off by the concept of using war as comedic fodder despite the success of the dramady M*A*S*H* that aired from 1972 to 1983. Adrian decided to revamp it as a TV movie of the week, which Robin took a shine to and eventually helped shepard it into the feature film that would provide his first Academy Award nomination.
Trance was, really, originally envisioned as a feature film by director Danny Boyle, the problem was that no one else seemed to agree with him. Back in 1994, the screenwriter Joe Ahearne pitched the script to Danny who wanted to adapt it for the screen, but Joe wouldn’t give it away without directing it himself which does beg the question of why he decided to pitch it to a director, but whatever. Danny rightfully thought that was too big of a commitment for a first-time director and Joe made it into a television feature. Danny never stopped thinking about the script and eventually made his own big-screen version of the story in 2013 starring James McAvoy.
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Once upon a time, in a galaxy not-so-far away, Lucasfilm was considering an anthology television series called Star Wars: Underworld set in the Star Wars universe, but John Knoll’s pitch and the series itself were never created. A full decade later, Lucasfilm was acquired by Disney, and John felt he owed it to himself to give the story another go. This time, Disney followed through on the story and used it as the first in their new feature film anthology, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Meanwhile, we’re still waiting for a second chance at the proposed live-action Star Wars television series. Disney+, we’re looking at you.
Today’s kids will never know that the dude who played Jess’s dad on New Girl is one of the greatest actor-directors of the past century. Yeah, I said it. The UCLA alum directed When Harry Met Sally, which went on to define the romantic comedy genre for decades, the military drama A Few Good Men, and the best book-to-movie adaptation ever made, The Princess Bride. The multi-hypenate who got his start on television ironically barely dabbled in directing for television, but his cult classic rock mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap was birthed from a failed television pilot. Rob and his partner Harry Shearer were developing a sketch comedy show featuring characters that would become David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel. While that iteration of the characters was never seen, they returned for a (nearly) entirely improvised film based on their imaginary band.
Scum briefly *was* made for television, but Ray Winstone’s signature work was pulled from broadcast by the BBC for being disgusting. Ray then went on to create an equally disgusting (and even more profane!) feature film from his script with most of the same actors two years later. It got rid of a gay subplot for really no reason but made everything more violent. Bold choices were made. The original television creation did eventually air again, but not on the BBC. Good to know that when it comes to brutal violence, Channel Four is the British network to watch.
If you never had to watch 12 Angry Men in your American Government classes, you should probably ask for your tuition money back. It’s a little-known fact that the 1957 masterpiece was based on a play created for TV. That version, which was worse if only for the criminal lack of Henry Fonda, shared two actors with the film and was created only three years before it was adapted for the big screen. The TV play was lost for over half a century before, mysteriously, it was uploaded onto YouTube in 2003 (you can find it on Digital Spy, too).
There are two types of people in this world: those who are still mourning the loss of Firefly and the others who judge them. Long before nerd culture was cool (and then weird and then cool again, and now I believe we’ve settled back onto weird), Joss Whedon’s space epic was ripped from Fox by people that didn’t understand it, but fans successfully lobbied for a feature film continuation three years later. The movie was based on stories meant for and inspired by the original series, but Joss has been adamant that people needed to understand that the film was a separate entity from the series, as he once explained to Variety.
Friday Night Lights eventually became a beloved television series, which reinforces the whole “Believe In Your Dreams” message of the narrative in an amusingly meta way. Before then, it was actually a failed television series starring Ben Affleck called Against The Grain based on the novel by Buzz Bissinger that started it all, but the project was so short-lived, it’s almost like it never happened at all. Still looking to find success with an adaptation of the source material, the 2004 film was made eleven years later to commercial and critical success, in turn inspiring the creation of the second television series. This is more of a chicken vs. egg conundrum than a direct TV-to-Film development saga, but much like the show, it’s a fascinating tale of persistence.
Rogue One wasn’t the only Star Wars film born from the ashes of Star Wars: Underworld. Actually, we’d be surprised if most of the movies produced in the anthology film series came from abandoned passion projects meant to unfold during the live action television series. While we’d love to see even more of Han Solo’s origin story, at least the jump to film made it easier to get a star-studded cast of movie stars like Donald Glover and small-screen, big-impact actors like Emilia Clarke on board.
We're all aware that 22 Jump Street and its predecessor are based on the '80s drama 21 Jump Street starring a young Johnny Depp, but that's not the only TV-to-film connection in Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill's buddy cop college comedy. Writing duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller found their biggest successes with the Jump Street films and The Lego Movie but they've never gotten over the one that got away, an adult animated series called Clone High. The creators revealed to Grantland that many of the jokes in 22 Jump Street were ripped straight from Clone High, so while the storyline itself was always meant for the movies, its content was originally intended for a television show that left us too soon.
The more recent Starsky & Hutch film with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson was based on the 1975 television series of the same name, but that television show was actually adapted from a seventy-minute TV movie. *That* movie was originally meant to be the series's pilot, but it was so long that it became a stand-alone entry on Movie of the Week. Funnily enough, many of the scripts from Starsky & Hutch's first season were actually adapted from existing theatrical screenplays, meaning that film and television were as interchangeable for the original showrunners as the characters were for the 2004 film adaptation.
Tremors 2: Aftershocks could have easily become a television series, if its TV producers hadn't been beaten to the punch by Tremors's film team. The ideas were being concurrently produced, one as Aftershocks and the other as The Lost Monsters. Ultimately, the second tremors movie led to a third, then a fourth, and has continued for over a decade and nearly seven films. The next Tremors film will likely be released in Fall 2019, with no end in sight for the cult series. It looks like scrapping the TV show might have been the better call.
Before The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a Guy Ritchie film starring most of the world’s hottest men, it was an uber-popular television series in the 1960s. Its spin-offs included another short-lived television project called The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. (we appreciate the early attempt at gender equality), a comic book series, and a couple of movies. To Trap A Spy and The Spy With My Face were set in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s TV universe, but both films were originally conceived as episodes for the television series. Due to its crossover success in America, MGM would film extra footage with added sex, violence, sub-pots, and guest stars which were added to existing plots and re-edited for film.
Prolific police procedural Dragnet already existed as a television series and a theatrical feature film in the ‘50s and it would return again as a Dan Akroyd comedy in the ‘80s, but in the interim, it was had a three-season television revival in the ‘60s, aptly titled Dragnet 1967. The film Dragnet 1966 was confusingly released in 1969 because it was originally meant as a television pilot. Somehow, Dragnet 1967 began airing before Dragnet 1966 could be released, so after three years of waiting, they just released it as a made-for-TV movie set in the Dragnet universe.
Clueless, the classic film that invented Valley Speak and therefore also invented me, was just one of many Emma adaptations in development during the mid-‘90s. There was also the television film Emma starring Kate Beckinsale, the feature film Emma starring Gwyneth Paltrow, and the eventual Clueless movie and television series that were released within a year of each other. The Hollywood Reporter learned Clueless was originally conceived as a television show for Fox by Amy Heckerling, but it was instead picked up as a feature film by Paramount, which ironically then lead to a spin-off television series based on the film.
Whether you know The Addams Family for its 1991 film starring Anjelica Huston, Raúl Juliá, and Christina Ricci or the 1964 television series (with its infectious theme song), fans probably know that these characters go way back. Macabre cartoonist Charles Addams began drawing the darkly humorous aristocrats back in the early 1940s, and their television adaptation two decades later never really popularized the franchise due to competition from The Munsters. Orion Pictures wanted to reboot the television show around the same time Scott Rudin decided to pitch the story as a movie, and for a while, it looked like Orion would emerge victorious. After the death of Charles’s widow, the rights shifted in a way that allowed Scott to move forward with the film instead, scrapping the television project for the time being.
Warner Home Video
There can never be too many Batman origin stories, but in the late ‘90s, there could only be one. In another case of dual development, a television series about Batman’s beginnings titled Bruce Wayne was looking like a sure thing, with both HBO and The WB entering negotiations for broadcasting rights. Due to differing visions between The WB’s television and film sectors, WB’s theatrical division greenlit the film Batman: Year One instead which pulled from roughly the same source material but was their great hope to reboot their flailing Batman film franchise. Funnily enough, Bruce Wayne’s shelving allowed Smallville to rise from the ashes less than a year later as its production company was still interested in a similarly themed superhero origin series and were now barred from shopping a Batman prequel to The WB.
Columbia TriStar Home Video
When you get Amy Adams for your pilot, you make sure it gets seen. The direct-to-video sequel we know and love to hate, Cruel Intentions 2: Manchester Prep was developed and shot as a TV pilot for a show called Manchester Prep, but the show wasn’t picked up by any networks (for reasons obvious to anyone who’s seen this sleazy masterpiece). Screen Crush reveals the first sequel to Cruel Intentions is just repurposed material from that failed TV pilot, but it's really only important as one of Amy's earliest roles. The future Academy Award nominee took over Sarah Michelle Gellar's role.
It's a little-known fact that Twin Peaks autour David Lynch's first foray into television wasn't an immediate hit. In a deep-dive article on Killer Bob, Slate revealed the little-known fact that Mulholland Drive was supposed to be a TV show, and it only became the cult favorite movie it is today because ABC rejected its pilot and David decided to turn it into a feature film. The first half of the movie was the pilot, while the second half was new footage, leading to a narrative that has confused audiences since the start of the millennium.