Which is Better: Good Movies or the Good TV Shows they Are Based On?

We compare 5 well-received movies with the well-received television shows they were based on. Is the TV show or the movie better? 

In the realm of film adaptations, it is often the movie which ends up being worse than the original source material. In some rare cases, the movie ends up being better than the source. This is a look at an even rarer occurrence – when a movie is just as great as the media on which it is based. In this case, we are looking at movies based on television shows where the determination of whether the TV show is better than the film, or vice versa, is difficult to agree upon. For each pair of films/TV shows, I offer my opinion of which one I would consider to be best. Do you agree? 

The Fugitive

The TV Show: Original show aired on ABC from 1963 to 1967. Follows the plight of Dr. Richard Kimble, who was wrongfully convicted of his wife’s murder. Sentenced to death, he escapes custody and must find a way to prove his innocence. The show was popular in its first two seasons, earning five Emmy nominations including the 1966 Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. The series finale still holds the #3 spot on the list of highest viewership shares ever recorded. TV Guide has ranked The Fugitive as the #36 best TV show in their list of the 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time. Remake show released in the year 2000. 

The Movie: 1993 film starring Harrison Ford. Based on the television program, it had a similar plot and maintained many of the same character names. The film was a blockbuster hit in theaters, holding on to the top spot at the box office for 6 weeks straight. Critical reviews were very positive, and the film currently has a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. It would go on to be nominated for seven awards at the 1994 Oscars, including best picture. Tommy Lee Jones would win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Deputy U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard

Which Is Better? Arguably, the movie. While the TV show was popular, and still is fondly remembered, the movie is what most people associate with the title ‘The Fugitive’. The fact that the film (as a TV adaptation) took off to become a major blockbuster hit, critically acclaimed, and Oscar-winning is a rare fete. 


The TV Show: Live-action comedy/adventure show based on the DC comic book character which aired on ABC from 1966 to 1968. Follows Batman and Robin as they fight crime in Gotham City. With upbeat music and goofy sense of humor, it was meant to appeal to teenagers. The show proved to be very popular upon its release and initial 2 years of syndication. For the initial two years, it was broadcast twice a week. The first show each week had a cliffhanger ending which would be resolved in the second episode. The series only was cancelled after a mix up during the sale of the show to NBC where many of the sets had been scrapped, making further production cost prohibitive despite the continued popularity. 

The Movie: Essentially an extended episode, it was originally created to be a promotional tool for the television series. However, ABC could not secure funding without the show in production, and so release was delayed until after the show was already off the air. Upon release, the film found mild success in theaters, and currently holds a 77% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. With (mostly) the same cast as the show, and a few new toys for the dynamic duo to use in their crime-fighting adventures, the film has become more popular over time and today is considered a cult classic. 

Which Is Better? I’m going with the television show. Despite the cult status of the movie, it really only stands as a distilled version of what the show had already accomplished. The show has gone on to be hugely influential and fondly remembered. Even if the movie is what more people these days are familiar with, it is really the same creative force as what made the show so popular in the first place. 

21 Jump Street

The TV Show: A procedural police action/drama series which aired on Fox from 1987 to 1991. Focused on a group of young Police officers who focused on crimes in high school and colleges. Often times, the main characters would have to go undercover as students in order to investigate. The show was geared towards teenagers, and often featured popular music of the time on its soundtrack. The show proved to be a big hit for the new Fox TV network. It became the first Fox show to win a timeslot against rival shows from the big three networks. 

The Movie: Released in 2012, starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. The movie followed the show by having two young officers have to go undercover in a high school in order to investigate a drug ring. However, the movie’s approach was geared towards being a comedy, as its approach is almost a satire of the original, more-serious show. It proved to be popular in its intended demographic, earning several nominations and wins on awards programs such as the Teen Choice Awards and the MTV Movie Awards. The film was a big hit in theaters, and is currently rates at 84% on Rotten Tomatoes. The popularity of the film allowed for a sequel to released in 2014. 

Which Is Better? The movie. While the TV show was popular at its time of release, it does feel dated in concept, which is why the film had to take a more comedic approach. Furthermore, besides Johnny Depp’s meteoric rise to stardom, I’m not sure the show would have been remembered at all. 

The Simpsons

The TV Show: Originally started as a series of animated shorts on the Tracy Ullman show for three seasons starting in 1987. Debuted in 1989 on Fox as its own show. The Simpsons is an animated comedy which uses satire to depict working class life in America. The show is still currently on air, in its thirtieth season. The show has won 31 Emmy awards during its run, and was very highly regarded for its first ten seasons. Time magazine has named the show the best television program of the 20th Century. The Simpsons went on to inspire many other prime-time animated sitcoms. 

The Movie: Based on the television show with the same cast, writers, and producers. The movie plays as an extended episode of the show, but with improved animated and several high-profile cameo roles. A movie based on the television show had actually been considered earlier in the show’s run, but lack of a script and suitable production resources left it in limbo. The movie performed well at the box office, becoming the 7th highest grossing film of the year, and the highest grossing animated film based on a television show. Reviews were positive, and the film holds an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 

Which Is Better? This one is a no-brainer. The show. Despite the Simpsons being very long-in-the-tooth by now with its best years behind it, you cannot discount the impact the show has had. It is the longest-running sitcom in history, with more than 600 episodes. That type of legacy is difficult to ignore. While the movie did showcase better writing than what had been seen on the show for some time, it still pales in contrast to the pop-culture juggernaut which is the television program. 

Mission: Impossible

The TV Show: Broadcast on NBC from 1966 to 1973. An action/spy show focusing on a group of agents tasked with difficult missions. Together they made up the IMF – Impossible Mission Force. Each episode was a new mission, delivered in clandestine fashion for the first scene. Despite changes in cast, the series remained popular through its 6-year run. Over this run, the show was nominated for 23 Emmys and 8 Golden Globes, winning the Emmy for best Drama in 1966 and 1967, and the Golden Globe for best drama in 1968. In 1988 the series was revived for two years on ABC. 

The Movie: Released in 1996, directed by veteran filmmaker Brian DePalma, and starring Tom Cruise. It was the first film produced by Tom Cruises’ production company Cruise/Wagner Productions. The television show was essentially a continuation of the television series with similar format, but mostly new characters. It was a big hit at the box office, becoming the third highest-grossing film of the year. Critics provided mostly positive reviews, and the film currently has a 63% on Rotten Tomatoes. More importantly, the film has spawned 5 successful sequels so far, with 2 more planned for the future. 

Which is Better? Despite the success and longevity of the show, I have to lean towards the movie because it spawned an entire successful movie franchise which has only gotten better as it goes along. Even though the films have gone away from their initial inspiration of the TV show, they are able to stand on their own as impressive feature film accomplishments.