Turning Nostalgic TV into Film Franchises is Risky Biz


Hollywood has a tendency to cannibalize itself. Most of the superhero reboots are empty-calorie action flicks with too much CGI, (do we really need another Spider-Man this July?).

While superhero films are here to stay – at least for the next decade – the other recycling trend with which Hollywood seems obsessed is rebooting nostalgic TV shows from the 1970s and 80s into film franchises.  Some really entertain and find success at the box office, while most crash and burn opening weekend. Let’s take a look at some of the winners, losers and what’s coming in the development pipeline.


Ice Cube, Channing Tatum, and Jonah Hill in 21 Jump Street (2012). Photo courtesy: Sony Pictures

21 Jump Street (2012)

This film rebooted the Johnny Depp crime-drama (1987-1991), into a comedy starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. With a snazzy script by Michael Bacall that heeded Hill’s story input, the film took in $138,447,667 domestically. 22 Jump Street did even better, taking in $191,616,238.  There is talk of a 23 Jump Street with a Men In Black crossover, called MIB 23, but efforts seem to be stalled.

Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003). Photo courtesy: Columbia Pictures

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2000)

This female-centric crime/action drama (1976-1981), made Farrah Fawcett a household name. Remaking Charlie’s Angeles into a film franchise was a no-brainer for actress/producer Drew Barrymore. The film took in $125,305,545 domestically. The sequel Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle in 2003, didn’t do quite as well, taking in $100,685,880 domestically coming in far under its reported budget of $120M.

A TV reboot of Charlie’s Angels in 2011 was cancelled after just four episodes, proving audiences finally had enough of supermodel detectives.


Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron in Baywatch (2017). Photo courtesy: Paramount

Baywatch (2017)

The beach soap opera premiered in 1989 on NBC and was cancelled after the first season. Finding new life in syndication, the show ran for 11 seasons and became enormously popular around the world, making David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson international superstars.

The show was all cheese with loose plots that always allowed for long musical montages with women in bikinis.

Rebooting the show as a summer flick with muscle-bound Dwayne Johnson sounds like a great idea and might have worked if it only followed one rule: Make fun of itself. Unfortunately, with a whopping six writers, the plot and characters drifted out to sea never finding their mooring. Early box office reports are that the franchise is taking on water. Variety estimates it will only make $25M in the first five days.

Michael Peña and Dax Shepard in CHIPS (2017). Photo courtesy: Warner Bros.

CHiPs (2017)

The laid-back California cop show, CHiPs (1977-1983), was a very popular with families and ran for six successful seasons. For the reboot that came out in theaters in March of this year, Michael Pena seemed the perfect choice to play Ponch along side Dax Sheppard’s Jon Baker. But turning the franchise into a slapstick comedy and relying on homophobic penis jokes made the flick an instant flop.  The film earned $18,591,819, far below its budget of $25m.

Michael Peña and Dax Shepard in CHIPS (2017). Photo courtesy: Universal Pictures

Land of the Lost (2009)

This cerebral sci-fi kids show (1974-1976) mixed dinosaurs and early hominids and was a true favorite for many kids in the 1970s because the show didn’t talk down to children. Instead, it presented advanced concepts like time-travel, alien species and general survival in a hostile land.

It’s understandable that Will Farrell would be eager to star in a reboot as he most likely grew up watching the show, but the filmmakers’ decision to make it an action/comedy with all adult characters lost the strange but appealing magic of the TV show that was meant for children. Land of the Lost flopped, recouping only half of it’s $100M budget.

Set to release:

Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman (2017). Photo courtesy: Warner Bros.

Wonder Woman

The TV show Wonder Woman (1975-1979) starring Lynda Carter, dazzled young women and men alike as the super heroine fought crime and soared through the sky in an invisible jet. Though a TV pilot starring Adrienne Palicki was shot in 2011, it never aired on television. Warner Brothers has high hopes for its film reboot starring Gal Gadot, however, and spent a reported $120M on the film, hoping it will spawn multiple sequels. Wonder Woman opens June 2.

In development:

Lee Majors in The Six Million Dollar Man (1974). Photo courtesy: Universal Television

The Six Billion Dollar Man

Yes, this is a modern reinvention of TV’s Six Million Dollar Man (1974-1978), but due to inflation, the cost to turn Mark Wahlberg into a cyborg is ten times more. A year ago, it was rumored that Damian Szifron would write and direct, but it’s unknown whether or not a script exists yet.

John Ritter, Suzanne Somers, and Joyce DeWitt in Three’s Company (1976). Photo courtesy: ABC

Three’s Company

The sophomoric, slap-stick TV show Three’s Company (1977-1984) became wildly successful due to the chemistry between its stars, John Ritter, Joyce De Witt and Suzanne Somers. Writing team Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (He’s Just Not That Into You), have been tapped to write the screenplay, but it’s unknown if it will be set in the 70s or modern day. To work as a movie, this franchise faces two giant obstacles. One, finding a way to deal with the storyline of Jack pretending to be gay in a world where gay marriage is legal, and secondly, casting an actor as adept as physical comedy as John Ritter. Good luck.

Melissa Gilbert and Dean Butler in Little House on the Prairie (1974). Photo courtesy: NBC

Little House on the Prairie

The TV show based on the real-life Ingalls family (1974-1982), enthralled a whole generation of young women who looked to the scrappy Laura Ingalls (Melissa Gilbert), as their role model. Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene) is attached to direct from a script by Abi Morgan (Suffragette), and given their past works, it seems that they’ll be keeping the story within the dramatic realm, which is probably a good thing.

What TV shows from the 1970s and 80s would you like to see rebooted as a movie?



Shanee Edwards graduated from UCLA Film School with an MFA in Screenwriting and is currently the film critic for SheKnows.com. She recently won the Next MacGyver television writing competition to create a TV show about a female engineer. Her pilot, Ada and the Machine, is currently in development with America Ferrera's Take Fountain Productions. You can follow her on Twitter: @ShaneeEdwards

7 Replies to "Turning Nostalgic TV into Film Franchises is Risky Biz"

  • comment-avatar
    Mark June 2, 2017 (2:50 am)

    Lets turn the powers of matthew star into a new fresh version

  • comment-avatar
    DSlocum June 2, 2017 (4:59 am)

    Ahem… Since when is 6 billion only 10 times 6 million? Let me get out my slide rule…..

  • comment-avatar
    Paddy June 2, 2017 (6:15 am)

    Sonny and Cher, two hippie cyborg droids are transported to earth by the Evil Dark Lord “Merv.” The innocent earthlings are hypnotized. They are slowly being turned into minions by the subliminal encoded messages from the music and dance rhythms broadcast on an innocuous TV show. Two rebels of the Evil Dark Lord “Merv” – Dan Rowen and Dick Martin smuggle the last surviving being that has the antidote, known only by his CB handle “FLIP” from the planet Boreedome to do battle! Its a show down, yes literally a “Show” down of the airwaves!” The Smothers Brothers, Goldie, Lilly, Ruth, Gibson, Worley are all called in by their best friend Flip to come to Earth. They will all have to work together to stop “Merv!” If they could just get a show of their own? (Copyright – PRA Productions)

  • comment-avatar
    Karen Grube June 2, 2017 (11:51 am)

    Wild, Wild West wasn’t very good either.

  • comment-avatar
    Christofer Nigro June 2, 2017 (12:23 pm)

    I thought “Starsky and Hutch” wasn’t too bad, even though rebooting a dramatic cop show as a self-parodying comedy was a bit odd, so I’m not surprised it flopped. Yes, there was much to make fun of about the show, but it could have been done in a way that didn’t turn the entire thematic element of the series on its head, and if it was presented as a nostalgic film that was designed to parody the multitude of cop shows we got in the 1970s that was affectionately set in that era, rather than calling it “Starsky and Hutch,” a tactic that seems to have been carried over from the “Dragnet” cinematic reboot that was inexplicably much lauded but which thankfully never spawned a sequel.

    Some other ill-fated reboots are “The Dukes of Hazard” and “The Mod Squad.” And in terms of attempted TV reboots of classic TV shows, we have the failures of “Family Affair,” “Kojak,” “Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” and “The Bionic Woman” to compare to the rare relative success of “Hawaii Five-O.”

  • comment-avatar
    Karen Grube June 3, 2017 (3:13 pm)

    I just finished watching The Fugitive. WOW, what a terrific film adaptation of the series. It was definitely one to put in the “Winner” category. It took Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones and the other terrific cast members to make it work well, but it did. I still quote some of the lines from the movie occasionally, like “Well done, young man.” What made it work so well is that they took the concept seriously and didn’t try to make it camp or funny. I’d love to see “Have Gun, Will Travel” adapted, or perhaps even “Heck Ramsey.” Richard Boone was terrific in both.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.

Join Our Magazine
Get a free subscription to Screenwriting Magazine and download over 40 Academy Nominated screenplays.
No Thanks
Thanks for Joining ScreenwritingU Magazine!
We respect your privacy. Your information is safe and will never be shared.
Don't miss out. Join today!