When the era of "prestige television" began, every story suddenly needed to become a multi-season series that provided hours of content for viewers. Many creators retooled concepts meant for film into a pilot or a full series pitch and a lot of those ideas were picked up. That also means that there are a lot of TV shows that would be better as movies. There aren’t many stories that can go on for years without giving diminishing returns and that’s sadly true of some of the best TV shows that were canceled. Yes, even your favorite show.
This isn’t to say that these TV shows that should have been turned into movies were bad. Most of them had huge cult followings and they had moments that were absolutely riveting. It’s just that they went on for too long and lost the plot. Some programs that went on for too long have actually faired much better as movies based on the original TV shows because they only had to focus on one two-hour narrative. If the following shows had been made into movies instead of the shows that they became they might have become some of the best movies of all time. Here’s to what could have been. Can you see it? Would you have preferred it if these TV shows would have been movies instead? Vote up the TV shows that would have been better as movies.
Heroes was touted as the superhero series that would finally bridge the gap between comic book fans and the people that watched prime-time television. It was a mature show about superheroes that showed the highs and lows of being thrust into a position of overwhelming power. It's impossible to ignore the fact that the first season of this groundbreaking show paved the way for modern superhero shows like Legion and Runaways. But the following seasons failed to deliver on the promises of the first season and the show now exists as one of the biggest what could have-beens ever produced. This would have made a spectacular movie about superheroes who were regular people choosing to save the world. It may have taken some leg work to cull a story from the 23 hours of content but that's what sequels are for.
Even the most fervent of Lost fans will admits that the show fell off at the end of season five. The world ending finale seemed like the best place to end a series that had been mired in ups and downs. The series faced a myriad of problems; from requiring a massive budget to fan interest waning significantly, but it's still an interesting story. Every aspect of the initial episode is something that would have been wonderful to explore if there had just been an end point. Rather than making the audience wait seven years for an uninspired riff on Heaven, J.J. Abrams could have crafted a dense narrative about the pursuit of the unknown and told a story worth sitting through.
V was always fighting to live up to and outdo the original mini-series from which it was based. The series never found its footing among fans likely because it never had a chance to figure out what it wanted to be. The series finale was an all over the place shoot-'em-up that was regarded as a lot of fun but mostly pointless. The initial story of V - aliens show up and offer technology but have ulterior motives - has a lot of potential. It would have been more beneficial to make a standalone film based on the original miniseries rather than to bank on a the diminishing episodic returns of this trope.
Comparing the two seasons of True Detective are like comparing night and day. Season one wears its Lynchian themes of suburban terror on its sleeve and both Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson deliver stellar performances. But with eight episodes to fill there are some dull spots that slow the pace to a crawl. Rather than force audiences to sit on their hands and wait for something to happen - a single take gun fight for instance - a True Detective movie could have carved this story of the Louisiana local government harboring a sadistic child predator into a two-hour thriller that kept audiences on the edge of their seats.
The Grinder was too good for this world. You probably never watched this series about a TV lawyer named Dean Sanderson (played by Rob Lowe) who decides to quit the acting business and become a real lawyer like his brother Stewart (played by Fred Savage). It was smart and vastly entertaining, but it was also too weird to be on TV. Admittedly, The Grinder carried the meta element of being a TV show about TV but it may have made more of an impact by telling the story of the Sanderson brothers in something more feature-length. Like its spiritual cousin Anchorman, a film version of The Grinder would have been able to tell a full story while allowing for very weird asides. But that would have meant that The Grinder would have settled, and The Grinder never settles.
One of the jewels of Fox programming in the '90s, Sliders was an immensely fun show for a little while until half of the cast vacated the series for greener pastures while the show was making tonal changes. One of the show's stars, Jonathan Rhys-Davies, has gone on record saying that the series was mishandled in almost every way which is a drag because the show had a lot of potential. Sliders was akin to Quantum Leap in that the series had an episodic format built into it. The gang was forced to jump through portals in order to get back to their universe.
That story is cool for a little while but then it becomes exhausting, especially after five seasons of the same thing every week. A film version of the pilot could have been a proto-Guardians of the Galaxy, with a mismatched crew flinging themselves through the universe on a search for home. It would have satisfied the dual desires of sci-fi fans for something both exciting and intriguing.
Party Down is one of the funniest shows to come out of the early 2000s. This short-lived series about the the day-to-day depressing lives of these failed actors who work second-tier catering jobs was an incubator for many of the comedy talents you see running circles around film and television today. Even though the series is magnificent, it only managed to garner a cult fan base and was canceled after two very short seasons. A film has been rumored for years but it's probably never going to happen, and it may have better to just make a movie in the first place instead of filming a series. The story would still be able to focus on Adam Scott's down-and-out Henry on his hero's journey while trimming some of the excess that inevitably comes along with episodic television.
Twin Peaks is one of the greatest - if not the greatest - show to ever appear on television. It was like seeing a dream come to life on screens across the country - except for all of those episodes where nothing really happened. Instead of trying to give Dale Cooper (played by Kyle Maclachlan) a reason to stay in Twin Peaks for the back half of season two, it may have been ideal to craft a singular story that followed his work on the case. This would have taken quite a bit of work but by truncating the story of season one and the first few episodes of season two into a film it could have been something truly satisfying, but that's not how David Lynch works.
Chuck was under constant threat of cancelation from the get-go and that challenge forced every episode to seem much more important than it was. Throughout its five seasons there was never any room for the narrative to breathe and the characters were undergoing constant changes to make everyone slightly more appealing. As a film, Chuck could have told its story without the looming menace of getting the network axe and managed to tell an entertaining and complete story. Chuck still managed to garner a pretty big fan base - it was just mismanaged.
The first season of Desperate Housewives is one of the most fun mysteries to ever appear on television. Unfortunately, it's 23 episodes long...and then there are seven more seasons. While it was fun to watch Teri Hatcher and Felicity Huffman act out in horrible ways while trying to figure out if their neighbor killed themselves it was much less fun to watch the show lose steam and while trying to add new intrigue over the course of eight years. A shortened and streamlined version of the first season of Desperate Housewives would have made for an incredibly fun whodunit that would rival any Agatha Christie novel and if the producers felt that there was more story to tell they could have always made a sequel.
The concept of a serial killer as a likable protagonist is an interesting one that was explored in fascinating detail throughout the first two seasons of Dexter. However, the show went on for far longer than necessary and the character dynamics became so thinly stretched that by the awful series finale, audiences were begging to be put out of their misery. The entire narrative arc of Dexter could have been told in 120 minutes and it would have carried much more weight than the combined episodes of all eight seasons.
Murder House, the first season of American Horror Story, has everything required to tell a good ghost story. Unfortunately the show took 13 episodes to tell a simple story and that ended up ruining the pace. As a film, Murder House could have constantly ratcheted up the tension as the Harmon family slowly loses their minds and commits suicide over the course of the film. There would have been no unnecessary side plots like the ghosts hanging out on Halloween to put a full stop on the narrative flow. A feature of Murder House also could have done away with the 13th episode of the season that does nothing more than recap everything the audience had seen with only a slight variation.
There's no denying that Stranger Things is very fun sci-fi series that hits all of the right nostalgia buttons. Both seasons one and two have a lot of good going for them but they also face the same major issue: pacing. There's no reason for there to be eight or nine episodes in each season. Both of the seasons are built in the same way. The opening episode brings you into the world and introduces its characters, then the next three episodes make you sit around and wait on the actual plot to move. The three-act structure of a film actually fits Stranger Things so much better than episodic plotting. Had this piece been saddled with a 120 minute runtime, it would have forced the Duffer Brothers to better structure the narrative arc of their characters.