Here’s a look at all the best recent TV shows — from the last five years, so hold the “Where’s Battlestar/Buffy?” comments — that have been based on sci-fi, fantasy or horror movies.
The Exorcist. Image: Jean Whiteside/FOX
12. The Librarians
After a trio of successful made-for-TV Librarian movies, TNT expanded the fantasy tale into a series that will begin its fourth season later this year. On its surface, The Librarians is about a secret group that hunts down and protects magical artefacts, all the while battling foes both supernatural and government-related. This is already a delightful premise, but the show levels up with a cast that has great chemistry — and an irrepressible sense of fun that makes the show, in the words of Katharine Trendacosta, “the television equivalent of comfort food.”
This 2016 CW series took inspiration from the 2000 Dennis Quaid-Jim Caviezel sci-fi thriller about a magical ham radio that connects an NYPD detective with his long-dead firefighter father, altering the past and irrevocably changing the present in the process (there’s also a serial killer in the mix, too). The TV version picked up the same premise — reminder: Monkeying around with the past, even if you have really good intentions, will change the present in ways you can’t predict — but shifted a few other plot points around, including the inspired choice to make the main character female. Despite the show’s dedicated fanbase, the series was not renewed for a second season, but because of the show’s dedicated fanbase, the CW released a special epilogue video that revealed the fates of the show’s main characters. That people cared enough tells you something.
10. From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series
If you thought the 1996 Robert Rodriguez vampire film From Dusk Till Dawn left behind only the memory of George Clooney’s regrettable Caesar haircut, think again. The Quentin Tarantino-scripted cult hit spawned a pair of sequels and a video game, as well as this series, which ran for three seasons on Rodriguez’s El Rey Network between 2014 and 2016. (While the series is not officially cancelled, season three wrapped up last November and El Rey has yet to renew it.) It begins pretty much like the movie — two criminal brothers cross paths with a family on their RV holiday — but the series format allowed for much deeper explorations of the story’s monster mythology, as well as the introduction of many more eccentric characters, and the cast included fan favourites such as Danny Trejo, Tom Savini and Don Johnson. Plus, with Rodriguez running the show, the movie’s gory grindhouse aesthetic was more than amply carried over to small screen.
9. Wolf Creek
In 1996, Australian filmmaker Greg McLean (The Belko Experiment) released Wolf Creek, the brutal and horrific tale of a trio of backpackers menaced by outback boogeyman Mick Taylor (played by veteran actor John Jarratt). Taylor proved such a potent character that he returned for a sequel, and then a 2016 six-part series for Stan. The show followed an American teenager who seeks revenge on Taylor after he murders her entire family; her quest is a rough and perilous one, involving everything from vicious bikers to venomous snakes — but through it all, Taylor is quite clearly the show’s baddest baddie. Wolf Creek is currently filming its second season, which will also be six episodes long, but will follow a new story as it shifts to an anthology format. Since Taylor is once again the main character, chances are it will involve killing… and a lot of it.
Limitless — based on the 2011 Bradley Cooper movie about an average schlub whose life turns inside out when he takes a mysterious pill that makes him super-intelligent — began four years after the movie, when a different average schlub, Brian Finch (Jake McDorman), was similarly blessed/cursed with sudden mega-smarts. (Cooper’s character, now a US Senator, lurked around the edges as kind of a creepy mentor figure.) Circumstances soon led to Brian working with the FBI, though he spent most of his time chasing after stuff related to his wonder drug — and getting into bizarre situations helped along by the show’s oddball sense of humour, including an extended homage to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Alas, just when the CBS show was starting to hit its (awesomely weird) stride, it was cancelled, after just one season.
7. 12 Monkeys
Syfy’s adaptation of the 1995 Terry Gilliam movie (itself an extended homage to Chris Marker’s 1962 short La Jetée) has characters inspired by the film, as well as a plot involving time-travel — a lot of time travel — and the ever-changing, intrigue-filled, timeline-overlapping race to prevent a terrorist group from unleashing a deadly virus. Obviously, things get a lot more complicated than they do in the film, with way more time to delve into the strange world of the Army of the 12 Monkeys; in the movie, the group is more of a McGuffin, but on the show, it’s a cultish menace that stretches across generations. Though Gilliam called the series “a very dumb idea” before it even aired, original film star Madeleine Stowe eventually appeared in a key role in the second season. And, in general, the show has taken the base of the movie in unexpected and satisfying ways. Syfy made the odd choice to release all of season three over a single weekend, framing it as a way to let the show’s robust fan base binge-watch the whole thing almost at once, but 12 Monkeys‘ fourth (and final) season will unspool in a more conventional manner some time next year.
6. Bates Motel
Just when you thought the tale of Norman Bates had been told every possible way, thanks to multiple Psycho films, along came A&E’s series, which ran for five seasons before signing off in April of this year. A top-notch cast — including Freddy Highmore as the downward-spiralling Norman and Vera Farmiga as his mother, Norma — brought dramatic heft to a series that was so much more than just a prequel to the classic horror thriller. Throughout its run, Bates Motel did an excellent job of fleshing out characters we knew from the film; it also introduced compelling new characters (including other members of the troubled Bates family) and shifted the setting to the present day, as well moving it to an Oregon town that had dark mystery beyond just the goings-on at the motel. And though Bates Motel carved its own path over five seasons, it always kept its source material in mind — very creatively. Iconic movie character Marion Crane (played by Rihanna) eventually showed up, but met a much different fate in this version of the story; likewise, the series wrapped up with its own unique ending, a move that honoured everything it had spent five years building. One suspects even Hitchcock would have approved.
5. Agent Carter
The real star of 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, Agent Peggy Carter, got her own ABC spin-off, which tragically only ran for two seasons in 2015 and 2016. Agent Carter, which co-starred James D’Arcy as Howard Stark’s butler Jarvis, was a key connector between the MCU movies and TV shows, even more than Agents of SHIELD has been. Set in the wake of World War II — a time of both Atomic Age intrigue and some very stellar fashions and decor — it showed the state of the world in the long gap between the events of The First Avenger and the first Iron Man, while hinting at the shape of things to come in the superhero realm. Beyond all that, though, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) was highly intelligent and capable of kicking major arse, qualities that could be overlooked at the male-dominated SSR where she worked — something she was always aware of, and the show didn’t hold back from commenting on. Considering how few women have risen to prominence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, her importance as the central figure in a TV show named after her cannot be overstated. Plus, Agent Carter was snappy and fun as hell. We still miss you, Peggy.
4. Star Wars Rebels
Here’s another show that takes place between films in the franchise that spawned it: Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, as well as Rogue One. Unlike other entries on this list, Star Wars Rebels is being created alongside the films it’s inspired by, and in some cases, it goes both ways: Rogue One‘s older take on Saw Gerrera (originally seen on Rebels predecessor Clone Wars) popped up on Rebels‘ recently concluded third season, while the Rebels ship, the Ghost, had a cameo in Rogue One. That’s just two examples of the many overlaps between the show — which also manages to follow its own characters and adventures, it should be noted — and the Star Wars movies… even the ones we don’t like so much. There’s just one final season of Rebels to go; you can read a preview of the Disney XD show’s season four premiere, due this spring, right here.
3. Ash vs. Evil Dead
While the world waited for a fourth Evil Dead movie that would never come (sorry, the remake doesn’t count), Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and company were cooking up the next best thing, which actually became one of the greatest things ever: Ash vs. Evil Dead. The show takes everything we loved about the movies — action, ridiculous amounts of gore, scary creatures, a great sense of humour, national treasure Bruce Campbell as reluctant Deadite fighter Ash — and makes it even better, expanding the world of the movies (we meet Ash’s dad!) while referencing all the touchstones we want to see, including the cabin in the woods where it all began. Campbell plays his signature character with middle-aged swagger, and established arse-kicker Lucy Lawless is the perfect addition to the series as a not-so-human foe (and later, ally) with ties to the Necronomicon and Ash’s supernatural past. Much like the first season, the show’s awesome second season ended on a cliffhanger that will no doubt be the first order of business for season three — which is definitely in the works, though Starz hasn’t yet announced a premiere date.
2. The Exorcist
Image: Jean Whiteside/FOX
My love of this show has been extremely well-documented, but I’ll slobber over it in this context anyway. At first, a TV series based on The Exorcist, one of the greatest horror movies of all time, didn’t just seem like a bad idea — it seemed like a borderline offensive idea. But the show did everything right, cleverly connecting to the iconic film while also building out its own world, introducing flawed-yet-likable new characters and delivering both well-plotted story twists and spectacularly gross shocks. The second season begins next month, and it will involve a dramatic setting change (from urban Chicago to the spooky Pacific Northwest woods), as well as a new case for the show’s duo of demon-battling priests.
Just about the only thing we don’t like about Westworld is that its second season won’t air on HBO until 2018. The show is the best recent example of a movie-inspired TV show for a lot of reasons. It took the 1973 Michael Crichton film — about an immersive Wild West amusement park filled with robots that turn violently on the guests — and turned it into a nuanced look at the complexities of artificial intelligence and the darkest depths of the human mind. It tips its hat to the film with characters such as Ed Harris’ gunslinger in black, but completely changes his greater purpose within the story while making him a human, rather than a robot. Harris is just one member of an overall outstanding cast (including Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright and Thandie Newton), and the show’s technical polish make every episode feel cinematic. Fortunately for those of us who’re dying to see season two, Westworld is also the kind of show made for repeat viewings; once you stop focusing on the plot’s many twists and reveals, you can really dig in and appreciate the show’s incredible attention to detail — everything from its subtle foreshadowing to the eerie way it uses modern music in old-timey formats.