The US television broadcasting industry is worth almost $150bn per year. That kind of revenue stems from a constantly-evolving pantheon of franchisable brands, from Walter White to the Jeffersons, with a dash of Peter Dinklage for good measure.
It makes sense that Hollywood looks to TV for a source of safe, easy money. Only 15% of the top ten movies released each year between 2005 and 2014 were ‘truly-original’, i.e.not an adaptation, sequel, spin-off, or remake. This means we have hundreds of movies based on hit shows.
While the process has definitely given us some gems over the years, like In the Loop, The Blues Brothers, and even the recent remake of 21 Jump Street, just as often, the result is… less than great.
Some stinkers include: Rocky and Bullwinkle, starring John Goodman, with a 46% on Rotten Tomatoes; Speed Racer, starring John Goodman, which did even worse with a shocking 40%; and then there’s the live-action Flintstones Movie, with 22%… also starring John Goodman.
The point is, adaptations of popular TV for the big screen get massive investment from studios, pulling huge names, and are rarely of a quality that deserves their audience’s attention, much less an Oscar.
It’s not surprising, then, that the most popular TV show of all time hasn’t escaped the treatment. No I don’t mean Sex and the City, or Friends, or even The Simpsons. I’m talking about Baywatch.
At its peak, in 1993, over one billion people tuned in each week. In Iran, people even sold tickets to allow complete strangers into their houses to watch.
The blond, tanned, hyper-idealized Californian lifeguard team had weekly adventures, ranging from urgent CPR, to a rogue octopus stealing surfboards. The show became a marketing juggernaut, with million-member strong fan clubs, lines of official merchandise by Hybrid Apparel, and even Baywatch-themed slot machines.
It’s no surprise that in 2017, Paramount Pictures released a modern, big-screen adaptation. Baywatch (2017) had a budget of $69mn, and boasted heavy-hitting stars Zach Efron, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, and Alexandra Daddario in lead roles. The movie was going to be an offbeat, raunchy comedy-crime romp, perhaps hoping to mimic the successfully self-aware reboot of 21 Jump Street.
It also came as no surprise to anybody to discover that Baywatch (2017) was dead in the water, grossing only $59mn domestically. The movie revels in its crass, rude humour to such a degree that it received a Razzie last year, even inspiring a category called The Razzie Nominee So Bad You Loved It.
The age of movie studios bringing TV to the big screen is far from over, but hopefully, flops like Baywatch will remind them that, just because the show was good, a box office hit isn’t in the bag.
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