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The Ten Best TV Shows Adapted from Best Picture Nominees

Celebrate Oscar by getting hooked on any of these great series.
  • Fargo, M*A*S*H and Hannibal made the list. (Photos: FX, CBS, NBC)
    Fargo, M*A*S*H and Hannibal made the list. (Photos: FX, CBS, NBC)

    With the shelf-life for movies shorter than ever, for the lucky few films with Oscar buzz, the run-up to the Academy Awards has come to play a pivotal role in extending an individual film's currency beyond just opening weekend and the 2-3 weeks after. But after awards season is over, even the winners quickly disappear from theaters (if they were still there), giving way to the next big thing. For an increasing number of films, however, there is life after awards season — it's on TV, where many Oscar-nominated films have been adapted into shows over the years. Some of these adaptations are daring reconfigurations of the original films, while others hew more closely to the source material.

    The following are ten TV series that were based on films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, proving there's life after awards season after all.

    Howards End

    Year(s): 2018 (2017 in the UK)
    Network/Platform: Starz

    The 1992 film adaptation of Howards End was produced and directed by the acclaimed costume drama team of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, and it was met by massive critical acclaim, with a dominating Best Actress campaign for Emma Thompson ultimately taking home the Best Actress Oscar. The film itself was bested by Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, but over the years its reputation has remained sterling. So a 2017 miniseries adaptation, while exciting, had to have also been quite daunting. Credit, then, to screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan and director Hettie MacDonald for crafting something deep and satisfying out of E.M. Forster's  original novel. The cast, which includes Agent Carter's Hayley Atwell, Succession's Matthew Madfadyen, and The End of the F**king World's Alex Lawther, is dynamite, and at four episodes, it's positively brisk by today's limited-series standards.

    Hannibal

    Year(s): 2013-15
    Network/Platform: NBC

    It seemed ludicrous that NBC would develop an adaptation of the Thomas Harris novels about Hannibal Lecter, made most famous by a series of films including 1991's Oscar winner for Best Picture, The Silence of the Lambs. While certainly there was plenty of material in the Lecter novels to tinker with, the idea that a horror series as bloody and extreme as the Hannibal films could find a place on network TV? Insane. Imagine our surprise, then, when Hannibal turned out to be by far the most bloody, sadistic, gleefully gory presentation of them all. From human cellos, to people sewed up into horses, to a person sliced into cross-section slides, Hannibal had it all. It also had a terrifically complex psychological relationship between the cannibalistic Dr. Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) and a more-than-curious profiler, Will Graham (Hugh Dancy).

    Mildred Pierce

    Year(s): 2011
    Network/Platform: HBO

    Joan Crawford's peerless original film was nominated for the 1945 Best Picture Oscar and won Crawford her Best Actress honor. Truly only icons like Kate Winslet and director Todd Haynes could dare to take it on, this time as a miniseries, with Winslet assuming the title role of a wife, mother, and pie shop proprietress who tries to keep all three from falling apart. Haynes is perfect for the style, and Winslet swept all available awards, though the miniseries' stand-out performance may have been Evan Rachel Wood as Winslet's monstrous daughter.

    M*A*S*H

    Year(s): 1972-83
    Network/Platform: CBS

    The original 1970 film was a counterculture touchstone, an absurdity-of-war dark comedy from an emergent Robert Altman, starring Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould. The film was nominated for Best Picture, though it lost to Patton, of all ironic outcomes. Two years later, the TV adaptation launched, eventually becoming one of the most lauded and popular shows of its era. Series star Alan Alda won a bunch of Emmys over the years, in acting, writing, and directing categories, and its finale remains the most-watched single episode of scripted television in American history.

    The Exorcist

    Year(s): 2016-17
    Network/Platform: FOX

    Perhaps encouraged by the success of a show like Hannibal, somebody got it in their head that adapting The Exorcist for television would also work. The 1973 film scared the hell out of American moviegoers in its day, but was also such a respected work of cinema by director William Friedkin (not to mention a box-office smash) that the Oscars nominated it for Best Picture (it would lose to The Sting). The TV adaptation starred Geena Davis but focused on a pair of priests tracking murderous/demonic incidents. All told, it was pretty good, with a decent twist along the way, even if it only lasted two seasons.

    Fargo

    Year(s): 2014-present
    Network/Platform: FX

    Joel and Ethan Coen enjoyed an Oscar breakthrough in 1996 when their film Fargo became a huge indie success and a Best Picture nominee (it would lose to The English Patient). It seemed unlikely that anyone could make a good TV show out of Fargo, what with all its idiosyncratic touches and the signature stamp of the Coens. TV series creator Noah Hawley smartly never tried to take on the Coens directly — even on the uncommon occasions when he would address specific story points from the movie — but instead crafted an anthology of peculiar crime stories taking place in the worlds of both criminals and the people who get caught up in their crimes. Featuring a series of all-star casts that have included the likes of Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Ewan McGregor, Ted Danson, Jean Smart, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, and more, the show has delivered on its promise of a crime story told by phenomenal actors.

    Four Weddings and a Funeral

    Year(s): 2019
    Network/Platform: Hulu

    While never quite capturing the bittersweet tone of Richard Curtis' script for the original film — which in 1994 became such a delightful crossover rom-com sensation that smitten Oscar voters boosted it into a Best Picture race teeming with heavy hitters like Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, and The Shawshank Redemption — the Hulu remake, from writer/producer Mindy Kaling, had its moments of charm. If nothing else, it offered a post-Game of Thrones springboard for Nathalie Emmanuel.

    Dr. Zhivago

    Year(s): 2002
    Network/Platform: PBS

    The original 1965 film from the master of epics, David Lean, has stood the test of time as basically a shorthand for grand, sweeping, romantic epics. Starring Julie Christie and Omar Sharif, the film was a 10-time Oscar nominee, losing the Best Picture award to The Sound of Music. And while most people today don't recall the 2002 PBS remake all that well, it's notable for the fact that it starred Keira Knightley in the Christie role, launching her career a year before she released Bend It Like Beckham, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Love Actually all in the same year.

    BONUS: Fosse/Verdon and Schitt's Creek

    Okay, okay, this is a technicality, as neither of the above shows are, strictly speaking, adaptations of the 1972 Best Picture nominee Cabaret. But the film was the launching pad for the Fosse/Verdon miniseries' exploration of the romantic and professional partnership of Bob Fosse (who directed Cabaret) and Gwen Verdon (who choreographed it). In the same year, Cabaret served as a season-long throughline for Schitt's Creek, as a community theater production of the musical gave Stevie (Emily Hampshire) and Patrick (Noah Reid) their moment to shine on stage.

    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Oscars, 92nd Academy Awards, The Exorcist, Fargo, Fosse/Verdon, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Hannibal, Howards End, M*A*S*H, Mildred Pierce, Schitt's Creek