The Simpsons Movie returns to the original scene of the family's crimes when it debuts on HBO Sunday, July 6 at 9 PM ET. And the new tube-spawned film The X-Files: I Want to Believe is being readied for July 25 release. From TV to the movies and back again, it's the sort of life cycle that used to find its exponents dropping dead at the box office.
Does anybody remember that ABC's '60s campfest Batman was made into a theatrical film? (Well, it didn't have Julie Newman playing Catwoman, so that explains things right there.) What about Munster, Go Home? (CBS' fright family heads to England.) In the '90s, we had Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, which was supposed to explain things about David Lynch's largely impenetrable (if enjoyable) ABC series, but didn't.
Yet lately, the tube has been very, very good to movie studios' coffers. The Simpsons Movie is estimated worldwide to have made more than $500 million. The big-screen Sex and the City is still raking it in at nearly $200 million in the U.S. alone, after a shockingly enormous opening-weekend gross of $57 million.
Of course, those shows were/are huge hits on TV, too, unlike some series that have tried the big screen. Last year's feature film Reno 911!: Miami struggled to reach $20 million, showing that cult cable success on Comedy Central only goes so far. Ditto Jackass: The Movie, which despite promising more uncensored crudity than MTV would allow, managed just $11 million from theaters back in 2002.
Now comes The X-Files: I Want to Believe, releasing this month a decade after 1998's first feature film and six years since the alien probing of Fox Mulder (played by David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) left network air. At least now, the show wasn't still running on Fox and creator Chris Carter could devote full energy to the movie (he directed this time). That wasn't the case 10 years ago. Fans of ongoing series often gripe that the TV episodes get short shrift while the movie is being made, as was loudly the case with The Simpsons.
Not a problem with cancelled series, of course, and that development has been giving fans of dead-duck tube titles a reason for hope. Here's why fans of Jericho, Moonlight and other passion-provokers won't let go of their discontinued darlings. After Fox axed Firefly in 2002 without really giving the sci-fi show a chance (airing the explanatory pilot last, for instance), fans kept the flame burning, and creator Joss Whedon, enough of a force after the success of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that studios want to keep him happy, turned his attention to the big-screen continuation that became 2005's Serenity (raker-in of $40 million).
And lest we forget the biggest example of all, NBC's Star Trek was a lame-rated sci-fier of the '60s, cancelled after three seasons and considered deceased until the Trekkie groundswell prompted Paramount to try the big-screen's Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979. You may have heard that a few other original-cast feature films followed (six), as well as four spinoff TV series and their own theatrical versions, with yet another prequel film due next year from tube titan J.J. Abrams (Alias, Lost). Not bad for a tube flop, eh?
Not to mention the subsequent sales of DVDs, cable rights, foreign rights, merchandise licensing, et al. Most important, every incarnation keeps the franchise in the public eye. Maybe viewers who've never seen them on Fox or in syndication will stumble upon that yellow Simpson family over the coming weeks on HBO. (After its 9 PM premiere on HBO July 6, The Simpsons Movie repeats dozens of times on various HBO digital channels. It's also available via digital cable's HBO On Demand.)
And then maybe the series' TV ratings will rise. And they'll get another movie. And another tube run. And...