Top 10 Movie Actors Who Recreated Their Roles for Television

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Although the trend these days is to turn old-but-at-one-time-popular TV shows into movies, it used to more common to try and recreate the magic of a popular movie on the small screen.  There are usually two major issues with this.  First of all, most movies, by their very nature, are self-contained stories.  Oh sure, they can be set up to generate a sequel or two (or 10 if it’s a horror movie), but most of the time the story has a beginning, a middle and an end.  Secondly, most of the time, the stars of the movies are not interested in moving to a television series.  In fact, years ago, it was considered a huge step down to go from the movies to TV.  None the less, there were those rare times when actors decided to re-create their “iconic” movie roles for the small screen.  Please note that to qualify, the actor/actress had to play the same role on the series as they did in the movie.  Here are the top ten.

10. Roddy McDowell (Caesar/Cornelius/Galen) – Planet of the Apes, et al (Movies) and Planet of the Apes (TV Series)

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This is what happens when you set up rules.  Right off the bat, they get broken.  Technically, Roddy McDowell didn’t play the same character on the television show as he did in the movies.  But then, he also played two different characters in the movies as well – Cornelius in the first three movies and Caesar in the last two.  Never the less, his character, Galen in the television series was essentially the same character as both Cornelius and Caesar.  Apparently, though it bombed in the US, it was quite popular in the UK.  Apparently the post-apocalyptic exploration of California was a fun ride.  Not only did Roddy make the jump from the movies, but he brought along the original spaceship (which was actually made of plywood) from the first and third movies.  It was the last time either of them would be on the Planet of the Apes.

9. John Vernon (Dean Wormer), Stephen Furst (Flounder), Bruce McGill (D-Day), and James Widdoes (Hoover) – Animal House (Movie) and Delta House (TV Series)

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What can you say?  Obviously everyone involved had to have known that there was no way that Animal House was going to be able to transition from the big screen to television, but this quartet decided to enjoy the ride a little longer (although it only turned out to be a measly 13 episodes longer.  Not even Josh Mostel (filling in as Bluto’s brother, Blotto) and Michelle Pfeiffer (in her first acting role) could save this one.  In fact, Ms. Pfeiffer, didn’t even get an actual name, even though she was in eight episodes, she is only referred to as “The Bombshell”.

8. Michael Gross (Burt Grummer) – Tremors, et al (Movies) and Tremors (TV Series)

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Michael Gross knows a good thing when he sees it.  Not only was he in all four Tremors movies, but he also decided to “Graboid” onto the series as well.  Michael continued his role as the survivalist/redneck, Burt Grummer.  The premise, according to IMDb, is that the latest Graboid, El Blanco, is on the endangered species list and that’s all that’s keeping the greedy land developers away from the sleepy little town of Perfection.  How did Michael make the list?  Because Burt Grummer is not only an amazing character but he’s also just mean enough to come after us if he didn’t make the list.  On top of everything else, after the series tanked, they went back and made another movie – Tremors 4: The Legend Begins.  This time Michael Gross plays Burt’s ancestor, Hiram Grummer.

7. Kevin Peter Hall (Harry) – Harry and the Hendersons (Movie) and Harry and the Hendersons (TV Series).

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Kevin Peter Hall and Roddy McDowell could have been grouped together.  After all, they both portrayed an ape-man, or is it man-ape?  Or, some have speculated that maybe Bigfoot is a descendent of Wookies (but let’s not go there).  Either way, Kevin still deserves his own spot on the list. First of all, Harry and the Hendersons ran for three seasons and 72 episodes.  Sadly, however, Kevin Peter Hall passed away (at the age of 35) after completing only 16 episodes as Harry.  But they were good ones, especially his last appearance when Harry becomes a professional wrestler.  All in all, Harry and the Hendersons was simply a good old fashioned, fun, family-oriented sitcom (with a Sasquatch instead of a family dog). 

6. Eileen Brennan (Captain Doreen Lewis) – Private Benjamin (Movie) and Private Benjamin (TV Series)

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Here is a series that actually did pretty well in the ratings and garnered some critical acclaim.  It ran for three seasons and Eileen Brennan won an Emmy and Golden Globe.  Also, the series was nominated for a Golden Globe.  This is on top of the Oscar nomination that she had already received for her movie version.  Brennen’s character, Captain Lewis was toned down a bit for the series, but she was just as amazing.  Sadly, Brennen was involved in a very serious accident in the third and final season.  She was replaced by Polly Holliday.  Ironically, Holliday had previously starred in another series that had been based on a movie, Alice (based on the 1974 film, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore).  Hal Williams also revised his role from the movie as Private Benjamin’s immediate superior and antagonist, Sargent Ross.

5. Adam West and Burt Ward (Batman and Robin) – Batman the Movie (Movie) and Batman (TV Series)

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We’re cheating again.  Batman the series actually came out before Batman the movie, but according to IMDB, the movie was originally planned as a pilot film for the series so we’re trying to get by on a technicality.  Either way, Adam and Burt were the quintessential Batman and Robin of the 60’s.  Hey, they were the only Batman and Robin of the 60’s.  However, their movie/TV crossovers never missed a beat.  Of course it didn’t hurt that they kept all their supporting cast in the film and the series.  Plus, since the movie had a real budget, we got to see things like the Bat-copter and the Bat-cycle, not to mention the flipper-propelled Penguin-submarine.

4. Clark Gregg (Agent Phil Colson) – The Avengers, et al (Movies) and Marvel’s Agents of SHEILD (TV Series)

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It may be a little early for this one, since (as of this writing) MAofS has only been on for half a season.  But Clark Gregg carries this show.  It’s even more amazing since he started out with just a small role (not much bigger than a cameo) in the first Iron Man movie.  He subsequently had similar screen time in Iron Man 2 and Thor before his penultimate role in The Avengers.  And then came the real tricky part.  He was so popular that the series creators actually managed to (spoiler alert) bring him back from the dead to head up the new point team in Marvel’s Agents of SHEILD.  His understated and unflappable dedication to SHEILD have made him a fan favorite on both the small and big screen.

3. Debbie Allen (Lydia Grant) – Fame (Movie) and Fame (TV Series)

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Debbie Allen essentially had little more than a walk on role in the movie version of Fame.  According to IMDb, “Debbie Allen commented in interviews that the role of Lydia was originally bigger in the movie, written as a star dance student always competing for roles with Irene Cara’s Coco. So the role would not outshine Cara and the other young cast members, the role was then drastically cut down and made into the audition judge that you see in just the first ten minutes of the film. The character of Lydia, of course, was carried over to and made the star of the TV version of Fame (1982).” And star is the correct term.  Debbie Allen became the cornerstone of the popular series that ran for five seasons (136 episodes).  During that time, Allen was nominated for four Emmys for Best Actress and won another two for choreography.  On top of that, during the final season, she was also starring on Broadway (in Sweet Charity) and was nominated for a Tony.  Allen was also in the 2009 remake.  Although she has a different name, according to IMDb, Allen considered it the same role with a new name and a promotion from teacher to principal.  Albert Hague and Gene Anthony Ray also revised their roles from the movie.

2. Yul Brenner (King Mongkut) – The King and I (Movie) and Anna and the King (TV Series)

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Most of you are probably saying to yourself, “WTF, when did they make a TV series of the King and I?”  Yes, they actually brought the King of Siam to the small screen, although only for a single season.  What makes this truly unique is that Yul Brenner gets the distinction of being the only actor to reprise his role (and a leading role no less) on Broadway, the big screen and on television.  Unfortunately he wasn’t able to add an Emmy to his previously won Tony and Oscar for the same role.  That would have been the ultimate trifecta!

1. Gary Burghoff (Corporal Radar O’Reilly) – M*A*S*H (movie) and M*A*S*H (TV Series)

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While there may be debates about the other nine, the number one pick is a no brainer.  Gary Burghoff’s portrayal of Radar O’Reilly is truly iconic.  In fact, he was so iconic that he was the only character that wasn’t actually replaced when he left the series.  Jamie Farr’s character, Klinger took over his duties as company clerk, but he wasn’t replaced the way that Henry Blake, Trapper John and Major Burns were.  Burghoff really developed the character of Radar.  In the movie he had a pretty small role and even in the series his role wasn’t too significant in the beginning.  But as the series evolved and grew, he evolved and grew right along with it.  He was able to play the comedy and drama on equal ground with Alan Alda and the rest of the cast.  So much so that he ended up being nominated for six Emmys.

Honorable Mention – Pal (Lassie) – Lassie Come Home, et al (Movie) and Lassie (TV Series)

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Lassie is the definitive movie/TV canine and had to be included somewhere on this list.  Pal (who played Lassie) meet the list’s qualifications.  He not only originated the role of Lassie (in Lassie Come Home), but went on to play her in six more movies.  He then played Lassie in the two pilot episodes of the television series before retiring and handing over the role to his son, Lassie Junior.  Lassie had such an impression on the public that, according to IMDb, the number of purebred collies registered in the United States in the late 1940s increased from 3,000 to 18,400 (Lassie Come Home came out in 1943).  Take a bow Lassie.

Michael Young was born and raised in Iowa.  He inherited his mom’s love of movies and television.  He has been a school teacher, insurance underwriter and, of course, the manager of a movie theater.  He is currently working on his Master’s Degree in Social Work at the University of Iowa.


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6 Comments

  1. Nia Vardalos reprised her role from “My big fat Greek Wedding” on a tv series called “My big fat Greek life”, but the show only lasted seven episodes.

  2. I tried posting this on the site, but I don’t know if it worked so I’ll repeat it here.

    In the TV show ALICE, Vic Tayback reprised his role as Mel from the movie ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE.

    • Yes, that’s true. However, McDowell technically was in the second movie – in a couple of flashback scenes from the first movie. Good catch though.

  3. Robert Lopresti on

    Richard Widmark starred in the Don Seagel movie MADIGAN, and then in the tv series of the same name, in spite of the fact that his character died in the movie.

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