Updating TV Theme Songs For The Big Screen — Which Catchy Tunes Do It Right?

By  · Published on March 15th, 2012

Bringing a beloved (or at least nostalgia inducing) television show to the big screen is no easy undertaking (especially for shows that have been off the air for a few good years.) The task of adapting existing material (whether it be from a book series, a comic book or a well-known public figure) can be daunting as you hope to live up to expectations while also trying cultivate new fans. When it comes to turning a television show into a film, having a few well placed cameos from the original cast, rooting the film in a story true to that show’s world and (seeing as many of these shows were comedies) not letting the film version take itself too seriously seem to be the keys to these adaptation’s success.

With Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s updated 21 Jump Street taking to the silver screen this weekend, I realized that the one thing all these shows have in common (regardless of when they aired, who starred in them or what they were about) is also the one element that many television shows on air today have done away with – a catchy theme song.

Theme songs used to be synonymous with television shows and these songs became just as iconic as any of the show’s stars or plot lines. Filmmakers would be remiss to give these shows the theatrical treatment and not include (or at least give nod to) the original theme songs and in looking over the various small-to-big screen adaptations, each song seemed to make the cut (albeit sometimes drastically different from the original.)

Updating these (usually) cheesy tunes (which, granted, had been created for shows that aired during the 1960s through the 1980s) find the songs infused with a bit more back beat, updated electronic elements and a current artist putting their own spin on the well-known lyrics to help make the songs feel more modern. Just as the film adaptations vary from ones that give a whole new spin on a show to those that simply pick up where the series left off, these songs also range from ones that stay true to the original material to versions that take these songs into an entirely new direction.

21 Jump Street

The original version is a classic in all its 1980s glory with electronic keyboard intro, synthesized beats and catchy lyrics:

For the version hitting screens this weekend, Rye Rye and Esthero take the song from ’80s pop to current day hip-hop and succeed in bringing this song into the twenty-first century:


Most know the iconic line, “Transformers – more than meets the eye,” which is incorporated here in a track that should take you back to those days of sitting down to watch Saturday morning cartoons with a bowl of Count Chocula:

MuteMath take their off-beat, slightly experimental electronic sound to help the song sound modern, but still stay rooted in the idea of alien machines through their otherwordly sounding beats and tones (and don’t worry, that classic line is kept intact):

The A-Team

Beginning with a serious sounding voice over, The A-Team’s theme song starts off full of bright horns and explosions that envoke patriotism before transitioning into electronic guitars that give the song some extra, “We are rebel badasses” punch:

Composer Alan Silvestri retains this patriotic instrumentation and feel in his version and stays fairly true to the original tune, but he does make sure to give those guitars a bit more punch (to take full advantage of that theatrical surround sound, I’m sure):


The classic ditty was not only as sweet as Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery), it also worked to incorporate her trademark nose wiggle into the tune:

Steve Lawrence’s version for the Nicole Kidman/Will Ferrell take on the classic show channels Frank Sinatra and adds lyrics to the otherwise all instrumental theme making the tune sound fresh, but still Samantha sweet:

Charlie’s Angels

Much like The A-Team, the voice over intro for Charlie’s Angels sets up the premise of the show before turning up the groovy ’70s instrument swells that have became synonomous with the angels:

English rock band Apollo 440 put an updated spin on this track with more eletronic elements and dance-worthy beats to drive the well-known tune, but the song still incorporates dialogue (much like the original theme did) to set up the premise of the relationship between Charlie and his angels:

The Brady Bunch

This classic theme song is not only one that most people know, the visual of the separate blue boxes coming together to form this “bunch” is just as iconic:

The version used in the 1995 film version stripped away those well-known lyrics, but kept the catchy (and recognizable) instrumentation as their parody visuals worked as a nice end note to the film:

But wait, there’s more on the next page…

The Dukes of Hazzard

Just like the Duke brothers, this song is country, a little bit rock ‘n roll – the original Dukes of Hazzard theme follows the standard role of setting up the story and background of its main characters in a catchy and memorable way:

For the updated film version, Willie Nelson throws a bit more rock ‘n roll into the country tune, but stays true to the original lyrics and tone:

The Flintstones

Catchy and a bit silly, The Flintstones theme was short and sweet and worked to introduce us to Fred’s signature phrase, “Yabba, dabba, do!”:

When the live action version of the series was brought to the big screen by John Goodman, Rick Moranis and Rosie O’Donnell the theme song mirrored the style of the film itself and simply brought the world of the Flintstones to life without changing the original material:

Inspector Gadget

With the police siren kicking things off, the slightly sinister sounding Inspector Gadget theme still kept things catchy with its chorus of “ooo ooos” and “go, Gadget, go!” chants:

Much like The Flintstones, when Matthew Broderick brought the slightly absentminded inspector to life the film (and song) stayed true to the original cartoon with just a few embellishments to fill out the instrumentation for the big screen:

Get Smart

Before Law & Order (and it’s own well-known opening music), there was Get Smart, a crime procedural that also left its theme song lyric-less instead letting the explosion styled sound effects drive the tune and remind the audience that there may be danger at any turn:

For the Steve Carell/Anne Hathaway update, the explosive beats were switched out for more stylized percussion that kept the tune true to the original while still giving it an updated polish:

Sex and the City

The glass tinkling intro marked the beginning of every episode and set us up for Carrie’s (Sarah Jessica Parker) usual voice over that marked what she was writing about (and what that episode would inevitably tackle):

When the four ladies made the trip from the Big Apple to the big screen, this well-known ditty got the star treatment as well with Fergie adding her own touch to the tune, filling the song with lyrics and (appropriately) titling her version “Labels or Love”:

Leave It To Beaver

This theme is just as wholesome as the Cleaver family themselves, but rather than introducing the characters or setting up the premise of the show, the song opts to instead introduce us to the actors starring in it:

For the big screen version, composer Randy Edelman kept the classic tune is kept in tact, but flushed it out with richer orchestration and expanded on the slightly goofy tone of the original (with the visuals to match):

Having now been able to compare both versions of these songs – do you find that you prefer the retro versions or the more modern takes?