On 27th July 2007, 20th Century Fox and Gracie Films would release The Simpsons Movie into cinemas worldwide. Despite viewership and critical opinion towards The Simpsons having declined since the year 2000, old and new fans flocked to watch the world's favourite animated family's big-screen debut. Grossing $536 million in box office receipts, The Simpsons Movie became the eighth-biggest film of 2007 and the 2nd-highest-grossing traditionally animated film (after The Lion King). This big-screen story would also see The Simpsons receive their most positive critical reviews since the show's 'golden era'. At the time of writing, The Simpsons Movie currently holds approval ratings of 87% and 80% on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, respectively.
When Disney+ launched around the world in 2019 and 2020, one of the main pieces of programming being offered by this new service was the ability to watch all episodes of America's longest-running scripted primetime television series. While each new episode is uploaded to Disney+ the week following their U.S. airing, site users have been found to gravitate more towards the episodes of the show's 'golden era'. The Simpsons' golden era' is often considered to last from Season 3 (1991-92) to Season 8 (1996-97). However, the start and end dates are often disputed.
Suppose you decide to trawl through Google Images, YouTube or Facebook. In that case, most Simpsons discussion (including memes) tends to revolve around these seasons, which got me thinking. If The Simpsons creators had decided to make a feature film adaptation of the show during this 'golden era', how successful could the film have been? More importantly, could any of the episodes released during that era instead have converted and released as an 80-minute feature film?
The following article will present a selection of classic episodes of The Simpsons which I believe could have been turned into movies. (The runtime for these films would be around 75-90 minutes. These are just my personal suggestions.)
Let us start with an obvious example. This episode was considered as a Simpsons film by show co-creator and producer James L. Brooks. The episode sees Bart, Lisa, and the rest of Springfield's children attend the Krusty The Clown-promoted summer camp Kamp Krusty. However, once they arrive, the kids find that the reality they are presented with is not what they were hoping.
In the DVD commentary for this episode, Al Jean revealed that after viewing a completed script, James L. Brooks stated that the episode's story could be used for a potential Simpsons movie. However, as viewers of the will know, 'Kamp Krusty' runs shorter than the average episode of The Simpsons and even ends with a montage of stills detailing the children's trip to Tijuana with Krusty. Seeing that the episode ran short, the movie idea was abandoned, and 'Kamp Krusty' instead aired as the premiere episode of Season 4. However, I believe that this could still have happened.
The focus of 'Kamp Krusty' is on, well Kamp Krusty. As the episode progresses, the kids' hopes are continually worn down until they decide to rebel against Mr Black and the camp counsellors. We see elements of the camp's conditions throughout the episode, including the food, the dangerous activities, and the terrible sleeping accommodation. To expand this episode's runtime into the film that James L. Brooks foresaw in the original script, expand the middle portion of the story. Show more examples of the terrible state of Kamp Krusty, while contrasting this with the idyllic life that Homer and Marge are living back home.
Speaking of Homer and Marge, the two would need to have a more active role in the plot if the film were to be made. You could have Homer's weight-loss subplot along with his and Marge's 'holiday' away from the kids. However, once the kids have taken over Kamp Krusty, Marge and Homer and the other parents could travel to Kamp Krusty to bring their children to order. Arriving there, they would see that Bart and Lisa were telling the truth, but Bart might stubbornly refuse to leave until he sees Krusty. Once Krusty comes at the camp, more might have to be added to avoid a quick ending. You could still end with Krusty taking everyone to Tijuana though.
Even though Kamp Krusty was never made into a movie, I agree with James L. Brooks that there was potential there.
For The Simpsons Movie, the film's writers decided to create an original character to be the film's villain, Environmental Protection Agency head, Russ Cargill. A power-mad bureaucrat, Cargill (voiced by regular guest star Albert Brooks) turned out to be a great antagonist. However, if a film about The Simpsons had been released during the 1990s, the show's writing team had two villains which they could already call upon, Mr Burns and Sideshow Bob.
As had been proven during his previous guest appearances on the show, Kelsey Grammar had made Sideshow Bob into an audience favourite. Of the fourteen Simpsons episodes in which Sideshow Bob has been a featured character, the peak came with the season 5 episode 'Cape Feare'. Containing many references to the 1962 film Cape Fear and the famous 1991 remake directed by Martin Scorsese, the episode sees Bob released from prison. He starts repeatedly threatening Bart, forcing the Simpson family into the Witness Protection Programme as The Thompsons. However, Sideshow Bob is never too far behind.
According to the show's writers, this is another episode which initially failed to meet the required running time, meaning that certain scenes had to be extended. However, I believe that there is potential in this story for a full-length movie. The original episode directed by Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph, Zootopia) is full of atmosphere, features beautiful animation and is chocked full of iconic Simpsons moments from 'Hello Mr Thompson' to the HMS Pinafore. The episode even features the debut of Sideshow Bob's theme (once again a reference to Cape Fear), which would receive an Emmy nomination. This theme would, obviously, make for a great film score.
Cape Feare, while a hilarious episode, features Sideshow Bob at his most threatening. While much of Bob's pursuit throughout the episode is played for laughs, particular moments managed to scare me when I was younger. At one point, Bart thinks that everyone from Marge to Homer to Flanders to Mrs Krabappel is threatening to kill him. Bob's threatening letters to Bart written in his own blood put Bart in fear of his life. Even the climax aboard the houseboat, where Bob has tied up the rest of the Simpsons family, leaving Bart all alone on open water, is a scary sight.
To make this episode into a full-length film, you would have to up the threat of Sideshow Bob. Bob could call the Simpsons once they are settled in Witness Protection. Bob could also interact with other members of the Simpsons family during this period, like Lisa, to bring home to them how much of a threat Bob can be. The original episode begins with the threatening letters. You could allow time before this in a film sense, where Bart is enjoying a typical day in his life before he comes home to find the first letter. However, to keep the film a Simpsons film, you would have to balance humour and threat in equal measure, like they managed to do in the original episode.
Cape Feare would make for a great Simpsons film, just for the cat-and-mouse chases between Sideshow Bob and Bart that continues throughout the whole episode. I would want to see that for 80 minutes.
22 Short Films About Springfield
In The Simpsons sixth season, the episode '22 Short Films About Springfield' was aired. The title, a reference to the film 22 Short Films About Glenn Gould, the show comprised a series of short stories involving the Simpsons family and the other residents of Springfield that take place over one day. With short stories focused on Apu, Bumblebee Man, Chief Wiggum, Snake and Nelson, the show deviated from its traditional story structure. The episode also gave us 'Skinner and the Superintendent' and the whole idea of 'steamed hams'.
Following the episode's success, the show's writers thought of turning this one-time episode concept into a Simpsons spin-off series. Titled 'Tales of Springfield or simply 'Springfield', each episode would feature three to four stories featuring Springfield residents. This concept was quickly scrapped, due to a lack of time to work on another show alongside The Simpsons.
However, suppose you added a few more stories to the original collection and featured a few more characters. In that case, you could get a feature-length film out of this concept. The actual episode does not feature familiar names such as Krusty, Grampa, the school bullies (Kearney, Dolph, Jimbo) or Groundskeeper Willie. Even though the two friends open and close the episode, you could argue that Bart and Milhouse do not have their own 'short film', which could be included. Even guest characters like Lionel Hutz (who appears briefly in the episode) could create a well-written scene containing some funny jokes. It may not be The Simpsons film that fans would desire, but it could make a killing at the Cannes Film Festival.
A Fish Called Selma
Phil Hartman was and still is, the best guest star in The Simpsons history. Appearing in 52 episodes between seasons two and ten as Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz and other characters, many Simpsons fans, and critics credit Hartman's unfortunate death in 1998 as part of the show's decline in quality. During his time on the show, Hartman would lead a Simpsons episode of his own. The Season 7 episode 'A Fish Called Selma' details Marge's sister Selma and Troy McClure's relationship. However, while Selma believes the relationship is genuine, Troy sees it as a method to begin a career comeback.
While McClure had previously been featured on the show as the host of numerous T.V. infomercials and educational films, 'A Fish Called Selma' delved into the character's backstory as a washed-up actor with a curious fish fetish. The episode is now considered by show writers as the best episode of Season 7.
Like '22 Short Films About Springfield', a film version of 'A Fish Called Selma' would not be what most fans would expect from a potential film based on The Simpsons. However, you could have real fun with the plot and build upon what was eventually included in the finished episode. You could delve further into Selma and Troy's relationship and eventual marriage. You could delve further into Troy McClure back catalogue, and include more projects that form part of Troy's career comeback in addition to the Planet of the Apes musical. You could make this film a real profile piece about Troy McClure during his relationship with Selma and parody such films as A Star Is Born.
Before his death, Phil Hartman had expressed interest in doing a live-action film about Troy McClure to be written by some of The Simpsons writers. Unfortunately, that film would never come to pass. Matt Groening has said that the project never moved past "enthusiasm" but admitted the concept would have been "really fun". 'A Fish Called Selma' shows what they could have done.
Marge vs the Monorail
One of four episodes written by Conan O' Brien, 'Marge vs The Monorail' would definitely make for a great Simpsons motion picture. The residents of Springfield are convinced by salesman Lyle Lanley to build a monorail system in the town. However, a suspicious Marge soon finds out that there is more to this monorail deal and Mr Lanley than first meets the eye.
As shown in The Simpsons Movie, and in some of the show's most acclaimed episodes, involving the townspeople in a plot can lead to success. This is why Marge vs the Monorail could have been expanded beyond its 22-minute runtime into an extended feature. Keep Marge's investigation plot at the heart of the story and Lyle Lanley's illegal dealings but expand upon how the townspeople get involved with the project's development. Maybe the 'cushy jobs' that Lanley promised to people like Barney consists of the monorail's slipshod construction. Show some of the behind-the-scenes dealings between Lanley and Mayor Quimby.
A potential film could also give Bart and Lisa more things to do, as Lisa is surprisingly won over by the monorail idea in the original episode. All three acts could be added to, but the writers would have to make sure that doing such a thing does not slow the plot down. One of the show's best episodes could have been turned into a highly acclaimed feature.
I Married Marge
At the heart of The Simpsons' golden era' is the attention given to the story of the love between Homer and Marge Simpson, creating one of the best love stories in television history. While their marriage has faced numerous challenges throughout the years, the two always came back to one another. A straightforward way that the show has managed to convey this is through the flashback episodes that portray Homer and Marge's earlier days together. The episode that typifies these challenges is the Season 3 episode 'I Married Marge. The episode details Marge's pregnancy with Bart. Marge and Homer get married during this time, and Homer struggles to find work to support his new family.
A Homer and Marge origin story would make for a great Simpsons movie. This premise would be different from the regular season episodes. Seeing Homer and Marge struggling to start a life together, from the wedding to house-hunting to Homer's job search would make for a more dramatic Simpsons movie. Still, such is the character quality, the writing and voice acting from Dan Castellaneta and Julie Kavner. This story could be both sweet, funny, and dramatic all at the same time.
Itchy and Scratchy Land
The Simpsons did not have many travel episodes during the classic years. As has been shown in later years, that turned out to be a good thing. Of the travel episodes that The Simpsons has done, Itchy and Scratchy Land would rank as the strongest. A simple enough plot to follow, as the family travel to the titular theme park before the vacation eventually starts to unravel.
To turn this episode into a movie, you would have to increase the scale of events. The structure of the episode would be the same. With the Simpson family travelling to their version of Disneyland, there is plenty to be done with this concept. Maybe the family stays for a week at Itchy and Scratchy Land, allowing more time before the inevitable occurs. With more areas of the park to potentially explore with more time, most of Itchy and Scratchy Land could be explored without the plot becoming boring or meandering.
If needs be, slightly extend the trip to get to the park. Make references to a film like National Lampoon's Vacation where Simpsons-type mishaps occur on the way to get to the park. However, the focus of such a movie would be in Itchy and Scratchy Land. As in the actual episode, references to Disney and Disneyland would be widespread.
With an idea like Itchy and Scratchy Land, the writers and producers could have a lot of fun just deciding what the Simpsons could do while at Itchy and Scratchy Land. The eventual episode showed how much they could fit into 22 minutes. Imagine what they could fit into 82 minutes.
Deep Space Homer
This is another episode where the scale would have to be considered if it were to become a movie. In the episode, Homer is sent into space with astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Race Banyon as part of a NASA mission to engage public interest in space exploration. Within 25 minutes, The Simpsons writers managed to include Homer and Barney's selection as astronauts, the training programme, the spaceflight itself, a James Taylor cameo, and a wraparound including a carbon rod.
For a film version of this plot, the mission's size and scale would have to increase. The first 10-15 minutes could revolve around the 'worker of the week', inanimate carbon rod and Homer feeling disrespected. More jokes could be included around the project's announcement. You could even get brief cameos from national news reporters to show how the whole country is reacting to this 'Average Joe' being sent into space. Even include the show's version of President Clinton, instead of being the other end of a hilarious gag.
The training could also receive more detail, adding another mini-arc alongside Barney outclassing Homer at every stage. The film's second and third acts would focus on the spaceflight. During the flight, a real sense of atmosphere could be created from Homer once he is in space before the ants and potato chips get involved. The rest of the Simpsons family would need more to do, so the plot is not entirely focused on Homer. The Simpsons Movie was great in giving each member of the family their own arc within the main story, even though the film's main character was undoubtedly Homer.
With the eventual episode's main plot and concept, you could turn 'Deep Space Homer' into the animated equivalent of Apollo 13 the year before Apollo 13 was released. P.S. Do not forget the inanimate carbon rod.
Who Shot Mr Burns? (Parts 1 and 2)
We finish with the episode which, as fantastic as the episodes turned out to be, should have been made into a full-length movie. The only two-part episode from the show's 'golden age', 'Who Shot Mr Burns?' was the biggest whodunnit to hit the world since 'Who Shot J.R.?' 15 years earlier. For four months, the world was in suspense trying to predict who had shot Mr Burns in a shocking cliff-hanger ending to the sixth season. Imagine the water-cooler conversations if these two episodes had been released as a film in the summer of 1995.
The two parts of 'Who Shot Mr Burns?' are brilliantly structured to create one of the all-time great Simpsons stories. Part 1 is all motive, setting up why so many characters would have a reason to shoot Mr Burns. Mr Burns is at his most evil here, stealing precious oil from a local school before deciding to block out the sun above Springfield. It is a plan so sinister that some Bond villains would call it going too far. Mr Burns is the closest thing to a supervillain that the Simpsons has every week, so a Simpsons motion picture with Mr Burns as the villain would not be a surprise. Part 2 is filled with the police investigation and the eventual solution, building on the motives first established in Part 1 and removing each suspect from the list one by one.
At a combined 45 minutes, 'Who Shot Mr Burns?' could be a small, short film. Adding more to the story to push the episode up to a feature-length 80 minutes would not be too difficult. At the end of Part 1, Marge states that "Everyone in town is a suspect". To make the film, add more suspects or increase motivations for characters we would already suspect. The Simpsons Movie featured the whole town and beyond. 'Who Shot Mr Burns?' comes close to doing something similar, something that could be achieved in a film scenario.
One simple reason why 'Who Shot Mr Burns?' could have made a great Simpsons film is that the episodes contain several sequences that could have been taken from a feature film. The swivel-and pan-out from Homer as he runs towards Mr Burns in his own office. The low shot of a disoriented Bart stumbling around the remains of his treehouse. The sight of Smithers' dirty apartment.
To promote the original episodes, Fox and 1-800-COLLECT teamed up to produce a competition. The competition involved people calling a hotline to guess the correct culprit for the chance to win their own Simpsons house or a cash prize potentially. A website launched by Fox received 500,000 visitors throughout one summer. 'Who Shot Mr Burns (Part 2)' was even preceded by a special episode of Fox crime-solving programme America's Most Wanted called Springfield's Most Wanted. After the first part finished 51st in the U.S. T.V. ratings, the second part would finish as high as 16th. If all that marketing effort had been made for a Simpsons episode, imagine what they would have done for a Simpsons film.
If a 'Who Shot Mr Burns' film was released into worldwide cinemas in the summer of 1995, I believe it would have been an enormous success.