Would ‘NCIS’ Make for a Good Movie or a Terrible One?

NCIS has been a hit primetime procedural for 17 seasons and counting. And, when a show manages to stand the test of time — drawing viewers to the TV screen each week for years on end — a movie makeover often comes along. 

From The A-Team and Charlie’s Angels to M*A*S*H and Miami Vice, shows of the NCIS kin often receive the silver screen treatment — capitalizing on the show’s viewership demographic to ensure ticket sales. It’s a low risk, high opportunity situation. Yet, would NCIS make a good movie? What would it take for NCIS: The Movie to please audiences? There are a few obvious reasons the movie could fall into critical and audience condemnation, as it would take a great deal of finesse to get it right. 

NCIS
‘NCIS’ | Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images

NCIS: The Movie’ could suffer from a plot-focused, action-oriented slant 

The show may present a new case each week — with a new criminal and/or a new innocent life in need of saving. Yet, the procedural does not depend on its weekly narrative sagas. Rather, NCIS relies on its long-gestating character dynamics that come to the surface every now and again. 

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NCIS is a character-driven show. Thus, an action movie, in which all the characters boast the same name as their television-counterparts — yet lack their fleshed-out relationships — would fail to succeed. And, unfortunately, NCIS has had hours upon hours to develop relationships. 

Would a two-hour movie rush the romantic arc between Tony and Ziva? Would a two-hour flick fail to show McGee’s transformation from a wee trainee to a leader? If NCIS were to become a movie, what would those involved in the project have to do to satisfy fans of the TV show?

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The best way to turn ‘NCIS’ into a cinematic spectacle would be via franchise 

NCIS: The Movie would likely fail to hit all the beloved chords as a single, one-and-done production. The relationships inherent to the story take too much time to build — too much time that would take away from the mystery and the action drama driving the movie. You would either get character without plot, or plot without character. Getting both right — when the showrunners have had years to do just that — would be a mighty challenge. 

If NCIS became a franchise, relationships could be cemented with the implication for further growth. The movie could hint at where the characters would go, without having to rush to the finish line. Creating a franchise (likely a trilogy) would provide time to develop the relationship between Ziva and Tony, the father-daughter dynamic between Gibbs and Ziva, the sibling bond between McGee and Ziva, and so on.

The film characters, rather than becoming mere caricatures of their television counterparts, would receive the same level of detail in the form of a franchise, while also allowing the action-driven plot to take center stage (when necessary), keeping fans at the edge of their seats as any strong NCIS episode does.