In the past 20 years there's been a heated debate regarding the differences between the TV show and movie of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. To some fans, the tone and canon of the movie is completely disregarded as having anything to do with the TV show. Others, however, are able to recognize that, though it isn't perfect, the movie still managed to produce the seedling that would eventually grow to become one of the greatest TV shows of all time. There's a great deal of differences between movie-Buffy and TV-Buffy as a character, and many of them are admittedly jarring, but we likely would never have had one without the other. And that would have been an absolute tragedy.
Released 25 years ago, the movie version of Buffy The Vampire Slayer is absolutely worth enjoying as a standalone property, without comparisons to the TV show which would follow it. For the time that it was released, the Buffy movie subverted horror tropes in a manner that hadn't really been done before, and it did so with a camp eye, and a gleeful sense of self-aware irony that's still fun to watch. For fans of the show, however, this version of the Buffy universe is a far cry from the TV show which sacrificed the movie's camp leanings for dark, brooding storytelling, and which maintained the movie's comedy but elevated it with some heartfelt depth.
Regardless, there's still a lot of differences between how the Buffy universe was portrayed in the movie and TV show. Whether it was characterization, canon, tone, or even the general structure or rules of the universe, the two differ on a lot of things. And, if you're a die-hard fan of the show, that might just make you want to grab a stake, drive it into the movie's heart, and turn the damn thing to dust.
1The Movie Is Frivolous & Far Less Dark
Whedon once explained about Buffy The Vampire Slayer, that the "original script for the movie was kind of dark and scary and it was comedic, but the final product was much more a broad comedy." Alongside Kirsty Swanson's vacuous, valley girl portrayal of Buffy, was also the fact that the movie had a lighthearted, and camp approach to horror. While the show was obviously fun, and often hilarious, it also maintained a dark and creepy tone, delivering much of its horror with a sincerity and depth that was sadly absent from the movie.
2The Movie's Version Of "Slayer-Lore" Is Different From That Of The Show
You may remember that a voiceover intro for the first season of Buffy explained, "In ever generation there is a chosen one, she alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer." In the movie, however, Slayers are described as bearing "the birthmark, the mark of the coven," which denotes that the young woman is "the only one with the strength or skill," to stop vampires. In the show, of course, there's no Slayer "birthmark" and there's definitely more forces of evil than just vampires that she needs to fight.
3Movie-Buffy Resembles Cordelia Chase More Than She Resembles TV-Buffy
Movie-Buffy epitomizes every unfair stereotype of what a Valley Girl is. She's vapid, shallow, and can be pretty mean, and as such she has far more in common with mean girl Cordelia, than she does with the Buffy we know and love from the show.
4Buffy Is A High School Senior In The Movie & A Freshman In The Show
It's a minor difference, sure, but making Buffy a younger character in the TV Show actually helped to highlight the character struggling with her calling to become a Slayer as a much younger woman. In the movie, it seems like Buffy has a much easier time adapting to the major change, because she's portrayed as being older, more experienced and confident.
Interestingly, the canon of the movie is actually referenced in the season 2 episode of the show, "Becoming: Part 1" which shows a young, naive Buffy discovering that she's a Slayer for the first time. Part of why her origin story feels so colossal in this episode is because she is so young, and so her acknowledgment of the sacrifices she needs to make to be a Slayer feel all the more vast for it.
5Being A Slayer Doesn't Really Change Movie-Buffy Too Much
Obviously, there's a great difference between what a show and a movie can achieve in showing the journey of a character. However, though movie-Buffy is shown struggling to consolidate her popular social life with being a Slayer, she's still pretty chipper about life overall. TV-Buffy on the other hand? Though she was always managing to get through life while cracking a joke, she could also get pretty dark about her responsibilities — to the point that the character became less bubbly and optimistic over time.
6Buffy Doesn't Have Extraordinary Strength In The Movie
While the Buffy of the TV show is shown, particularly in the first season, as being so strong that she accidentally destroys entire doors when she's just trying to open them, movie-Buffy's skill set comes more from her gymnastic and cheerleading skills. Which, to be honest, is still pretty awesome (especially when you consider how strong you need to be to do actual cheerleading), as it makes a powerful warrior out of an average teenage girl.
7There's No Scooby Gang In The Movie
In the movie, Buffy has her gang of mean girls and her love interest, Pike (played by the eternally dreamy Luke Perry), and that's about it for her. But, in giving the character the strange, delightful and dorky support system of Willow, Xander, and eventually Cordelia, Oz, Anya, and Tara, the show brought charm and depth to her vampire slaying. There was something incredibly endearing, for instance, about Xander, Willow, and Cordelia being completely ill-equipped to fight demonic forces, but still wanting to help anyway. And, despite Pike being completely adorable, the movie really lacked that level of heart.
8The Vampires Are Also Incredibly Different In The Movie
In the DVD commentary for the pilot episode of the show, Whedon explained about the vampires in Buffy, that he didn't want to "put a show on the air about a high school girl who was stabbing normal-looking people in the heart." Which explains why vampires change into monstrous entities when they're fighting or feeding. In the movie, however, the vampires have a classic look that borders on cartoonish. They're chalk white, with goofy vampire-teeth, and blood stained lips the entire time, and because of that they feel like far less a threat than they were in the show.
9Buffy Experiences Pain When A Vampire Is Nearby
Thankfully, this was never a thing in the TV show (though the gang did once refer to having a "scooby-sense") as it would have surely become a little tiresome to watch Buffy cramp up every time a vampire was nearby. But also, it would have made her relationships with Angel and Spike even more difficult for her, and far less enjoyable for us to watch as fans.
10Movie-Buffy's Relationship With Her 'Watcher' Was Dull
In the show and the movie, Buffy's odd, supernatural pairing with her Watcher was played up for laughs. Where this humor differed, though, was that Merrick (the Watcher from the movie) felt pretty uninspiring and dull compared to the absolute delights of Rupert Giiles.
And that fact translates over to Buffy's relationship with her Watcher. In the movie, Merrick (played by Donald Sutherland, whom Whedon once told the AV Club was "a real pain" for allegedly rewriting "all his dialogue"), is portrayed as a joyless veteran of vampire Slaying, simply clocking in and getting the job done while Buffy rolls her eyes at him. Giles, on the other hand, shared some sharp repartee with Buffy, had his own quirks and motivations, and even became a Father figure to the character.
11Buffy's Parents In The Movie Are Rich, Negligent Socialites
And as a result, you don't care for them as characters. As the show proved, however, giving Buffy at least one parent who cares for her (her Mom, Joyce) and shows concern for where she's going at night, and what she's doing, really raised the stakes (no pun intended) for the character, and gave fans even more concern for her survival. And, that of her loved ones.
12The Iconic "Slayer-Speak" Of The Show Wasn't Quite There Yet
As a TV show, Buffy had its own style of dialogue, which was a quality that wasn't too evident yet within the movie, despite it being such a distinct part of Whedon's voice as a writer. Though lines like, "What am I doing here? I’m saving your butt! Well, there was sort of an exchange of butts, at least," from the movie shows a glimmer of the Buffy-speak fans were to eventually enjoy in the show, it also doesn't quite dazzle in the same way.
13Movie-Buffy Doesn't Burn Down The School Gym As Referenced In The Show
The show introduces us to the idea that Buffy has moved to Sunnydale after burning down the gym of her previous high school, which some fans (incorrectly) thought was a reference to the movie. But it never happened. Though it's believed that Whedon's original script for the Buffy movie ended in this manner, there's sadly no proof online to indicate that was definitely the case. Instead, Buffy simply sets fire to Lotho (the Big Bad) in the movie, and takes out a hoard of vampires in the gym during the school dance. But it should have been burned down, guys. We all know that's the case, right? Good.
There might have been a lot of differences between the two, but actually, there's room for both to be enjoyed on their own merits. So, seriously, go and re-watch the Buffy movie without comparing it to the TV show. You might just enjoy it more than you thought.