Ive heard it said many times: Why cant Hollywood come up with an original idea? In his 2004 article The Art of Adaptation
, film pundit Toby Osborne
put forward that 85 per cent of movies are adaptations. And of course, for many successful blockbusters theres a sequel and a video game, then a prequel and then a straight to DVD bargain feature. Before you know it youre shaking your head through the credits of BloodRayne: The Vampening and wondering just how the hell it came to this. Adapting a movie from another source is an appealing concept to Hollywood money men for a number of reasons. Paramount though is the prospect of a ready-made audience. Great literature, comic books or video games tend to garner fervent fan bases; die-hard groups of devotees, who have usually been deeply moved by the source material. These are the groups that the suits look upon with dollar signs in eye before making the decision to produce an adaptation. However, despite the avaricious reasoning behind their inception, adaptations can often knock it out of the park in terms of box office return and general audience satisfaction. Some of the greatest movies in existence began not as cells on a reel but as words on page. But beware as for every Shawshank Redemption
is a Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
; for every Lord of the Rings
. What follows is a list of twenty movies, ten of which we consider to be among the best and ten among the worst of the many movies that began their existence as something else. The Best
The Maltese Falcon (1941) Directed by John HustonThe Maltese Falcon
is a quintessential adaptation of the detective novel by Dashiell Hammett
that defies the wear of time and remains as vital today as it was in 1941. It had been adapted more than once previously but never as aptly as in John Hustons
rendition, thanks in part to a flawless performance from Humphrey Bogart
as wise-crackin P.I Sam Spade. The Maltese Falcon is a play-by-play film-noir, both magnificent in its economic use of its conventions and imitated as a result of it. The dialogue constantly turns with rhythmic staccato and each scene crackles with kinetic energy despite the cinematic limitations of the medium at the time. John Hustons Maltese Falcon is a vastly superior adaptation to its predecessors. The complicated novel was stripped of many of its ancillary characters and limited to fewer locations and it stands today as a textbook example of adaption for screen.
To Kill a Mocking Bird (1962) Directed by Robert Mulligan
Set in the Southern states of depression-era America, To Kill a Mocking Bird
follows attorney Atticus Finch in his defence of Tom Robinson, an obviously innocent black man accused of raping a white woman. Gregory Peck
stars in this forward thinking courtroom drama, which deals with the omnipresent issues of truth, justice and equality. With a stellar turn from Peck as the unwaveringly moral Atticus Finch, the movie also boasts several top-notch supporting performances, complete with smart dialogue and rich characterisation. And although dated somewhat in terms of social parallels, To Kill a Mocking Bird still contains deep wisdom into those issues that it commentates. A Pulitzer Prize winning novel already, To Kill a Mocking Bird translated gracefully to the screen thanks to skilled direction, beautiful cinematography and above all else, respect for the source.
Jaws (1975) Directed by Steven Spielberg
Contributing some iconic performances, Roy Schneider
is superb as the ironically hydrophobic police Chief Martin Brody and Robert Shaw
turns the role of ship captain Quint with joyful lunacy. A film that needs little introduction, Jaws
pits man against beast like never before in a slow, isolated battle of wits thematically akin to Melvilles Moby Dick. The films strengths are abundant; from its incredible yet simplistically stark cinematography to its iconic film score by John Williams
, Jaws is delivered with near Hitchcock levels of prowess. With its fin above the water-line as instantly recognizable as Dracula or Frankensteins Monster, Jaws Great White Shark to this day remains one of cinemas most intimidating antagonists. Fathful to the heart of Peter Benchleys novel, a young Stephen Spielberg chose substance over style in crafting his masterpiece Thriller, further cementing his rise to Cinema behemoth.
Superman (1978) Directed by Richard Donner
Sadly the only comic-book adaptation to appear on this side of the list, Richard Donners Superman
is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Inspired by Jerry Seigel
and Joe Shusters
legendary deity, the success of Superman has had a sizeable hand in the prevalence of the Superhero genre as we know it today. Almost propagandist in its inception, Superman was unleashed on an audience that had recently had its faith severely tested. After the numerous conflicts and political debacles that had previously occurred in a post-Vietnam America, Superman reminded a world-weary public that the ideas of freedom and justice were still relevant and as much alive at the core of humanity as they had always been. Faithful to the core of the character, Superman is an ambitious and crucial piece of cinema that has since elevated the Man of Steel to his rightful place as a contemporary icon.
The Shining (1980) Directed by Stanley KubrickJack Nicholson
surpasses himself as Jack Torrance in one of his most iconic roles; The Shining
is a masterpiece of contemporary horror that is in equal measure chilling and disturbing and on multiple levels. Stanley Kubrick
achieved one of those rare hallmarks of cinematic excellence with his take on Stephen Kings novel of the same name, in that he conveys the story more effectively than its original author. Kubricks version is abundantly more graceful than Kings in many ways, and with such an intensely schizophrenic performance from Nicholson, its easy to see why The Shining has been accepted so readily into modern iconography. Despite Stephen Kings
best protests, The Shining is a masterful adaptation. Kubrick saw something in the story that King had missed and capitalised. King isnt happy about it, but we at WhatCulture! are thankful that Kubrick had the stones.
Blade Runner (1984) Directed by Ridley ScottBlade Runner
takes the classic film noir genre and launches it forward through time, to an industrial future where the lines between man and machine have obscured. Based on Phillip K. Dick
s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Blade Runner set the bar for science fiction in its time and remains palpably influential today. Harrison Ford
takes the lead as ex-Blade Runner Rick Deckard, delivering a characteristically superior performance and Rutger Hauer
adds layers of biblical intensity in his rendition of the Replicant leader Roy Batty. Aesthetically, Blade Runner is breath-taking; a fully crystallised vision of the future that looks and feels consummately realistic. Not as razor-faithful to the source material as some would have liked, Blade Runner still stands as one of the greatest achievements not only in science fiction, but in Cinema as a whole.
Remains of the Day (1993) Directed by James IvoryAnthony Hopkins
stars as an emotionally distant butler who battles with passion and repression in a post-WWII Britain. Inspired by the 1989 novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, Remains of the Day
is an ambitious adaptation that worked beautifully on all of its intended levels. Hopkins and Emma Thompson
perform superbly as the two central characters, Mr Stevens and housekeeper Miss Kenton. Stevens speaks only in pleasantries and so for the most part the dialogue is stark and non-conversational. The story is conveyed beneath the dialogue though, in the incredibly subtle and impactful performances of the two stars. Not intended for the MTV generation, Remains of the Day is nevertheless a fantastic adaptation that simultaneously remains true to the source material and excels as a cinematic piece.
L.A Confidential (1997) Directed by Curtis Hanson
Based on James Ellroys
novel, L.A Confidential
follows three 50s Hollywood detectives as they separately investigate the same mass-shooting, each deploying their own distinct style. Commenting upon the corruption at the core of Movieland, L.A Confidential captures the time perfectly, both in its radiance and its darkness. Superbly acted by its three leads, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey
and Russell Crowe
, L.A Confidential requires some concentration thanks its subtle conspiratorial plot. But each character is satisfyingly three-dimensional and their contrasting interactions with the denizens of 50s L.A and each other make for some seriously compelling drama. Ambitiously faithful to the novel, the complexities of L.A Confidential were converted to screen with a gratifying accuracy that resulted in the honour of two Academy Awards including best adapted screenplay.
American Psycho (2000) Directed by Mary Harron
Based on the pitch-black novel of the same name by Bret Easton Ellis
, American Psycho
is a macabre satire of 1980s America. Unforgiving and misogynistic as he is Christian Bale
s murdering rapist Patrick Bateman acts as a piteous metaphor, for the extreme narcissism that runs parallel to capitalist ideals. The film manages to transfer Batemans fractured personality to the screen with aplomb, while still maintaining the rhythmic punchiness of a standard thriller. American Psycho is far from the standard though; from its artfully off-beat sense of humour that accentuates the violent imagery, to its subtle nuances of post-modernism, it stands as a victorious adaptation that satisfies audiences, critics and academics alike. If youve read the book, youll understand what a daunting task American Psycho must have been to adapt to screen. Director/Writer Mary Harron
pulls it off with a cool aptitude, and delivers a shocking yet vital entry into modern cinema.
Adaptation (2002) Directed by Spike Jonze
The book upon which Adaptation
is loosely based - The Orchid Thief is an award winning extended article by journalist Susan Orlean. Dubbed inadaptable, renowned screenwriter Charlie Kaufman
attempted the impossible in bringing The Orchid Thief to the screen. Starring Nicolas Cage
as Charlie Kaufman himself, Adaptation weaves an astonishing meta-plot, about reworking an inadaptable book for screen and failing. This film is so painfully self-aware that as it transcends simple notions of cinematic adaptation, it becomes an adaptation of life itself. With its self-effacing humour and masterful use of convention it both does justice to its inspiring source material and delivers a narrative experience that is quite unlike any other. Despite straying wildly off-topic, Adaptation weaves Orleans original message into a different pattern, touching upon many of the same themes but observing them from the other side of the glass. Other noteworthy adaptations: A Clockwork Orange (1971 Dir. Stanley Kubrick) One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest (1975 Dir. Milos Forman) 1984 (1984 Dir. Michael Radford) Batman (1989 Dir. Tim Burton) Goodfellas (1990 Dir. Martin Scorsese) Silence of the Lambs (1991 Dir. Jonathan Demme) The Shawshank Redemption (1994 Dir. Frank Darabont) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998 Dir. Terry Gilliam) Fight Club (1999 Dir. David Fincher) Lord of the Rings (2001 2003 Dir. Peter Jackson) The Worst
Batman and Robin (1997) Directed by Joel Schumacher
Never have I uttered the word No so often during a movie as when I re-watched Batman and Robin
on Blu-ray. Its almost as if Joel Schumacher
made this film as badly on purpose as a cruel joke. In many ways, he did. The punch-line: I paid to see it. Plagued with illogical set-pieces, laughable dialogue and stupendously bad acting, Batman and Robin is a failure on almost every level. It is so bad in fact that Schumacher has since publicly apologised for the movies continued existence; apparently pushed by greedy financiers he intentionally took the franchise down more lucrative and toyable avenues. No film that is produced in this way can be triumphant and Batman and Robin is far from the exception.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) Directed by Stephen NorringtonThe League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
is based on the compelling graphic novel of the same name by comic book messiah Alan Moore
. Its intriguing premise entails a group of famous literary characters and their exploits as agents of the British Empire. Alan Moores work tends to be a dark, complicated affair and this prosaic adaptation brings with it none of the ferocity of the original. The movie is a dull, patronising farce that was sabotaged from the outset by the mainstreams reluctance to take creative risks. Bursting with reams of boring expository dialogue and showcasing some truly crummy visual effects, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a shining example of how to ruin a perfectly good concept.
Catwoman (2004) Directed by PitofCatwoman
is a mess; not quite as cynically motivated as Batman and Robin
but make no mistake, this movie is truly terrible. Director Pitof
is a fairly well established visual effects engineer and so it baffles as to why hes anywhere near the helm, let alone directly at it. Catwoman takes seemingly random liberties with the source material, even down to needlessly changing her alter-egos name from Selina Kyle to Patience Phillips (Halle Berry
) I know, right?! The antagonism is entirely flat- an arbitrarily evil corporation, determined to launch a fatal beauty cream onto an unsuspecting market, with virtually no explanation. With such a preposterous plot, and some of the most shameful dialogue this side of the eighties, Catwoman was doomed to fail.
I, Robot (2004) Directed by Alex ProyasI, Robot
was met with mixed reviews and many are quick to defend its quality but theyre sorely mistaken. Originally written by Isaac Asimov
as a collection of nine short stories, its running commentaries on humanity are largely brushed to one side in favour of this crass extended footwear commercial. I, Robot does flaunt some admirable CGI but its important to remember that visual effects are a means to an end and should never sit in place of good stories, told well. The narrative clings to convention and never strays far enough from its clichéd sci-fi iconography to have even a fraction of the sources impact. Butchered by comparison, I, Robot takes Asimovs masterful literary work and re-writes it in crayon
Fantastic Four (2005) Directed by Tim Story
Based on the Superhero team of the same name in the Marvel Universe, the Fantastic Four
are well-loved and have featured in their own comic serials since 1961. With such history to draw from the Fantastic Four movie could have been great but it most definitely wasnt. Despite some neat CGI magic, Fantastic Four feels flat and uneventful. The true crux of the movie is in its sheer number of characters and the oceans of exposition necessary to establish the traits and powers of four very different heroes, as well as the obligatory villain. With so many set-ups and virtually no meat, the films fumbling climax ultimately renders Fantastic Four as unsatisfying.
Constantine (2005) Directed by Francis Lawrence
Hellblazer, the regular monthly serial from DC and Vertigo comics on which Constantine
is based is largely phenomenal. John Constantine is a blonde haired, smart-ass Liverpudlian with a penchant for the supernatural and so as a fellow Scouser and self-confessed geek, I can relate implicitly. Woefully miscast in the film adaptation, Keanu Reeves
fails completely as a version of this unique anti-hero and the rest of the movie falls apart around his performance. Originally intended as a guttural critique of Thatchers Britain, Constantine largely ignores its source material, becoming nothing more than mild supernatural Horror clumsily shoe-horned into the clichéd aesthetic framework of a Film Noir.
Silent Hill (2006) Directed by Christophe GansSilent Hill
had the potential to be fantastic. The original video-games expanded the classic Haunted House concept out over a whole town and were already incredibly cinematic in terms of visual story-telling. Unfortunately the illogical patterns of behaviour exhibited by video-game protagonists, especially within the survival horror genre, were taken a smidgen too literally. The film translates as a patchy, incoherent mess in which the characters act without true motivation or logicality. While it does deliver some genuinely creepy moments, ultimately Silent Hill was adapted with too sparse a degree of consideration as to what would transpose to the screen.
I Am Legend (2007) Directed by Francis Lawrence
Big congratulations to both Will Smith
and Francis Lawrence
for appearing twice on this side of the list. Taking the airtight plot of Richard Mathesons
seminal novella and poking it full of holes, I Am Legend
seemingly has no interest in the simple genius of its namesake. The books setting is admittedly revamped nicely, employing some tasteful CGI in creating an abandoned Manhattan but for all its initial promise I Am Legend edges toward the mundane with each passing scene. The film falls completely flat the moment we encounter the monsters; a fully computer generated horde of laughably unconvincing rage-zombies. In that instant, I Am Legend crosses a line never to return.
Ghost Rider (2007) Directed by Mark Stephen Johnson
Adapted from the Marvel comic line, Ghost Rider
began with a slightly preposterous character even by comic-book standards. An ironically badass stuntman whose skull can ignite into flame at will isnt winning any subtly awards so even going in expectations are relatively diminished. Ghost Rider is mediocre even by its own low standards. The dialogue is way over the top, the performances average and the action sequences are so pedestrian that the mind is practically forced to wander. Although I doubt this movie was intended to do little more than line a pocket or two, its almost certainly destined to fade into the forgotten annals of movie obscurity.
The Spirit (2008) Directed by Frank MillerThe Spirit
is proof that Frank Miller
cant do it all. Despite both penning and providing artwork on such seminal graphic novels as The Dark Knight Returns and the previously adapted Sin City, Millers foray into film direction proved to be as terrible as his comic work is excellent. The Spirit has a baffling and illogical plot, which never allows the film to fully settle on a tone. Both lead performances from Gabriel Macht and Samuel L. Jackson are cringe-worthy, not so much due to acting ability but to the awful, stilted dialogue that would have beaten even Brando. Everything about The Spirit is lacklustre; from its inane CGI locations to its faux-eloquent delivery. Avoid at all costs. Other undesirable adaptations: The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965 Dir. George Stevens) Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987 Dir. Sidney J. Furie) The Scarlet Letter (1995 Dir. Roland Joffe) Great Expectations (1998 Dir. Alfonso Cuaron) Planet of the Apes (2001 Dir. Tim Burton) Resident Evil (2002 Dir. Paul W.S Anderson) The Time Machine (2002 Dir. Simon Wells) AVP: Alien Vs. Predator (2004 Dir. Paul W.S Anderson) Doom (2005 Dir. Andrzej Bartkowiak) Spider-Man 3 (2007 Dir. Sam Raimi)