Lots of iconic stuff is adapted from other iconic stuff – Jaws the movie from “Jaws” the novel, the Pirates Of The Caribbean skeleton monsters from Keith Richards, and the works of Terry Gilliam from full-blown dementia.
But not these. These iconic works are adapted from … well, weird crap. Crap you’d never think to adapt to film, unless you were on an obscene amount of cocaine, which is the only explanation we have for these:
10. The Producers (2005)
Moviegoers could be forgiven for being a little confused about 2005’s The Producers, an adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name. Or was it an adaptation of the 1968 Mel Brooks film? Both? Who knows?
The 2005 film is a rare successful example of a recursive adaptation – that is, an adaptation to medium A from medium B, which was originally adapted from medium A. The 1968 film was adapted into the Broadway musical, which was then adapted back to film in 2005. The, um, producers of the 2005 film never even looked at Brooks’ original – it was wholly an adaptation of the musical, which had been running since 2001.
It was a great adaptation but, if it gets adapted back into a stage play based solely on it, we think that the fabric of reality might start to get a little wobbly.
9. An Inconvenient Truth
After his defeat in the 2000 Presidential election, Al Gore returned to a topic that had fascinated him for years – global warming. He finished compiling a slide show on the subject that he had started years earlier and took it on the road, giving his presentation to hundreds of audiences over several years.
In 2005 the presentation was seen by Laurie David, a television producer and part-time environmental activist, who somehow got the ball rolling on convincing Gore to turn it into a movie. Now, Gore was very passionate about his subject, but was not exactly known as a dynamic speaker. Yet instead of getting, say, The Rock to narrate, he chose to do it himself.
The 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth is largely just a filmed version of Gore’s presentation, making it the only film we can think of to be adapted from a lecture. We won’t argue with the potential importance of its message, but we will argue that its success was probably singular, and that “Adapted Lectures” do not need to become a regular thing.
Ask any screenwriter to adapt a narrative-free rumination on orchid poaching and life, like Susan Orlean’s “The Orchid Thief“, and you’ll likely end up with pages and pages of unusable garbage, and a screenwriter hanging by his neck in the closet. Unless the writer is Charlie Kaufman, in which case you’ll end up with an epic mindscrew containing Nicolas Cage’s two best performances, filmed from one of the greatest screenplays ever written.
Kaufman turned the unadaptable novel, itself based on Orlean’s original New Yorker article, into a meditation on the nature of adaptation itself – not only in the literary but the evolutionary sense – with himself as the star, a screenwriter struggling to adapt a screenplay which, of course, will eventually be made into the movie you’re watching.
It’s an approach only Kaufman could have pulled off, and whoever’s bright idea it was to make “The Orchid Thief” into a movie should thank their lucky stars that Kaufman was their writer.
7. He’s Just Not That Into You
This 2009 Affleck-and-Aniston wankfest is a pretty standard ensemble rom-com on the surface. It’s one of a handful (a very small handful, mind) of ill-advised self-help book adaptations- this one a 2004 Oprah Book Of The Month that was inspired by, O Holy Grail of creative inspirations, a line of dialogue from “Sex And The City.”
The book is essentially a long series of really obvious telltale signs that the person you’re pursuing is – wait for it – not into you. How to pad this out into a feature film instead of, say, a damn commercial? Why, by turning several of its points into a series of (supposedly) comic vignettes in the style of a bland, vacuous rom-com with Ben Affleck and Jennifer Aniston!
Needless to say, the movie did not do very well critically or commercially. Moviegoers were just not that into it, and es that joke as ridiculously obvious, but it was right there. We’re not even sorry.
6. The Box
For his next trick, following the epic argument starter Southland Tales, Richard Kelly turned to an adaptation of a classic … okay, an underrated … fine, a really obscure story, whose most well-known version is as a 15-minute segment from the 80’s Twilight Zone revival called “Button, Button,” which itself was adapted from a very short (8 pages!) story by Richard Matheson.
The story is too thin to fill out 15 minutes of TV, let alone a feature film, and the film itself got very mixed reviews, to say the absolute least. You wonder why labyrinthine-plot-meister Kelly would turn to it at all rather than, you know, just coming up with another of his wackaloon original stories. Sadly, it’s starting to look less and less like Kelly is ever going to make another movie as unbelievably awesome as Donnie Darko.
5. The Shop Around The Corner/You’ve Got Mail
Quintessential chick flick You’ve Got Mail is essentially an updated version of the 1940 romantic comedy The Shop Around The Corner, repackaged as a vehicle for Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, and co-starring AOL instead of the US Postal Service.
The earlier film was adapted, for some reason, from an obscure Hungarian play called “Parfumerie” that was never even translated into English, let alone performed for English speaking audiences. Many of the plot tropes have become standard issue for rom-coms, so the next time you’re watching one, and find yourself wondering why in the heck all of these movies have virtually the same plot, you can thank Hungarian playwright Miklós László. Or go back in punch his lights out; that works too.
4. The Fast And The Furious
Vin Diesel’s surprise hit from 2001 was loosely based on a Vibe Magazine article about illegal street racing, titled “Racer X.” The 1998 article chronicled the underground drag racing scene, which had been spreading throughout Southern California in the early 1990’s. While we suppose a movie about the scene makes sense, we’re surprised there was apparently no other source material to adapt. For that matter, we’re surprised an adaptation was even necessary.
Just one in a long, long series of one film based on Vibe friggin’ Magazine, The Fast And The Furious spawned a ridiculous series of five films (soon to be six) that are still going strong, almost like an engine of some kind.
3. I Know What You Did Last Summer
This 1997 film is known mainly for ripping off the vibe of the previous year’s Scream – perhaps because it was written by the same guy – and also for Jennifer Love Hewitt’s breasts. Like Scream, it’s a kind of combination slasher flick / whodunit with a twist ending, and it’s also pretty damn gory.
Unlike Scream, or practically any other slasher movie, it’s adapted from a novel. And not just any novel; the kind you used to order from Scholastic catalogs when you were a kid. Yes, this movie was originally a Young Adult novel – from freakin’ 1973.
Of course, the novel did not feature any gory murders (one character was shot, but survived), and being a YA novel, its focus is largely on the romantic relationship between the female protagonist and her hunky boyfriend (giggle!) Which begs the question: why didn’t the filmmakers just come up with an original story for their slasher flick? Why adapt any novel, let alone this one?
The 1995 historical film Braveheart is fondly remembered as one of the last films in which Mel Gibson was undisputedly awesome. It is NOT typically remembered for being based on a 15th century epic poem entitled – we kid you not – “The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace” by a poet known as Blind Harry. Not only did we not make that up, we can’t even pronounce it.
As one of the only historical records of Wallace, the poem’s accounts of his deeds were leaned on heavily for the film’s story, even though almost as little is known about Blind Harry as about Wallace.
1. Live Free Or Die Hard
The Die Hard films have a history of adapting weird crap, but none this weird: the 2007 installment takes its premise from a 1997 (timely!) article in Wired magazine by John Carlin. The article describes “war games,” of the sort meant to anticipate and respond to an information attack, the type that wouldn’t be possible for several years.
Originally set to be adapted to film in 1999, as its own entity, the project stalled until it was absorbed (like so many other things) by the Die Hard franchise. The PG-13 rated film notoriously failed to please fans, or anyone else really, with its bloodless violence, neutered dialogue and absurd explosions. Fortunately, the 2013 installment A Good Day To Die Hard is rated R and – get ready for this – is not an adaptation of anything, but an original story for the first time in franchise history.