Hollywood keeps turning books, comics and other source material into movies. But according to armchair film critics, they keep doing it wrong. Take, if you will, the 2013 zombie thriller “World War Z.” It’s a 300-page book reduced to two hours of screen time, with a PG-13 rating secured by eliminating all the gore.
The movie was a hit, earning over $540 million at the worldwide box office. But did it do justice to the source material? To diehard fans of the book, the answer is not just “no,” but “hell no.”
Maybe the movie theater is the wrong avenue for adaptations of books, comics and other source material. Maybe the right place is at home, on the couch or in bed, with a streaming television service providing it in original series form.
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This model is already finding its feet. The Netflix (NFLX) series “Orange Is the New Black” has spent 26 episodes to get its point across so far, and it’s done so without watering down the book it’s based on. Since many movies have come and gone that didn’t do justice to their source material, maybe it’s time to redeem them with a streaming-service reboot.
What follows are 10 examples of books, comics and other source materials that failed as movie adaptations. But maybe they’re eligible for a new life as the main attraction at a Netflix (or Amazon (AMZN) Prime Instant Video, or Hulu) binge-watching party.
The chushingura is a centuries-old story about 47 masterless samurai based in feudal Japan. It’s been adapted four times for the Japanese cinema and once for Japanese television, where it was a 52-episode series in 1971.
A new movie version, “47 Ronin,” was made in 2013. The $175 million adaptation starred Keanu Reeves and fell far short of breaking even, causing USA Today to politely but accurately refer to it as a “flop.” However, it could be a perfect series. And who knows? Maybe they would even cast a Japanese actor this time.
The Dark Tower
Unlike the other items on this list, Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” never even made it to the disappointing-adaptation stage. Since 2007, there have been multiple efforts to get it onscreen, with such names as J.J. Abrams, Ron Howard and Javier Bardem attached to it -- but so far, there’s no finished product.
The apocalyptic story is split up over eight books and a Marvel comic series. An original series split up over multiple seasons could be a way for this epic tale to finally hit screens, with all of its non-consensual sex and horrific violence intact.
Frank Herbert's "Dune" has been the subject of two adaptations. David Lynch directed a theatrical version in 1984, which remains one of Hollywood's most notorious flops. The Sci-Fi network tried to redeem it via a new, five-hour miniseries 16 years later, but anyone giving it a grade above a C+ is, quite frankly, as stoned as the Parthenon.
The most promising version was never made. Developed by filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky in 1975, it was to star Mick Jagger and Orson Wells, and made it through pre-production before the money dried up. The director had intended to make a 14-hour version, and in all fairness, it’s hard to imagine even the most diehard fan sitting in the theater for that long. However, the length is ideal for an original series.
Alan Moore’s “Hellblazer” is a 300-installment comic book series that was adapted for the 2005 Keanu Reeves movie “Constantine,” and then for a 2014 television series of the same name on NBC. Many fans felt that the comic had been compromised beyond recognition by these adaptations, particularly in the case of the television show.
Despite decent ratings, NBC has not picked up the show for a second season, and its fate is currently in limbo. Perhaps this provides an opening for a harder-edged serialized version that’s closer to the tone of the original comic. For further lessons on how to correctly interpret a comic for the screen, see the 2012 film “Dredd.”
His Dark Materials
“His Dark Materials” is a trilogy of fantasy novels by author Philip Pullman. Its epic scope made it a natural choice for a big-screen adaptation, so the first book in the trilogy, “The Golden Compass,” came to the movie theaters in 2007 with an all-star cast that included Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig.
The $180 million film took in only $26 million at the North American box office in its opening weekend, and the planned sequels never materialized. Maybe a dozen episodes or so could provide a canvas large enough to do the books justice.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
“The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy” was a BBC radio series featuring a unique mix of comedy and science fiction. It came to the big screen in 2005, but few people were thrilled with what they saw. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian spoke for a lot of fans when he wrote that it didn’t “do justice to the open-ended inventiveness of the original.”
Martin Freeman, who starred in the film, dampened any sequel talk when the MTV Movies Blog quoted him as saying the movie “just didn’t do well enough” to warrant any further installments. An original series, however, could put the story back in touch with its serialized origins and give us a more faithful adaptation.
The Lone Ranger
For whatever reason, be it fate, gypsy’s curse or Satanic intervention, it is not possible to make a commercially successful Lone Ranger movie.
The 2013 Johnny Depp version was a box office disaster, and 1981’s “The Legend of the Lone Ranger” was so poorly received that its star, Klinton Spilsbury, never made another movie again.
Perhaps this means that anyone wishing to bring the masked man into the 21st century should do so by looking backwards. In other words, the story should return to its serialized beginnings and become a television show again, courtesy of streaming.
The Martian Series
Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote a series of books about a Confederate soldier who’s transported to Mars. The was adapted for the 2012 Disney film, “John Carter,” which was intended as the opening salvo in a blockbuster franchise that would produce lucrative sequels in perpetuity. Unfortunately, the audience never showed up, and the $350 million movie flopped hard.
In the second quarter of 2012, the Walt Disney Corporation reported that its Studio Entertainment division’s operating income had decreased by $161 million, half of which was money lost on “John Carter,” so it’s certainly understandable if nobody ever went back to that well again.
Still, there are 10 more Martian series books left, so anyone looking for a series to milk for a few years could do a lot worse.
OK, OK, calm down. Hear us out. Yes, “The Postman” will likely forever be known as a disastrous 1997 movie that Kevin Costner’s career will never recover from. But it started out with much more promise, thanks to its source material, a post-apocalyptic novel by David Brin that was published in two parts – “The Postman” in 1982 and “Cyclops” in 1984.
Both volumes of the story were nominated for a Hugo Award, so there’s obviously something there worth rediscovering. A streaming service could adapt it and redeem it, and let those of us who saw the movie get that horrible taste out of our mouths.
If you want to be hated by pitchfork-wielding legions of angry 40-year-old men, use a comic book as the source material for a movie. They will shout their deep-seated loathing for your effort at every turn.
The people responsible for the 2009 adaptation of “Watchmen” received this exact treatment.
As if to prove this point, an article ran in Comic Book Resources called “10 Things I Hated About The Watchmen Movie.” Its author says that he hated “how compressed it was... Hopefully someone will do a 12-part miniseries on HBO someday.”
Well, HBO has yet to express interest, but perhaps some powerful somebody at Netflix will want to capture this comic book in its every detail for the small screen.
Daniel Bukszpan is a New York-based freelance writer.