With the biggest film of the last week being an adaptation of a short children’s book, and the most anticipated film of the month being ANOTHER adaptation of a young adult novel, this complaint has popped up again. It’s a complaint that we all have heard many times. When the third film in a franchise is released to great fanfare, everyone seems to ask the same question.
“Why don’t they make good movies anymore? Where’s the originality? In the old days of Hollywood, they practically could trip over all of the original ideas floating around. What happened?”
The answer is simple. What happened was that such a world never existed.
Hollywood has always been derivative ever since the beginning, buying up properties that have already resonated with the public. They have frequently remade, sequelled, and ripped themselves off as much as possible. And in classic Hollywood, films were far more regulated and offered virtually no freedom to the creative people. The producers made the final calls, until the censorship boards had their say. The films of today are no different than what was made back then. The thing is, only the best films have survived.
Yes, most of the films that were nominated for Best Picture were either based on novels or plays (like The War Horse, The Descendents, and Hugo). But that means nothing. Let’s take a look at the top 25 films on IMDB. It’s a fair barometer of public opinion – and the results for originality are not good. Nine are based on novels, two are based on plays, three are based on historical events, one is based on a short story, and three are sequels (well, four, but one of those sequels took sections from the same novel that were not used in the original film). Only Pulp Fiction, Inception, Once Upon a Time in the West, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and The Usual Suspects were completely original ideas that were written for the screen. The number one ranked film is based on a work, not by someone like Shakespeare, but by Stephen King.
And that’s just one website’s opinion – even the Sight and Sound poll is littered with adaptations – Sunrise, Vertigo, 2001, The Rules of the Game and Lawrence of Arabia are all based on other material to a certain degree. And think about the careers of your favorite filmmakers and studios. Most of Disney’s films are based on novels or fairy tales. Each of Stanley Kubrick’s films, except his first, were based on novels. Citizen Kane is essentially a biopic of William Randolph Hearst. Raging Bull is a biopic, and Jaws was an incredibly popular novel long before it was lensed by Spielberg. Apocalypse Now is based on a novella. Psycho is based on the Ed Gein case. The Wizard of Oz is not only based on a novel, but the most famous version is a remake – Baum’s novels were adapted for the silent film era.
What’s the point of all of this? The point is that, with Oscar season over and the usual wave of bad adaptations and sequels upon us (The Lorax was last weekend’s biggest film), it is easy to see the contrast that exists in Hollywood between originality and making a fast buck. I mean, The Lorax? But that does not mean the latter has not always been the goal; that’s not the problem. The problem is that most theater goers – yep, it’s you guys again – have lost the desire for true quality. If it distracts people from their daily lives, then we’re good to go. Hollywood has ALWAYS tried to capture a mass audience, but now that mass audience is going to increasingly bad films. The Lorax, after all, has a 57% rating on Rotten tomatoes. In fact, all of the films in the top 10 have rotten ratings. I don’t mind that people go to films for distraction or entertainment – that’s why they exist. But those films do not deserve to be praised and have the bar set for them. 73% of audiences say they liked The Lorax, and the box office results speak for themselves.
So remember. It’s not that films have gotten more or less “original.” Hollywood has always sought out the properties that have already resonated with the public. The problem is, they’ve gotten lazier so they can better meet the withering demands of the public. Maybe if more people had seen The Artist and not complained about The Tree of Life, Hollywood would be more willing to try something new.
I will be getting back to reviews soon enough – starting with The Hunger Games. No, at the time of this writing, I have not read any of the books. But I hope, for the sake of the hype, the film is great.