The Strangest Source Material in Movie History


Anyone questioning the dearth of original ideas in modern-day Hollywood might want to take a look at this week’s new releases, which include Battleship, a film based on a board game, and What to Expect When You’re Expecting, a film based on a pregnancy guide. Yes, friends, the movie industry in 2012 is all about brand recognition, so when they run out of sequels and remakes and reboots and adaptation of comic books and TV series and novels, they’re going to have to really start stretching. Not by trying new ideas or telling untold stories (don’t be silly), but by merely adapting things into movies that really have no business being adapted into movies. After the jump, a brief survey of some of the strangest source material in movie history.

He’s Just Not That Into You RELEASED: 2009 ADAPTED FROM: Self-help book

If we’re going to be entirely accurate, this is technically a film inspired by a line on Sex and the City, which in turn inspired the book, which in turn inspired this insipid movie. The screenplay, by Never Been Kissed scribes Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, illustrates the book’s “insights” with a host of interrelated characters traipsing through familiar paces. There’s no spontaneity to these people; they’re all cardboard types (Desperate Single Girl, Cheating Husband, Girl Who Cheats With Husband, Impatient Girlfriend, Wise Ladies’ Man, etc.) and are written with barely one dimension, while the script shuffles around their subplots to create the illusion of a story moving forward. For a film presumably geared towards the female demographic, He’s Just Not That Into You doesn’t seem to like women very much, or at the very least, to respect them. It operates under the narrow-minded notion that all women do is obsess over men and why men aren’t calling them; the women in the film don’t think or talk about anything else. They have no exterior lives, no careers, no hobbies, no ideas — and what’s more, none of them are happy, since they presumably require the unconditional love of a perfect man in order to be happy. But nearly all of the men in the film are presented as perfectly content, at least until the women in their lives start muckety-mucking things up with all their demands. The not-so-subtle underlying message is clear: It takes a man to be happy, and to land one, you have to know all of their tricks — which you can learn, because they’re all exactly the same. This is progress? At any rate, the film grossed nearly $200 million and proved that you could, in fact, turn a self-help book into a movie, so I guess we can thank He’s Just Not that Into You for What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

Transformers RELEASED: 2007 ADAPTED FROM: Toy line

It’s easy to presume that this 2007 smash was based on the afternoon cartoon show, but check the credits: “Based on Hasbro’s Transformers™ Action Figures.” (The cartoons were just thirty-minute toy commercials, ya see.) And if there were ever a motion picture that looks like it is based on action figures, it’s Transformers; the storytelling and dialogue all have about the intellectual integrity of a six-year-old playing with his toys for two and a half hours. Except that the six-year-old is Michael Bay and his toys cost hundreds of millions of dollars. But he blew stuff up real good, and made hundreds of millions of dollars back, and thus we end up with two Transformers sequels, two G.I. Joe movies, and the obviously Tranformers-influenced Battleship. We don’t beg here at Flavorwire often, but hear our plea: MAKE. IT. STOP.

The Garbage Pail Kids Movie RELEASED: 1987 ADAPTED FROM: Trading card series

The Garbage Pail Kids, a series of repulsive and disgusting (and yes, okay, fine, kinda sorta funny) trading cards spoofing the Cabbage Patch Kids, were the must-have accessory for those of us slouching our way through grade school in the mid-’80s, but they were a one-joke notion at best — see, they’re like Cabbage Patch Kids, but with boogers or whatever! — and certainly nothing that lent itself to the cinema. But that didn’t stop writer/director/producer Rod Amateau from making The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, an unforgivably creepy and altogether terrible film adaptation that slithered onto screens in late summer 1987 and disappeared soon thereafter. Its $1.5 million box office take was matched by a cacophony of bad reviews (it still sits with a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, and regularly appears on the IMDb Bottom 100), but fear not: Michael Eisner’s Tornante Company recently announced that they’re developing an all-new Garbage Pail Kids Movie, because the world is a terrible place and we’ll all die sad and alone.

Lambada/The Forbidden Dance RELEASED: Both 1990 ADAPTED FROM: Dance craze

Lambada, a Latin American dance that mixed elements of salsa, meringue, maxixe, and dry-humping, became a late-’80s sensation, so hey, why not turn it into a movie? After all, the Breakin’ movies had made some coin, right? And with that, two separate production teams got to work cranking out their competing lambada movies — working against the clock, since the year-or-so turnaround of most movies wouldn’t do for a dance craze that could go out of style at any second. Cannon’s Lambada (directed by Breakin’ and Rappin’ auteur Joel Silberg) was an odd mash-up of Dirty Dancing and Stand and Deliver, centering on an inner city teacher (J. Eddie Peck). To quote IMDb: “Using his lambada dance moves to first earn the kid’s respect and acceptance, Kevin then teaches them academics.” Like ya do. (Fun fact: Magnolia co-star Melora Walters plays a student who totally crushes on the lambada-ing teacher.) The Forbidden Dance was the work of B-movie hack Greydon Clark (who helmed the MST3K faves Final Justice and Angels’ Revenge), and wrapped its dance scenes up in a save-the-rainforests construct, fronted by future Mulholland Dr. star Laura Harring as the princess of a Brazilian tribe. Both films raced to beat the other into theaters, to no avail; they were released on the same day, March 16, 1990, allowing movie critics across the land to reviewand trash — them both simultaneously.

Born in East LA RELEASED: 1987 ADAPTED FROM: Parody song

When Cheech & Chong parted ways in the mid-1980s, Cheech Marin was anxious to find a film that would establish him as a solo performer while not separating him too far from the team’s brand. His solution: to make a film adaptation of “Born in East LA,” a parody of Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” that had appeared on the duo’s final album, 1985’s Get Out of My Room. Turning songs into movies wasn’t exactly new (Jailhouse Rock, Yellow Submarine, Alice’s Restaurant, Harper Valley PTA), but it did seem a little strange to turn a spoofof a song into a movie — even “Weird Al” Yankovic bothered to come up with an original idea when he got his chance to write a feature film, rather than just making a movie version of “Eat It” or “I Love Rocky Road.”

The Blues Brothers RELEASED: 1980 ADAPTED FROM: Saturday Night Live characters

From its early years, Saturday Night Live has never had a problem reviving characters and sketches ad infinitum, but no one thought that they could actually turn SNL characters into feature film heroes until the end of the original cast’s run, when Dan Aykroyd and John Landis created a movie centered on Jake and Elwood Blues. The duo weren’t exactly the show’s most cinematic characters; the Blues Brothers weren’t even a recurring sketch, like Belushi’s Samurai, Aykroyd’s Coneheads, or the “chee-burger” slingers at the Olympia Café. Their appearances on the show, which began in 1978, were musical performances, played (mostly) straight. But the film was a big hit (in spite of its out-of-control production), and SNL creator/producer Lorne Michaels, who had not participated in its making, learned his lesson: nearly all of the subsequent Saturday Night movies bore his producer credit, although few of them matched this one in terms of quality or box office.

Clue RELEASED: 1985 ADAPTED FROM: Board game

It would be easy to hold Clue responsible for Battleship, its fellow movie-based-on-a-board-game, but keep two things in mind: Clue came out over 25 years ago, and only became popular in recent years as a cult movie, and also Clue was game that featured actual characters and personalities, which made it a little less of a stretch than a game that consists of pegs and plastic ships — or one that consists of cards and colored spaces, like Candy Land, currently being developed as a film vehicle for (big, heavy sigh) Adam Sandler.

Dungeons & Dragons RELEASED: 2000 ADAPTED FROM: Role-playing game

There would seem to be an inherent danger in making a film version of a role-playing game — talk about risking an audience sitting out there complaining that they could think up something better. But that’s what producer/director Courtney Solomon did in 2000 with his adaptation of the popular fantasy RPG, which first appeared in 1974. Earlier attempts to make a D&D movie sputtered (though the game did begat Mazes and Monsters, an amusing 1982 TV movie about a college student who gets sucked into the world of an RPG, which featured an early appearance by Tom Hanks), and Solomon’s attempt was barely worth the effort; reviews were terrible and box office didn’t approach the picture’s $45 million budget.

Super Mario Bros. RELEASED: 1993 ADAPTED FROM: Video game

The first major American attempt to turn a video game into a film, 1993’s Super Mario Bros., received scathing reviews and couldn’t even recoup half of its budget, and probably for good reason: the various adventures of Mario and Luigi, either in their own games or in the Donkey Kong franchise, don’t exactly lend themselves to Wilderian plotting or sophisticated mise-en-scène. For that matter, few videogames do, which is why there have been, by our count, exactly zero good movies made from them — see Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, BloodRayne, Max Payne, Prince of Persia, Wing Commander, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Alone in the Dark, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Doom, which was at least honest enough to give us a sequence of what we all figure a video game movie will be anyway: a full-screen view of a “first-person shooter” sequence. In other words, it’s a movie where we watch someone else play a video game.

Adaptation. RELEASED: 2002 ADAPTED FROM: Nonfiction book about orchids

It somehow seems inevitable to end here, with the quintessential unlikely prospect for film adaptation: Susan Orlean’s nonfiction book The Orchid Thief (itself adapted from her New Yorker piece). The 2002 film, which had been in development since the mid-1990s, was actually in the works before screenwriter Charlie Kaufman became a movie rock star thanks to his brilliant Being John Malkovich screenplay — which makes it all the more unbelievable that Kaufman had the stones, when faced with writer’s block while trying to adapt the seemingly unadaptable book, to turn it into a script about the impossibility of adapting The Orchid Thief. Kaufman turned himself and his fictional twin brother Donald into the film’s main characters, while manufacturing a romance between Orlean and her subject, as well as chases and conflicts prescribed by screenwriting guru Robert McKee. The result is a whip-smart meta-movie not just about the difficulty of screenwriting, but about adapting our own lives and neurosis into something manageable.

Those are just a few of the oddly originated films that leaped to our minds — what about yours?