The 8 Worst Places to Steal a Movie Idea

Like the dumb kid in biology class, movies are only as good as the people they copy off of. When Hollywood isn't busy cranking out sequels, it's scouring Earth for stories and characters that will save them the hassle of coming up with their own.

In fact, you can make a pretty good guess as to the quality of a film just by finding out what it's based on. We've helpfully ranked these sources from best to worst in the order of how likely it is the resulting film will suck.

#8. Books

The Case For:
Since the first narrative film, The Great Train Robbery was based on an 1896 story by Scott Marble, cinema has been plundering the written arts for ideas. Literature is great because you've got two built-in audiences right from the start: people who liked the book and people who think they may like it, but won't take on the onerous burden of actually reading it.

Plus, it' a lot easier to work with an author or a playwright than a screenwriter, because most of them are either irrelevant old fogies who don't mind getting their work "reimagineered," or better yet, dead.

Cases in Point:
Jaws, The Godfather, Goodfellas, The Bourne Ultimatum, The Silence of the Lambs, A Street Car Named Desire, Lawrence of Arabia

The Case Against:
Hollywood producers seem to base most of their book adaptation choices on the sales of the book, as it's considered unreasonable for them to actually read all 300+ pages of one. That's dangerous, because not every book translates to the screen. If it involves lots of fucking, people chasing each other through stairwells or both at the same time (John Grisham, Michael Crichton, Charles Dickens) then you're in the clear. If most of the action occurs in the characters' head (Albert Camus, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf), you're going to end up with an $80 million staring contest.

Cases in Point:
All The King's Men, Fast Food Nation, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Everything Is Illuminated, The Namesake

The Wild Card:
Not that all books have to be War and Peace, but it' somewhat surprising to find out a movie like Death Wish is based on a book. It's a book that we've never read, but feel confident assuming contains the following sentence: "He punched the scumbag with his big, ham-like fist, and that's when he noticed something behind him explode."

Sub Genre:
Lord of the Flies + Lolita + Fountainhead + Huckleberry Finn + 1984 + Jane Eyre = "Movies you can watch instead of studying for your high school English exams."

#7. Movies From Other Countries

The Case For:
There are literally hundreds of smart people who aren't American, and some of them actually have good ideas for movies. What they don't have is a city with a multibillion dollar economy based around grown ups playing make believe in front of cameras. Remakes of foreign films have brought some awesome movies to audiences who would otherwise never have seen them because the actors in the original insisted on speaking gibberish. Also, just because it's made by Hollywood doesn't mean it's going to get made by an American director. Hollywood has a way (namely, paying obscene amounts of cash) of attracting some of the best directors from around the world, so it's often the foreign filmmakers themselves, like John Woo, who bring their vision to American screens.

Cases in Point: The Departed (Infernal Affairs), 12 Monkeys (La Jetée), The Sound of Music (Die Trapp-Familie), Insomnia (same)

The Case Against:
In foreign countries, films are often funded by government grants and committees for the arts, organizations more concerned about artistic integrity than the bottom line. While this might seem adorably naïve to our Western sensibilities, it also means their plots aren't written by focus groups or dickhead executives named Chip who have "ideas on the ending."

Also, because there' more money being gambled on the movies once reaching Hollywood, the studios tend to make them more accessible to the sort of people who insist on things like the hero not dying in the final scene. And just because they speak English doesn't mean our actors don't suck (see below).

Cases in Point:
Taxi (Taxi), The Lake House (Il Mare), Mixed Nuts (Le Père Noël est une ordure), Father' Day (Les Comperes), Point of No Return (La Femme Nikita)

The Wild Card:
Lest you think the desecration of foreign films is a one-way street, think again. Five years after David Fincher dropped Se7en on the world, French director Mathieu Kassovitz remade it as Crimson River with Jean Reno (apparently the only actor in France other than Gerard Depardieu) in the Morgan Freeman role, Vincent Cassel (no relation to Sam) in the Brad Pitt role, and we're assuming either a mime or a horny skunk as the serial killer.

Sub Genre:
Pulse + The Ring + The Ring 2 + Dark Water + The Grudge = Proof That Japan is Scarier While America Has Bigger Boobs

#6. Comics and Graphic Novels

The Case For:
Comic books are basically film storyboards already, so pitching an adaptation is as easy as passing an issue on to your producer friend. They're usually not as long as books, either, so they can totally follow through on promises to remain "faithful to the source material" and still have enough time left for a long lunch break at Spagos.

Cases in Point:
Darkman, Hellboy, Men in Black, Spider-Man, V for Vendetta, Road to Perdition, American Splendor.

The Case Against:
Not all comic books are Spider-Man. Some are weird and indie, and some are about cats having sex, or ducks ... having sex. We're not casting any kind of judgment on comic fans. We're just saying there are things tolerated on the page of a comic that cannot be acted out on camera without being cringe-worthy.

Cases in Point:
Daredevil, Catwoman, Ghost Rider, Fritz the Cat, Howard the Duck, Barb Wire, Elektra, Ultraviolet, Fantastic Four

The Wild Card:
Did you know David Cronenberg's weird-fest family drama/thriller A History of Violence was based on a comic? We have to wonder whether the stereotypical bully in the comic was as unintentionally hilarious as the one in the film.

Sub Genre:
Sin City + 300 + Tank Girl + The Crow + Monkeybone = "Movies that look like the art style from the comic, so as to be groundbreaking and earn critical acclaim."

#5. Real Life

The Case For:
Basing a film on a real-life event provides an instant sense of immediacy and impact for the audience, much like your Real World or Road Rules. It also means you get to use white text over a black screen to set up and conclude your film, which is way easier than hiring actors and filming a bunch of bullshit scenes.

Cases in Point:
The Elephant Man, Saving Private Ryan, A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Quiz Show, Boys Don't Cry, Hotel Rwanda, Monster

The Case Against:
It turns out there's nothing stopping filmmakers from telling outright lies as long as they use the phrase "inspired by" or "based upon." Hence The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which features demonic screams and a girl speaking in tongues, and the even less realistic Patch Adams, featuring Robin Williams as someone capable of making people laugh.

Cases in Point:
Behind Enemy Lines, The Perfect Storm, Hidalgo

The Wild Card:
The movie Fargo opens with the words: "This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred." Awesome opening to an awesome movie. The only problem is that the story has about as much basis on fact as Rocky IV.

The Coen Brothers added the intro as a joke (which happened to make their movie more interesting and relevant), though most critics swallowed it whole. Apparently, the folks who think of funny puns involving the word "stinker" for a living are not the pillars of journalistic integrity we all thought they were.

Sub Genre:
We Are Marshall + Remember the Titans + Friday Night Lights + Any Given Sunday + Rudy + The Replacements + Invincible = "Inspiring movies about scrappy, can-do football players overcoming the odds to win it all."

#4. Old Movies

The Case For:
When people started making movies, you could wow an audience just by getting the soundtrack to sink up with the actor's lips. Not surprisingly, a lot of those early "talkies" don't hold up so well these days. Since they took a stab at a lot of the good stories early on, why not capitalize on the more advanced technology and loser morality afforded by your advantageous spot in the time-space continuum. This is especially effective with comedies and crime capers, both of which are able to expand emotional and cultural relevancy with the inclusion of cocaine, boobs and the word "fuck."

Cases in Point:
Scarface, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Cape Fear

The Case Against:
Some of those old ideas that worked so well in '70s end up being as at home in the present as your dad at a rave. Other problems arise when the person doing the remaking is so in love with the original that they literally remake the same film, with a few different actors and the original star in a depressing throw-away role.

Most infuriating of all are the remakes that think updating the original means plugging in modern slang and technology (What if instead of having this conversation on the telephone they had it over ... ELECTRONIC MAIL!).

Cases in Point:
Shaft (same), You've Got Mail (The Shop Around the Corner), The Omen (same), The Manchurian Candidate (same), The Jackal (Day of the Jackal), Assault on Precinct 13 (same), Rollerball (same)

The Wild Card:
Did you know that Gus Van Sant's 1998 movie Psycho is actually a remake of a 1960 film by the same name? The original film was considered groundbreaking because it featured one of the biggest twists in movie history: having the leading lady murdered halfway through. Van Sant decided to update that concept by surprising audience much earlier with his decision to cast Ann Heche as the leading lady.

Sub Genre:
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral + Doc + Tombstone + Wyatt Earp = "Increasingly shitty remakes of the John Ford classic My Darling Clementine."

#3. TV Shows

The Case For:
A TV is just like a movie screen but smaller, so add in some A-list celebrity voice actors and slow-mo explosion effects to stretch time and you're good to go. Making a movie out of your TV show also allows creators a greater degree of freedom, especially when it comes to issues of progressive artistry, like showing Bart Simpson' yellow penis.

Cases in Point: South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut; Wayne' World; The Fugitive

The Case Against:
By the time a TV show has been on long enough and gained enough popularity to be optioned for film, chances are it' exhausted all good plotlines that fit the premise. At that point, there's not a lot you can do other than make all the animated characters live-action or CG. Then, plug in an ex-SNL cast member and watch it go.

Cases in Point:
The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle, The Flintstones, Inspector Gadget, Thunderbirds, Bewitched, every SNL movie other than Wayne's World

The Wild Card:
The Untouchables, classic Sean Connery and Kevin Costner flick about Eliot Ness and his quest to bring down Al Capone (Robert De Niro) and enforce Prohibition, is actually based on a 1959 TV series. For a series about a bunch of guys going around killing peoples' buzzes, it's not half bad.

Sub Genre:
Dukes of Hazzard + Miami Vice + Starsky and Hutch + Charlie's Angels + S.W.A.T. = "Campy 1970/80s cop show redone with more grit and raunch to appeal to the kids."

#2. Toys

The Case For:
From the financial end, there's all sorts of reasons to do it. The kiddies will always want to see their toys walk and talk and blow up shit. In the hands of the right writers, a perfectly good cartoon can come from it (see the Transformers cartoon from back in the day) and, regardless of how you felt about Michael Bay's Transformers movie, a shitload of people went to see it and (apparently) enjoyed it.

Cases in Point:
Transformers, Care Bears, G.I. Joe (In production)

The Case Against:
The stories behind these toys consist of one-paragraph blurbs printed on the back of the box, written by some intern in the marketing department. It's not exactly the source for a profound mythology.

Case in Point:
Bratz

The Wild Card:
Don Mancini, creator of the Child's Play franchise, has repeatedly stated that Chucky is based on a Cabbage Patch Kids doll, making those films even more derivative than when we thought they were only stealing from that one episode of the Twilight Zone with the Talky Tina doll.

Sub-Genre:
Toys + Toy Story + Dolls + Puppet Master + Small Soldiers + *batteries not included = "Movies featuring toys the real-life versions of which have no chance of living up to their film counterparts."

#1. Video Games

The Case For:
Gamers have long enjoyed sitting motionless for hours in front of a screen while moving their arms slightly. Simply replace the controller with a large Mr. Pibb and you've got a complete movie-going experience. As an added bonus, people who go to movies based on video games have developed the highest possible level of tolerance for campy dialogue and disjointed plots.

Cases in Point:
Dead or Alive, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Tomb Raider (Yes, these are the best we could come up with.)

The Case Against:
In the sense that video games are the newer, more visceral art form, the video-game movie is to cinema what the movie novelization is to literature--an adaptation that by the very nature of the medium is less interesting and engaging than the original.

Plus, we've only got a few years before shooting zombies with a light gun at home is not only cheaper and more fun than watching a movie about the same, but also looks just as good. Then comes the inevitable hybridization of video games and film, wherein audiences use seat-mounted controllers to decide exactly when Milla Jovovich's top gets strategically ripped.

Cases in Point:
Super Mario Bros., Double Dragon, Final Fantasy, Doom, Alone in the Dark, BloodRayne, and pretty much every movie that's ever been made about video games

The Wild Card:
A little-known game adaptation: 1993 Spielberg film Schindler's List was based on the classic game Arkanoid.

Bonus Sub-Genre:
Area 51 + Castlevania + Devil May Cry + EverQuest + The Sims + World of Warcraft = "Video games that should never be adapted to film, and yet are currently in production."

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