SciFi (or "SyFy") Original Movies are a no-budget device with which the SyFy (or "SciFi") Network fills the space between commercials. At their worst, these films are mere filler. At their best, filler with T&A.
Of course, the easy joke would be to say, "something that sucks," or "a complete waste of time," or "the Bruce Campbell movie of the week."
But let's take a closer look at this. Syfy, the network formerly-known as SciFi, has a long and shameful tradition of putting out movies under this banner. Yet, when you get right down to it, none of them really seems to belong under it. Sometimes these productions do contain some Sci-Fi, and among those that do there are a fair number of movies. And yes, some of what the people at SyFy do could loosely be called original, but within their catalogue there is no single film that is all three. They're more of a two-out-of-three-ain't-bad sort of production company and, in order to gain a better understanding of just how they work, let's look at a few of the many films that can rightfully be called 2/3 of a SciFi Original Movie.
There are plenty of these in the SyFy repertoire. For starters, there's Alien Apocalypse, Alien Express, Alien Hunter, Alien Siege, Alien Lockdown... Problem is they tend not to be all that original.
Sure, the leading man might have a slightly different name each time around, and the accompanying walking cleavage might wear leather in one film and spandex in another. In yet another she'll start out as the mousy scientist who only turns sexy after her glasses are off, her hair is down and her lab coat is torn in all the right places. So, aside from some minor variations on the names and hairdos, these films are all pretty much identical. Like an Ayn Rand novel.
The stories are all basically the same, too. Either the aliens sneak up and hand the secrets of world peace over to a group of potentially sexy scientists just as the military bursts in and says there'll be none of that, or some sexy mad scientist is conducting military experiments that yield terrible monsters, possibly from alien DNA. Or members of an alien military use science to disguise themselves as sexy, sexy agents of peace until they're ready to release the monster. Military, aliens, scientists and monsters, some of whom are sexy, are squeezed through the proverbial cookie cutter again and again, and each time something shaped vaguely like a movie comes out the other end.
That's how it's done, kids. Get your parents to help with the oven.
So that covers the unoriginal stuff. If all you're doing is taking a film that's already been made, possibly even well, and remaking it with a tiny budget and a new, disappointing ending, then you're really just the poor man's Tim Burton. You are doing what Tim Burton already does, only worse. You are, in essence, giving Tim Burton the Tim Burton treatment.
We'll give Syfy a little leeway in terms of just what's considered original on their part, because they did pick up a few original shows that just weren't making it with their original networks. Stargate, for one, could not have become the Science Fiction mainstay it did if Syfy hadn't picked it up, breathed new life into it, raised it to new and unexpected heights, and then clumsily dropped it like a carefully-balanced tower of pies in a Stooge's arms.
Above: Actual Syfy Network executives.
So they have some original Sci-Fi in the lineup, but these are shows, not movies. And while their adopted shows have spawned some made-for-TV-movies, we can hardly call a film based on someone else's show, which itself was based on someone else's movie, an original piece of work. Stargate rests upon the success of previous Stargates, which rest in turn upon yet another Stargate. It's Stargates all the way down.
Allowing a little more leeway as regards the realm of originality, we'll fudge the rules and say that using something out of ancient myth or folklore has the potential to be original. We're not saying it is. There have been plenty of completely unoriginal adaptations of established stories and ideas. These were done by hacks who figured they could use this stuff because it's so old that its creators are all dead, and nobody can claim exclusive rights to it anymore. That's what public domain is all about, and as long as everyone respects the public domain, we'll accept that not every new film based on something from the public domain will necessarily suck. And besides, it isn't like somebody's going to come along and pluck a character out of the public domain, perhaps a beloved literary hero who has been enjoyed freely for generations, then trademark it and sue anyone else who tries to use it, claiming it was theirs all along. Nobody's that big a douchebag.
Well, almost nobody.
So, being that things like the yeti, the weather and killer apes are generic enough that you're not necessarily a hack just because you've made a movie about them, we can safely consider such Syfy offerings as Yeti: Curse of the Snow Demon, NYC: Tornado Terror and Blood Monkey original. You know, for all intents and purposes. But there's still no notable science fiction in them.
Oh, sure. You could claim that they're works of fiction and they mention science at some point, but if you're going to start calling something science fiction on those grounds, then every time a token alien shows up for a cameo in a sit-com, that's a science fiction series too. Now you're headed down a slippery slope that can only end when everything from Looney Toons to Happy Days is considered hard Sci-Fi. So you'd best stop now.
This really happened.