Posted on by Scott Delahunt

The History of Adaptations

Welcome to the history of adaptations.  I’ve been looking at the top movies of each decade, analysing them to see which ones were original and which ones were adaptations, and of the adaptations, what the source material was.  I’m using the compiled list at as a base.  Last time, the Aughts had fewer original movies than the Fifties, which had three, including the two Cinerama demo films.

The decade isn’t over yet, but the general trend has been for big budget adaptations based on comic books and Young Adult novels, or so it feels.  Does this feeling hold out when looking at the popular movies so far this decade?  Both Marvel and DC have a number of movies scheduled over the next few years, with Valiant getting in on the action.  Movies adapted from Young Adult novels soared with the later Harry Potter films and the Twilight adaptations.  Sustainability is in doubt, but the studios are making too much money to ignore the cash cow.

The top movies of the decade, by year, up to 2015:
Toy Story 3 – sequel.  Pixar’s approach to storytelling means that they won’t create a sequel unless there is a proper story to be told.
Alice in Wonderland – adapted from the 1872 Lewis Carroll story, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.
Iron Man 2 – sequel of an adaptation and part of the lead up to Marvel’s The Avengers.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 – both an adaptation and a sequel.  The movie covers the latter half of the last book of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon – sequel of an adaptation of the Hasbro toy line.

Marvel’s The Avengers – adaptation of the Marvel superhero team.
The Dark Knight Rises – sequel of the adaptation, The Dark Knight.
The Hunger Games – adaptation of the novel, The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – sequel and adaptations of the second book in the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire.
Iron Man 3 – sequel of an adaptation.
Frozen – adaptation of the fairy tale, “The Snow Queen”, by Hans Christian Andersen.
Despicable Me 2 – sequel.  The first movie, Despicable Me was an original work.

American Sniper – adaptation of American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most  Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Pyle
Guardians of the Galaxy – adaptation of the characters and team as seen in Marvel comics.

Jurassic World – adaptation.  While intended as a sequel to the first three Jurassic Park movies, there are only two returning characters, including the island.
Avengers: Age of Ultron – sequel to the adaptations, Marvel’s The Avengers.
Inside Out – original but inspired by the daughter of the director
Furious 7 – sequel and part of the Fast and Furious franchise.

Of the eighteen movies listed above, four are original, including the sequels Toy Story 3, Despicable Me 2, and Furious 7.  There are nine adaptations, including both Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which are also sequels.  The remaining five films are sequels of earlier adaptations.  Naturally, the divisions weren’t easy to define.  Jurassic World could be seen as a sequel of the previous Jurassic Park movies.  I placed it as an adaptation because of how little it shared with the previous films.  While Universal Studios counts the film as part of the Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World only has one character returning, and he was a minor one in the original movie.  Thus, I’m placing Jurassic World into the adaptation category.

The source of the adaptations isn’t as diverse as the Aughts.  Six movies were adaptations of comic books.  Three were based on Young Adult novels.  One came from a Michael Crichton work.  Disney was the only studio to reach into the literature of the past for adaptations, using works by Lewis Carroll and Hans Christian Andersen.  While comics haven’t had this strong a showing in previous decades, they aren’t a new medium.  The Avengers #1 was published in 1963, bringing together characters from other titles, including Iron Man, who first appeared in Tales of Suspense #39 in 19591963*.  Jurassic Park, published in 1990, is more recent.

Along with the above breakdown, there were ten sequels in the popular list.  While Lost in Translation treats sequels as original works, continuing a story started in a previous film, the general movie audience may not agree with the assessment.  The number of sequels, adaptations, and the combination of the two leads to the complaints that there are fewer original works.  Yet, the Aughts had fewer popular original movies than this decade.

Next week, wrapping up the series.

* I misread the information at the link.  Iron Man’s debut was in 1963; Tales of Suspense started in 1959.

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