Welcome to the history of adaptations. I’ve been looking at the top movies of each decade, analyzing 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 Filmsite.org as a base. Last time, there was an unexpected twist. Turned out, the Fifties had the worst adaptation-to-original ratio so far, with just three movies being original and two of those being Cinerama demos. Prior, the ratio was about 2:1, remaining roughly constant from the dawn of the film industry.
The Sixties were a time of change and upheaval. The Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, anti-war protests, Beatlemania, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the growing role of television, and that’s the short list. New Hollywood got its start during this decade; young filmmakers made their mark on the industry, affecting how studios produced movies. Colour was the default film process unless the director chose black-and-white for artistic purposes.
The popular movies of the era:
Swiss Family Robinson – a Disney live-action adaptation of the 1812 novel, Der Schweizerische Robinson by Johann David Wyss.
One Hundred and One Dalmatians – a Disney animated film adapting the book, The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith.
Dr. No – adapted from the James Bond novel of the same name by Ian Fleming.
The Longest Day – adapted from the book of the same name by Cornelius Ryan about the D-Day landings in 1944.
Cleopatra – adapted from the book, The Life and Times of Cleopatra by CM Franzero. Running over four hours, Cleopatra almost bankrupted 20 Century-Fox due to cost overruns and signalled the end of sprawling epics.
Mary Poppins – adapted from the novel of the same name by PL Travers, Disney used a mix of live action and animation in the production.
My Fair Lady – musical adapted from the play, Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw
Goldfinger – the third James Bond novel to be adapted and the one to set the standard for all other 007 movies to follow. The second novel adapted, From Russia With Love was released in 1963.
The Sound of Music – adaptation based on the play of the same name, which itself was adapted from a 1956 film from Germany, Die Trapp-Familie and the autobiography, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria von Trapp.
Doctor Zhivago – adapted from the novel of the same name by Boris Pasternak.
Thunderball – the fourth James Bond movie, though not an adaptation. Fleming worked with producer Kevin McClory prior to Dr. No to create Thunderball, which would lead to legal issues that would see elements from the movie be unavailable to United Artists and, later, MGM, including SPECTRE. McClory would remake Never Say Never Again with Sean Connery as Bond in 1983. SPECTRE returned to the main film franchise in 2015 in SPECTRE with Daniel Craig.
The Bible: In the Beginning – adapted from The Book of Genesis in The Bible.
Hawaii – adapted from the novel of the same name by James A. Michener.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – original. The epic spaghetti Western by Sergio Leone with music by Ennio Morricone and considered the third movie in the Dollars trilogy, following A Fist Full of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More.
The Jungle Book – adapted from the book by Rudyard Kipling. This will be the last Disney animated movie to appear until the Nineties.
The Graduate – based on the 1963 novel of the same name by Charles Webb.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner – original. The movie’s release came six months after the Loving v. Virgina ruling that struck down restrictions on mixed-race marriage in the United States.
Funny Girl – based on the 1964 stage musical of the same name, which itself was based on the life of actor, singer, and comedian Fanny Brice. Barbra Streisand starred in both the musical and the movie as Brice.
2001: A Space Odyssey – original. Arthur C. Clarke worked with Stanley Kubrick on the story for the movie before writing the book. Clarke’s follow-up novel, 2010: Odyssey Two took into account changes made in the movie after Clarke had finished writing his novel.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – original but based loosely on outlaws Robert LeRoy Parker and Harry Longabaugh, aka the title characters.
Soundtracks became notable in films, and not just for musicals. While music did play a role in films prior to the Sixties, the advent of rock-and-roll meant that a memorable, popular song could be played on the radio as part of the Top 40. 2001: A Space Odyssey married science fiction and classical music, including The Blue Danube Waltz in synchronization with the docking of a Pan-Am space place to an orbital station. Cross-pollination is just beginning in this era, with the fruits to be seen in later decades. Links in the list of popular films above go to songs best remembered from the work.
Of the twenty movies listed above, fifteen are adaptations. It is not until 1965, though, that an original work appears, and even that film, Thunderball, is part of a franchise. Also of note, two movies were made in conjunction with a novelist; Thunderball and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Of the adaptations, three – My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, and Funny Girl – were based on stage works with the remaining dozen adapting literature. Movies have taken over the niche that theatre once held. Broadway is still key, but film and television have filled the gap that was once vaudeville.
The ratio of adaptation-to-original is now 3:1, worse than the early decades but an improvement over the previous. Stage plays are still being adapted, but not to the degree as in the early years. Adaptations remain popular, though, even over fifty years after the film industry began. The rise of the auteur director could change things into the Seventies.