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 Filmsite.org as a base. Last time, the Eighties turned out to be a complete reversal of the Fifties, with only three movies adapted from other works. Granted, the Eighties were known for sequelitis, but the continuing stories came from an original work.
The Nineties saw the introduction of the the biggest game changer to date, access of Internet to the masses. Prior, only government sites and universities provided email and access to Usenet newsgroups with their accounts. Companies like AOL, CompuServe, and GEnie brought the Internet to the home user. The Eternal September began the day AOL provided access to Usenet in September 1993. Compared to today, Internet access was slow and not very user friendly. Speeds were measured in bits. Downloads took days. Usenet, however, allowed people to talk about a wide variety of topics*.
Sequelitis continued, with varying qualities. Disney animation returned in force, having gone through lean years in the Seventies and Eighties. The disaster film made a brief comeback, though the genre succumbed to weak blockbusters that were more effect than story Computer generated graphics became affordable and reliable enough for regular use, allowing for shots that would be impossible to film using a practical effect. The advent of CGI effects allowed the disaster movie to return, with natural disasters replacing airplane disasters**.
As mentioned with the Eighties, there is a barometer of popularity. “Weird Al” Yankovic is still writing songs parodying movies. The different now is that the songs are coming out far closer to the movie than before. “Jurassic Park” and “Gump” both were released after the titular movies were. The cover of the 1993 album, Alapalooza, parodied the posters for Jurassic Park. “The Saga Begins“, though, was written before the release of The Phantom Menace and came shortly afterwards. Weird Al used Internet rumour, trailers, and other information to write the song in time for the movie’s release.
The top movies of the decade, by year:
Home Alone – original. The antics of Macauley Culkins’ Kevin had people returning to see the movie multiple times during the Christmas movie season.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day – a sequel to 1984’s The Terminator. Terminator 2 continued the story of the future war between man and machine, with humanity on the losing side.
Aladdin – adaptation of the Arabian tale. Aladdin was Disney’s comeback movie but almost lost a nomination for best screenplay due to the improv of Robin Williams as the genie.
Jurassic Park – adaptated from the Michael Crichton novel of the same name. Jurassic Park is one of the last movies to remain in theatres for over a year from release. The success of the movie has made it more difficult for other dinosaur films to succeed because of heightened expectations.
Forrest Gump – adaptated from the 1986 novel by Winston Groom of the same name.
The Lion King – original but influenced by both the Biblical Moses and by William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. While Aladdin was a huge hit for Disney, The Lion King is considered the start of the Disney Renaissance.
Toy Story – original. Pixar didn’t specifically base the story on the toys used.
Batman Forever – sequel to the 1989 adaptation, Batman and its sequel, Batman Returns.
Independence Day – original. Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin came up with the story while promoting Stargate. Independence Day combined the disaster movie with science fiction.
Twister – original. Part of the disaster genre’s resurgence. Twister was the first movie released on DVD.
Titanic – original, using the sinking of the RMS Titanic as the backdrop for a doomed romance.
Men in Black – adaptation, based on the comic, The Men in Black, by Lowell Cunningham and published by Aircel.
Saving Private Ryan – original, based on the D-Day invasion of Omaha Beach by American forces.
Armageddon – original. Armageddon is one of two releases dealing with asteroid strikes, with Deep Impact having been released two and half months prior.
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace – sequel, well, prequel to the 1977 movie, Star Wars.
The Sixth Sense – original. M. Night Shamalyan made his mark with this film with a then-unexpected twist.
Toy Story 2 – sequel to the 1995 animated film, Toy Story. Pixar’s reputation was cemented with the sequel.
Of the movies above, nine are original, two are sequels to original works, one is a prequel to an original work, four are adaptations, and one is a sequel to an adaptation. I have counted sequels as original works for this series. However, sequels of adaptations add a new problem. This isn’t the first decade to have such a film. Demetrius and the Gladiators from the Fifties was the first and was counted separately. Batman Forever will be counted separately as well.
The Star Wars prequel presents a new conundrum. It has been sixteen years since Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, so is The Phantom Menance a sequel or a reboot? Return of the Jedi was the end of the original story, at least on film. The Phantom Menace introduces new characters and shows one returning character at a much younger age. For purposes of tallying the numbers, The Phantom Menace will be treated as a reboot, thus an adaptation. These decisions will get less and less clear-cut in coming decades.
With those rulings, that makes eleven original, five adaptations, and one sequel to an adaptation. The percentage of original films drops, but the majority of popular movies for the Nineties are still original works, continuing the reversal started in the Eighties. Of the adaptations, there are two based on novels, one reboot of a movie, one adaptation of a legend, and one adaptation of a comic book. There is a variety of original works, which reflects the variety shown in the popular movies. That’s now two decades in a row where the originals finally outnumber the adaptations.
* It is best not to contemplate the variety. The hierarchy was fairly broad, but for those who were into topics that couldn’t get a large base for support, the alt.* hierarchy existed.
** There may never be another airplane disaster film. Airplane! is too well known, to he point where Sharknado 2 opened with an homage to the film. Airplane! has entered the pop culture subconscious to the point where the gags are known even if the source isn’t.