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One of the frequent criticisms leveled against Hollywood is that it’s obsessed with existing properties. It parades an endless series of adaptations, sequels and other derivative material to the audience in the hopes that familiarity with the originals or the source material will translate into there being a built-in market for this new version.
Decrying how the issue is only getting worse or more pervasive is a time-honored tradition, though it’s one that has built up some speed in the last 10 years as movie studios seek to build shared cinematic universes centered on familiar core characters. Sometimes that results in an Iron Man. Other times you get The Mummy.
What seems to be building speed is not just the adaptation of existing material but taking second or third stabs at doing so in a very short period of time. Consider the following two examples:
Amazon is creating some sort of adaptation of Lord of the Rings, though that planned series seems to be focusing on the events that lead up to the story that was told in the classic novels as well as the landmark films from just 15 years ago.
Damon Lindelof is continuing to work on developing a Watchmen TV series, claiming that a story of the antiheroes is essential now despite the Alan Moore-penned comic series still being widely available and a movie version released in 2008.
Those are by no means the only cases where Hollywood seems to believe there are only a handful of properties and characters available. There have been three cinematic Hulks, Spider-Men and Supermen in my lifetime and five Batmen. Each new take varies from the previous mainly in the shading, not the actual structure.
Meanwhile, other characters continue to sit on the sidelines. Wonder Woman only *just* made her feature film debut. I would have traded at least one of those Hulk movies for one with She-Hulk, who could have provided something fresh to say because of the differences between her and her cousin.
That’s all without even getting into the plethora of wholly original material that’s out there. While not every story yet to be adapted into another medium is worthy of making the transition, many are. But they sit unused because someone has deemed them less commercially viable than A) What’s already been done or B) Another attempt at what’s already been done.
Hollywood is rightfully chided for relying so heavily on nostalgia in guiding its creative direction. That was the focus of a lot of commentaries back in 2007 when the first Transformers movie came out, that it was shamelessly appealing to Gen Xers who grew up with the classic cartoon, comic, and toys. While there were other (lesser) cartoons for the franchise, it was 20 years between the end of that first series and the movie, enough time for that original audience to have kids who could then be exposed to the characters around a shared experience.
Now it seems we’re lucky if we can go a decade between reboots and alternate adaptations. There not only isn’t enough time for a new audience demographic to emerge, there’s barely enough time for us to stop discussing the first one. Nostalgia is eating itself, the window shrinking further each passing year.
What’s all the more shocking about this is that it’s not demonstrably working. Justice League opened to less than $100 million dollars this past weekend, the latest example of a big movie flopping expensively. Meanwhile, The Big Sick, Get Out, Lady Bird and other smaller films featuring original stories told by original creators are not only successes critically but also financially.
At some point Hollywood will realize it doesn’t need *another* take on an existing property that’s already been adapted once or twice in the last 30 years. Unfortunately, that probably won’t happen until we’ve been presented with the second cinematic version of “The Office” that tries to create a shared universe for a variety of potential spinoffs.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.