Hollywood Is Out of Unoriginal Ideas

UPDATE: Welcome, any new visitors coming in via WordPress Discover. I’m Chris, a freelance writer based in Chicago who’s been writing about movie marketing campaigns since 2004 both here and here. If you like what you see you can follow Cinematic Slant on WordPress, via RSS or on Twitter or Facebook. You can also find me on Twitter.

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.

Author: Chris Thilk

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist with over 15 years of experience in online strategy and content marketing. He lives in the Chicago suburbs.

53 thoughts on “Hollywood Is Out of Unoriginal Ideas”

  1. I agree. If I’ve seen the first one I’m not inclined to see the next and would rather see a good ‘little’ film. With the exception of Blade Runner 2049 which , for me, was a very well made film. But I don’t think it was a box office success. Thanks for this post i’m glad Discover discovered it.

  2. I’ve been saying this for a while. It’s not just the superheroes. It’s everything. A female Ghostbusters? Why did we need that? A sequel to Top Gun 20 years later? Did anyone under 35 see the original? There is no creativity. I could go on and on.

  3. Ray Bradbury wrote in excess of 500 short stories, yet very few have been turned into movies. A Sound Of Thunder was one that was. Successful movies were made out of some of his longer books as well. Surely, there must be other ones out of 500 that can be made and that’s just one author!

  4. My boyfriend and I were just discussing this earlier in the week! We went to see Justice League and looked at one another with exasperation and an eye roll when the new Tomb Raider preview came on.
    Not only is todays cinema lacking is originality, there is also a trend of selecting younger and younger actors/actresses for the roles. Just look at Spiderman and now Lara Croft.

  5. I imagine that we will see a new wave of original ideas in the coming year for two reasons. Hollywood IS cleaning house, and women are looking to replace the old, male, white, out-of-touch decisionmakers. Add in the mounting pressure to compete with online and cable serials and the industry will have to take some risks. I’m hoping.

  6. I haven’t been to the pictures in years, Chris.They don’t entertain me any more. That should be its primary function as far as I’m concerned. But when it comes to running out of ideas, I don’t think Hollywood has the monopoly. As for reality TV, don’t get me started.

  7. Yup, so tired of these recycled no mind movies coming out of Hollyweird.

    In the past few years, I’ve started watching both the classics like Shane, All Quiet on the Western Front, The treasure of the Sierra Madre, etc. as well as really getting into foreign films like Headhunters (so good), The Hunt, Force Majeur, Tangerines, etc. and foreign t.v. Shows (Doc Marten, Luther, Sherlock Holmes) which are such a breath of fresh air, and the writing is so original!

    To be fair there are some great American t.v. Shows too (Curb Your Enthusiasm, all the Fargo seasons, Better Caul Saul,) but the movies for the most part definitely leave a lot to be desired.

  8. So true I infact feel that this has just touched on every essential in choices to make before filmmaking. They should borrow some advice from characters such as Johnny Depp who go out and try everything, even the ones they’ve never done before. For example there are some characters who (I won’t mention here) if you see them in a film you can point out directly the genre of film. Which isn’t good. But take the example of Johnny Depp, you can never be sure if it’s comedy, horror, action, fiction, adventure, crime, suspense, psychological or even the supernatural. I mean, he’s done everything. And by everything I do mean everything. You van never predict what he’ll do next. That is exactly what we want from films, am I right?

  9. Hollywood will continue to churn out crap so long as it makes money.

    “Batman v Superman” was a horrible film, but was immensely profitable. Hence, the excruciating “Justice League.” Finally faced with a financial disaster, WB is now looking to redo the entire DCU. Will they do the smart thing and let Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot set the artistic vision for the series?

    The Marvel movies have relied on charismatic actors to carry their films, and the upcoming departure of Robert Downey and Chris Evans could finally derail the money train, as the disappointing reaction to the latest X-Men film (without Hugh Jackman) suggests. I believe rebooting their existing characters with new actors would be a huge mistake; Marvel has a huge stable of fantastic characters, and can avoid superhero fatigue by expanding, rather than rebooting, its universe.

  10. I personally think the fact endless sequels (Terminator Genisys) and imitations (Justice League) aren’t doing well at the box office WILL be what eventually sways Hollywood in another direction. If people don’t want to pay the money to see it, they’ll be forced to try something else. But I agree that this probably won’t happen for some time, unfortunately, as big-movie companies are reluctant to take risks.

  11. The same thing is happening in music too. The really major Record labels aren’t signing new talent, they rely on artists that they know will sell, the likes of Rihanna, Beyoncé, Beiber. They are guaranteed to sell records as opposed to new artists that could sink or swim. As a result we seem to be bombarded with the same song over and over again with slight variations that is actually about nothing just in case it offends someone and doesn’t sell as well. And the record companies are made this was because few people actually buy music anymore, meaning that record labels simply can’t afford to take risks. Perhaps it is the same phenomenon at work in Hollywood?

  12. Love your take. I’ve felt the same thing. My most recent Blog touches on a similar thing – from a very different angle. And not as eloquently written!

  13. Omg, yes! This is everything. It’s getting old, every movie trailer on today is just a re-make. People want new ideas, new stories.

  14. This was really thought provoking content! I deeply love the classics, so it’s sad to see a such a the once creative film industry in Hollywood, no longer truely creating.

  15. There are many original stories waiting to be told ..in English. We have to remember there is a whole world of movies in other languages that aren’t even dubbed for English language audience.

    Here are is characterization that is extremely rare in movies: more stories involving interracial love and dynamics in such families. Many, many stories of immigrant experiences..they await to be told. Sometimes it feels like Hollywood is lazy and not being adventurous enough… also money making machine to choose “relatable” experiences but only from a narrow perspective.

  16. I agree. I’ve gotten to the point I don’t bother watching remakes of movies I loved when I was younger. The remakes are usually not as good as the originals and some are getting overplayed.
    I have 2 drafts I’m working on that I’m hoping to get traditionally published in the next few years and they are as original as I can get (both were based on dreams I had when I was younger)
    I have read some really good books that would have made killer movies, but I guess they just don’t have the appeal some books seem to have and a lot of the original movies I have seen from books barely have any real depth, but lots of sex and violence.

  17. Great post- I wonder how many producers and executives look to the late 90s and early 00s and are trying to catch that same lightning in a bottle of the first major super hero movies- there were loads of them. The awful Daredevil movie, the Fantastic Four; it seems like the prevalent belief is that these franchises are always going to make at least a small profit, so they’re safe. Along the way, they gut the story to make it more appealing or understandable. What was done to Watchmen is a great example. I think that we’ve run out of truly compelling stories to explore with a lot of the overdone super heroes, we’re too afraid to explore the lesser-known characters, and are stuck in a major rut. People will still show up to see Transformers. Films that are a little more cerebral are still a hard sell.

  18. I think making movies on existing properties can be good if they take a different spin on it. Like how WB made Superman grounded instead of the campier 70s version. However, I do agree we should start promoting original ideas. It’d be nice to have a balance.

  19. Can they not remake flops? Like Eragon? The book was fantastic, but the ruined it in theaters. If you are going to “fix” something, work on something broken.

  20. I’m new to wordpress, but just read your article. As an avid fan of classic, original cinema, I couldn’t agree more with your assessment. I have had several conversations about the same topic with an old buddy of mine, with whom I grew up experiencing theatrical debuts of movies like Pulp Fiction, Se7en, The Usual Suspects, and Fight Club. I feel like the 90s may have been the last decade for original movies and creative adaptations.

    During the same period of time, while my interest in Hollywood has slowly waned, my interest in television miniseries has progressively waxed. Starting with the Sopranos in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and onto series like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Battlestar Galactica, Game of Thrones, and True Detective. I am now left wondering if the miniseries, with an average of eight one-hour episodes per season is naturally a better format for storytelling than a two-to-three hour cinematic extravaganza. This might especially be the case when considering ancillary technologies such as DVRs/streaming services, which allow the user to throttle the degree of their consumption in one sitting.

    A good example is the comparisons (and there are many out there on YouTube) of the movie Se7en to season 1 of True Detective. At a very high level, they are both stories of a pair of detectives on the hunt for a serial killer. However, the difference between the two formats for storytelling are readily apparent when looking at how well developed the comparative characters were between the two — comparing the introspective, cynical characters portrayed by Morgan Freeman in Se7en vs. the one played by Mathew McConaughey in True Detective. True Detective just had more time to explore the plot and characters.

    In the end I too want Hollywood to get its head out of its ass. However, I’ve gotta ask, is that merely me being nostalgic? Am I holding on to the past at a time when there is a much better medium for storytelling and story-listening?

  21. One idea Hollywood hasn’t tried yet is a movie producer preying on young female actors who’s found drawn & quartered in the middle of a movie set in Brentwood. There are over 20 young suspects who may have been responsible for his fitting demise. In the ending it’s found that all had attended a sexual violence seminar together. They told their stories in a group meeting & each found out they weren’t alone in their pain. Over coffee, wine & pot they came to the conclusion that the producer must pay with his life. It was a group slaughter involving all sufferers where no one ended up being charged for a crime.

  22. I’m so burnt out on comic book movies, I kinda wish we’d get a break from them! lol

  23. I read somewhere that Marvel was planning to do a She Hulk movie back in the nineties. They’d already done a photo shoot with Brigitte Nielsen (from Rocky 4) as She Hulk. I guess it got shelved.

  24. I love this… “Nostalgia is eating itself” So true. Just look at Disney putting out a seemingly endless string of live-action remakes of old cartoons. Eventually, do you think audiences will get exhausted with them?

  25. The illusion that the film industry is in a creative paralysis is more a matter of theatrical presentation than in actual production. There are more independent and foreign films of merit produced now than at any time in history, yet where are the venues for American audiences to see them? One can’t distribute a worthy film if the thousands of theaters open to alternative bookings away from the blockbuster mentality have folded up while the megaplex screens become the meat grinders for opening weekend lucre.

  26. I worked in the US film industry for 16 years and totally agree that the Hollywoood mainstream is grasping at straws these days in an effort to remain relevant and profitable. The success of so many indie films is definitely an indication that adult audiences are ready and appreciative of original ideas presented in an interesting way. When will ‘Hollywood’ catch up?

  27. Ever so correct, a great post. I thought that maybe it was just a demographic problem, whereas Holllywood was intentionally just targeting 13 year old boys. I loved the Lord of the Rings, as there is depth and character to the story. It seems Hollywood is forgetting about real story telling and over relying on CGI. I know it’s an economic problem, but if they continue with this strategy, it will be to there peril and America will lose another business to another country–Bollywood is just waiting.

  28. I agree, Hollywood needs to use some more original ideas! Look at how many Star Wars movies there are or Pirates of the Carribean. It’s just ridiculous at this point.

  29. I have said it before, and will say it again and again, despite the rolling of eyes of those who have heard me say it again and again, as an unspoken expression of dismay; the exasperated sighs, the polite grunts, the curious noises intended to distract me from saying it again and again. But it must be said – again and again until it becomes the standard of Hollywood and other venues of storytelling:

    Tell. Me. A. Good. Story.

    Nice to meet you.

    – Jim Hess


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