If you were to go see The Giver this weekend without knowing a thing about the book it was based on, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s some sort of suburban Hunger Games ripoff. In reality, Lois Lowry’s 1993 novel predates just about every modern YA film franchise, from The Hunger Games to Divergent to The Maze Runner—you might even say it established the authoritarian dystopia motif that’s in vogue these days. Unfortunately, all of those other books beat it to the big screen. Instead of looking like the groundbreaking, thoughtful story that’s in the novel, it looks like it’s shamelessly aping its big-screen contemporaries—or worse, dumbed down to suit the times.
Sometimes Hollywood drags its feet when adapting a seminal work, and ends up being defined by the newer, more derivative work that beats it to theaters. Here are six other examples of this sad phenomenon at work.
Based on A Princess of Mars, the 1917 novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter is the science-fiction story that inspired giants of science fiction like Ray Bradbury or Robert Heinlien. Decades of sci-fi owe their existence to Burroughs story, but the marketing campaign never bothered to tell anyone why it was significant—or really much of anything. Which is a shame; the movie wasn’t half bad.
The Golden Compass
With The Lord of the Rings over and done with, New Line Cinemas was eager to set up Phillip Pullman’s subversive and popular His Dark Materials trilogy as the next big fantasy series of movies. However, a severely neutered 2007 adaptation of The Golden Compass that removed any bite from the book’s narrative left behind a generic shell of a fantasy movie that couldn’t compete with the still-kicking Harry Potter. Even the Narnia movies held more cachet, as the series slow implosion was still a year away, with the 2008 release of Prince Caspian.
Although it’s one of the better video-game adaptations—an admittedly low bar to clear—the 2006 Silent Hill film came out when its source material was entering a prolonged slump. Although there was (and still is) a lot of love for the early games that the movie is inspired by, the J-Horror imagery that The Ring inspired ruined the novelty for moviegoers who weren’t fans.
An unabashed tribute to the Richard Donner movies, Superman Returns felt instantly dated. A shame, too—the cast was great, but they weren’t asked to portray Clark Kent and co. Instead they had to play the people who played them almost 30 years before. Were it not for the well-documented development hell the Superman franchise had been in for years, we might have gotten a very different movie.
Seeker: The Dark Is Rising
An unfortunate victim of post-Harry Potter sameyness, The Dark Is Rising is the second book in a much-beloved sequence of fantasy novels begun by Susan Cooper in 1963. But you wouldn’t know that from looking at the movie.
Edge of Tomorrow
Adapted from a graphic novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Edge of Tomorrow was a legitimately good movie that looked too similar to generic and boring movies like Elysium and Oblivion—that the latter also starred Tom Cruise did not help. Also, the fact that this movie has gotten two terribly bland titles when the source material has the wonderfully distinctive title All You Need Is Kill is astounding.