The Top Ten Genre Adaptations/Sequels/Remakes that Hollywood Should Make

So hey, when are they gonna make the movie?

When it comes to genre fans – and I use the word “genre” here as an umbrella term, so that I can group all horror/sci-fi/fantasy/etc. properties under one roof –  we’ve all got our own ideas about which of our favorite properties should be put up on the big screen – or which properties should be rebooted, remade or just generally “fixed.”  For every horror fan clamoring for them to finally get off their asses and make an awesome, Jason-focused Friday the 13th flick  (ahem), there’s another one shouting that what Hollywood really needs to do is make a big-budget, Christoper Nolan-ized version of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.  So when one compiles a top ten list such as this one, I feel strongly that it’s best to chuck any attempt at objectivity out the window.  When one writes a top ten list like this, it’s incredibly silly that pretend that he or she is speaking for anyone other than himself or herself.

I mean, seriously?  The truth is, you’ll never find an objective top ten list.  Top ten lists are automatically subjective by their very nature; they exist as a way for us feeble mortals to make-believe that we have some kind of control over the universe, so much control, in fact, that we can actually organize it according to our whims.

So, without further ado, here is my highly subjective list of the top ten potential sci-fi/horror/fantasy/speculative/yadda-yadda-yadda properties that Hollywood should take under consideration:

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10. Brave New World, directed by Ridley Scott

When it comes to the great dystopian novels, I’ll admit that I’m highly partial to George Orwell’s 1984.  However, there’s a lot to be said for Aldous Huxley’s horrifically prophetic vision of a world consumed by its obsession with trivialities, drug-induced brainwashing and genetically-engineered test tube babies…and unlike 1984, which in the actual year of 1984 was marvelously adapted into a film starring John Hurt, there has yet to be a great adaption of Huxley’s novel.

Really, it’s a bit of a shock that this movie hasn’t happened yet.  In today’s world, where society is being consumed by wave after wave of mindlessly solipsistic Facebook statuses and Tweets, people spend most of their time amusing themselves instead of seeking out knowledge, actual human interaction is lowering and we’re coming closer and closer to becoming the genetically-engineered humans that Huxley envisioned in 1931, a Brave New World film could possibly open up the general public’s eyes about the inherent danger of what Huxley was warning us about, all those years ago.

Now, why do I name Ridley Scott as the director?  One – because Scott has previously expressed interest.  Two – because I can’t imagine a director who could possibly have a more interesting, more appropriate cinematic vision of Huxley’s world.  Considering that Scott is the man who directed such films as Alien, Blade Runner, Prometheus and the famous 1984 Apple Macintosh commercial, Brave New World would definitely be right up his alley.

So, that’s ten. What’s number nine?  Don’t worry, this is an obvious one…

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9.  Evil Dead 4, AKA Army of Darkness 2, AKA whatever the hell they want to call it

Yeah, that’s right.  I said Evil Dead Four—not Two.  While I actually was surprised by how much I enjoyed the Evil Dead remake, I still don’t really look at it as a true Evil Dead film. Let’s face it, while Evil Dead 1 might’ve been a “real” horror flick, for most of us Evil Dead fans, the film that really made us fall in love with this franchise was Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, with its splattery combination of horror, scathing satire and Three Stooges-style slapstick.

Now, even though Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness are easily two of my favorite movies of all time, there’s a reason that this one is relatively low on my highly subjective top ten list; because really, we don’t need an Evil Dead 4.  Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead trilogy actually stands pretty well on its own; there’s a definitive character arc for Ash Williams, and the way that the franchise cleverly slides from all-out horror to goofy, Ray Harryhausen-style pastiche is really quite brilliant.

If Sam Raimi does ever move ahead on a proposed fourth movie (which has been “in the workings” for the last two decades) and stays faithful to the quirky low-budget feel of the original three, then I’ll definitely be in the front row…but as it is, I’m pretty happy with the original trilogy, as is.

So, no, the fans don’t need an Evil Dead 4.  But do we want it?  Hell yeah, we do.

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8. Martian Manhunter

So, here’s one that’s  totally out of left field.

Yes, I know that this might seem bizarrely random.  Most people will only recognize this green-skinned Martian shapechanger – real name J’onn J’onnz – from the Justice League cartoon.  Even in the comics, Martian Manhunter is primarily known only as a member of the team, and his individual comic appearances are pretty limited.   DC Comics has never really given Martian Manhunter much of a chance to strike out on his own; since the New 52 event, he’s even been exiled from the Justice League!

However, there’s a tremendous amount of untapped potential in this character – and I think that film is absolutely the proper medium for him.  Why?  How can they do it?  You wanna know?  Okay, I’ll tell you how to make a badass Martian Manhunter movie on a low budget, and how make it sell:

Focus on Detective John Jones.

For those of us who aren’t serious comic geeks, I’ll explain:  back in his earlier appearances (and occasionally in the years afterward, as well as in his TV appearances on Smallville) Martian Manhunter, as a shapeshafter, took on the “earthling” identity of a detective named John Jones.

So then, my proposal is this; make a dark, gritty, noir-style detective story starring Detective Jones, where everything at first seems down-to-earth, realistic and suitably Nolan-ized.  This way, it will fit perfectly within the post-Man of Steel DC film universe  –and then slowly, carefully, allow the sci-fi elements to bleed into the narrative, as the film slowly unveils the fact that Jones’ actual identity is J’onn J’onnzz, an alien, and that he has come to Earth for a very specific reason.  From here, we can reveal that the seemingly “realistic” world we’ve been inhabiting up until this point isn’t quite what it seems.

…and that, my friends, is how you make a Martian Manhunter movie work.

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7. Duke Nukem

These days, ol’ Duke Nukem’s street reputation isn’t necessarily in the best shape around; the misogynistic, stogie-smokin’, ultimate action hero stereotype has been a bit wounded ever since the development cycle of Duke Nukem Forever passed the ten year mark.

However, DNF aside, there’s no denying that in the 90s, Duke Nukem 3D was one of the best games around; back when its contemporaries  were still imitating the dark, space station corridors of Doom, 3D Realms was blowing the competition away with its combination of gut-busting humor, real life settings, startling interactivity (“I can use the pool table? I can use the urinal?!”) and a central character who – unlike the vast majority of computer game protagonists – couldn’t keep his mouth shut.  Duke was always full of one-liners after one-liners, simultaneously mocking and celebrating all of the action movies he was playing homage to.

As a movie, Duke Nukem would be pretty tough to successfully adapt; the biggest risk I can see is that filmmakers might allow the material to be too goofy, humorous and/or lewd, to the point where it became unwatchable.  What made Duke 3D work so well – and what most of the Duke games that have come afterward seem to forget – is that while Duke himself was certainly a ridiculous character, the alien invasion taking place around him was a lot darker—and even scary, at points.

No, to make a Duke Nukem movie work, what we need is some like Paul Verhoeven – or at the very least, someone who can master that Verhoeven-esque approach to these sorts of action movies.  Why?  Because in many ways, Duke 3D is like a video game version of a Verhoeven sci-fi movie. Verhoeven was the director of Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers, all three of which are highly satirical and at times quite humorous, yet always maintain just enough seriousness to make the threat still be menacing.  If Duke ever hits the silver screen, that’s exactly the kind of approach that’ll make it really shine.

Photograph by Wilfried Bauer.

Photograph by Wilfried Bauer.

6. At The Mountains of Madness

Guillermo Del Toro (the director of Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy and Pacific Rim) has been fighting to make this happen for years; it’s one of those “seems too good to be true” scenarios, but God, let’s keep our fingers crossed.

The many works of H.P. Lovecraft, though widely celebrated in horror circles across the world, have been largely untouched by cinema…largely because, for the most part, they’re pretty unfilmable. Lovecraft’s cold, wordy prose –  and his “monsters” that are more likely to drive men insane with a mere glance than they are to slash through horny teenagers – would be extremely difficult to successfully transfer to celluloid without betraying their essence.  Sure, Re-Animator was awesome, but the original Herbert West: Re-Animator story was extremely different from Lovecraft’s other stories to begin with, and the film’s success was due less to Lovecraft than to it being a wonderfully dark, cynical tribute to 50s horror/sci-fi flicks.

At the Mountains of Madness, though, has enormous potential on the big screen.  Compared to Lovecraft’s shorter works, Mountains of Madness has a far more developed storyline, a number of fascinatingly creepy visuals and a very unique vision that’s about as Lovecraftian as a Lovecraft tale can get.  There’s probably no better director for this than Del Toro, but since Del Toro’s efforts to film this have been fraught with peril, and he seems to have several dozen different projects on his plate at any given time, the chances of this movie happening – at least in the near future – seem pretty slim.

Art by Bernie Wrightson.

Art by Bernie Wrightson.

5. A REAL Frankenstein movie

Yeah, you heard me.  Don’t get me wrong, the 1931 James Whale film is a classic – a classic that I still watch today.  But it has almost nothing to do with Mary Shelley’s original novel.

And I know what you’re thinking; didn’t Kenneth Branagh’s movie faithfully translate the book?  Well, not really.  Sure, it followed the storyline more faithfully than any Frankenstein movie before it, at times almost down to the letter – but in doing this, Branagh’s film completely and utterly sacrificed the dark, gothic tone of the original work.  This isn’t a minor point, because while the film is faithful to the novel on a surface level, all of the content’s meaning, passion and importance is stripped away from it.  Sure, the Branagh film follows the same plot points as the novel, but it rushes through them so quickly – in a blurry deluge of bad acting, bright colors and over-the-top sequences – that I find it hard to imagine that any Mary Shelley diehards were particularly satisfied.

No, I think it’s time that we finally had a real, authentic Frankenstein movie.  A movie that’s true to the spirit of the book, highlighting the classic Prometheus-inspired themes and capturing the tortured nature of Shelley’s protagonist, Victor Frankenstein.

Visually, it seems obvious to me that the movie should take inspiration from the gothic, ink-heavy drawings of Bernie Wrightson (see above image).  No artist has better captured the novel’s eerie atmosphere, and his depiction of the creature is easily the best ever; just imagine Wrightson’s monster with hideous yellow skin, grinning fiendishly as it quietly stalks the Arctic mountains.  Seriously, the visuals alone could be breathtaking.

This is another project that Guillermo Del Toro has mentioned quite a bit, dangling it before our eyes like a rare coin.  C’mon, Guillermo.  Let’s make it happen.

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4. Deathlok

This is a total shot in the dark, I know.  Deathlok, though he’s easily one of the most fascinating antiheroes in Marvel Comics history, is a fairly obscure character.  Over the years, Deathlok has been sidelined, forgotten about or mucked around with many times, but the central concept has never lost its potency.

Created in the 1970s – and thus predating such popular franchises as the Terminator, Robocop and Neuromancer – the early Deathlok comic books told the story of Luther Manning, a soldier who is killed in action, only to reawaken when his mind is placed in the body of a ruthless killing machine.   Now wandering through the ruins of New York City in a horrifying, post-apocalyptic future, Deathlok rebels against his programming and takes the fight for freedom back to his corporate tormentors.

So, how can Marvel Studios make this work as a movie?

Hire me to write the script, that’s how!  But in all seriousness, while I recognize the unlikelihood of this movie ever happening (especially with that Robocop remake on the horizon), I think that a Deathlok film could make an excellent addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The technological, transhumanist themes that Deathlok explores are very rooted in contemporary fears, concerns and lifestyles.  We’re all slowly becoming cyborgs, but is it right for this to happen? Should we allow technology to infiltrate every aspect of our lives, and if we do, are we still human beings?

My suggestion?  Take cues from the excellent 2010 limited series, Deathlok: The Demolisher, but focus more on Luther’s humanity than the comic did.   Deathlok is an amazing sci-fi movie just waiting to happen; hopefully someday, the right executive will be brave enough to take a chance on it.

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3. I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream

Originally published in 1967, Harlan Ellison’s post-apocalyptic short story is one of the darkest, most unrelentingly brutal science fiction stories of all time.  Set in the future, I Have No Mouth  tells the story of AM – a highly-emotional, brilliant supercomputer that gains consciousness and, in a fit of rage, uses it to completely obliterate the human race.  Still not satisfied, AM spares only four men and one woman from this mass genocide, and proceeds to subject these five people to a variety of hellish tortures—both physical and psychological—keeping them alive for over a century of pain, suffering and guilt.  AM doesn’t have any master plan.  He’s not the classic cool, calculating, methodical machine that most science fiction stories depict.  No, he’s just angry.  He’s already destroyed the human race and the tortures he conducts on these five remaining humans – Ted, Benny, Ellen, Gorrister and Nimdok – is nothing more than the final stage of a long, drawn out, pointless revenge.

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is one of the most horrifying science fiction stories of its kind.  Movies likes Cube, Saw and the like owe Ellison’s tale a great debt; it was certainly an enormous inspiration for me when I wrote my 2011 novella, EnslavementWhile there might be budgetary concerns, I think that with a thrifty director and a great cast, this could be an edgy science fiction thriller for the ages.

Now, as far as expanding the short story into a full movie, and giving it a proper narrative arc?  There’s an easy solution for that: follow the game.  By that, I mean the excellent 1995 computer game of the same name which, with supervision from Ellison himself, was a terrific adaptation of the novel and easily  one of the most underrated point-and-click adventure games of the 90s.  The game provides an excellent blueprint for how to expand the characters and where to take the plot.  The game fills in the back story for all five characters, showing us how each of them has deep, personal flaws that made them attractive to AM – particularly Nimdok, who is revealed to be a former Nazi scientist.

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2. David Lynch’s The Metamorphosis

Oh come on, this is obvious!  A match made in heaven!  How has it possibly not happened yet?

Franz Kafka’s famously surreal short story – the depressing tale of Gregor Samsa, a man who wakes up as a gigantic insect and is subsequently mistreated by the very family he once worked so hard for – is the sort of bizarre tale that seems made for the director of such surrealistic works as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and and Dumbland.  It’s not just the premise, it’s the execution.  Much like Lynch’s work, The Metamorphosis doesn’t overly dramatize its insane premise; it presents it very matter-of-factly, never trying to explain it.  It treats Gregor Samsa’s mutation much as if he had suddenly became infected with leprosy or AIDS.

So, why hasn’t this happened yet?  Well…I wouldn’t totally rule it out.

As it turns out, David Lynch has actually been attracted to Kafka’s story for a long, long time.  In fact, he actually wrote a script for it all the way back in the early 80s.  He has demonstrated interest in resuming the project a number of times, but never committed himself due to such concerns as budget, a desire to revise his script and so on.

So hey, maybe it’ll happen someday.  We can hope.   In the meantime, as we cross our fingers, here are Mr. Lynch’s own thoughts on the subject:

“It’s a story that millions of people have read and about a hundred-thousand people have written about, and each one has seen it from a slightly different angle. But…it’s just rich with things. But there’s a certain kind of dark humor that I love about Kafka and it is his stuff that thrills me to my soul. It’s just a completely perfect mood and story and characters. I like pretty nearly everything about it.”

– David Lynch

 

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Art by Jae Lee.

1. The Dark Tower

And finally, we come to this…as if anything else could have taken the top spot.

This one has almost happened a number of times, but no one’s yet had the guts to pull the trigger, and it’s easy to understand why.  Stephen King’s enormous, seven book fantasy/horror/sci-fi epic, the Dark Tower series has the potential to be the next huge Hollywood franchise – but if it isn’t done absolutely perfectly, it could also be the next devastating flop.

The series is Stephen King’s magnum opus, his great epic, and it not only ties together all of his work – from The Stand  to Salem’s Lot – but it also manages to reference such diverse sources as The Wizard of Oz, Doctor Doom and Harry Potter.  It’s an undertaking that would intimidate any filmmaker.  It has all of the potential to be the next Lord of the Rings, if the producers play their cards right.

If.  That’s the key word: if. The Dark Tower is a series that they really, really can’t afford to mess up, so the fact that everyone in Hollywood is stepping very carefully around is honestly a very good sign.

I’m sure it’ll happen someday.  It might be five years from now, or ten, but I have no doubt that at some point we’ll see Roland chasing the man in black through the desert.  It’s just a question of when that happens…and really, if we want to see the magnificent adaptation that these books deserve, let’s hope they don’t rush it.

 

So, there’s my attempt at numbering reality.  Thoughts?  comments?  Your own highly subjective top ten lists?  Fire away!

-Nicholas Conley

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