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5 Film Adaptations That Would’ve Been Better Off As Originals

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Kutztown chapter.

Adaptations are some of the most contentious forms of art in popular culture. From hardcore fans to newbies who haven’t viewed the original material to those who consider each work as its own separate story, everyone has a different take on what should and shouldn’t be remade. I’ve talked about Expectations Violations Theory (EVT), the idea that we judge experiences more harshly if we have a previous experience to base them on, in a previous article. I’ve also talked about adaptations that defied EVT and succeeded anyway. But what about reboots that didn’t fare so well? Here are a few films that are extremely enjoyable on their own merits but failed to impress audiences of the source material:

  1. Jem and the Holograms (2015)

An adaptation of 80s TV show Jem, the film was panned by fans and critics alike, earning back only $2.3 million of its $5 million budget. Fans mourned the loss of a true-to-form adaptation that would’ve captured the bright 80s aesthetic and featured lead Jerrica Benton as a girlboss who runs her own record company. Instead, director Jon Chu depicted Jem as a young aspiring musician and followed a more formulaic approach while including very few elements of the original show. The film’s executives also came under scrutiny after they edited fan-submitted videos talking about their love of the Jem cartoon to make it seem like they were talking about the film version of Jem.

While the film has a few pacing issues and should’ve stuck to one genre, I wouldn’t have a problem with rewatching it a few times. The cast, including Aubrey Peeples (Nashville), Stefanie Scott (A.N.T. Farm, Insidious: Chapter 3), and Hayley Kiyoko (Lemonade Mouth), are all likable and have good chemistry. The music is insanely catchy, and all of the original songs of the soundtrack have been added to my Spotify playlists. Every scene feels heartfelt and stresses the importance of family and authenticity. The film’s main criticism is its inability to follow the source material; otherwise, it’s a perfectly normal feel-good musical drama.

  1. Vampire Academy (2014)

Based on a book series by the same name, Vampire Academy only earned back $15.4 million of its $30 million budget, leading to theatrical release cancellations in both Brazil and the UK. Fans found the movie shallow, as it followed the familiar formula of many teen book-to-movie adaptations at the time. They believed the book series to be far superior and balked at the changes made to the film’s plot twist. A new reboot TV series is airing sometime this year on Peacock. Hopefully, it’ll be received better than its predecessor.

I’m not going to call Vampire Academy a cinematic masterpiece. To say that would damage my critical integrity. However, it is a good film to relax to, providing decent enough action sequences without sporting an overly complicated plot. It feels very 10 Things I Hate About You, all witty one-liners and rebellious attitudes. That biting sarcasm  hints at the film’s potential had the directors chosen to go for a more satiric style. The cast is stellar, containing Zoey Deutch (Before I Fall, Set It Up), Lucy Fry (Mako Mermaids), Sarah Hyand (Modern Family), and Dominic Sherwood (Shadowhunters). Had they discarded the source material— which made the plot feel more convoluted anyway— and kept the main cast, the film would have fared far better in theaters.

  1. The Lovely Bones (2009)

Unlike the previous entries on this list, The Lovely Bones managed to obtain a profit in box office sales, making $93.6 million compared to the film’s $65 million budget. The problem with the film had less to do with the film itself and more to do with the fact that the source material was simply too dark and emotional for audience reception to ever be positive. Given that the whole premise of The Lovely Bones revolves around a girl who has been raped and murdered, there’s a difficult balance between the gravity of the tragedy and the possibility for healing provided in the afterlife. Fans felt that the movie didn’t evoke enough emotion, making it feel stale compared to the source material.

While many critiqued the dueling tones of the film, they all agreed that the cinematography was stellar. They just felt that the film was more style than heart, a somewhat common critique when it comes to Peter Jackson’s other works like The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and Mortal Engines. The cast’s performances were praised, with Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada, The Hunger Games) having been nominated for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award for his contribution to the film. Other cast members include Saoirse Ronan (Little Women, Lady Bird), Mark Wahlberg (Uncharted, Daddy’s Home), and Rachel Weisz (Black Widow). The source material’s graphic content just evokes negative emotions when witnessed visually, making it more difficult to capture the full extent of emotions at play without feeling disingenuous. Had the inherent comparison not existed, the film could’ve been an award season competitor.

  1. The Karate Kid (2010)

The most successful at the box office out of every film on this list, The Karate Kid brought in $359.1 million compared to its budget of $40 million. It may not be fully panned by fans, but it’s definitely faded from the public eye, with some not even realizing that this attempt at a reboot exists. Many consider the reboot attempt completely unnecessary and not nearly as impactful as its predecessor. Fans are also quick to point out that there’s not a lick of karate in the film, with kung fu being the film’s featured martial arts style. Cobra Kai, a Karate Kid TV continuation of the original 1984 film, doesn’t acknowledge the film’s events at all, with the show’s writers considering it non-canon.

Despite not adding to the franchise, the 2010 version is a lot of fun, and I will admit to having seen this version far more than the original. Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith have a wonderful chemistry that carries the entire film, while Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures, The Best of Enemies) steals every scene she’s in. The fight sequences are immaculate, no surprise when you consider the fact that Jackie Chan helped choreograph. Overall, the movie has a fun feel and stands fine on its own without needing to fit into the large franchise that consistently ignores its existence.

  1. Ben-Hur (2016)

When you decide to reboot a film that is known for winning a record-setting eleven Academy Awards, you should be prepared for ill comparisons and angry fans. Ben-Hur, an adaptation of a 1959 film of the same name which itself is based on an 1880 novel, made $94.1 million at the box office, failing to break even on its $100 million budget. It was considered one of the biggest failures of 2016, suffering from poor reviews across the board. Critics found that it never reached its potential and struggled to get off the ground while displaying an unimpressive amount of CGI.  I saw Ben-Hur in theaters, and I will admit that it feels every bit as long as its 125-minute runtime, impressive given the fact that the original is 212 minutes excluding the overture and intermission. While it could have done better in terms of pacing and character development, it’s worth watching at least once. As someone who hadn’t seen the original until after the remake, I was very invested in the reboot’s characters and storylines. Ben-Hur himself is someone you want to root for, watching him endure each trial and tribulation with bated breath. The villain is compelling and even slightly sympathetic, providing plenty of emotional investment in the conflict. It’s a good action movie, if a flawed one, but its messiness makes it even more compelling to watch.

Sianna Swavely is a Cinema, Television, and Media Production major, with minors in Professional Writing and Communication Studies. In her free time, she can be found video editing, playing the piano, or watching Youtube videos while pretending to study.