Hollywood has churned and re-churned enough adaptations, reboots, and sequels to officially declare itself devoid of creativity.
Now, when it comes to shit designed for mass consumption, nobody can honestly expect mind-blowing originality at every turn, but if you take a look at the top grossing movies over the last 30 years one can’t help but notice the increased focus on worn out franchise pieces. Unlike the old “Chicken or the Egg?” conundrum, you can’t quite apply evolutionary forces to the way big studios have chosen to throw their lot completely in with time-worn ideas. Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we?
1980 – “The Empire Strikes Back” (5 other Star Wars Movies)
Part two of the original Star Wars trilogy, Lucas went back to the well here with a trio of putrid “prequels” and as I type this, Disney is currently working on additional Star Wars films – I‘m beginning to think my point here isn‘t obvious enough. “Empire” is clearly the best movie of the first three. Since by now we should all be well acquainted with cinematic trilogies, I think it’s usually the case that the best stand-alone movie is the second piece of the trifecta. Since the major players are established in the story, there is a shit-ton LESS of expository crap that happens in the opening picture and since a full resolution isn’t required (gearing it up for part three), the actual movie itself is usually a tighter and more focused narrative. Either way, this is still a sequel and we’re just getting started.
1981 – “Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark” (3)
The first of the Indiana Jones movies, Harrison Ford’s turn as an archaeology professor/treasure hunter was pretty cool. So cool in fact, that Steven Spielberg went on to make three more! Including the inexplicable “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” in 2008, most notable for Harrison Ford’s prophetic description of a young Shia LeBeouf as an asshole. Still, taken on its own, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” while heavily influenced by Colonial-era adventure heroes of 1930 serials, is a pretty good flick. That the next two Indiana Jones movies weren’t terrible is a decent achievement, while the sad fact that the franchise was revisited nearly 20 years AFTER the third installment may be the case-in-point for this whole post.
1982 – “E.T.”
Spielberg at his best. A dollop of his usual cheese-sap, but with enough jarring moments to keep it from being readily compared with his eventual – wait for it – milquetoast adaptation of H.G. Welles’ “War Of The Worlds,” this film captures that fleeting moment in Drew Barrymore’s pre-teen years before she wound up in rehab for the first time. Thankfully, we have yet to see someone remake or re-boot this 80s classic aka add copious CGI.
1983 – “Return of the Jedi”
Here we are, four years from the arbitrary starting point of 1980, and we’re wrapping up a trilogy. Being a child of 1983, “Return of the Jedi” was one of my favorite movies as a young lad. You know why? Because I was an idiot and ewoks seemed awesome. Also, Carrie Fisher’s get-up on Jabba’s sand skiff gave me a proto-boner. If only George “Jowels” Lucas had left well enough alone, we’d never have to suffer the thought of Hayden Christiansen as an “actor.”
1984 – “Beverly Hills Cop” (1)
Eddie Murphy was at the top of the comedy world. Two years after his “Raw” special and fresh off his stint on SNL, Murphy takes on a similar role to the one he played in “48 Hours.” (Got to say I like the Murphy/Nolte pairing better than Eddie and Judge Reinhold.) Unfortunately, BOTH “Beverly Hills Cop” and “48 Hours” went on to spawn sequels. Can I get a “what the fuck?”
1985 – “”Back To The Future” (2)
An original idea featuring a young, vest-wearing Michael J. Fox, that went on to be completely fucked-out by two unnecessary sequels. Sure, the hover boards were cool, but seeing Biff bite it in a mountain of shit in the Old West kind of encapsulates how these sequels tend to play. Christopher Lloyd has never been better, and Lea Thompson was in top form.
1986 – “Top Gun”
Totally dated and cheesy, this will hopefully never be replicated. There’s no way to pack all the unintentional comedy of the original into any conscious effort.
1987 – “Three Men And A Baby” (1)
With America’s coke problem coming to full bloom, we have Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg in a movie adapted from a French script from 1985. In any case, this also produced a sequel (“Three Men And A Little Lady”) and presaged the “Look Who’s Talking” FRANCHISE. SEQUELS ARE ALL OVER EVERYTHING!!!! The strange adult/baby dynamic of the late 80s was born with this turd.
1988 – “Rain Man”
Some props to Tom Cruise, so far he’s been in two of the least derivative number one movies of the decade. Although if Hollywood could possibly find a way to combine jet fighting with autism I’d bet they already would have.
1989 – “Batman” (6)
The definitive comic-book adaptation of its time (let’s face it, Superman is an infinitely inferior character than Batman), Michael Keaton is the quintessential Bruce Wayne. This was Tim Burton well before Tim Burton completely ran out of new ideas, and Jack Nicholson plays an awesome Joker. Of course, this spawned many sequels and “re-boots,” but the original stands alone. It realizes it’s based on a Comic Book (hey, Chris Nolan, over here!), but is not a complete cartoon (see “Batman Forever” et al.). Consider this, after 1989’s “Batman,” six others have been made. That’s seven batman movies in 24 years. Horseshit.
1990 – “Home Alone” (1)
Macauly Culkin was about two years old when Drew Barrymore was dazzling audiences with her adorable performance in “E.T.” and boy, you can bet Mac’s parents saw DOLLAR SIGNS. After a turn in the classic John Candy movie “Uncle Buck,” Culkin cemented himself as the new precocious kid on the block. This movie also garnered a sequel, but does stand as one of the few original concepts on this list thus far. So kudos to John Hughes and Chris Columbus for fucking the magic out of the concept by letting him loose in New York City where somehow, the SAME antagonists run across young Kevin McAllister. Tragically, there were three additional “Home Alone” movies, none of which involved the original director or Macauly, and all of which went straight to video.
1991 – “Terminator 2” (3)
Ahnuld wasn’t lying when he famously quipped, “I’ll be back!” in 1984’s original film. “T2: Judgement Day” would be the second of four Terminator movies, with – you guessed it! – a series “re-boot” due out in 2015. To be fair the Schwarzenegger run ended in the third installment of the Terminator in 2003. When Christian Bale took the reigns for “Terminator Salvation” in 2009, Arnold was finishing up his reign as the Governator of California and Sperminator of his housekeepers.
1992 – “Aladdin”
The first animated feature on this list, “Aladdin” may have been ripped from the oldest source material. As with most all Disney-fucked stories, this has borne out numerous non-theatric sequels, a TV series, and Happy Meal toys.
1993 – “Jurassic Park” (2)
Based on the novel by Michael Crichton, Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” spawned two sequels with a fourth “JP” planned for 2015. Crichton did write a follow-up to his book in 1995, “Jurassic Park: The Lost Word” (owing its subtitle and loose plot with a Sir Arthur Conon Doyle novel from 1912) that inspired the first film’s sequel. I believe this is the first movie on the list where there is mutual destruction of a concept across mediums AND generations.
1994 – “Forrest Gump”
“Stupid is as stupid does.” If this were a Farrelly Bros. movie they would’ve made “Forrest Gumperer” with a completely different director and cast. So at least we can give thanks that THAT hasn’t happened…yet. Oh yeah, “Gump” was based on a 1986 novel of the same name.
1995 – “Toy Story”
Still kind of hard to believe this movie is nearly 20 years old, “Toy Story” was Pixar’s first of fourteen (and counting) major motion pictures. In an interesting twist, we owe the pleasure of Pixar films to none other than George Lucas. In 1986, three years after capping off the FIRST Star Wars trilogy, Lucas went on to produce the mega-stink bomb “Howard the Duck.” In keeping with tonight’s theme, Howard the Duck is originally a Marvel Comics character AND the FIRST theatrical portrayal of a Marvel character since 1944’s “Captain America” movie serial. The amazing flop that was “Howard the Duck” sunk a bunch of Lucas bucks down the shitter, and as a result he wound up selling off the computer graphics group at Lucasfilm to Steve Jobs. So thank you, George Lucas, for your rampant hackery, and thank you Steve Jobs, for your predatory instincts.
1996 – “Independence Day”
The Fresh Prince goes big time! After a couple feature roles, most notably “Bad Boys” with Martin Lawrence (wait a minute, wasn‘t there a Bad Boys sequel? Hmmm…), Will Smith’s voyage to Xenu blasts off in this rollicking alien invasion flick. Bill Pullman plays the President. It would be the most important role in his career if it was real life. And yes, sequels(!) are apparently in the works.
1997 – “Titanic”
James Cameron gets his nautical boner wet with this piece of ship. “Titanic” won eleven Oscars, the most since “Ben Hur” won eleven in 1959, and was the first movie to top the billion dollar mark world-wide. This is one of the handful of original stories on the list, so obviously, the studio found a way to squeeze a few more bucks from this film by re-releasing it in 3D in 2012.
1998 – “Saving Private Ryan”
Another great (and original) Spielberg movie on the list, “Saving Private Ryan” features one of the most realistic portrayals of war’s savage violence, chaos and confusion ever filmed. It also provides the title of one of Mulligan’s favorite porn parodies, “Saving Ryan’s Privates,” starring Tom Spanks, Dick Sizemore, Taintward Burns, Barry Pepper and Matt Gaymon.
1999 – “The Phantom Menace”
…of George Lucas’ addled “imagination” haunts the box office yet again.
Part II: The 2000s…coming soon.