Step into any cineplex, and the odds are good that most—if not all—of the movies playing are based on popular stories or properties. It’s rare for a spec script, an unsolicited screenplay, to be turned into a major Hollywood picture. Movies are major investments, and studios can rarely afford to gamble on an untested concept without a built-in audience.
However, when a film is adapted from another property, it doesn’t need to simply be a retread of what came before. Talented filmmakers use old stories to hook audiences, but they add new twists to keep the experience fresh. Three films from recent years—Mirror Mirror, The Taking of Pelham 123, and Robin Hood—prove that telling a familiar story doesn’t have to mean that you will have a familiar experience. These movies all put their own spin on the source material. As a result, audiences were treated to unique films that stand on their own, even if they were technically adaptations.
Here’s how they accomplished this difficult feat.
Mirror Mirror is a 2012 film loosely based on the tale of Snow White. Fairy tales often make great source material for feature films. They’re in the public domain, allowing filmmakers to save money, since there’s no need to acquire the property. People throughout the world are familiar with them, and since there are already so many variations on fairy tales anyway, fans aren’t upset if the films deviate too much from the source material.
First of all, it’s important to acknowledge that the animated Disney production of Snow White is without question the most well-known cinematic adaptation of this story. The film may have even introduced many young viewers to the story in the first place.
Thus, it was important for the filmmakers behind Mirror Mirror to distinguish their picture from the Disney film. While they did so in many ways, providing character background and context was one of the most effective methods. Although Disney’s Snow White may be a classic, it doesn’t provide much background information about the characters. Mirror Mirror grounds the essential conflict by letting us know more about these people and their circumstances.
It’s a smart way to make the film stand out. By using the fairy tale as the rubric for the basic narrative, the filmmakers were able to expand on the story and take it in new directions.
Robin Hood is another classic fairy tale that’s been the subject of many cinematic adaptations. Again, the Disney version of the story is perhaps the most well-known.
Disney created the movie for a young audience. While the film could have had the potential for violence and high drama in retelling the story of Robin Hood, that’s not the type of movie that children want to see.
The finished product was violent and epic in scope. On the surface, it doesn’t bear many similarities to Mirror Mirror. However, the way that the filmmakers approached the material is somewhat similar in that both movies explore new directions for the narrative and don’t capitalize on what came before. They achieve their own distinctive goals.
The Taking of Pelham 123
The Taking of Pelham 123 is a 2009 remake of the 1974 picture of the same name. Both films are effective thrillers. That said, the remake justifies its own existence in several ways.
First, the 2009 screenplay updates the source material to account for new technology. Sometimes it can be difficult for viewers to appreciate the tension in a movie that takes places several decades ago. Audiences are used to a world with cell phones, GPS, and more. Focusing on advancements in technology allowed the filmmakers to modernize the story.
The remake also alters the role of the protagonist. While in the original he is a high-ranking police officer, in the remake he is a New York City subway train dispatcher. This helps audiences relate to the character as an everyman, and it changes the entire experience of watching the story unfold.
Again, while films based on original scripts are worthwhile, they are rare. Producers must often rely on existing stories to convince studios to greenlight a project. Luckily, smart filmmakers can transform those stories into truly unique pictures.