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Literary turned Movie Icons

Writer: Casey Lee


Tyler Perry as "Alex Cross" from the James Patterson novels.

It's hard to find a really original franchise idea from Hollywood these days as Hollywood is becoming less shameful in scrounging recently established source materials of late, from comic books to video games, for their next tentpole.

Novels, on the other hand, have always been a staple 'inspiration' for Hollywood studios and it is fairly common to see them being adapted for the big screen. While it is increasingly becoming the trend for well-loved novel series to be adapted into box-office breaking cinematic franchises, it is rare to see literary characters being adored as much as their cinematic counterparts.

In anticipation for the third appearance of criminal profiler Alex Cross from the books of James Patterson in "Alex Cross", we examine at some movie characters that had their roots based on novel series but have become recognisable action icons in their own movie rights.

Conan the Barbarian in "Conan the Barbarian" (1982), "Conan the Destroyer" (1984) and "Conan" (2011)

Conan the Barbarian was a literary character created by Robert E. Howard in 1932 as the central character for his sword & sorcery stories set in the world of Hyboria. Since then, the tales of the sole surviving Cimmerian has been a legend among literature readers and fans of fantasy.

Conan made his transition from book barbarian into cinematic conqueror in 1982 with the then hunky Arnold Schwarzenegger carrying the role in "Conan the Barbarian". Although elements of Conan's origins and the setting were retained, the screenplay was not an adaptation from any of the previously published novels. The deviation between Conan from the books and in the movies became even more diverse when the sequel "Conan the Destroyer" was released in 1984.

Rights for making a Conan film were moved around before the franchise got a reboot in "Conan" in 2011. However, there were even fewer similarities spotted by Conan purists from the novels and having Jason Mamoa take his first major feature role didn't seem to impress them or movie critics alike.

By now, Conan is identifiable from its literature and its cinematic legends which are now looking to be revisited by Arnold Schwarzenegger, when it was just announced that he would be starring in a new sequel of his long ago abandoned franchise.

Jason Bourne in "The Bourne Identity" (2002), "The Bourne Supremacy" (2004), and "The Bourne Ultimatum" (2007)

Jason Bourne was created by author Robert Ludlum and appeared in his first novel "The Bourne Identity" in 1980. Set during the Vietnam War, Bourne would join the programme, named Medusa, to be trained as a special operative after a bomb had killed his family in Cambodia. The Bourne novel trilogy was completed in 1990 and for the most part was centred on Bourne versus his arch-rival the assassin Carlos the Jackal.

When work began on the film adaptation of "The Bourne Identity" for 2002, director Doug Liman had to omit much of the cold-war premise from the novels to cater to a more modern and paranoid audience following 9/11. Matt Damon's Jason Bourne would not be the family man that he was in the novel but a patriot who volunteered himself into the Threadstone programme before being hit with amnesia. From "The Bourne Identity" till its conclusion in "The Bourne Ultimatum" in 2007, the cinematic trilogy focused more on Bourne's discovery of his true identity and his link with Threadstone and instead of facing off with one assassin, Bourne would have to fight off with several similarly trained assets sent out to kill him by corrupt CIA insiders.

To date, the Bourne film franchise has already starting making spin-offs with the recent "The Bourne Legacy", starring Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross; a new fictional character with no ties to Jason Bourne or appeared in any of the books. Meanwhile, Jason Bourne remains the central character in his literary universe with 10 more books published after the original trilogy, even after the death of its original creator in 2001.

Jack Ryan in "The Hunt for Red October" (1990), "Patriot Games" (1992), "Clear and Present Danger" (1994), and "The Sum of All Fears" (2002)

Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan made his literary debut in "The Hunt for Red October" in 1984 and the best-selling novel was soon adapted into film with the same title in 1990, starring Alec Baldwin as the CIA agent and analyst, giving rise to a new potential franchise surrounding the character. After the success of "The Hunt for Red October", the development of the sequel to adapt "Patriot Games" hit a snag when Baldwin could not reprise his role as Ryan and Clancy himself had disavowed the production due to changes being made on the screenplay that differed too much from the original novel.

Although Harrison Ford would take up the role of Jack Ryan in "Patriot Games" and would reprise the role in the adaptation of "Clear and Present Danger", audiences lost interest in Jack Ryan and the character went silent until 2002, when a reboot was attempted for the character in "The Sum of All Fears", with Ben Affleck filling in as a younger Jack Ryan although the book took place after the previous two instalments.

The story of Jack Ryan in the novels were expansive and complicated as the stories of Tom Clancy, so the cinematic property probably needed to have enough depth on the character before it could launch a franchise. Currently, another reboot that would tell the origins of Ryan is in the works with Chris Pine to play as Ryan when he enters into the CIA.

Harry Potter in "Harry Potter" series

Since author J.K. Rowling's first book about the boy wizard "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" was published in 1997, its phenomenal success was unprecedented when a crazed fanbase seemed ripe to build a movie franchise upon. In 1998, film rights for the first four Harry Potter books were sold for 1 million Pounds to Warner Bros. and work soon began to adapt the novels with the release of the film adaptation of "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" in 2001.

Since then, all seven of Harry Potter books have been consistently adapted as later books were published and were kept tonally faithful because of the close supervision of Rowling, who had been trusted into the screenwriting process.

Supported by the strong foundation of its readers, the Harry Potter movies became the gateway for more readers when those who watched the movies were converted into fervent readers after each instalment and spawned a franchise that went beyond the books and films. The spell that was cast by J.K. Rowling on her readers and fans of the films would make Harry Potter a very lucrative movie franchise with US$7.7 billion grossed and had lasted a decade by the final instalment "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part 2" was released in 2011.

The series also launched the acting career of Daniel Radcliffe, who has played and aged alongside Harry Potter throughout the series, as well as launching his supporting cast into infamy.

James Bond in James Bond series

No list about literary characters would be complete without mentioning the world's most recognised spy. Ian Fleming created the spy in 1953 and named him after an American bird expert because he wanted a dull name for the character, but would end up fulfilling his intentions to write the 'spy stories that would end all spy stories'.

Bond would see its first film adaptation when rights for it were secured by Eon Productions in 1961 and "Dr. No" was released a year later. This would give rise to the longest running film franchise in history of 50 years as a total of 23 Bond films had been made, making the names of those who played as 007, its villains and the Bond girls.

The franchise is also unique because it has adapted all 12 of Fleming's novels and short stories, though the adaptations had removed much of the expletive violence and sex from the novels to make them more family friendly and turned the Soviet villains into members of large criminal syndicates. As materials for future Bond movies by Fleming started running out, the franchise would eventually add its own original storylines that added to the Bond mythos with its own new villains and characters.

With its long history, the Bond franchise is also the highest grossing film franchise with a total of US$13.1 billion grossed to date.


Cinema Online, 12 November 2012

Related Movies:
BOURNE IDENTITY (19 Sep 2002)
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (14 Jul 2011)
Skyfall (01 Nov 2012)
Alex Cross (06 Dec 2012)
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (16 Jan 2014)
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