If you’ve seen ads for “Alex Cross” and the name sounds familiar, that’s probably because the action thriller is based on a series of best-selling books by James Patterson. And the character, a detective specializing in forensic psychology, has previously appeared on screen in the adaptations of books one and two, “Along Came a Spider” and “Kiss the Girls.” In those movies he was portrayed by Morgan Freeman. Now the franchise gets a reboot with a jump ahead to the twelfth Alex Cross novel, “Cross,” and a new actor in the role, Tyler Perry.
Restarted series based on literary characters and their novels are hardly new. James Bond is the perfect example of how such figures can even extend their screen life beyond their written existence. But many other characters from book franchise didn’t initially click with moviegoers, or they haven’t been around for a while. So, here is a list of 15 of these literary properties we think should follow “Alex Cross” (and future reboots for "The Invisible Man" and "Jack Ryan," among others) in returning to cinemas.
'The Talented Mr. Ripley' (Tom Ripley series) by Patricia Highsmith
This charming con man and murderer has led five separate films, adapted from only three of his five novels (‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ and ‘Ripley’s Game’ have been done twice), with prominent actors Matt Damon, Alain Delon, Dennis Hopper, Barry Pepper and John Malkovich in the role at different points since 1960. Although these films work okay on their own, it would be nice to see a straight run through the novels with a consistent actor playing Tom throughout.
‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams
Maybe this overly expositional and comically rich science fiction “trilogy” isn’t fit for the big screen. The effort by Disney in 2005, as entertaining as it is, might have suffered from an attempt to be too faithful to the fans (the result of being made by fans, perhaps?) while also needing to be stripped thin by the confines of a feature film. If anyone want to give the six book series (continued by Eoin Colfer after Adams’s death) a shot, we might suggest reworking a lot of it to stand alone more as a film franchise, rather than going for an impossible direct translation of the material.
'Fletch' (I.M. Fletcher series) by Gregory Mcdonald
Every now and then we hear of plans to bring Fletch back to the movies, following a two-installment run starring Chevy Chase in the 1980s. Kevin Smith was involved in a reboot for a while, which would adapt the second book, “Fletch Won” (which takes place before the first, “Fletch”) and star Jason Lee as the investigative journalist with a knack for disguises. The last we heard, Zach Braff was set to star, but Smith is now out. Eventually the character and his twelve books have to come back to the big screen, ultimately leading to a spin-off series, as the books did, for Fletch foil, Frances Xavier Flynn.
'John Carter of Mars' by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Maybe not anytime soon, but one day someone will have to help us forget about this year’s "John Carter" and properly and successfully bring the literary legend and all eleven of the Barsoom novels to life in cinemas.
'The Three Investigators' by Robert Arthur, Jr. and others
Currently more popular in Germany than in the U.S., two recent film adaptations featuring the teen sleuthing trio were shot in South Africa yet star young American actors and have only been released in Europe. They’re supposedly not too great either. How about giving us American fans a well-made run with characters Jupiter Jones, Bob Andrews and Pete Crenshaw? And with multiple other movies featuring portayals of Alfred Hitchcock lately, it’d be nice to see the real-life filmmaker brought back into the fold as a mentoring supporting character, if producers can renegotiate the matter with his estate.
Dirk Pitt series by Clive Cussler
Two separate adaptations of Dirk Pitt novels have been made in the past. The author was so unhappy with 1980’s "Raise the Titanic!" that he refused to let another film be made for decades. Then, through negotiations, "Sahara" was made into a movie in 2005 starring Matthew McConaughey. But Cussler wasn’t happy and years of legal battles have ensued. It’s hard to imagine the car-loving adventurer ever making another cinematic comeback, but we’ll see if one day Cussler needs the money or grows suddenly hopeful again.
'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
Moore is notoriously unhappy with the way this series turned out as a movie, and tons of fan and non-fan moviegoers are in agreement. Adapting this ingenious property, which imagines a team of literary characters such as Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo and Dr. Jekyll as a Victorian-era Avengers-type assemblage, should have been rather simple. All of the awesomeness is right there in the graphic pages of the comic book series. But an original story with unfavorable changes was decided upon and it was all wrong. Next time, sticking to the source material would be preferred.
‘The Destroyer’ by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir
The little-remembered 1985 action movie "Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins" was an attempt at a franchise based on "Destroyer" novels, but unfortunately it wasn’t very good and so the adventure never continued. But the character, Remo Williams, a Newark cop turned government assassin, needs to begin again. He’s an old-fashioned kind of macho man, trained in the fictional martial art of Sinanju, and he fights for freedom by ignoring the U.S. Constitution. Sounds perfect for a post-9/11 world. There has actually been interest in another film adaptation in recent years, and hopefully it will happen.
Matt Helm series by Donald Hamilton
Another property that has seen great interest from Hollywood for a proper reboot lately, this government agent character was previously portrayed by Dean Martin in a series of movies, beginning with 1966’s "The Silencers" which wasn’t very faithful in tone to the 27-book source material. Apparently the aim then was to compete with the James Bond films by taking a more comedic angle. Just as the 007 franchise has recently gone more serious and realistic than in the past, so shall a revitalized Helm franchise. A few years ago, Steven Spielberg was named as a potential director of Paramount’s much-desired return of Helm, but we haven’t heard anything more on the project in too long.
‘Dot and the Kangaroo’ by Ethel Pedley
Nothing against the past films based on Pedley’s 1899 children’s book, which are classic hybrids of animation and live-action helmed by the great Yoram Gross, but it might be a good time to bring the story of a young Australian girl and her animal friends into the 21st century with modern technology. They could pay homage to the Gross versions, of course, just as Peter Jackson acknowledges his love for Ralph Bakshi’s animated "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" films. Maybe have a real girl and real locations with computer-realized versions of Mother (the Kangaroo), Mr. Platypus and the rest of the creatures of the Outback. Australian filmmaker George Miller ("Babe"; "Happy Feet") would be perfect for such a project, at least as a producer.
V.I. Warshawski series by Sara Paretsky
We need more film franchises led by women, and there are plenty of literary sources to choose from, but this is one of the very few that were even previously tried. Kathleen Turner portrayed the female P.I. back in 1991 with "V.I. Warshawski," an adaptation of the second book, "Deadlock." Turner was expected to play the character in further films, but the first was a failure, again possibly due to a comical approach that strayed from the source. With Paretsky still going strong -- the fifteenth book, "Breakdown" was published earlier this year -- and an ever-growing interest in woman-driven action films, a serious version is long overdue.
Harry Palmer series by Len Deighton
Here’s another literary character that was adapted into a film series obviously comparable to the James Bond franchise. In fact, the first Harry Palmer movies were made by the producers of the 007 movies and intended to be complementary rather than a competitor with its more down-to-earth ex-criminal British secret agent. And in the two ‘90s sequels, which brought Michael Caine back as the character he’d played in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Sean Connery’s son, Jason, has a prominent role. Again, as long as Bond can keep going successfully, so should his working-class cousin. A retake with a young Palmer should cast Caine in an elder part, possibly as the series’ M equivalent, Colonel Ross.
‘Not Quite Human’ by Seth McEvoy
Previously adapted into three cheap and cheesy TV movies for the Disney Channel, this six-book series about a scientist and his android son could be great fodder for a really interesting film franchise that mixes the teen movie genre with sci-fi and action (perhaps something akin to the ‘Spider-Man’ series, only with a super-strong robot rather than a mutated young man).
‘The Chronicles of Prydain’ series (‘The Black Cauldron’) by Lloyd Alexander
Now that Disney has remade another of its ‘80s flops involving the talents of Tim Burton (albeit with disappointing results, financially), it’s time to finally resurrect their rights to the "Prydain" books, from which the infamous animated feature flop "The Black Cauldron" originated. The five-book fantasy series is so ripe for a live-action version that it’s silly there’s been no attempt. Maybe Disney’s bad luck with adaptations, as is evident from this list, is part of the reason the studio hasn’t bothered. So perhaps another studio could give it a try?
Eragon (‘Inheritance Cycle’) by Christopher Paolini
None of these popular fantasy novels should be disappointments if Hollywood takes them seriously as worthy film stories and not just cash-grabs based on their having a fanbase and their potential to be the next ‘LOTR’ or ‘Harry Potter.’ You’ve got the huge appeal of dragons, now you just need a great director, not some visual effects artist with no experience at the helm of any movie let alone a highly anticipated major holiday season blockbuster. It wasn’t even a box office flop, but it was one of the worst-reviewed films of 2006. Give it a couple more years and let’s circle back on this one.