“Why aren’t there any original ideas left in Hollywood?” is the hymn etched into every film nerd’s heart. It’s the first thing that pops into their heads when they log onto Twitter and scroll through the Entertainment tab. Variations of it can also be found in the comment section for any trailer of a major studio release:
“Why aren’t there any original ideas left in Hollywood?”
“Who is this film even for?”
“Who asked for this?!”
However, in this vast and vitriolic echo chamber, there’s always at least one person who will voice their displeasure by attacking the creator directly: “I can’t believe [insert famous mainstream director with indie fanbase here] turned into such a hack.” Out of every talking point I’ve seen when a studio releases a new trailer, that particular one gets to me. It’s also a point that always seems to be connected to the same kind of movies: Disney, Marvel, and DC blockbusters.
As a lover of horror media, my circle of friends naturally consists of people who share my love for all things spooky. When the teaser for The Suicide Squad (dir. James Gunn, 2021) dropped last summer at DC FanDome — Warner Bros.’ replacement for the COVID-displayed San Diego Comic Con — public response was largely positive. However, one of my friends was a bit more pessimistic; if anything, studying his unenthusiastic reaction as we watched the teaser together on YouTube, he seemed depressed.
“Man,” he remarked once the teaser was over, “when is James Gunn gonna go back to making good movies?” He was, of course, referring to horror movies. Before he was picked to direct Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Gunn was an independent filmmaker. At Troma Entertainment, he cut his teeth on low budget films like the sci-fi/body horror-comedy Slither (2006) and his superhero satire Super (2010). Fiercely loyal to Gunn even a decade ago, his fanbase continues to expand as his work gains mainstream recognition. However, that commercial appeal has turned some fans away, like my friend who mustered a half-hearted shrug before wandering away to see if Netflix had (you guessed it) Slither.
There’s a perception in film communities that “originality” equals “quality.” Our definition of originality dictates that, for a movie to have value, it needs to have a premise that’s never been done before with completely original characters, unique cinematography, and so on. The irony is that we’ve made originality and quality so interchangeable that they’ve lost all meaning. Now, when we say that a film is original, it’s just another way of saying that we personally like it.
Slither wasn’t completely original. It was inspired by the gory creature features of the 1980s — movies like Night of the Creeps (dir. Fred Dekker, 1986), The Thing (dir. John Carpenter, 1982) and The Blob (dir. Chuck Russell, 1988). Of those three, two of them are remakes (The Thing and The Blob). Slither represents a point in James Gunn’s career where his creative potential ran wild, unrestrained from the shackles of studio filmmaking. Yet it’s covered in the creative thumbprints of the filmmakers who came before him.
There’s an endless array of movies that have been inspired by preexisting source material, directly and indirectly. Many of them have become classics. We ignore that Jurassic Park (dir. Steven Speilberg, 1993) was adapted from the Michael Crichton book of the same name, that Titanic (dir. James Cameron, 1997) is Romeo and Juliet reshaped into historical drama. The stories aren’t new, and in some cases, the films we idolize as original works weren’t the first to try their hand at the material. Their stories aren’t what makes them creative — it’s the ways filmmakers reinterpret the material and take those familiar worlds and archetypes to make into their own.
The Suicide Squad is based off a popular comic series of the same name with a cast of characters taken from across the DC universe. Some of them are familiar faces (Harley Quinn), others are obscure (Savant), but all of them have been reshaped into new forms distinct from their canon counterparts to better fit the world Gunn and his team have cooked up. However, for some, The Suicide Squad premise still isn’t as original as Slither, which was influenced by three separate movies (two of which are remakes).
Whether or not you enjoy James Gunn’s work, it’s hypocritical to contextualize one film for unoriginality while praising another for its creativity when both are based off preestablished media. Many people comb through a filmmaker’s body of work and cherry-pick the work that appeals to them, but they also tend to discarding the rest and decry the filmmaker as creatively bankrupt, as a hack, a fraud. We constantly wish that Hollywood would “return to the way it used to be”, a time where every movie was an original idea. But the fact of the matter is that version of Hollywood never existed — it’s a creation of our collective nostalgia.
So, here’s a counterpoint I’d like you to consider whenever you browse Twitter or YouTube for that hot new trailer. Instead of asking, “Why aren’t there any original ideas left in Hollywood?” ask yourself this instead: when was the last time there was an original idea in Hollywood?