Based on WHAT? Movies based on weird sources (like ‘The Lego Movie’)

"The Lego Movie," like others on this list, is based on an unusual source (i.e., plastic brick toys). Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
“The Lego Movie,” like others on this list, is based on an unusual source (i.e., plastic brick toys).
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Why is there a movie with toy building blocks? Or a few based on self help books? Or on board games, theme park rides and game shows? In honor of “The Lego Movie,” we round up other films with weird sources.

‘The Set-Up’
Year: 1949
Original medium: Book-length narrative poem

Robert Ryan plays a down-on-his luck boxer whose girlfriend (the recently late Audrey Totter) tries to convince him he can win. But he shouldn’t win, because his manager has just bet money on his loss. One of the more fatalistic noirs finds director Robert Wise prowling a deliberately artificial set and amongst the machinations of scheming characters. It’s not literal poetry, like the source by Joseph Moncure March, but it finds a poetry all its own.

Arlo Guthrie (center, in van) saw one of his most famous songs turned into a feature length movie with "Alice's Restaurant." Credit: Provided
Arlo Guthrie (center, in van) saw one of his most famous songs turned into a feature length movie with “Alice’s Restaurant.”
Credit: Provided

‘Alice’s Restaurant’
Year: 1969
Original medium: Song

Granted, it’s a long song: An 18 ½ minute epic by Arlo Guthrie that tells about a Thanksgiving Day feast that led to his nearly getting drafted. The song (and album) was enough of a sensation that it warranted a movie, and by no less than Arthur Penn, hot off his “Bonnie and Clyde” coup. Almost two hours long, it fills out what you perhaps didn’t need to know, makes serious what was once funny/satirical and features Guthrie acting — unfortunately not for the last time. (See also: Sam Peckinpah’s “Convoy” and the film of the sickly anthem “You Light Up My Life.”)

‘The Gong Show Movie’
Year: 1980
Original medium: Game show

Chuck Barris, if you’ve never heard, was a weird guy. Left out of the movie “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” is a factoid only slightly less weird than his claim that he was a government assassin: He co-wrote (with Robert Downey), directed and starred in this hectic, angry comedy, in which a version of himself is beset upon by crazy people who want to be contestants on his show, like a man who blows out candles with farts. It was not a success. Luckily the show returned in 1988, sans Barris.

Tim Curry plays host to an overqualified cast recreating the joys of the board game "Clue." Credit: Provided
Tim Curry plays host to an overqualified cast recreating the joys of the board game “Clue.”
Credit: Provided

‘Clue’
Year: 1985
Original medium: Board games

They said it couldn’t be done, or it shouldn’t be done, because why would you do it? A favorite home game of whodunit became not only a movie, but a fairly overachieving movie, considering the modest source. A game cast (among the best being Tim Curry and Michael McKean) run about a tony manse, doing pratfalls and not terrible approximations of screwball chatter. There are even three different endings, one with one of the finest final lines outside of “Some Like It Hot.” Most importantly, it paved the way for “Battleship.”

Tim Burton turned a 1960s trading card series into a star-studded invasion picture with "Mars Attacks!" Credit: Provided
Tim Burton turned a 1960s trading card series into a star-studded invasion picture with “Mars Attacks!”
Credit: Provided

‘Mars Attacks!’
Year: 1996
Original medium: Trading Cards

Cards aren’t recognized as storytelling, but perhaps they should be? Tim Burton’s star-studded invasion pic was based on a series of cards released by Topps in 1962. They told a story, kind of: Each card had a major event (“The Invasion Begins,” and so on) with a number at the bottom. You pieced the story together piecemeal, almost certainly out of order. Burton, of course, followed little of this, instead turning them into a giddy massacre of famous faces wasted buy cackling cartoons.

The ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ Saga
Years: 2003 — present
Original medium: Theme park ride

The Captain Jack-led series is currently about eleven hours long and counting, with a fifth installment crashing into our lives next year. Credit where credit’s due: That’s a lot of plotting and work considering the base was a five-minute ride with no discernible narrative. Indeed, installment three (“At World’s End”) may be the most complicated single storyline outside of the work of Thomas Pynchon.

Issei Ogata portrays the protagonist of Haruki Murakami's tiny short story "Tony Takitani." Credit: Provided
Issei Ogata portrays the protagonist of Haruki Murakami’s tiny short story “Tony Takitani.”
Credit: Provided

‘Tony Takitani’
Year: 2004
Original medium: A very short story

The novels and short stories of Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami spin off dense worlds, sometimes for hundreds and hundreds of pages. He can still cram a lot into only a handful of pages, as he did with this portrait of a lonely man mourning his shopaholic wife, which has enough meat for a 75-minute mood piece.

Justin Long gives Ginnifer Goodwin tough love romantic advice (that she'll be able to ignore later) in "He's Just Not That Into You." Credit: Provided
Justin Long gives Ginnifer Goodwin tough love romantic advice (that she’ll be able to ignore later) in “He’s Just Not That Into You.”
Credit: Provided

‘He’s Just Not That Into You’
Year: 2009
Original medium: Self-help book

Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo struck a major nerve when they released their book, which told women raised on the comforting lies of romantic comedy films the hard truths about love. So of course it was made into a romantic comedy film that peddles comforting lies. At least it wasn’t as evil as the ensemble piece made of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”

‘The Lego Movie’
Year: 2014
Original medium: Interlocking toys

The very existence of a movie based on a line of toys that have already, in some cases, been inspired by movies (“Star Wars Lego,” “Star Trek Lego,” surely a forthcoming “Nymphomaniac Lego”) seems like a joke in and of itself. But then filmmakers Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“21 Jump Street”) have cornered the market on turning things that don’t need to be movies into pretty wonderful, hilarious movies.

The old Ouija boards will perhaps belatedly become a horror movie, due in October. Credit: Provided
The old Ouija boards will perhaps belatedly become a horror movie, due in October.
Credit: Provided

‘Ouija’
Year: 2014 (in October)
Original medium: A “spirit board”

Actually, we can’t believe it’s taken this long to make a horror picture out of the silly game where you fool others (or yourself) into thinking ghosts are telling you what to spell to be milked for horror thrills. It’s only been around since 1894, one year before the very birth of cinema. But who are we kidding? This will be moronic. Update: Numerous friends have very politely reminded us that we forgot about “Witchboard,” the 1986 Tawny Kitaen horror vehicle that also milks the Ouija board for frights. Ditto “Witchboard 2: The Devil’s Doorway,” starring Mickey Dolnez’s daughter Ami, as well as “Witchboard III: The Possession.”

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge


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