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'Barbie' to 'Godzilla': 2023 Films That Began Elsewhere

, | February 29, 2024 | By

Each year's crop of scripted films is a mix of original stories, and stories/characters adapted from other mediums: novels, memoirs, comic books, TV shows, magazine articles, older movies, even toys.

Our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., is not only a USC film-school grad and a filmmaker, but also an avid reader -- and he often writes about film adaptations.

Below, he runs through some of the films from last year that were inspired by other mediums, several of which are up for awards at the Oscars, airing March 10 on  ABC. He also tosses it to me a couple of times for things I particularly liked. Take it away, Father Vince -- Kate O'Hare, editor

American Fiction

Nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Jeffrey Wright), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Sterling K. Brown), Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay, Cord Jefferson), Best Music (Original Score, Laura Karpman)

The movie tried too hard in trying to make the characters not stereotypically Black and missed the experimental feel of the source material. I appreciated UCLA novelist/professor Percival Everett’s approach more. His novel Erasure contains the entire novel Jeffrey Wright’s character pens through the story.



Nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Ryan Gosling), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (America Ferrara), Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay, Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach), Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Original Song ("I'm Just Ken," Mark Ronson, Andrew Wyatt)

Writer/director Greta Gerwig’s Barbie technically counts as an adaptation. Of what source material, I can’t imagine … the writeups on the cardboard backing of the action figures? In any event, I’m not sure I “got” the movie.

If it was meant to be satire, a project making fun of those who actually believe this is how modern-day relationships should proceed, then I suppose the film was redeemable.


The Color Purple

Nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Danielle Brooks)

The musical adaptation comes from Alice Walker's 1982 novel, through Steven Spielberg's 1985 film, to the 2005-2008 Broadway-show version.

It punches up the God themes, for sure. The viewer gets a sense that no matter the difficulties African-Americans faced post-slavery, it would not quash their spirit, their faith and their ability to forgive.


Godzilla: Minus One

Nominated for Best Visual Effects

The most family-oriented film of last year materialized in the form of this Japanese remake of the classic Godzilla monster-movie series.

“Zero” refers to the final days of the Pacific Theater in WWII. “Minus One,” I think, refers to a “looking back” meditation on what was happening in Japanese society that it took two atomic bombs to induce the country’s surrender.

The main character is a Kamikaze pilot (suicide bomber) with a conscience. The opening image shows him landing on an island’s airstrip, thankfully not having carried out his hopeless orders.

Through the course of fighting Godzilla, the character moves away from death-cult nihilism to eventually embrace his responsibilities as a friend, husband and father.

Of the all of Godzilla movies, it is one of the best. Of the all the films released in 2023, it is the best.


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Nominated for Best Visual Effects

Our teenage contributor, D. Sariego, has written video game blogs for Family Theater Productions, and he also took a look at this new Marvel movie. This final installment of the trilogy ranks the lowest in his opinion, with the filmmakers seemingly rushing out the movie. I would tend to agree

Even the soundtrack, once a reliable staple of the franchise, only contains a few widely recognizable songs.


Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Nominated for Best Music (Original Score, John Williams)

I wrote an Indiana Jones-themed blog for Family Theater Productions earlier this year. It was one of the most read of our blogs from last year, focusing on the faith journey of all the iterations of the character.

As for the last Indy film, if you like numbers and logical truth, you’ll enjoy Indiana Jones' (Harrison Ford) final romp through history, as he tries to visit ancient mathematician Archimedes, who apparently discovered the ability to time travel.


Killers of the Flower Moon

Nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Martin Scorsese), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Lily Gladstone), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Robert De Niro) Best Music (Original Score, Robbie Robertson), Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Original Song (“Wahzhazhe (A Song For My People)," Scott George)

Director Martin Scorsese made what I see as a critical error in telling the story via the point of view of the villain, Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio). It makes for a long 3 1/2 hours, tracking the story through the eyes of an imbecile.

The David Grann book reads more like a whodunit, following intrepid FBI agent Tom White (Jesse Plemons) as he uncovers the theft of the Osage tribe’s land and riches. The probe proved to be the making of the FBI as a law-enforcement agency.


Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One

Nominated for Best Visual Effects, Best Sound

My colleague Kate O’Hare is the bigger fan of the series. I preferred the original TV series that emphasized teamwork. The film series promotes Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt character, and Kate noticed quite a few Catholic elements in the films, outlined in her Pax Culturati blog here.



Nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Annette Bening), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Jodie Foster)

Growing up in a swimming family, I heard stories about Diana Nyad’s long-distance swimming accomplishments. Most memorable was her failed attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida in the late 1970s.

I almost forgot about her until the 2010s, when quite miraculously, she accomplished the feat in her 60s. Prone to boasting about her exploits in her memoir Find a Way, the film, starring Annette Bening, makes for a humbler adaptation.



Nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Cillian Murphy), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Robert Downey, Jr.), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Emily Blunt), Best Director (Christopher Nolan), Best Original Score (Ludwig Göransson), Best Cinematography, Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay, Christopher Nolan), Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Film Editing, Best Sound

Director Christopher Nolan spends half his film covering scientist Robert Oppenheimer’s (Cillian Murphy) closed-door hearings. A panel grills him about his Communist connections in determining whether he will continue receiving security clearance.

Nolan fabricated Oppenheimer’s crisis of conscience for story purposes. In reality, Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin's Pulitzer Prize-winning 2005 biography American Prometheus records Oppenheimer as going to his grave carrying no guilt for leading the Manhattan Project, which created the atomic bomb.

Oppenheimer said he was paid to do a job. He did the job. He helped end the war.


Poor Things

Nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role (Emma Stone), Best Director (Yorgos Lanthimos), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Mark Ruffalo), Best Music (Original Score, Jerskin Fendrix), Best Cinematography, Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay, Tony McNamara), Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup and Hairstyling

I picked up the Alasdair Gray's 1992 novel as an airport read. The “what if?” Frankenstein were a woman made for a wildly entertaining read.

Yorgos Lanthimos’ adaptation unnecessarily sexed up the novel. I don’t consider myself prudish, but this film was the only one from last year that I walked out of.


Society of the Snow

Nominated for Best International Feature, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, 

The English translation of author Pablo Vierci's 2009 account of the survival of Uruguayan rugby team after crashing into the Andes Mountains in 1972 will be released in March. Netflix’s recent adaptation ramps up the Catholicism mostly ignored in Alive, the 1993 Ethan Hawke film.

The first film was about the plane-crash survivors resorting to cannibalism at a queasy arm’s length. This Spanish-language version reimagines the same gruesome, yet necessary, act as the ultimate sacrifice, with clear Eucharistic tones, giving up one’s literal body as food for others to live.


Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Nominated for Best Animated Feature Film

I enjoyed the original Spider-Verse film yet was left wanting more, as the sequel left viewers on a cliffhanger. Our writer Josh M. Shepherd loved this sequel, believing it imaginative, engaging and the best of the multiverse films.

One thing we can agree upon, however, is that every iteration of the Spider-Man character across the universes was true to Stan Lee's original Marvel vision.


The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar

Nominated for Best Short Film (Live Action)

In this short film by director Wes Anderson, based on Roald Dahl's 1977 short story of the same name, Englishman Henry Sugar (Benedict Cumberbatch) visits a private library and absconds with a book promising the reader an ability to see through items.

Through rigorous periods of meditation, Sugar achieves this supernatural power.

For me, the saints came to mind in this sequence, who, in rare cases possessed supernatural powers such as levitation.

Sugar very quickly heads to a casino and places outrageous poker bets, winning himself riches. The euphoria of his scheme runs out and he feels empty inside. Impulsively, he throws wads of cash off his balcony. The short film concludes with him donating to hospitals and orphanages.

It's one of four Dahl stories adapted by Anderson, released on Netflix last fall.


The Zone of Interest

Nominated for Best Picture, Best International Feature, Best Director (Jonathan Glazer), Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay, Jonathan Glazer), Best Sound

Jonathan Grazer’s film is the best adaptation on this list. Martin Amis’ 2014 novel centers around a forgettable Nazi love triangle.

Grazer dispenses with the fictional characters and instead sets the action around Commandant Rudolf Hess’ residence ... a bucolic setting adjacent to Auschwitz.

The viewer never sees the inside of the concentration camp, only hearing the horrors from beyond the prison walls. A more merciful director than others would be, Grazer situates Hess in what could be interpreted as a Purgatory sequence at the end of the film.


Image: Godzilla. PHOTO: Toho

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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