14 Movies That Turned Thin Source Material Into Great Stories

List Rules
Vote up the movies that turned a few words into a great story.

These days, most of the major movies released by Hollywood are based on something else, whether it's a bestselling novel, a comic book character, a previous movie, or even a video game. Studios like to make films that come with a built-in audience. Knowing there's a base of fans out there helps ensure that their releases have a maximized chance of becoming profitable. In fact, it's getting harder and harder to find a film that's completely, totally original.

On occasion, filmmakers don't just find inspiration in preexisting source material, but in exceptionally thin source material. Children's picture books, magazine articles, a set of trading cards, and even a Twitter thread have become fodder for full-length movies over the past few decades. What's fascinating about this is that the people making these movies have to find ways to stretch out minimal material so that it can fill up a 90-minute to two-hour film. There are some examples of people getting it really wrong - 1987's disastrous sticker-based The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, for example - but each of the following pictures did it very well.

Which of these movies most successfully turned thin source material into a great story? Vote for your top picks.


  • In 1967, Disneyland debuted a new water ride called Pirates of the Caribbean. Using animatronic animals and humans, it took riders on an adventure down a waterfall, through "Dead Man's Cove" (where they were greeted by skeletons), and into the middle of a pirate war, complete with flying cannonballs. The ride also introduced the song "Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)" into the Disney lexicon. 

    Thirty-six years later, Disney decided to create a cinematic ride from the property. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl kept a few of the characters from the ride, as well as the general plot about the search for treasure. Beyond that, it added characters Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, and expanded the concept of a supernatural curse, which is only mentioned briefly at the start of the ride. 

    Of course, with live actors and a big budget, the movie was able to achieve action sequences far more elaborate than anything Disneyland could accomplish. The end result was popular enough to spawn four sequels.

    164 votes

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  • 2
    145 VOTES

    Chris Van Allsburg's picture book Jumanji is only 32 pages long. In it, a brother and sister discover an odd board game at the local park. They take it home to play, only to discover that the dangers in the game become real. Among the hazards they face are a lion running loose in their house. Eventually they finish the game, sending all the jungle creatures back into their fantasy world. The siblings return the game to the park, but later see two other children walking off with it. 

    Once CGI became sophisticated enough to create realistic-looking animals, Hollywood jumped at the chance to turn Jumanji into a film. Directed by Joe Johnston, it cast Robin Williams as Alan Parrish, a guy who, we learn in a flashback, played the game in 1969 and subsequently became trapped inside of it for 26 years. Only when two siblings move into his family's old mansion and discover the board game is he finally let loose. Jumanji essentially expands everything in Van Allsburg's book, amping up the action and exploring the emotions inherent in the concept.

    145 votes

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  • 3
    113 VOTES

    Cartoonist William Steig released his children's book Shrek! in 1990. It's about an ugly green ogre who lives in a swamp, pals around with a donkey, and rescues a princess who's as ugly as he is. The tale is told in an economical 32 pages, in which the illustrations take up between one-half and two-thirds of each page. You can read the whole thing in under 10 minutes

    Eleven years later, DreamWorks Pictures turned Shrek into an animated movie. The book's plot was modified, with the villain changing from a knight into Lord Farquaad and the title character facing entirely different hazards along the way. Self-referential humor and pop-culture-related jokes were tossed in to amplify the comedy value. These changes to the basic concept turned Shrek into a spoof of fairy tales, while also helping to solidify the comical "DreamWorks attitude" that became par for the course in the studio's animated releases.

    113 votes

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  • 4
    126 VOTES

    It was a big trend in the '70s and '80s to turn hit movies into board games. The makers of Clue did the opposite, turning a board game into a movie. The game has players assuming the role of detective. Someone has been slain in a mansion, and by rolling dice and sneaking peeks at other players' cards, you have to assemble the evidence to guess who the killer is, what they used as a weapon, and in which room the slaying took place. The game is addictive and fun.

    Writer/director Jonathan Lynn imagined Clue as a star-studded mystery comedy. The 1985 film maintains the general idea of a murder inside a mansion. It retains the game's colorfully named characters - Professor Plum, Colonel Mustard, Mrs. Peacock, etc. Of course, the game has no plot, so Lynn had to create one out of whole cloth, taking the time to develop the suspects, in addition to devising motives for each character to commit the central crime. 

    In perhaps the shrewdest move, Clue cinematically recreated the "different outcome every time" element that makes the game replayable. The movie was released to theaters with three different endings. Depending on where you saw it, the murder was committed either by Miss Scarlet, Mrs. Peacock, or everyone except Mr. Green.

    126 votes

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  • The Nightmare Before Christmas originated with a poem Tim Burton wrote while working as an animator at Disney. It tells the story of Jack Skellington, a resident of Halloweenland who becomes disenchanted with what he sees as the monotony of his life. Upon stumbling into Christmas Town, Jack comes to believe that the grass is greener in this realm. He then kidnaps Santa - with the best of intentions - and attempts to do his job, only to terrify children with the horrific "toys" he delivers. In the end, he returns to Halloween Town feeling like a failure, until a pep talk from Santa makes him feel better about his place in life.

    It's a good tale, and a natural one for the stop-motion animation Burton and director Henry Selick brought to The Nightmare Before Christmas when it hit screens in 1993. Aside from fully envisioning Halloween Town, the movie also expands on the story, adding love interest Sally, plus a nemesis in the form of Oogie Boogie. Burton and Selick also turned it into a musical with songs from former Oingo Boingo frontman Danny Elfman. The poem was a blueprint for the film, which took the basic story and spun a whole world from it.

    130 votes

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  • Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
    Photo: CBS

    How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is one of Dr. Seuss's most beloved books. First published in 1957, it lays out the story of the Grinch, a nasty green being who absolutely hates Christmas. Annoyed by the yuletide festivities in Whoville, he plots to steal everyone's Christmas trees, decorations, and presents. When this fails to dampen the Whos' spirit, the Grinch realizes he's been too hard on the holiday. The 64-page book ends with him joining them in celebration. 

    The 1966 TV film was remarkably faithful to Seuss's work. It even maintained the book's text, which was read by actor Boris Karloff. A few minor changes were made, but by and large, this animated adaptation opted for the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach. That's unlike Ron Howard's 2000 live-action adaptation, which starred Jim Carrey and added a lot of goofball comedy to the otherwise heartwarming tale.

    88 votes