Hollywood has made movies based on cartoons (“Scooby-Doo” and “Speed Racer”), graphic novels (“Oblivion”), novels (“The Help” and “12 Years a Slave”) and TV shows (“Lost in Space” and “Bewitched”). However, what Hollywood likes best are reboots, which are essentially remakes of previously successful movies.
The reason for the lack of original ideas is simply that recycled ideas have a built-in audience. That doesn’t mean that audience will watch the movie if the movie sucks, but it helps to have a built-in audience vs. no audience at all. When Hollywood reboots a franchise like “Spiderman,” “Star Trek,” or “Batman,” they always use trusted screenwriters who they have worked with before or who have a successful record of writing screenplays in the past.
For novices, don’t even bother trying to write a screenplay based on existing material unless you personally have the rights to it. However, look at bad movies and look for elements that you liked about it. Then create your own story based on the good ideas from that bad movie.
For example, there was a bad Jean-Claude van Damme movie where he played an undercover cop who goes into prison to investigate the killing of prisoners to harvest their internal organs for the black market. Although the movie was pretty bad, the idea is still interesting. Just take a good idea from a bad movie and reboot it in your own style and structure.
You obviously don’t want to use the same characters and the exact same plot from a bad movie, but since it was a bad movie to begin with, just improve it the way you think it should be written. By taking a bad movie and rebooting it, you can make it better and you can already see the basic structure of how the bad movie should have developed. By filling in the gaps and rewriting the story with different characters, you can make a bad story into a better one.
You don’t want to plagiarize, but you do want to borrow. Even Shakespeare didn’t write completely original stories, but he did write familiar stories in an interesting way and that’s what you can do with your favorite bad movies. Find a bad movie that had promise and reboot it in your imagination.
There are no original story ideas in the world; just original executions of those same story lines, so put your unique twist on a bad movie and turn it into a good one. At the very least, this can be a great exercise to writing your first screenplay. Who knows? Maybe rebooting a bad movie can help you create an original screenplay that sells and gets turned into a good movie.