The upcoming release of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit proves, once again, that filmmakers are always turning to the world of literature for stories and inspiration. Look at any newly best-selling book these days and, the chances are, someone is trying to turn it into a movie before the bookshop shelves even make it to their first re-stock.
Sometimes, however, there is a literary character that simply cannot be contained. Like Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, now appearing in his fifth film, these rare characters seize the collective consciousness and permeate our culture – outgrowing the stories in which they were originally created, and charting their own course into new adventures. While lesser creations play second fiddle to their stories, these iconic characters have filmmakers dancing to their tunes – standing astride a wide variety of artistic interpretations, and providing a rich mine of source material to draw upon.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit marks a watershed moment for that character, as it is the first film in his franchise that is not based on a specific book. While it takes elements of his written tales, and inspiration from his literary timeline, the story itself is not a direct adaptation. Since The Hunt For Red October took him from the page to the big screen in 1990, the character of Jack Ryan has become the Grand-Daddy of the CIA movie thriller, influencing the tone and style of all those that followed. Taking a look at literary characters that have managed to achieve the same status certainly makes for interesting reading.
Firstly, there are a select, elite few that meet the criteria: having been played, re-interpreted, or expanded upon by multiple actors over a number of years, and having new stories created specifically for them – albeit inspired by the original elements. Secondly, the characters are all male, with the exception of one taken from the pen of The Brothers Grimm, way back in 1812 and, frankly, she only just scraped in. Yes, Katniss Everdeen is a great female character in literature, but she has yet to transcend The Hunger Games, just as Lisbeth Salander only exists in the context of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Likewise, outside of The Twilight Saga, Bella Swann would be just another moody teenager. “What about Bridget Jones?” someone cries. An iconic character indeed – but those films are direct adaptations of the original books, featuring just one portrayal. No – it would seem that, when it comes to extending the life of literary characters, Hollywood prefers theirs of the male variety – as ever it was.
So, join us as we take a look at literary characters that made it to film, and became masters of their own destiny.