-- Gary Winogrand
Nothing against Neo, but we've seen the unlikely savior story plenty of times before, just with not as many awesome fight scenes. I'm more interested in the guy who's had his crew spend their entire careers trying to find The One. How many did he try before Neo? Are they some of his crew now? What happens when he realizes you're not The One? Does he still free you anyway, or are you not really worth his time anymore? It's revealed pretty early in the second two Matrix films that Morpheus is in the minority in his belief in a savior, a definite tonal shift from the first movie where it's sort of implied that everyone knows about the The One's existence, they just weren't sure who he was. So if Morpheus is in the minority, how does he justify his hunt to command? How does that fit in with his actual duties as a captain? What the heck are his actual duties? A movie that followed his search right up until finding The One is at least as compelling as The Matrix.
Another example of a well-done movie with a hardly original protagonist. By contrast, how the clearly insane Stephen managed to last this long to team up with William Wallace is fascinating. When he says Ireland is his, does he actually mean it in some sense? Or does he just figure nobody can check his Facebook page to call his bluff? Have his appeal is in how little we know about him, and how perfectly content all the movie's other characters seem with that. Stephen's Irish adventures before coming to Wallace's aid could make for a Centurion-style action flick that shows just what drove him crazy (it's always more fun for characters to be driven mad than for them to start out that way). Wallace's "avenging the death of a woman in his life" cookie-cutter motives can't hold a candle to that.
And no, Queen of the Damned doesn't count. Most filmmakers try to figure out how films it will take to properly adapt a book. The producers of QotD turned convention on its head and crammed multiple books into one movie. The results were as predictably awful as you might imagine. In Interview with the Vampire, Lestat was a fantastic, larger-than-life character with little revealed about his backstory other than that he himself seemed pained by it, but whatever it was, it gave him extraordinary power. At this point in his career, Brad Pitt was still a little out of his depth in a role like Louis, the main focus of the movie, so you couldn't help but be drawn in by Tom Cruise's scenery-chewing performance. Louis spends the whole movie whining about what a terrible existence vampirism is, and rather than just throw himself into a sunrise, he'd much rather just recoil at anyone suggesting he should enjoy immortality. Lestat, on the other hand, has no such qualms and would be much better suited to carry a movie.
Instead of James Spader's generic recovering drug addict protagonist, how about we follow the abusive lowlife that stumbles on an alien artifact to speed up human evolution, before he murders his entire crew to claim sole possession of it? In a movie full of characters from a continuing education class on creative writing, Carl stands alone as a driven, homicidal wrecking ball that I would love to see tear through his crew before retelling Supernova from his point of view. I have a soft spot from grandiose sci-fi plots and if you threw in rooting for a serial killer, you'd be checking off plenty of boxes to get me interested. Throw in the extra ground you've be covering in my version, and nobody will even notice that you only spent 5 minutes formulating the characters aboard the Nightingale. Perhaps with a second crack at character creation, the mining crew Carl's originally a part of would've been more interesting.
This guy spent 25 years just floating around in space in his from-the-future mining vessel plotting his revenge on Spock, and at no point in 25 years were there enough events to craft a movie out of? I'm not buying it. I don't think he and his crew just set the oven timer for "25 years" and played board games. Star Trek was a great movie that modified the Kirk and Spock dynamic in interesting ways, but the movie wasted a fantastic villain (before its sequel wasted a fantastic actor on a forgettable villain; I can't wait to see what the third movie squanders!) focusing on how clever it was in how it explained rebooting the franchise with different ground rules. Nero is so singularly bent on vengeance that in a quarter-century, the pile of bodies wracked up while he plotted his revenge off-screen must be monumental and definitely deserving of his own movie.
The quintessential "These can be great movies" entry, Se7en managed to focus on two generic detectives (the brash young upstart and the wise older cynical one), but managed to get away with it by casting two actors at the peak of their games (Brad Pitt's horrendous emotional outburst at the end not withstanding; Pitt is one of my favorite actors, but he was absolutely terrible there) and telling an amazing story that was ahead of its time in terms of being gruesome with a purpose. A Se7en that focuses on John Doe would be all the best parts of "Dexter" smashed together with Red Dragon and greater than even that sum suggests. Considering Hollywood almost produced a sequel focusing on Morgan Freeman's character gaining telepathic powers (I'm not kidding), a re-telling in this vein hardly seems untouchable for them.
The only thing stranger than the fact that I'm calling a character from Twilight interesting, is that I have two Peter Facinelli entries on this list (Carl). Apparently the guy can't resist compelling roles that will definitely be overshadowed. Anyway, Carlisle was born to a monster hunter before being turned into a vampire himself. After a few years (I can't remember how many, and I refuse to research it) of hating himself he decides to go "vegetarian" and raise a whole vampire family in the same vein. This entry is the example of a passable character being so far and away the most compelling in a movie full of cardboard characters that struggle to reach one dimension. By himself he'd have a 50/50 shot at producing a watchable movie, but the gap is so great between those odds and the Twilight franchise that he earns his spot on the list.
The entire frickin' movies are named after him, and yet we focus on the homeless man's Indiana Jones. When faced with the question "Do we center our movie on the thousands of years-old, unstoppable killing machine or the star of Encino Man?" the drugs apparently hadn't worn off enough for the producers to make the right call. The long-gestating reboot (in development since April 2012 and has yet to begin shooting) could fix this, and yet will still probably produce a worse movie, given the track record of reboots lately. Still, the potential is there to break stride enough with the original for it to be a great movie, and if it isn't, that could hardly be blamed on the potential of the character.
Admittedly, Hyperion is a badder-ass name than Minos (the actual Greek mythological figure), so the producers already showed they cared about him. Focusing the movie on him though, would've helped put a little more distance between Immortals and 300, and given audiences tepid reaction to the former, it could've been used. Here's a man who grew to hate the gods so much that he decided "I'll just become a king and kill them all" and along the way turned into a pretty sadistic, sacrilegious tyrant along the way. All due respect to Theseus, but another "avenging the death of a woman in your life" doesn't compare to that. Following his rise to blasphemous kinghood (How do you raise an army with your selling point being "end the world"?) would've been a much more interesting choice. Save the showdown for the sequel.
My greatest argument in the debate that fidelity to the source material does not necessarily make the best movie choice, Sphere was based on a fantastic novel and came out as a middling movie. Instead of focusing on the present-day team checking out the crash and discovering the artifact, what if we followed the future spacemen who picked it up on some distant planet before being picked apart by its power, culminating in manifesting a black hole to suck them back in time? If you haven't seen the movie, I bet that synopsis at least caught your attention. I'm imagining all the best parts of Event Horizon and Prometheus mashed up into one movie that could define space horror for this generation the way Alien did years ago. The movie wouldn't even spectacularly expensive to produce these days, and I bet the film rights are still floating around Hollywood just waiting to be plucked up.