Thought Catalog

Possible Reasons Hollywood Consistently Butchers Bret Easton Ellis Movie Adaptations

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Less Than Zero (1987)

A novel that revels in and romanticizes the destructive nature of the rich, uninhibited youth of America.

Hollywood’s problems

(1) Teenagers on drugs, especially cocaine, ramble and are emotionally/ physically numb to the vast majority of human experiences despite their enthusiasm about discussing them, and when they witness something horrific, they either express underwhelming levels of disgust or try to photograph it, which, as a motif, would desperately frighten most viewers.

(2) Movies are a medium of passion. If there is no passion, there is no movie. This is what Hollywood thinks about a “true-to-the-zeitgeist intellectual tome documenting the depths of teenage confusion”: if there is no drama, we cannot sell it.

Hollywood’s solutions

(1) Hire actors who convey “numbness” and “drug addiction” convincingly, give their characters just enough emotion to appear to feel shame regarding their lecherousness, and allow this shame alone to drive the plot.

(2) Completely wipe away any semblance of realism by working the quantitatively daunting character count down to five and do not, do not, involve homoeroticism, except in the context of the warm-hearted anti-hero giving BJs for crack, because Gays are frightening.

What we got


American Psycho (2000)

A novel about a demented, homicidal one-percenter who brutally kills people or just elaborately daydreams about brutally killing people. How might Hollywood adapt this meditation on Shakespearean evil for the screen?

Hollywood’s problems

(1) Hollywood is primarily made up of demented, homicidal one-percenters who don’t want their clandestine fantasies revealed to the public.

(2) If this movie is perceived to be a commentary on white-collar psychology (and you for one are not sure whether or not the book is), then this movie could have lasting negative repercussions with the public perception of the concept of “businessmen” and possibly scar the genres of both magical realism and horror in a way that will drive the public to solely desire escapist science fiction for the duration of cinema’s existence.

Hollywood’s solutions

(1) Form a highly unstable human being out of plastic and out-of-control enthusiasm and program him to be the main character, so that empathy is impossible and the audience can easily compartmentalize what they are watching and what their actual thoughts on serial homicide are.

(2) Play the “it’s all just a dream” card.

What we got


The Rules of Attraction (2002)

A book that ignores contemporary ideas of narrative structure. It’s about three college kids: an amoral, suicidal everyman; a guilt-ridden, potentially suicidal, severely lovesick everygirl; a Gay. They attend an Ivy League school, and haphazardly experience promiscuous, mind-altering, and yet somehow, to them, mind-numbingly boring events in a hyper-reality where college is literally just about testing the limits of how messed up you can get.

Hollywood’s problems

(1) A Gay is a primary character. In the early ’00s, is it “hip” to be gay yet?

(2) The Western World desperately needs their teenage population to believe college is about discovery and a sense of securing one’s eternal destiny, not sampling every possible human experience to the point of entering a vortex of eternal horror, which in many ways is the primary substance college provides.

(3) The broken nature of the plot structure would have to be something like a sequel to Memento, or maybe a two-hour, three-wheeled, alternating zoetrope, which is just not marketable in a Hollywood, multi-million dollar business venture sort of way.

Hollywood’s solutions

(1) Hire three beautiful people to act. Have their characters be “searching for something” and wondering when the drug and sex cyclone will end.

(2) Make The Gay kind of the bad guy and the suicidal everyman kind of like Clark Kent, and… yeah, just make Memento II. With sex scenes, we need those, just not gay ones. Okay, maybe one gay one.

(3) Concretize the story in a way that results in a sense of solidarity between these “lost young adults” and sets up for a drawn-out reconciliation in an idyllic setting. Maybe give them some capacity to “move past” this endless cycle of destruction, because we don’t want the suicidal everyman to be every man and woman who walks out of the theater.

What we got


The Informers (2008)

A series of vignettes about severely depressed Angelinos on various tiers of the economic totem pole, and a vampire. Given Hollywood’s track record and BEE’s unquestionably cemented place in postmodern history, can they decipher this? Can Hollywood somehow milk a coherent narrative out of it?

Hollywood’s problems

(1) Vampires aren’t “in” yet, so there’s no way Hollywood’s going to risk trying to explain that through story development. He’s out.

(2) The book is set in the eighties and references all kinds of period concerns and pop culture nuances. What were the eighties?

(3) It’s finally “in” to make a movie sans drama, the independent market is flooded with them. But how do you get people in the theater if the plot is driven by establishing and then immediately disintegrating what would normally set up “plot,” followed by three-to-five minute long meditations on “white people problems” that then resolve in terminal bleakness?

Hollywood’s solutions

(1) Hollywood puts together an impregnable team of beautifully vapid A-list actors. Money in the bank.

(2) Ray Bans! Naked People! Synthesizers! Movie Stars! Drugs! Polyamory! (Subtly inferred) AIDS! Ladies and gentlemen, the ’80s, but like… in the ’00s, but it’s the ’80s! It’s so postmodern it’s crazy!

What we got


Glamorama (????)

A throw-away novel about the fashion industry and espionage that’s more an experimental, masturbatory meditation on popular culture. Whatever.

Hollywood’s potential problems

(1) The idea of Glamorama as a movie is hilarious.

(2) The book is not hilarious.

Hollywood’s potential solutions

(1) There are no solutions.

(2) Ben Stiller needs ideas. Ben Stiller is hilarious. Zoolander.

What we got?


Lunar Park (????)

There are no plans to make a movie about this book — BEE is living this book. This book is his life. Does he have a camera? Can we take part in the horror of BEE?


Imperial Bedrooms (????)

A sequel to Less Than Zero.

Hollywood’s potential problems

(1) The actors are old. Specifically, Robert Downey Jr. has moved past his “drug-addled Loki” typecast phase. Would he even be willing to botch another poorly-interpreted iteration of Julian?

Hollywood’s potential solutions

(1) You don’t do it. You stop writing. Everything is right with the world.

(2) Impending doom. TC mark

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  • Sarah

    And then there’s Glitterati, which is APPARENTLY awesome because Robert Avery did it independently and the whole thing is allegedly Kip Pardue wandering around Europe for a week actually pretending to be Victor Ward.

    But the world will never know because no one will ever release it. Probably for many of these reasons.

    (Incidentally, if anyone can hook me up with a viewing of Glitterati, I’ll give you my first born or something…seriously.)

    • EarthToNichole

      According to interviews I’ve read he (Kip) was in character the whole time he was in Europe. I would also give my first born (and any subsequent children) to view that film.

  • Stephen Mcdowell

    i feel similarly to sarah re ‘glitterati’

  • Anton

    I always believed that the problem is that BEE is a very good writer but not a very intelligent man.

  • Mr. Ian M. Belcurry

    i liked The Informers, never read the book though. And the movie of Less Than Zero isn’t at all like the book, but I still like it. And it serves for the beginning of Imperial Bedrooms. And American Pyscho doesn’t do the book justice, but it’s pretty good and by putting his writing of pop music into a monologue before axing Jared Leto (or something) was pretty sweet.

    • Anton

      The informers is one of the best books by Bret Easton Ellis. Maybe second only to the rules of attraction. It is a collection of college short stories that were published after the rules of attraction and before glamorama. It is the last of his books that is sincerely concerned with morality whereas in American Psycho the moral message is an excuse for a horror novel based on the style of men’s lifestyle magazines meeting crime and punishment (but with no punishment and no redemption since its the 80s). While Less Than Zero still suffers from his young age the fragmented form of The Informers makes shine the strength of Bret’s earlier elliptical and minimalist style where the sadness and the alienation are communicated through missed acts and forgetfulness that circumvent and describe the profound lack that characterizes the life of his protagonists. The informers it is truly a literary gem and should be regarded as such. <— This is the speech I'll make before butchering my more successful blogger friend in my apartment.

      • Mr. Ian M. Belcurry

        I’ll have to check out The Informers. :)

      • Sarah

        The Informers came out after American Psycho. 

        Just, you know, so you don’t mar the memory of the murder with the humiliation of such a glaring error in pop-culture history. 

      • Anton

        after the rules of attraction and before glamorama” seems correct to me.
        But I do agree that the next sentence may rise confusion. 

  • Daniel

    I respectfully disagree

    • Stephen Mcdowell

      can you elaborate?

      • Daniel

        I’m sorry. I mostly just disagree with your title. I don’t think ‘Hollywood’ has as much of a collective bias as you think. You probably know more about Bret Easton Ellis than I do, but I think individually each of his books-turned-movies are another artist’s interpretation. It is very difficult to make a good movie in ‘Hollywood,’ regardless of the subject material. You could easily make similar arguments that ‘Hollywood’ ‘butchers’ Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk, Cormac McCarthy, etc.. I don’t think Less Than Zero and American Pscyho were ‘butchered.’

      • Stephen Mcdowell

        i agree

        i don’t think ‘hollywood’ is an actual entity, but a concept 
        mass culture  has concretized, like a country or religious sect, and uses to easily attribute varied products with a common element/derivation

        the title is rhetorical

        and the text is similar to a ‘bret easton ellis novel’ than a ‘serious critique’

        thanks for your input

  • Jordana Bevan

    chucklefuckle!!!! sweet breakdown to the fundamentals. plz rite moar

    • Stephen Mcdowell



  • buttercup mcgillicuddy

    what are you talking about?

  • Stephen Michael McDowell


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