I decided to look at the most prominent movies during the past year that stemmed from a completely original concept, not based on a work that came before. It was tougher than I thought -- even some films that I thought were completely new were actually based on a pre-existing concept: Taken was based on a true-life story, Inglourious Basterds was based on an obscure earlier film, Thirst was apparently based on a 19th-century tale, and The Box was based on a short story.
It can be debated that even the original films I've listed below are inspired by some story ideas that audiences have seen before, but we can nitpick that there really are only a certain number of archtypes for plots (boy meets girl, the underdog battling incredible odds, a fish out of water, a hero's journey, and so on).
So here are some of the films from 2009 that were based on "original" concepts.
District 9 - Peter Jackson produced this excellent allegory by newcomer director Neill Blomkamp. It was a low-budget science fiction tale with a no-name cast that looked better than some big budget tentpole films with A-list stars.
Moon - Speaking of low-budget sci-fi movies, this little picture starring Sam Rockwell and directed by Duncan Jones was a critically-lauded drama, proving that you don't need multi-million dollar special effects to tell a thought-provoking story.
Avatar - On the other hand, an expensive budget and a high profile director like James Cameron can still bring us original concepts. This may or may not be the groundbreaking, trendsetting film that the hype-masters are claiming it is, but if the buzz is correct, it's still a great 3-D spectacle with some incredible eye-candy. We can laugh at the giant blue aliens and the sappy "Dances with Smurfs" storyline, but at least Cameron produced a new story instead of remaking something old or adapting something people have read or seen before.
Up - Let's all praise Pixar for continuing to give us imaginative, original movies that all become instant classics. They succeed because they know how to tell a story and develop amazing characters. I hope they continue to give us brand new cartoons for decades and decades to come.
The Hangover - This comedy came out of nowhere and became a blockbuster. Starring Bradley Cooper and a great supporting cast (including Mike Tyson), it was outrageous, hilarious, and refreshingly original.
Paranormal Activity - Following in the legacy of other low-budget horror films, this simple yet effective movie proved that audiences still love being scared, and you don't need a major horror franchise or known actors to do it. Small-scale productions can make big profits when produced and marketed the right way.
I applaud these moviemakers for giving us brand new tales instead of going the easy route and making a movie based on a comic book or a videogame or a previous hit film. Some of these films might spawn franchises themselves and we might see sequels or spin-offs based on their ideas, but at least we had the pleasure of seeing them as unique creations this year. Let's hope we'll see more original content that will entertain us in the years to come.