Writing a Novel: Plagiarism Case of the ’90s Solved

Last updated: August 2019

Okay, first things first: what is a novelization?

Novelization is an attempt to translate popular movies plots into the fictional prose, with greater attention to characters stories and more descriptive action scenes.

So, if you ever wondered –

  • what’s in the head of John Matrix (Commando) as he rows his inflatable boat,
  • what Robocop’s inner self looks like,
  • or, how tight is a ninja suit for that soldier from  American Ninja

– then, writing a novel based on those movies could help you find answers.

As it turns out, such books exist:


Yes, people still read movie novelizations. And yes, some authors still write them. So, if you think about how to start writing a novel, maybe it’s worth trying to novelize your favorite movie first?

Novelizing movies is less popular today. Unlike million-strong runs of Star Wars and Alien in the ’70s, only top 20 movie bestsellers turn into books today. Yet, socko still happens. For example, the novelization of Godzilla, that was featured in The New York Times Best Seller List for mass-market paperbacks.

But here’s the catch:

Movie novelization doesn’t mean mere rewriting and, therefore, plagiarizing as it was in the ’90s. And not only in the USA.

How to Write a Book: Avoid Copyright Abuse

Book, video game, and cinema businesses looking to capitalize off a giant hit often skate the rules when it comes to surplus profit. But there were also cases when the rules were entirely thrown out.

To solve a daring crime of copyright abuse, we’ll need the help of Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett Brown to travel in time:

  • Destination: any survived country of the former USSR
  • Time: the ’90s
  • Soundtrack: plucking a balalaika slowly, gradually revving up
  • Rules: no rules

Welcome to the bookish helldorado, the brave new world of the post-USSR business wheeler-dealers. The world without rules, controls, and borders. The world where anything is possible.

This is the world where everyone who thought of how to start writing a novel could do that like this:

  1. Take a blockbuster, blown by local video rental shops and video rooms (small room packed with TV, VCR and seats).
  2. Assign cheap writers to copy the movie frame by frame, enhancing its familiar (stolen) storyline with their imagination.
  3. Coin an English-like pen name.
  4. Wrap it up in a jazzy cover with recognizable characters/actors on its front fly-leaf.
  5. Entitle it like a boss (Hollywood Bestsellers, for example), launching an edition of over 100500 copies.
  6. Bring it to local bookstores.
  7. Wait for the cash flow to roll in.

Here they are, all in one place:

hollywood bestsellers series

You are what you read, so be careful.

Writing a Novel Like That: What Witnesses Said

Local bloggers remember those times (translated from Russian):

“… in the ’90s, I participated in writing books after some American (like DYNASTY, for example) and Mexican TV series. We were a team of 3-4 writers. As for iconic movies such as Twin Peaks or Alien, trophy writers such as Henry Lion Oldie, Andrii Bliznetsov, and Mykola Yutanov did novelizations like that…”

“… Russia published more books after the X-Files series than the USA and other countries altogether.”

“… the story goes on, and, let’s say, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter has dozens of analogs in Russian, starting from Dmitri Yemets’ series about Tanya Grotter and ending with Julia Voznesenskaya’s attempts to create the image of a young orthodox witch. Bridget Jones’s Diary (Helen Fielding) was so successful that it inspired the Amphora publishing house to make The New Russian’s Diary series. Its author Elena Kolina is sure her work is better than original because ‘our protagonist has wider interests. Her relations with adults are deeper, she is interested in politics, and reads something all the time’.”

“In the early ’90s, when videocassette recorders were attributes of the rich, some handymen generated a cool idea: people read a lot, so why not turn all Hollywood bestsellers into movies? People couldn’t help buying books with Schwarzenegger, Willis, Murphy, Seagal, and other Hollywood actors on covers. They read about aliens, terrorists, and superheroes, which made such literature even glossier. My father had bought about 30 books of this series, and I read them in a single burst. Thus, being a 12-year-old boy, I READ many blockbusters before I watched them.”

“… And who are Arch Stranton and other authors, not even mentioned as scriptwriters of those movies? I dare say they are pen names of ghostwriters who turned all those popular movies into books.”

Sure thing, it wasn’t first or last time someone tried to plagiarize and make money from others’ talent or brand. Many know the cases of Alexander Volkov’s The Wizard of the Emerald City (Wizard of Oz spinoff) and Aleksey Tolstoy’s The Golden Key, or The Adventures of Buratino (Pinocchio interpretation).

But this Hollywood Bestsellers series is beautiful in its weirdy plagiarized way:

Production values were low.

  • Some books were like two peas in a pod with movies, copied word for word without reference to existing official novelizations that could be translated from English.
  • The books were filled with odd design and illustrations:

poor book design

Circulation was astonishing:

The surreal fact you still can buy those books in the biggest online shops:

Run, plagiarist, run. Crime solved

You want proofs. Nuff said.

It would be funny to find a book adaptation made after a movie novelization. Yeap, such works would find their fans, too. Trashy books deserve to exist somewhere in a row between Batman’s mask and The Avengers’ poster. But why make them even trashier? 

The ugly truth is, people buy. Well, at least they read.