The world experienced the travesty that is Dragonball Evolution in 2009. The film is a live-action adaptation of Dragon Ball that is a complete failure in every way possible. Since this undeniable bomb of a film, there has never been another attempt to make a live-action Dragon Ball film (aside from fan creations).
However, there have been plenty of other live-action anime adaptations in the last few years, the most recent being Alita: Battle Angel, which has been receiving good, if not a bit mixed, reviews. Perhaps Alita's success is a sign that more successful, high-quality anime adaptations are just on the horizon.
You can argue all you want about how live-action adaptations are unnecessary or disrespect the source material, but if they have to happen we can at least hope they are done right. Dragon Ball Z could be getting just such an adaptation in the near future, as Disney will soon own the film rights with its upcoming acquisition of Fox properties.
To avoid repeating the disaster that was Dragonball Evolution, as well as the unofficial Chinese film Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins, there are a few guidelines that we think a potential new adaptation of Dragon Ball could follow to not only create a successful film, but possibly even launch an entire cinematic universe.
START WITH Z
A successful live-action Dragon Ball franchise has to start with the events of Dragon Ball Z. As great as the original Dragon Ball series was, Dragon Ball Z brought in far more fans, especially in America. Because Dragon Ball Z came to America first and the sequel series is much more action focused, it makes for better film material.
Dragon Ball can still be a part of a potential franchise, but it would best be saved for later as a high-budget prequel TV series, or something along those lines. However you look at it, the Saiyan saga of Dragon Ball Z provides a much better, much more exciting start to a film franchise than a dragon ball-hunting adventure, and the same goes for the proceeding sagas. Additionally, the film franchise should end after the events of Dragon Ball Z, since Dragon Ball Super's events aren't quite as good for adaptation.
STREAMLINED SAGA FILMS
If our potential Dragon Ball franchise is starting with the Saiyan Saga, then there needs to be a way to properly streamline the stories into a series of films. A good way would be to limit each saga to a single film, with the Cell Saga being split up into Android and Cell films to make for five movies in total. The key to making these films great is putting passionate fans of the franchise in creative positions, but also streamlining, shortening and reinterpreting the events of each saga into a roughly two-hour film.
Trimming the fat is the first step. Unimportant characters and moments have to be cut. In the case of the Frieza Saga, this might mean cutting the Ginyu Force and possibly some early events on Namek to fit a film's runtime. This is very, very necessary, as attempting to shoehorn every aspect of the series into a film could be disastrous. Additionally, cutting parts of the original makes more time for the truly important battle moments, like Goku versus Vegeta and Cell versus Gohan, just to name a few.
A good example of narrative streamlining is the film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Consider how it adapted multiple graphic novels into a single film without losing the spirit of the original. The main events that needed to happen to progress the story were tended to, while some of the unnecessary stuff was cut or combined to make for a strong adaptation, serving as the perfect model for how a potential Dragon Ball Z film should be streamlined.