Nicholas Sparks is the new Michael Crichton or John Grisham -- insofar as he's more famous for the many movies based on his books as for the books themselves. Except where Crichton wrote about science and Grisham wrote about the law, Sparks writes about schmaltz. His latest schmaltz-fest, Dear John, looks to be yet another tale in the "tragic romance" vein, which makes us wonder if there's a formula to Sparks' books, or at least to the movies based on them. We parsed the plots of his five films to date -- and his upcoming movie with Miley Cyrus -- to see what threads they had in common. (Warning: While their books have been out for a while, the write-ups of the last two films on our list contain minor spoilers, although we could figure out their plots without even seeing them.)
Message in a Bottle (1999)>
Beach Culture: Robin Wright goes to Cape Cod, finds a message in a bottle on the beach.
First Love or Second Love? Second. Kevin Costner is a widower who can't forgive his wife for dying on him.
The Written Word: Costner sends letters to his dead wife by throwing them into the ocean, Wright writes a newspaper piece about them.
Bad Romance: Wright never tells Costner that she's read his letters, or that she was writing an article about them, so the whole relationship is based on a lie.
Does One of Them Die? Yup. Lost at sea.
A Walk to Remember (2002)
Beach Culture: Surprisingly, no, although the film takes place in Wilmington, N.C., and the river is never far away.
First Love or Second Love? First. Mandy Moore and Shane West play teenagers, so aside from an ex-girlfriend, neither has any history.
The Written Word: Moore and West practice running lines for a play; Moore has a bucket list.
Bad Romance: Moore plays the daughter of a church pastor; West plays a rebellious cool kid. They're the odd couple! Or, a walking cliché.
Does One of Them Die? Yes. Two words: Terminal cancer.
The Notebook (2004)
Beach Culture: Set on an island (Seabrook Island, N.C.), with beaches and a lake for rowing and getting sexily drenched on.
First Love or Second Love? First. Rachel McAdams' wealthy vacationer falls for country boy Ryan Gosling, 'til her family forbids it.
The Written Word: The titular notebook, which is read from throughout the film. And Gosling sends McAdams 365 letters, one a day for a year, which are kept a secret from her.
Bad Romance: Society demands that McAdams' character someone of a higher social status, so only fictional, storybook love could keep them together.
Does One of Them Die? Eventually, old age takes us all. Specifically, these two.
Nights in Rodanthe (2008)
Beach Culture: It all happens at a beach house in Rodanthe, N.C., where Richard Gere is the guest and Diane Lane is the substitute innkeeper.
First Love or Second Love? Second. Lane is getting space from a cheating husband, and Gere is recently divorced.
The Written Word: After they separate, the pair exchange letters between Rodanthe and South America.
Bad Romance: Only in that the inn they're both staying in is almost washed out to sea by a storm. If only it had -- then they could have fought off sharks.
Does One of Them Die? Yes, by mudslide, and we don't mean the beverage.
Dear John (2010)
Beach Culture: They meet on the beach in Wilmington, N.C., after Channing Tatum dives off a dock to retrieve Amanda Seyfried's purse. Dude, really? It's not a baby.
First Love or Second Love? First. Seyfried is a college student, and Tatum is in the Army. (Surprise!)
The Written Word: They write letters back and forth the whole time Tatum is deployed.
Bad Romance: In the book, Tatum's character's commitment to the Army keeps the couple apart for too long, dooming their love.
Does One of Them Die? No. But a relative does in the book, and another relative comes close.
The Last Song (2010)
Beach Culture: Miley Cyrus and her on-screen brother spend the summer with their dad in the beach community of Tybee Island, Ga.
First Love or Second Love? First love, as high schooler Cyrus hooks up with a popular volleyball player Will.
The Written Word: Only sheet music, as Cyrus ignores a piano scholarship to Julliard, although in the book she also has the rules of her probation to follow.
Bad Romance: Will has a secret that could get him in lot of trouble, and Cyrus has that pesky probation to worry about.
Does One of Them Die? Again, a relative in the book, but not one of our two lovers.
Which is your favorite Nicholas Sparks movie? And by "favorite," we mean "makes the best drinking game."