Adaptations: Selling out or making bank?


Dom Ferreira

Paramount Theatre in Boston, MA.

Katrina Sanville, Arts Writer

“The Hunger Games,” “Harry Potter,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “Six of Crows”—book to film adaptations are all over the silver screen. Looking away the screen and toward the stage, film to musical and play adaptations have become just as prevalent. For fans, this could be appealing, but the rise in adaptations such as these leaves many wondering the same thing—are producers and directors selling out for a quick buck, or making a wise profit off of devoted fans and an already well-liked media?

Though book-to-movie adaptations have been in film just about as long as film itself has existed, the genre has seen a boom in the past ten to twenty years. Part of this may be due to the boom in Young Adult fiction. The genre of YA Fiction that has taken over many bookstores today began to rise in the 1980s, with authors like Judy Blume and books like “The Chocolate War,” but once “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” had been released in 1997, the genre changed completely.

Once “Harry Potter” excelled in bookstores and box offices, movie producers saw the Young Adult genre as profitable. After “Harry Potter’s” movies came out, the book to movie adaptation genre saw a boom, with films like “Twilight,” “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent,” “City of Bones,” and “Love, Rosie” all within the span of five years. These franchises became money pits, and film and book marketing teams capitalized off the ever-growing market that is the teenage generation. Teenagers will often spend what little money they have from allowances, jobs, or holidays on merchandise from their favorite media, these movies and books included.

Not only this, but the two mediums feed off each other. Many fans interested in the movie will read the book first, in order to get the full story—as well as to say they read the book before seeing the movieand preexisting book fans will get to compare how they imagined their favorite characters to the casting. As Jen Doll for The Atlantic writes:

“Books often lead to movie adaptations, and so much the better for sparking a fire toward both industriesif a movie gets more people to read, great; if avid readers get to see their beloved characters on the big-screen, that’s a boon, too.”

Live theatre often gets this treatment too. Musicals and plays like “Groundhog Day,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Beetlejuice,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” and “Moulin Rouge!,” as well as Disney classics such as “Aladdin,” “Frozen,” and “The Lion King” see adaptations for the Great White Way. While some of these adaptations, such as “The Lion King,” “Kinky Boots,” “The Wiz!” and “Legally Blonde,” transcend their original film and become their own separate piece of media, most fall short of becoming worthy adaptations. As Noah Gittell of The Guardian writes:

“More often than not, it’s [movie to stage adaptations] an expensive attempt to cash in on a successful product with little thought given to whether the story lends itself to the musical form.”

Though some adaptations are able to stand the test of time, many fall flat. If a director chooses to favor characters over the plot, the adaptation could be incredibly boring. However—as with the case of many adaptations—the plot is chosen over the characters, without realizing the characters and their development are crucial to moving the plot along. A prime example of this had been the “Percy Jackson” films, which focused on the plot of the film rather than the characters, going so far as to disregard basic character traits such as age and Annabeth’s signature blonde hair. As Willing Davidson for Slate said:

“The movie replaces character with plot, and the result lands with a wet flop.”

Is the answer to stop adaptations all together? Not entirely. Though most adaptations seem to fail at portraying the original media to new audiences, some hit the mark and transcend into their own self-standing franchise. “The Wizard of Oz” began as an adaptation of the L. Frank Baum novel of the same name, for example, but now has become a classic film all on its own. Many Disney movies have been based on fairy tales, and have become a critical part of many children’s development and childhood. The Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings movies are critically acclaimed, and Game of Thrones has become a cultural staple and one of the most popular television shows of all time.

Instead, the directors, screenwriters, and other film creators should focus on working with authors and even look to fan forums for what fans of these adaptations would like to see. For example, some authors of the original work are more hands-on in the creation of the adaptationsuch as Jenny Han, author of “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” and “The Summer I Turned Pretty,” who not only worked as an executive producer, but served in helping with writing the script and approved the casting for “To All the Boys.” Rick Riordan, author of the “Percy Jackson” series, has shared photos of him working on the upcoming Disney+ adaptation of the middle grade series.

By having the authors work on the adaptations, fans of the original media can create a sense of trust towards the new version of their favorite series. Fans can trust that the media is staying true to what they know, but just changed to fit the new formatwhether this is film or the stage.

Adaptations in media will continue to exist as long as a format continues to be profitable. Whether it’s a New York Times Bestseller turned into the next Hollywood blockbuster, a cult classic movie from the ’80s made into a less-than-perfect musical, or a TV show or movie adapted into a book to develop on the existing plot and appeal to younger audiences, this genre of media has existed as long essentially as long as film has, and will continue well into the future. While many dread another adaptation, and yearn for something original, the best way to combat these naysayers would be to stay true to the original text, all the while adding small changes to give bits of originality. With this, not only will original fans remain happy, but new fans can get the best experience possible, with a few new points added in for interest.