How to Make a Good Book-to-Movie Adaptation 

Estimated read time 7 min read

Nobody has good movie ideas anymore!

There, I said it. You can attest to the fact that many of the best movies and series in the last 20 years have been adaptations from several sources, including games, animation, and, most of all, books.

Adapting a beloved book into a successful movie is a delicate art that, when done right, can bring a cherished story to a broader audience and breathe new life into the narrative.

From the cinematic brilliance that was The Godfather to the only whispered-in-dark-places first adaptation of The Vampire Academy, any successful book-to-movie adaptation must seamlessly navigate three critical criteria:

Faithfulness to the Source Material

It is essential to strike a delicate balance between creative reinterpretation and honoring the essence of the source material. The adaptation must adeptly capture the core themes and characters that made the book so loved.

This challenge, while tricky, can distinguish a mediocre adaptation from one that truly resonates with audiences.

Visual Representation of the Story

As a filmmaker, your biggest competition here is the readers’ imagination. Acknowledging this, your movie must employ innovative storytelling techniques that leverage the cinematic visual and auditory medium of film to convey emotions, atmosphere, and information in ways that complement and enhance the original narrative.

Acceptance by the Book Fanbase

Ah, we book lovers are a passionate and fearsome bunch, fiercely loyal to our literary darlings. If you think you’ll ever stop hearing “…but in the book…” you have another thing coming. They’ll dissect every scene, compare every line, and let you know, in no uncertain terms, if you’ve strayed from the path.

But here’s the thing: their approval is gold, and while the movie isn’t exclusively for them, their approval can make them your loudest advocates. 

Let’s take a look at some good and bad movie adaptations and see what they did right or wrong. 

Examples of Poor Adaptations

Here are some popular examples of poorly done book-to-movie adaptations

Percy Jackson (the first and the second films)

This adaptation failed because it tried to cram as much of the book into the movie as possible. The result was tons of exposition and key scenes so badly chopped that it took away from the book’s intent.

See also  Exploring Character Introduction in Novels: Blood Scion, Beasts of No Nation, and The Poppy War

Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

This adaptation made the opposite mistake, butchering beloved characters and vital plot points. The casting was also a problem for the book fanbase, as the characters did not seem like accurate representations of their book counterparts. 

Artemis Fowl

Don’t even get me started on that one; curse you, Disney! The movie makers went to the far extreme with this one, changing the entire core theme of the book in a bid to make it kid-friendly (even though it was adapted from a book directed at the same audience).

They only succeeded in dumbing down the whole movie and losing the message of the book. 

Vampire Academy

Most fans pretend this movie doesn’t exist, a testament to its epic failure. Bogged down by exposition and sluggish pacing, it’s the cinematic equivalent of watching paint dry, a stark contrast to the book’s fast-paced action.

Examples of Good Adaptations

Alright, let’s cleanse the sour taste those movies left on our palate as we reminisce on movie adaptations that did the job they were supposed to do.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Peter Jackson understood the epic scope of Tolkien’s masterpiece. It took a lot of time, several crews, and lots and lots of money. But he made every cent back because that’s what happens when you do your job right.

The Godfather

This is a movie that was done so well that many don’t even remember it is an adaptation of a book.

Harry Potter

There were six books and seven movies, all with different levels of acceptance. Some fans of the book will argue the faithfulness of some of the movies, but no matter.

The author and the producers  definitely knew what they were doing there 

See also  Science Fiction and the 21st Century

Dune (2021)

Denis Villeneuve knew tackling Dune was a Herculean task. He assembled a stellar cast, wooed Hans Zimmer for the score, and meticulously crafted the intricate world-building. The result? A cinematic masterpiece that honors the spirit of the book while dazzling audiences with its visual splendor. 

But movie makers, how can you be sure you’re making a definite banger out of your next book adaptation? Here are some tips:

Casting: Find Your Soulmates

It’s not just about acting chops. Actors who embody the characters’ essence in build, age, and temperament are crucial.

Think Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, perfect in every freckled, bespectacled way. Beyond the casting, find the writers, producers, and production crew that understand the direction you want to take. 

Fight for the Best Budget You Can Get

Many books, especially of the fantasy or sci-fi genres, are set in worlds that you need to build and intricate magical systems that you need to replicate with VFX.

My dear, your small budget will destroy your movie. Just ask Eragon… 

Make Sure Everyone Understands and Supports Your Vision for the Movie

Movie making is challenging and capital intensive, unlike the writing of a book, which primarily involves a few people plus the author. From producers to writers, everyone needs to be on the same page.

With motion pictures, too many people have a stake, and if they don’t have the same vision you do, they’ll ruin it. Too many cooks and it only takes one to set off the domino downhill. 

Listen to the Author of the Book to Be Adapted

These days, most authors retain their rights to be part of production, but even if they aren’t, they involve the book’s creator.

Their insights into the characters’ souls and the story’s heartbeat are invaluable, and when you understand this, you’ll tap into something special when making your adaptation. 

Remember That There Is No One Format for Making Your Movie Adaptation

The direct-to-screen style that worked for Game of Thrones would be difficult to replicate for a book like Dune, which has very little going on in terms of physical action for chapters on end.

See also  Ten Must-Know Newbie Nuggets on The Wheel of Time (Part One)

Fall in love with the source material as a director, writer, or actor working with an adapted piece. You’ll do your best work when you are passionate about the book and its characters. This helps you envision and transform the vision of the book to the big screen.

Make the Tough-Cut Calls

There are scenes, side characters, and even plot points that, while intriguing, are not as important to the progress of the story. Keeping them in the movie will make it tedious, you gotta find acceptable replacements or adjustments all the while being careful not to lose sight of the bigger picture.

There are things that books can do and movies just can’t. Accept it, find a way around it, and convey the feelings and thoughts of the characters using other cinematographic tools.

Know the Movie’s Limits

You can either split the thing into multiple movies, the way dystopian movies did in the early 2010s or take the easiest cop-out and make a series instead.

This way, you don’t have to sacrifice a lot of characters, and you have more time to tell your story correctly. 

Wrapping Up

It is also important to remember that you’re making an adaptation, not a remake. Although you have some creative control over the creative direction of your movie adaptation, sometimes it’s okay if the adaptation is an entirely different thing from the book as long as it works.

Movies like The Bourne Trilogy (the movie adaptation of one of my favorite book series) and Ready Player One (also an honorable mention) are terrible adaptations in terms of their faithfulness to the book plot, yet they made fantastic movies. 

Finally, seriously, guys, some books should just be left alone. They don’t all need to become movies.

Peace Owen

Peace is an avid book lover whose biggest selling point is her desire to share everything good she finds with everyone she loves. She writes both fiction and non-fiction professionally, but truly finds fulfilment when she is free to let her imagination fly. She loves learning new things, listening to good music, eating good food, reading all the good books, watching good movies, and sleeping. She lives every day knowing that there is an amazing new thing to discover!

You May Also Like

More From Author