Why Are Book-To-Film Adaptations Always So Bad?

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Illustration by Grace Park

Analissa Nunez

Staff Writer

What is it exactly that gets lost in between the page and the screen — and why do fans of the book get so mad about it? Throughout the last decade, Hollywood turned incredibly successful young adult books into weak movie franchises. After each new release, readers constantly responded that “the book is always better than the movie.”

Although the concept seems simple, it does not always guarantee commercial success. ​According to the Atlantic​, “the world of film is hampered by many things that don’t affect literature in quite the same way: a tight budget, time constraints, and mainstream standards of success (which includes toeing the line between realist and offensive).” Though many book-to-movie adaptations have garnered much success, here are some of my personal favorites:

1. “Harry Potter

Arguably one of the best-known book and film series, the films saw success in their complex storytelling, interesting character development, and commitment to showing the darkness in the books in the later films. Its success was brought on by its age-accurate casting and elaborate set design — something that some film studios do not dedicate much time nor thought into. Additionally, throughout the films, the script took lines directly from the books themselves. Ultimately, this helped to ensure that the films were not straying too far from the books and allowed the writers to bring them to life. 

In spite of its success, there is slight controversy about changing character traits between the books and the films that were noticed by dedicated book readers. Perhaps the most popular example of this is Ginny Weasley, Ron’s younger sister. Often described as a fierce and powerful character who speaks her mind, her film counterpart comes off as quite flat, and is portrayed solely as Harry’s love interest. Although films can’t always fit everything from the book into the films, the butchering of this character (along with many others) will never be forgotten.

2. “The Hunger Games

“The Hunger Games” is one of the most popular book trilogies of all time, earning its success from championing female empowerment and its social commentary. There is no better female role model to lead a revolution against a capitalist society while inspiring young women everywhere, than the Girl on Fire herself, Katniss Everdeen. This film series is essentially the perfect blockbuster to appeal to Gen Z as they come of age — even going so far as to spark real-life revolutions against an unjust society. Symbols of the series have been used in the past by protestors, most recently by Thai college students last month using the three-finger salute in an anti-government protest.

3. “The Lord of the Rings

“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential film series ever made. As a story about more than simply wizards and battles, these films emphasize the bravery of normal people choosing hope in the face of darkness. Compared to other films, the series focuses on mostly regular people (the Hobbits) doing the right thing and being brave in trying times.

On the other hand, a movie can fail based on a variety of factors such as bad casting, writing, or production. Often, it’s sad when a good book is failed by a bad movie, as it leaves wasted potential and can discourage people from reading the book. Below are film adaptations that did a disservice to fans of these great books. 

1. “Percy Jackson

When this film was introduced to the public, it was supposed to be the next “Harry Potter.” Even author Rick Riordan himself spoke out about how the films were poor adaptations. The main requirement from fans for any book-to-movie adaptation is maintaining some accuracy from the book within the film. A surprisingly major downfall of this series came from changing Annabeth Chase’s defining blond hair to brunette. Although a small change, the critical reception from fans was significant enough that her hair was dyed blond for the next film. Perhaps the biggest disappointment in this series was the non-age accurate casting. While the books have Percy at age twelve at the beginning of the series, he along with other characters is aged up to sixteen in the film. Overall, as long as you pretend that the books do not exist, the film is good.

2. “Divergent”

For a hot minute, “Divergent” was supposed to be the next blockbuster franchise with similar themes of a dystopian society. Although the first film was a hit success, the second film flopped as it deviated too far from the books. Despite the slight success, the risky announcement to make ​”Allegiant,” the final book in the trilogy, in two parts rather than in one film — follows other successful franchise money-making template with little to show for it. That, and the fact that most fans did not even like the final book. Months after part one of “Allegiant” bombed at the box office, it was announced that the final film would be a TV movie. Seeing as all of the lead actors expressed their disinterest in filming the movie, the series ultimately died and no TV film was ever released.

3. “Vampire Academy”

There was a lot of potential for “Vampire Academy” to become a great film, but its failure likely came from the world losing interest in the vampire craze from the early 2010 era. To deviate from the cliché genre, the film follows two best friends, vampire Lissa and Dhampir (half-human, half-vampire), and Rose, who’s in training to become Lissa’s guardian. Overall, this heartfelt story is lost as it is directed as more of a comedy, causing the original tone of the plot to get lost in translation.

When fans say the film adaptation of a book is inaccurate, they mean the version does not do their characters nor the plot justice. For a film to be a blockbuster success, it must follow the emotional journey of its characters and avoid becoming the predictable “teenage drama.” That being said, fans must be aware that no film will ever be identical to the book, but it can adapt the original story with integrity.

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