From book to box office: What makes a good book-to-film adaptation?

Ella Williamson, Staff Writer

When you read a book, it’s one thing to imagine everything in your head, but it’s another to see your favorite stories come to life on-screen. This is why book-to-film adaptations are so popular: they allow readers to re-experience their favorite stories and give non-readers a chance to realize why they should’ve read the book in the first place. 

Despite the original popularity of the book, it is a well-known fact that film adaptations can often be completely hit-or-miss. Many regard the best adaptations as the ones that stay true to the source material, but it isn’t always that straightforward. Things often have to be changed to make sense on-screen. An entire chapter where the characters are trying to find their way through complete and utter darkness might be interesting to read, but to watch? Not so much. More often, parts of the book have to be altered, shortened, or even cut completely to fit the time constraints of a movie.

So what exactly makes a good book-to-film adaptation? Ideally, a film should stick pretty close to the book’s original storyline but change just enough to translate well to the screen. It should also cater to the target audience, which means appealing to book readers and hitting it off with the public in order to be successful. 

The Harry Potter series, for example, does a fantastic job of doing both. It is regarded as one of the best book-to-movie adaptations in the past 20 years because of its faithfulness to the books, as well as the interest it sparked in non-readers who enjoyed the film series for its cinematic qualities. Other series, such as The Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, and arguably The Hunger Games, as well as individual movies like The Hate U Give, Perks of Being a Wallflower, and The Book Thief, are also regarded as fantastic on-screen translations.

By comparison, films that stray far from the source material have a difficult time resonating with book readers, many of whom are quick to bash adaptations for their inaccuracies. The Percy Jackson movies are one such series, regarded as one of the worst book-to-movie adaptations by book readers (myself included) who gave up hope on them almost immediately after finding out the middle school characters had been aged up several years.  Other adaptations with multiple movies in the set, such as the Divergent and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogies, significantly weakened in the later movies as they veered farther away from the source material.

The concept of book-to-film adaptations has always been an exciting one. Adaptations don’t just have to be movies; they can be tv shows, miniseries, or even stage productions, too. At the heart of it all, creating a great book-to-film adaptation is just a matter of finding the perfect balance of accuracy, entertainment, and keeping the bookworms happy.