The Failure of Film Adaptations

Film Adaptation: Do Film & Literature Truly Coincide With One Another?

When studios attempt to adapt a form of literature, they strive to create a visualization of an imagined world. Rarely do they succeed.

According to Toby Osborne, in his article entitled ‘The Art of Adaptation’, “85 percent of movies are adaptations”. This means that only 15 percent of movies are written from scratch. Literature is a very important medium and has been for some time. Hollywood clearly understands this.

Film studios constantly battle and bicker with one another over securing the film rights for any successful form of popular culture. Out of the 85 percent that is adapted, many become successful runaway hits (‘Jurassic Park’ (Michael Crichton), ‘Stand by Me’ (Stephen King)) while others fail to generate any business whatsoever and vanish from sight, never to be heard from again. Writers are sometimes propelled into stardom, like Peter Benchley for ‘Jaws’ or John Grisham for ‘The Firm’, while others remain relatively unknown. Writing is a very imaginative form of communication. Writers create a world of fantasy (or reality), providing readers with the ability to visualize everything imaginable on the written page. This is where Hollywood typically gets it wrong.

Film Adaptations Failure

The magic of literature is that it stimulates the reader to use the power of his/ her imagination. Yes, everything is described for the individual; however, the reader places the words into some sort of defined reality. Good writers understand that pacing is an important aspect of any novel. Thus, writers typically never abide by a defined time limit when focusing on characters or plot. Instead, time is taken to ensure characters are well rounded, identifiable, and memorable for readers.

When studios attempt to adopt some form of literature, they are more than likely forcing themselves into a corner. The film is a visual medium and relies heavily on the idea of progression. With the audience’s attention spans particularly low, films must always be on the move. Studios, directors, and screenwriters are forced to edit out many important elements from a novel in order to improve the pacing. These edited details tend to be quickly forgotten in the film industry but are of great importance to the world of literature. (In regards to the novel, these minor particulars certainly add a great deal of character and structure to the overall importance of the book).

Is Hollywood More Concerned About Profit?

In Hollywood, the film industry is all about profit. Studios will find the means to do what is necessary to assure the film is as commercially successful as possible. They will advertise and market the film excessively and most importantly will attempt to hire A-List performers to act in the film; their motive here is to appeal to fans around the globe. To be brutally honest, films are usually too concerned about profits to truly care about a proper adaptation. Yes, it would be absurd to include every small fact contained within the novel, but it is also a detriment to the overall importance of the film to omit details as well.

Why Does Hollywood Fail?

There have been many successful adaptations on the big screen (J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’) but there have also been many disappointments (Charles Frazier’s ‘Cold Mountain’). The fact of the matter is that many films are unable to capture the essence of what made that particular mode of literature successful or important in the first place. When one is reading a book, they visualize everything in their heads. When the film is released, readers are normally disappointed. Most of what they have imagined has been altered in some way. Characters and plot points are sometimes added on or they are dropped completely from the script. For example, in Dan Brown’s ‘The DaVinci Code’, the ending of the film is slightly different than what occurs at the conclusion of the novel. For those who have not read the book, the ending has no bearing on the matter. But for people who have, many will feel extremely slighted by the filmmaker’s alterations.

Furthermore, films visually represent everything. There is no use of imagination because audiences are provided with every detail. The film is a visually closed medium, while literature relishes the role of the storyteller.


There is nothing wrong with studios adapting forms of literature. Who wouldn’t want to see their favorite book come to life on the big screen? However, there are very few that receive high praise when the end result comes to pass. They are just made too differently. In retrospect, these two mediums are forever linked through the reality of popular culture but will forever be separated by the idea of imagination.

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