“Have You Read the Book?” The Impact of Book-to-Screen Adaptations

Ella Sharrers, Staff Writer

“Harry Potter,” “The Hunger Games,” “Twilight,” and “The Maze Runner” — four of the most successful book-to-screen adaptations of all time, according to a list by Marie Claire. Before their overarching achievements in the box office, these film series were given to the world as novels. But how did the production companies come to the decision to make these bestsellers into showstoppers? 

According to an article by Marketplace, ‘“First the producer might approach a literary agent and negotiate an ‘option/purchase agreement,’”’ using a quote from film and television agent Holly Frederick. Later quoting Jason Squire, planning for a screen adaptation “involves two financial transactions. Taking an option on a book basically gives someone the right to buy the rights  — they don’t have the actual rights just yet” and that they can range anywhere from “$1,000 to $500,000” depending on the negotiations made by the teams involved. Pricing also depends on the success and genre of the book, and, quoting literary agent Josie Freedman, “[Payments] depend on many factors, including who the author is and whether it’s a young adult book that breaks new ground. Some debut young adult works have sold for as much as six figures.” Book-to-screen adaptations are valuable to production companies. With the control that streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ hold over the film industry, it is almost always guaranteed that an adaptation will be successful if one of these companies takes on your literature — that is, if you can appeal to their most populous audience of consumers: teenagers and young adults. 

Freshman Clayton Arnold, despite his hatred for reading, thinks that books are the more preferable forms of media due to their ability to describe emotions and other plot details easier than a movie, but, when asked about a favorite book to screen adaptation, Arnold had nothing but praise for Netflix’s new queer romance “Heartstopper.” Inspired by a series of graphic novels by Alice Oseman, “Heartstopper” follows two high school boys through self discovery, young love, and found family. Arnold says that when it comes to popular adaptations, some fans find their expectations underwhelmed because “certain details and characters can get left out of movies or shows.” For example, pesky poltergeist Peeves was excluded from the Harry Potter films, according to MentalFloss. Senior Sofia Choi emphasizes how “almost everyone watches movies and shows or at the very least has heard about the latest or most popular ones. I think that can make the book become overshadowed when talking about adaptations.” However, Arnold says that “Heartstopper” succeeded in “representing [different] LGBTQ relationships that are healthy and not sexualized.” Ask almost any teen media consumer out there, including myself, and they would agree with Arnold’s statements about Netflix’s feel-good, romantic (and British!) adaptation. 

How did the world become more entertained by screens than pages? The answer is simple: innovative technology means more visually-detailed storytelling. The appeal of book to screen adaptations, according to sophomore Debbie Frisbie, could be because “a lot of writers are better storytellers than [screenwriters]… book content just tends to be more interesting.” Frisbie’s statement can prove many points: what would Harry Potter look like if we did not know him as Daniel Radcliffe? Nobody’s brain imagines a character the same way no matter how descriptive a writer is when they introduce someone in their story. With book-to-screen adaptations, book characters are given an official face, stature, and style that will be associated with them from that point forward. The ability for movie production companies to be able to project a book’s characters onto a specially chosen actor eliminates the disconnect of where a protagonist’s hair is a chestnut brown for one person, but a strawberry blonde for another. Later, Frisbie comments on how “with the rise of film as an industry and the rise of the digital age, it makes sense that film would be the dominant source of entertainment.” Nevertheless, the original book forms of favored movies are usually not entirely forgotten about. 

According to The Atlantic, “Becoming a TV show increases a novel’s popularity enormously. Adaptations can drive book sales… a novel that becomes a show will receive about four times as many ratings on Goodreads.com as a novel that has never been adapted to TV or film.” In Alice Oseman’s case for “Heartstopper,” according to USA Today, “[Netflix’s] latest streaming series “Heartstopper” has definitely added to book sales. The graphic novel… lands at No. 49 on the USA TODAY Best-Selling Books list thanks to the streaming service’s series debut April 22.” For authors, this surge can be life changing. Unfortunately, due to the enormous success in the box office, some movies are separated from their book sources, with some authors getting thrown out of the conversation entirely. It is essential that we keep all authors a part of the conversation when discussing shows and movies — we would not have the majority of the legendary films and shows we have today without the authors and publishing companies that made the story in the first place. 

As stated by Arnold, the overwhelming amount of new book-to screen adaptations is “in a way, both good and bad. A lot of authors do get tons of recognition and end up with massive careers, while also supporting the actors and directors [and other film team staff]… but I also think it can cause directors to get recognition while leaving the authors behind.” According to junior David Remer, “There is some good in that obscure stories are being brought to life on a much wider scale as movies. However, the story itself is often diluted and misrepresents the true intention or theme of the original text.” I agree entirely with Remer. The second film of one of my favorite book and movie trilogies, “The Maze Runner,” was such an immense disappointment. I was bored and upset with how the story was presented in the second film, titled “The Scorch Trials.” Additionally, both Remer and Frisbie agree that their expectations are typically “underwhelmed” with book-to-screen adaptations and, for Frisbie, usually do not even meet their “already low expectations.” Choi thinks that “when done right, movie and show adaptations are able to tell the stories of books in a really brilliant way.” In the case of their expectations being met, Choi talks about how she has “learned to understand film and literature as very different mediums, and often the film or show will have to alter the story in ways in order to have it fit the medium. Acknowledging that has helped to pad my expectations of screen adaptations.” Overall, many people seem to keep their expectations for book-to-screen adaptations rather low — however, if you keep an open mind, it is almost guaranteed that you will find the majority of book to screen adaptations to be enjoyable. 

From “Bridgerton” and “Emma” to “IT” and “The Silence of the Lambs,” book to screen adaptations are vast, beneficial, and not leaving the headlines any time soon. Whether you enjoy a romantic comedy or a twisted thriller, there is sure to be a movie or book version of a story you hold close to your heart.