A staggering 57% of movies in released in the last five years were sequels, reboots or adaptations. That means that only 43% of Hollywood movies released in that five year period were based on original ideas. An average of 57 movies in each of those given years were adaptations.
And a lot of them sucked. Honestly. The book really was better than the movie. There are all sorts of reasons that movie adaptations of books, plays, games and comics go wrong: bad directors and screenwriters, nonsensical casting, a lack of respect for or understanding of the source material, toxic masculinity, racism and even a too tiny budget. It’s so rare to see a big Hollywood adaptation done right, that we had to talk about some of these ways that they go wrong.
We hate when movie adaptations…
Make it a Sausagefest
I hate when movie adaptations diminish the role of women in favor of men. The X-Men movies are notorious. They’re based off of some of Chris Claremont’s best work, which was chock full of women with roles important to the story. Most egregiously, they gave Kitty Pryde’s time travel plot o Wolverine. They switched Emma Frost from a woman who used sex as a form of power to a simple object of the male gaze. They fridged Wolverine’s love interests. It’s like Hollywood is so determined to sell that “nobody wants movies starring women” line so hard that even in films where they’re already sidelined, they sideline us even harder.
It’s even worse on the meta level. Let a woman be part of a blockbuster, then dare to ask for more money. The producers will replace her with someone cheaper or write her out entirely, but still back up those dump trucks full of money for their marquee boys.
— Jamie Kingston
Pull an Adaptation Fakeout
What’s worse than adaptations that actually aren’t adaptations? Don’t use the name “I, Robot” if that’s not the movie you are making. People will still go see your movie starring a big name actor who happens to hang out with robots.
— Wendy Browne
Rely On Bankability
I hate when studios cast a tried and true bankable actor just for the sake of cashing in on their star power. There are loads of incredibly talented people looking for a break in Hollywood. If you’re adapting a medium with an established following, trust it to be the draw and proceed to make a damn good movie that sells itself without the need of an A-list actor to do it for you.
— Wendy Browne
Go Overboard with Realism
I hate it when superhero movies try to make origin stories and costumes more “realistic:” Superman’s mesh armor getup in the Snyderverse, whatever was going on with Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, the lack of giant alien squid in Watchmen, the explanation of how Ra’s al Ghul seems to live forever in the Nolan movies, etc. Superheroes AREN’T realistic. That’s the point. It would be a futile exercise to escape into a world about as terrible as our own. And at their core, there is always something unrealistic about superheroes; realistically, someone traumatized by his parents’ murder wouldn’t dress up in a bat-themed costume and have bat-themed tech and a bat-themed car and a bat-themed plane. I wish movies would embrace the unreality. Give us a world to properly escape into.
Choose Style Over Substance
Stop doing panel-for-panel replications of and lifting dialogue directly from your comic book source material with zero regard for the actual themes contained therein, SNYDER. (Maybe my problem is just with everything Zack Snyder does, which would, I think, be justified. I recently watched Man of Steel for the first time and when Superman killed General Zod at the end, I could hear the clang of my soul hitting the floor.)
It’s not enough to make your movie look or occasionally sound like the comic you’re copying; what matters most is whether the narrative captures the spirit of the characters and their actions. That means staging shots to look like iconic panels in Watchmen without ever interrogating the idea of the superhero in the context of pre-apocalyptic global fear, or depicting the characters as deeply flawed people rather than total badasses isn’t enough.
Lifting dialogue from All-Star Superman — one of the most redemptive, optimistic, non-American-imperialist portrayals of Superman out there, which many readers have actually credited with pulling them back from the brink of wanting to end their own lives and towards valuing themselves and their well-being — for your movie where Superman “wins” by snapping the bad guy’s neck is tone-deaf as hell, and a slap in the face to all those readers. You have the Internet and teams of consultants, writers, and so on at your disposal. Think about the significance of your source material before you commit an empty copy of it to film.
— Kelly Kanayama
No more casting white people in Asian roles. It’s not just about money at this point, so please stop lying to us. That goes for (a number of) villains, too — an Asian villain can be an interesting, complex, non-stereotypical/stereotype-transcending character if you put even a bit of thought into their script and costuming. E.g. I understand why the studio might have been afraid to cast a Middle Eastern man as Ra’s al Ghul, who is basically a terrorist. But in all my years of Bat-fandom, I never put the words “terrorist” and “Ra’s al Ghul” together, because he is always more than that. He’s a family man of sorts, a father figure, a super-classy dresser, and one of my favorite Batman villains ever. It took the casting of a white man to equate the character and the stereotype for me, so thanks a lot for that.
In this day and age, there’s really no excuse for not giving Asian actors and other actors of color the exposure and money they deserve. If the otherwise hilariously stupid Gotham can cast an old Chinese guy in a non-stereotypical role (albeit a small one; he plays a witness helping the police identify a suspect, and he’s great. Sample line: “If I show up in a cop car, my girlfriend’s going to kill me!” No othered accents, martial arts, or mystic wisdom in sight) so can a multimillion-dollar movie.
— Kelly Kanayama
Cast fake REDHEADS!
I hate it when they cast non-redheads as redheads. I don’t mean in roles that were originally redheads, but are now not. I mean trying to recreate a comic book redhead by bolting whichever actress (always an actress) into the salon chair for a few pointless hours every day. The bad wigs, the dull locks, the insufficient colour matching… It make my eyeballs itch. Comic book redheads are tuned to vibrancy, by way of printing abilities and ink register. Adaptation redheads, with lighting as well as whatever else to worry about, have never (have they ever?) managed to do more than look a little sad in comparison.
— Claire Napier
Steal My Sunshine
Adaptations tend to make carefree, expressive women into anything but. I saw “Rogue” and “Mary Jane” in cinemas… But I didn’t see Rogue or Mary Jane. Cripes, can a sunny, noisy, charming girl live? Apparently not.
— Claire Napier
Are Too Faithful to the Source Material
Books are books. Movies are movies. Any movie maker who decides to adapt a book into a movie which follows that book scene by scene should be dipped in gasoline and launched into the sun. A perfect glaring example: the first Harry Potter movie. Chris Columbus must have faced enormous pressure from the studio and the fans to overburden Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with all the enchanting details found in the first book. However, the book’s pacing is incredibly uneven with the first 75% spent in exposition city and the last quarter crammed full of the main conflict and the resulting action. It’s like drinking a large glass of pumpkin juice, another glass of pumpkin juice, still more pumpkin juice, and then guzzling a butterbeer with a Red Bull chaser. J.K. Rowling pulls off this format largely due to her inventive descriptions and fascinating character moments.
On the other hand, Chris Columbus’ film adaptation of Sorcerer’s Stone is more like a visual read-a-long than a movie. I’ve never actually turned on this film and pulled out the first book to follow along. But I suspect that I could do so very easily. Likewise, the poor child acting (searching for ways to feel superior to one’s on-screen contemporaries is a common nerdling activity) and exposition wallowing (Diagon Alley has amazing details but too much lingering) may be a 2000 era tween’s idea of a couple of hours well spent. However, having come to the Harry Potter books and movies as an older teen, any time I see the first HP movie, it feels like I’m shoving soggy pumpkin pasty filling in my eyes for 90 minutes and then assaulting them with pumpkin pasty shards for the remainder. It just doesn’t work!
— Jennie Law
Are Just Retreads
Most notably the Batman, Superman and Spider-Man properties. We do not need to see Martha’s pearls in a recreation of Miller’s artwork–again. We do not need to go over Jor-El getting screwed over by the Kryptonian council as he warns of the planet’s impending doom. We do not need to see Uncle Ben gunned down every time another movie is made about these characters! They’re iconic! Even Joe Random stopped on the street knows these stories. Literally, you could walk up to any stranger and stand a better than 50/50 chance of them being able to tell you the salient points of these origin stories. Stop running them into the ground!
— Jamie Kingston
Are Bloated and Indulgent
Expanding one work into several pieces seems to be the hot new trend in filmmaking. While it might make sense now and again, it’s more likely to turn up as a sloppy, indulgent product that rakes in money than something actually worth watching. We have Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. We have Twilight: Breaking Dawn. We have The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, a two-parter that left me feeling bored when I should have felt passionate. And we have the messy Hobbit series, which improved nothing about the original and introduced a whole lot of unnecessary garbage that slowed down what was originally a tight, fun right rather than a shambling mess. Please stop doing this; I’ll take a well-made movie that leaves out gratuitous wink-nudge references over a film that insists upon injecting obscure lore and extra “comedic” scenes as padding.
— Melissa Brinks
Don’t Acknowledge How Medium Changes the Story Being Told
Television is its own medium. As is film. Comics are a medium that are different than regular books. Mediums impact how we interpret and experience the story – they can add an entirely new dimension to the experience of a story and that is what movie producers should aim for when adapting books and comics.
— Ginnis Tonik
Stretch or Cram for the Sake of Making a Movie
This one goes hand-in-glove with the bankability item above, as films that suffer this indignity seem most frequently to be vehicles for an actor whose star is on the rise at the time of the film’s release. Always a male actor, too.
A Series of Unfortunate Events crammed together the first three books for that first movie, and it suffered terribly for it. Despite the movie having big name cameos, it was just ninety minutes of scenery and very little else. Oh, and Jim Carrey chewing on said scenery.
The Grinch (Jim Carrey again) and The Cat in the Hat (Mike Myers), both adaptations of Dr. Seuss stories, were expanded and filled with nonsensical filler and crass adult humor respectively so they’d be long enough to put in a movie theater. Both movies were garbage because they went far astray from Dr. Seuss’ story and message to extend their runtime. In animated form, these two beloved classics are thirty minutes each.
Thankfully, studios seem to have learned — a little. The Lorax and Horton Hears A Who, were both extended to feature film length, but the script and/or screenplay were kept much closer to the source material. They were, as a result, much better films.
— Jamie Kingston
Pass Off the Glory
I can’t stand it when characters who get really great little moments of bravery or even just character development have their second in the spotlight passed off to another person. Whether it be due to a reduction in the number of characters during adaptation or a change in the story, it really bothers me. If I’ve come to enjoy that character and their personal growth in a story, I want that to be reflected in the film version! Sometimes it’s minor and then it’s just a nuisance or slightly bewildering, but when it’s something major it’s downright infuriating.
— Jules Low