How to make a successful book-to-film adaptation

book-to-film adaptation

Think about the last time you were blown away by a movie. Chances are, it was adapted from a book.

But think about the last time people were talking about a book. It’s rare for novels to become an international phenomenon. In fact, it’s become increasingly difficult for authors to sell their work as society moves to wanting a 90-minute film instead of a 400-page story.

book-to-film adaptation

And yet, filmmakers still appreciate these stories and rich characters. For example, the iconic James Bond was created by novelist Ian Fleming. After the first movie was released, the audience was so enthralled by the MI6 spy that sequels were created for almost six decades. What an incredible way for both the book’s author and movie writers to build a legacy together.

So, why are some books-to-film adaptations more successful than others? Let’s take a look at some of the more successful adaptions:

The power of a series

Some of the repeated book-to-film adaptation chart-toppers like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and Alice in Wonderland were already iconic before their movie came out. It’s understandable that after garnering a large fanbase, film directors would want to create a visual version of these rich worlds and their character’s journeys.

The books mentioned take place in a fantastical realm that provides movie writers with a lot of material to work with. Some famous examples include the seven Harry Potter books (and eight movies) and four main books in the Lord of Rings/Hobbit universe as told through 6 movies.

It’s undeniable that having a series of stories does better for the reader- and viewership. Having more books and movies builds the franchise’s popularity, expanding the fanbase and hype with each release.

A dedicated fanbase means that there’s no realistic chance a franchise can fail by the end of its big-screen journey. Let’s look at Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II film. There were astronomical hysteria levels built after seven books and movies that it became the highest-grossing adaptation of all time.

However, how much a movie pulls in after opening night doesn’t reflect how the audience and critics will rate it.

What do the critics think?

The go-to place to hear from critics and reviews alike is IMDB. It’s interesting to note that only two adaptations are within the top-10 highest-rated book-to-film adaptation, and they’re from the same series. The rest are all successful standalone releases but did not pull in as much money as franchise films with worldwide appeal.

Interesting, none of the Harry Potter movies are part of the highest-rated film adaptations, but there are three of them within the top seven most lucrative. Let’s take a closer look at how the books fair against the movies.

Harry Potter franchise ratings:

After looking at their high Goodreads against the average IMDB ratings, it becomes evident that the quality of the Harry Potter books played a role in the success of the movie counterparts. Let’s see if it’s the same pattern as the rest of the famous film adaptations.

Comparing IMDB to their goodreads counterpart

The majority of the top IMDB standalone adaptions were rated much higher than the books they were based on. And yet, the films did not gross nearly as high as other movies based on higher-rated books.

Similar to the Harry Potter series, other book series seem to rate as well or higher than their film adaptation.

Overall trend

The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter series are some of the most beloved book-to-film franchises. The formula to their success is quite clear. While movies are more popular at the moment, their financial and international success greatly depends on the book’s fame.

Does that mean that films are always inferior to their book counterpart? No, but the trend is certainly an interesting one to dissect.

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