With my bucket of half-finished popcorn, I left the 2010 “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” movie distraught. The movie had drastic differences from the book, and while I loved Logan Lerman as Percy, the movie did not live up to Rick Riordan’s novel.
Anytime I see another book-to-screen adaptation announced, I cringe with fear of how a producer and cast can easily change what was so perfect about the book. While some have done it well, such as the “Shadow and Bone” series and “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” there are some that have missed the mark.
Here are four adaptations that missed the mark, plus three adaptations to look out for that may hit or miss.
Missed the Mark
“Allegiant” by Veronica Roth
I left the movie theater after “Allegiant” confused and wondering if I had read the same book that was adapted by director Robert Schwentke. The ending of the movie was meant to set up a part two so that the book could be split into two movies. However, “Allegiant” was such a flop that they canceled the second part and left fans perplexed. One part of the “Allegiant” novel that I enjoyed was how the novel was split between Tris and Four’s point of view, whereas in the movie, we only saw what was happening through Tris’ eyes. The biggest bone I have to pick with this adaptation was how they tried to drag “Allegiant” out into two parts. In the book, Tris dies at the end. However, because the directors wanted to drag out the series into another movie, she lives in the movie. While I didn’t love the ending of the “Allegiant” book, the movie was still ten times worse than Roth’s original ending to the dystopian trilogy.
“The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” by Cassandra Clare
I have two shelves dedicated to Cassandra Clare and her books about Shadowhunters, but when I think back to this 2013 film adaptation of a book I love so dearly, I cringe. Clary Fray’s personality and physical characteristics were changed entirely. With Lily Collins cast as Clary, the fiery red hair and feisty personality that Clary was known for was lost. From the opening scene, the movie was already different from the book with a glimpse into the Fray family instead of jumping right into the world of demon hunters. One of Clare’s most memorable characters, Magnus Bane, did not get enough screen time despite his importance in the novel.
Overall, I don’t think any adaptation could do Clare justice unless she had a bigger role in the production process. With four series that sprawl over centuries, the story is too intricate and requires attention to detail if someone wants to create an adaptation that would live up to fans’ expectations.
“The Giver” by Lois Lowry
Lowry unfolded the main character Jonas’ world slowly and delicately, allowing the reader to discover what was taking place in the world of “The Giver.” Within its first few scenes, the movie explains everything that provided the storyline with ambiguity and intrigue for the reader. While the movie gets brownie points for the Taylor Swift cameo, the movie ruined parts of the book that made it loved by so many. In typical Hollywood fashion, the two main protagonists, Jonas and Fiona, form a romantic relationship that was not in the books. The movie also aged up the characters, making them 18 years old instead of 12. In the novel, the ending is vague, and it purposefully leaves individuals wondering if Jonas and another character, Gabriel, make it out alive. Instead of leaving the ending up to interpretation, the movie makes it clear that the two characters live, which is fine, but takes away from Lowry’s writing and what she was trying to accomplish.
Overall, “The Giver” books provided a mysterious experience for readers that kept them reading, whereas the movie provided explanations for every plot point, which made the experience boring and shallow.
“13 Reasons Why” by Jay Asher
Asher’s novel already was problematic, and when it was picked up and adapted by Netflix, I knew it would romanticize Hannah Baker’s death in even more poor taste than the original text. The biggest difference that made the show a flop for me was the depiction of Hannah’s suicide. In the book, it is mentioned she swallowed pills, which is still tragic, but it's less graphic compared to the on-screen adaptation. The show depicts a gory and gratuitous portrayal of suicide as Hannah dies in the bathroom, which is problematic in a myriad of ways. The director, Tom McCarthy, treated Hannah’s death as poetic, exaggerating Hannah and Clay Jensen’s relationship and how he missed all of the clues of her anguish. The whole point of the novel is that Clay and Hannah never had a real relationship. Yes, they worked together and had one real conversation, but that was the extent of their relationship. While I wouldn’t recommend the “13 Reasons Why” novel, I still think that it didn’t do as much damage as the show.
Hit or Miss
“Heartstopper” by Alice Oseman
I start blushing when I think about how adorable this graphic novel is. When I saw that it was adapted to a television show available on Netflix as of April 22, I started squealing. Oseman played a large role in the creation of the show as the writer and executive producer. Imagine how fun it will be to watch how Oseman transformed the book into a show. The four-volume series was a delightful read, and I am already geeking out that I can watch the show and see Oseman’s interpretation on the screen. The story follows Charlie and Nick, who meet at their all-boys British school. They quickly become friends and slowly realize there could be more to their relationship.
The best word to describe “Heartstopper” is wholesome. Please take the time to binge-read the books before you watch the adaptation.
“Daisy Jones and The Six” by Taylor Jenkins Reid
While this book-to-film adaptation hasn’t quite seen the light of day yet, I actually already have the highest expectations for this adaption, not only because “Daisy Jones and The Six” was my favorite book of 2021, but also because I am obsessed with the casting. Riley Keough is a perfect choice for Daisy, as she is the granddaughter of the rock n’ roll legend Elvis Presley. I am ready to see the world Jenkins Reid created made richer on the TV screen. Throughout the entire novel, I kept thinking it was a nonfiction biography, and I was startled to realize that Jenkins Reid had somehow crafted a world that felt so real to me that was only loosely based on the endeavors of Fleetwood Mac. Told through an interview format between the members of the band, the reader is transported to a world of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. We follow the rise of the band “The Six” and what happens when the lead singer, Billy Dunne, meets Daisy, and they find success by working together. To really immerse yourself in the world, read the book before watching the show so that you can fully experience the highs and lows of a rock band in the ‘70s.
“My Policeman” by Bethan Roberts
Harry Styles fans: Start reading this book now because Styles was cast as the lead, Tom, for this adaptation. Along with Styles, Emma Corrin of “The Crown” is also a lead character, Marion. The only reason I read this book was because Styles was announced as the lead character. However, the book by itself did not disappoint. The narrative was beautiful and tragic. I sat with the book in front of me, pondering everything I just read and how devastated I was about how the story ended. You could feel the repressed emotions of the main characters as if you were going through it yourself. Set in the 1950s, Tom and Marion are in love, but Tom lives a secret double life. He has found love with a museum curator, Patrick, who has shown him a whole new world despite the conservative times. This book is a perfect novel to be adapted into a film, and with Harry Styles as the lead, I am thrilled to see it in theaters. I think that being able to compare the novel to the film will only provide a more elevated experience.
There are great adaptations for readers to watch after finishing a book. Reading a book before watching the movie will allow you to see the world with the original interpretation. The four terrible adaptations that I featured are proof that reading the book is a better experience for media consumers. The three new adaptations to hit the screen soon will hopefully be better than previous adaptations, so make sure to check out the last three before you watch the adaptation.