Nowhere is this shift more apparent than with YA author John Green and the huge success of the 2014 screen adaptation of his fourth novel, The Fault in Our Stars. The movie stole the number one slot in its opening weekend last year, beating out the Tom Cruise action flick Edge of Tomorrow. The Fault in Our Stars went on to earn $305.2 million worldwide and racked up praise from fans and critics alike, even pulling in several award nominations. After the success The Fault in Our Stars brought, 20th Century Fox jumped to adapt another of John Green’s books, his 2008 best-seller Paper Towns, opening this weekend. For this film, Green sits in the executive producer's chair. And all throughout filming, he connected with fans to update them on each stage of the project, and of course to promote the film to them. And more recently, Green has been making the rounds at premiers and talk-show interviews as the movie opens around the world.
Book-to-movie adaptations used to be somewhat secretive, removing any and all connections to the author, sometimes even going so far as removing the original themes and story. Examples of this include The Bourne Identity, I, Robot, Starship Troopers, and more recently, World War Z. It was a frequent tactic for the studios to buy the rights, keep the title, and that’s about it, hoping to lure in viewers based on name recognition alone. Anything else was fair game to be changed or entirely erased. Their main focus wasn’t usually on being faithful to the source material, but sometimes fans would get lucky and it would be a decent enough adaptation for them not to actively despise the movie. The relationship between studio and author has varied —fluctuating tenuously between producers and directors choices—which can have a broad range: they can take the author's ideas seriously and respect the story, or create a movie that has nothing to do with the novel. In the latter scenario, the author has no involvement and often hates the movie, as authors like Alan Moore, Stephen King, and Richard Matheson have all experienced.
But lately, we have seen more and more authors having a hand somewhere in the adaptation, although admittedly it varies from studio to studio how large their involvement is. Stephen Chbosky wrote and directed the movie adaptation of his novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and it was well-received by fans and critics alike. J.K. Rowling was heavily consulted during the adaptations of the Harry Potter films, and she served as an executive producer for the last two films. Gayle Forman (If I Stay) and Veronica Roth (Divergent) both frequently visited the sets of their adaptations, and Suzanne Collins said she visited the set for the Hunger Games series, although her role was officially “just to watch”. Before filming began on The Maze Runner, author James Dashner visited the set and talked about his experiences in a blog post. Dashner raved about how impressed he was by the director’s vision and commitment in keeping the movie as faithful to the book as possible. This was seen as positive endorsement by many and could have pushed those on the fence to go see the movie.
We all remember when Stephenie Meyer’s YA vampire romance novel Twilight was released in 2008, kicking off the slew of these adaptations we are seeing in theatres today. Most other attempts, such as The Spiderwick Chronicles, Eragon, and Inkheart, had done poorly at the box office, with fans complaining about the quality of the adaptations themselves. Harry Potter still remained king, but Twilight’s box office pull showed that there was hope for success similar to that dominating franchise of wizardry. Twilight grossed over $69 million its opening weekend and $191 million in the US overall (the entire franchise has earned over $3.3 billion worldwide). In spite of bad critical reviews, it was a box-office success. Now other studios saw that there was a chance to make money from book adaptations despite painful failures from the past.
When The Hunger Games series kicked off with a successful and very faithful adaptation, beating Twilight for opening weekend and total domestic gross, that was all the studios needed and a new trend was born. Harry Potter also hit its stride, with the sixth and seventh films being praised for their faithfulness to the books. It went from a small handful of YA adaptations per year, two or three, to the average of six or seven we see now. The ones we’ve seen do the best in the last several years are the ones where the authors were at least moderately involved in the process. Even more success came when both the studios and authors themselves promoted the author’s involvement, whether it was as basic as a tour and time spent on the set while filming, or the very involved process John Green had on The Fault in Our Stars, where he was on set for all of the filming and formed close relationships with the cast and crew. The studios realized that they could gather even more from this cash cow if they aimed to please both fans and the general movie-going public. Seems like a trivial realization that if you make a movie everyone will enjoy, then people will see it, but at least it’s progress.
If the YA climb won’t convince you, maybe the regular adult genre adaptations will. Last year’s Gone Girl took the movie-going public by storm, getting a few nods at the Oscars (as well as a few snubs). It grossed $167 million in the US, and it’s no coincidence that the book’s author Gillian Flynn also penned the screenplay, making the movie a very successful adaptation that most fans, including myself, were pleased with.
Game of Thrones is arguably one of the most popular shows on television right now, with the Season 5 finale drawing over 8.1 million viewers, a series record. George R.R. Martin has been directly involved in the process of adapting the show, even penning a few of the screenplays over the past five seasons, including the battle of Blackwater and the infamous Purple Wedding episodes. When he is not writing the episodes himself, he is in close contact as a consultant, and has told showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss the ending to his epic fantasy series, so they may continue the show should it catch up to the books.
Martin’s enthusiastic involvement inspired another author to be more involved in his book-to-TV adaptation: Stephen King had chosen not to be consulted when his works were adapted to either movies or TV shows. King previously stated he had never wanted much to do with his works’ adaptations due to the responsibility and commitment—that is until George R.R. Martin’s involvement with Game of Thrones. After Martin penned several episodes of the series, King thought it may be worth giving a try and began consulting, writing screenplays, and visiting the set of the CBS series Under the Dome, based on King’s lengthy, popular 2009 sci-fi novel. (Saga and Y: The Last Man author Brian K. Vaughn helped develop the novel for the small screen, so it’s definitely worth checking out!)
Clearly, studios are starting to see the advantage of appealing to fans of these popular books. Establishing loyalty and assurance that the novels will be adapted faithfully is a good way to ensure fans will be eager to see the movie in theaters instead of waiting to rent or download it. Hopefully this becomes the norm. As good as some adaptations have been, there are still a few recent disappointments that would have been helped if the author had more clout or been consulted (I’m looking at you Ender’s Game).
There was a time when fans would find out their favorite book was being adapted into a movie, and react with groans, anger and frustration because the studio probably wouldn’t even bother to hold true to any part of the original story. But now studios are noticing, and I feel fans are a little less skeptical than they were before. Not only are studios getting on board with author involvement but they are listening to fans more as well. Technology has made it easier than ever to pressure studios, and it has brought results—the best example of this being the Deadpool movie due out in February 2016. This new trend could really change the way that novels are adapted to movies. The original authors can have more say in the adaptation and assure that it is more faithful to the source material, and if they aren’t tapped to be consulted, the fans can cry out. Perhaps this could lead to the public and fans having more of an influence and pave the way so authors could someday be exclusively involved in the process of adapting their novels to the screen.
John Green’s next book-to-movie offering, Looking for Alaska, just got picked up by Paramount Pictures and is in the process of casting already. The final installment of the Hunger Games franchise is due out this November, with countless other YA adaptations on the way. The adaptation trend is only growing; let’s hope author involvement continues to grow alongside it.