Crossing the Medium: Awesome Book Adaptations

The incestuous relationship between books and mass media has been a long running phenomenon resulting in some stellar cross-platform adaptations. As of 2011 the Harry Potter film franchise, based on the Harry Potter book series written by J.K Rowling, is the highest grossing series in the world having grossed more than $7 billion in its 10 year run.

That’s why it’s not hard to accept that Hollywood studios are keen on finding the next billion dollar franchise off the shelves of your nearest Barnes & Noble. It’s why every year we’re subjected to teenage girls who plague the cineplexes en masse to see the latest installment of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, a series that has raked in more than a billion dollars worldwide.

But for every Harry Potter and Bella/Edward romance novel, you get The Golden Compass, the film adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s The Northern Lights that was the first book in His Dark Materials trilogy. The film did dismally at the box office killing any chances of the last two books being adapted for the big screen.

Books are basically scripts in hard covers and the go to source for an industry that is fast running out of ideas.

So let’s celebrate those successful adaptations of books into new mediums that not only worked commercially but were also met with critical acclaim.

When worlds attack

Back in 1938 scores of US  listeners were enthralled with the radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds by Orsen Wells’ Mercury Theater Group. The book was written 40 years earlier and related the story of an alien invasion on Earth towards the end of the nineteenth century.

The story was updated for the radio broadcast over Columbia Broadcasting System as a simulated news bulletins about an actual Martian invasion that was taking place. Of course with radio being so new back then and people simultaneously more amicable to believe all that the news told them, the broadcasts lead to “some” hysteria among listeners.

The public outcry lead to the show landing a sponsorship deal from the Campbell Soup Company and to many more adaptations and remakes across the world including the 2005 Dakota Fanning scream-a-thon that became the third biggest Independence Day Weekend film opening with a $68 million dollar gross.

The War of the Worlds radio broadcast paved the way for many more films to be adapted from books.

Men who hate women

Swedish author and journalist Stieg Larsson wrote The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first book in his Millennium series, based on his experience of witnessing a girl being gang raped. The books went on to gain critical acclaim worldwide and TGWTDT won Sweden’s Glass Key award for best crime novel in 2006.

The books were adapted for film beginning in 2008 and were released in 2009 to great reviews and a $3 million opening weekend in the UK and subsequent DVD sales made it the highest selling foreign language film in the UK. In 2010 Columbia Pictures picked the rights to adapt the film for US adaptation that is being directed David Fincher stars Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara in the leading roles.


But film adaptation is not the only medium that shows the success of a novel.

Beating the game

If you haven’t seen HBO’s Game of Thrones, the television adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones then you missed what has been universally acknowledged as the television event of 2010.

Season one of the show, which follows the events of the first book in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, has a Metascore of 81, which is considered favorable to good, among critics and a 9.6 user score among viewers. The show premiered to 2.2 million viewers in the US alone and went up to 5.4 million across multiple Sunday nights during its run earlier this year.

And if you care about awards, Game of Thrones has been nominated for 13 Emmy awards including Best Drama Series and Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for Peter Dinklage’s portrayal of Tyrion Lannister.

The success of the books and shows lies in several factors including Martin’s propensity to [spoiler alert] kill off key characters that we’d other be attached to.

“I mourn all the characters as I kill them,” he said, at the Game of Thrones Comic Con panel last week. “I tell myself, it’s not me killing them, it’s the other characters.”

The stellar cast and the ambitious filming of the series has ensured a strong run for the show that comes from a book series that will comprise of seven books in the end, and most probably seven or eight successful seasons for HBO.

But more than just film and TV you also have video game and board game adaptations of books into different media.

What have been your favorite remediations?

Siya Africa I spent several years studying politics and journalism in South Africa before working in the media industry there. Whilst taking photographs of Nelson Mandela and writing about celebrities visiting the "Mother Land" I decided to make my way to the States, in 2009, and have been a grad student at IU ever since. All your tweets belong to me (courtesy of Julia Roy). Twitter: @siyaafrica

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