A common form of film adaptation is the use of a novel as the basis of a feature film, but film adaptation includes the use of non-fiction (including journalism), autobiography, comic book, scripture, plays, and even other films. From the earliest days of cinema, adaptation has been nearly as common as the development of original screenplays.
Novels are frequently adapted for films. For the most part, these adaptations attempt either to appeal to an existing commercial audience (the adaptation of best sellers and the "prestige" adaptation of works) or to tap into the innovation and novelty of a less well known author. Inevitably, the question of "faithfulness" arises, and the more high profile the source novel, the more insistent are the questions of fidelity.
Elision and interpolation
Erich von Stroheim attempted a literal adaptation of Frank Norris's novel McTeague in 1924 with his film, Greed. The resulting film was over sixteen hours long. A cut of the film only eight hours long, then one running to four hours, appeared. Finally, the studio itself cut the film to around two hours, resulting in a finished product that was entirely incoherent. Since that time, few directors have attempted to put everything in a novel into a film. Therefore, elision is nearly mandatory.
In some cases, however, film adaptations will also interpolate scenes or invent characters. This is especially true when a novel is part of a literary saga. Incidents or quotes from later or earlier novels will be inserted into a single film. Additionally, and far more controversially, film makers will invent new characters or create stories that were not present in the source material at all. Given the anticipated audience for a film, the screenwriter, director, or movie studio may wish to increase character time or invent new characters. For example, William Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Ironweed, had a very small section with a prostitute named Helen. Because the film studio anticipated a female audience for the film and had Meryl Streep for the role, Helen became a significant part of the film. However, characters are also sometimes invented to provide the narrative voice.
As Sergei Eisenstein pointed out in his landmark essay on Charles Dickens, films most readily adapt novels with externalities and physical description: they fare poorly when they attempt the Modern novel and any fiction that has internal monologue or, worse, stream of consciousness. When source novels have exposition or digressions from the author's own voice, a film adaptation may create a commenting, chorus-like character to provide what could not be filmed otherwise. Thus, in the adaptation of John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman, the director created a contemporary Englishman in a romance with a woman to offer up the ironic and scholarly voice that Fowles provided in the novel, and the film version of Laurence Sterne's "unfilmable" novel, Tristram Shandy had the main actor speak in his own voice, as an actor, to emulate the narrator's ironic and metafictional voice in the novel. Early on, film makers would rely upon voice over for a main character's thoughts, but, while some films (e.g. Blade Runner) may self-consciously invoke the older era of film by the use of voice over, such devices have been used less and less with time.
Interpretation as adaptation
There have been several nominees for non plus ultra of inventive adaptation, including the Roland Joffe adaptation of The Scarlet Letter with explicit sex between Hester Prynn and the minister and Native American obscene puns into a major character and the film's villain. The Charlie Kaufman and "Donald Kaufman" penned Adaptation., credited as an adaptation of the novel The Orchid Thief, was an intentional satire and commentary on the process of film adaptation itself. All of these cases of Hawthorne's point. The creators of the Gulliver miniseries interpolated a sanity trial to reflect the ongoing scholarly debate over whether or not Gulliver himself is sane at the conclusion of Book IV. In these cases, adaptation is a form of criticism and recreation, as well as translation.
Change in adaptation is essential and practically unavoidable, mandated both by the constraints of time and medium, but how much is always a balance. Some film theorists have argued that a director should be entirely unconcerned with the source, as a novel is a novel, while a film is a film, and the two works of art must be seen as separate entities. Since a transcription of a novel into film is impossible, even holding up a goal of "accuracy" is absurd. Others argue that what a film adaptation does is change to fit (literally, adapt), and the film must be accurate to either the effect (aesthetics) of a novel or the theme of the novel or the message of the novel and that the film maker must introduce changes where necessary to fit the demands of time and to maximize faithfulness along one of these axes.
Movies sometimes use plays as their sources. William Shakespeare has been called the most popular screenwriter in Hollywood. There are not only film versions of all of Shakespeare's plays but also multiple versions of many of them, and there are films adapted from Shakespeare's plays very loosely (such as West Side Story, Kiss Me, Kate, The Lion King, O, and 10 Things I Hate about You, as well as Akira Kurosawa's adaptations in Throne of Blood and Ran).
Similarly, hit Broadway plays are frequently adapted, whether from musicals or dramas. On one hand, theatrical adaptation does not involve as many interpolations or elisions as novel adaptation, but on the other, the demands of scenery and possibilities of motion frequently entail changes from one medium to the other. Film critics will often mention if an adapted play has a static camera or emulates a proscenium arch. Laurence Olivier consciously imitated the arch with his Henry V (1944), having the camera begin to move and to use color stock after the prologue, indicating the passage from physical to imaginative space. Sometimes, the adaptive process can continue after one translation. Mel Brooks' The Producers was a film that was adapted into a Broadway musical and then adapted again into a film.
Feature films are occasionally created from television series or television segments. In these cases, the film will either offer a longer storyline than the usual television program's format or will offer expanded production values. n the adaptation of The X-Files to film, for example, greater effects and a longer plotline were involved. Additionally, adaptations of television shows will offer the viewer the opportunity to see the television show's characters without broadcast restrictions. These additions (nudity, profanity, explicit drug use, explicit violence) are only rarely a featured adaptive addition (film versions of "procedurals" such as Miami Vice are most inclined to such additions as featured adaptations) - South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut is a notable example of a film being more explicit than its parent TV series.
Because the film makers are adapting established characters with expected behaviors, introducing obviously non-broadcast elements may alienate a core audience. Films will sometimes try to offer a "real" story, as if commercial television were inherently censored for complexity. Some adaptations of television shows are nostalgic and usually ironic.[who?]
At the same time, some theatrically released films are adaptations of television miniseries events. When national film boards and state controlled television networks co-exist, film makers can sometimes create very long films for television that they may adapt solely for time for theatrical release. Both Ingmar Bergman (notably with Fanny and Alexander but with other films as well) and Lars von Trier have created long television films that they then recut for international distribution.
Even segments of television series have been adapted into feature films. The American television variety show Saturday Night Live has been the origin of a number of films, beginning with The Blues Brothers, which began as a one-off performance by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. The most recent of these Saturday Night Live originated films is a case of double television origin: Fat Albert, which began with an impression of another television show based on the comedy routine of Bill Cosby. Rowan Atkinson has starred in three British films that originated on television: Johnny English, Bean and its sequel Mr. Bean's Holiday.
Radio narratives have also provided the basis of film adaptation. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, for example, began as a radio series for the BBC and then became a novel that was adapted to film. In the heyday of radio, radio segments, like television segments today, translated to film on several occasions, usually as shorts. Dialog-heavy stories and fantastic stories from radio also adapted to film (e.g. Fibber McGee, Life with Father and Superman, which was a serial on radio before being adapted to film).
Comic book adaptation
Comic book characters, particularly superheroes, have long been adapted into film, beginning in the 1940s with Saturday movie serials aimed at children. Superman (1978) and Batman (1989) are two later successful movie adaptations of famous comic book characters. In the early 2000s, blockbusters such as X-Men (2000) and Spider-Man (2002) have led to dozens of superhero films. The success of these films has also led to other comic books not necessarily about superheroes being adapted for the big screen, such as Ghost World (2001), From Hell (2001), American Splendor (2003), Sin City (2005), 300 (2007), Wanted (2008), and Whiteout (2009).
The adaptation process for comics is different from that of novels. Many successful comic book series last for several decades and have featured several variations of the characters in that time. Films based on such series usually try to capture the back story and “spirit” of the character instead of adapting a particular storyline. Occasionally aspects of the characters and their origins are simplified or modernized.
Self-contained graphic novels, and miniseries many of which do not feature superheroes, can be adapted more directly, such as in the case of Road to Perdition (2002) or V for Vendetta (2006). In particular, Robert Rodriguez did not use a screenplay for Sin City but utilized actual panels from writer/artist Frank Miller's series as storyboards to create what Rodriguez regards as a "translation" rather than an adaptation.
Furthermore, some films based on long-running franchises use particular storylines from the franchise as a basis for a plot. The second X-Men film was loosely based on the graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills and the third film on the storyline Dark Phoenix Saga. Spider-Man 2 was based on the storyline Spider-Man No More! Likewise, Batman Begins owes many of its elements to Miller's Batman: Year One and the film's sequel, The Dark Knight, uses subplots from Batman: The Long Halloween.
Video game adaptation
Video games have also been adapted into films, beginning in the early 1980s, although films closely related to the computer and video game industries had been done previously, such as Tron and The Wizard, but only after the release of several films based on well-known brands has this genre become recognized in its own right.
Films based on video games tend to carry a reputation of being lower budgeted B movies and rarely receive the appreciation of either film critics or fans of the games on which they are based. However, a number of films have become successful with general audiences (such as Mortal Kombat, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Silent Hill and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time) with a few subject to critical acceptance (notably Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children).
However, some such as Super Mario Bros. were not as well-received. The aforementioned adaption was often criticized for being too dark in comparison to the popular video game series. Many anime Original Video Animations (OVAs) based on popular games have been released such as Dead Space: Downfall, Halo Legends, Dante's Inferno: An Animated Epic and numerous films based on the video game series Pokémon.
The main cause of failure among video game adaptions is often cited as the genre's tendency for its films to drastically differ from source material. Resident Evil changed its direction to action then horror, a new lead character who is not part of the game series, lacking most of the well-known characters and having little to nothing to do with the premise from the game series. Doom traded in religious elements of the video games for scientific plot elements and openly parodied the game's first person shooter gameplay, and the setting of Super Mario Bros. was radically changed from a light, cartoonish adventure to that of a camp parodied dark, dystopian thriller similar to the world of Blade Runner/Total Recall. Among the most well-known video-game filmmakers is Uwe Boll, a German writer, director, and producer who has become notorious among video-game fans and critics alike for making video games adaptations such as House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, BloodRayne, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, Postal and Far Cry, all of which were almost universally panned by audiences for their deviation from the source material and simply bad quality. Boll is often compared to cult filmmaker Ed Wood, who created such films as Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen or Glenda.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times stated that video games are "inherently inferior to film and literature" and that "video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control." 
Adaptations from other sources
Documentary films have been made from reportage, as have dramatic films (e.g. All the President's Men, and, most recently, Miracle, adapted from a deadline-written book after the 1980 "miracle on ice"). An Inconvenient Truth is Al Gore's documentary film about climate change. It is a film adaptation of a Keynote multimedia presentation and is an adaptation, therefore, of a lecture. Some films have been made based on photographs (e.g. Pretty Baby, directed by Louis Malle), and films have adapted films (e.g. Twelve Monkeys deriving from La jetée). Many films have been made from epic poetry. Homer's works have been adapted multiple times in several nations. Finally, both Greek mythology and the Bible have been adapted frequently. In these cases, the audience already knows the story well, and so the adaptation will de-emphasize elements of suspense and concentrate instead on detail and phrasing.
Adaptation of films
When a film's screenplay is original, it can also be the source of derivative works such as novels and plays. For example, movie studios will commission novelizations of their popular titles or sell the rights to their titles to publishing houses. These novelized films will frequently be written on assignment and sometimes written by authors who have only an early script as their source. Consequently, novelizations are quite often changed from the films as they appear in theaters.
Novelization can build up characters and incidents for commercial reasons (e.g. to market a card or computer game, to promote the publisher's "saga" of novels, or to create continuity between films in a series)
There have been instances of novelists who have worked from their own screenplays to create novels at nearly the same time as a film. Both Arthur C. Clarke, with 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Graham Greene, with The Third Man, have worked from their own film ideas to a novel form (although the novel version of The Third Man was written more to aid in the development of the screenplay than for the purposes of being released as a novel). Both John Sayles and Ingmar Bergman write their film ideas as novels before they begin producing them as films, although neither director has allowed these prose treatments to be published.
Finally, films have inspired and been adapted into plays. John Waters's films have been successfully mounted as plays; both Hairspray and Cry-Baby have been adapted, and other films have spurred subsequent theatrical adaptations. Spamalot is a Broadway play based on Monty Python films. In a rare case of a film being adapted from a stage musical adaptation of a film, in 2005 the film adaptation of the stage musical based on Mel Brooks' classic comedy film The Producers was released.
- Eisenstein, Sergei. "Dickens, Griffith, and the Film Today." Film Form Dennis Dobson, trans. 1951.
- Aragay, Mireia, ed. (2005). Books in Motion: Adaptation, Intertextuality, Authorship. Rodopi. ISBN 90-420-1885-2.
- Bluestone, George (1957, 2003). Novels into Film: The Metamorphosis of Fiction into Cinema. The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-7386-X.
- Buchanan, Judith (2005). Shakespeare on Film. Longman-Pearson. ISBN 0-582-43716-4.
- Cardwell, Sarah (2002). Adaptation Revisited: Television and the Classic Novel. Manchester University Press. ISBN 0-7190-6045-1.
- Cartmell, Deborah and Whelehan, Imelda, eds. (2007). The Cambridge Companion to Literature on Screen. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-61486-4.
- Corrigan, Timothy (1998). Film and Literature. Longman. ISBN 0-13-526542-8.
- Elliott, Kamilla (2003). Rethinking the Novel/Film Debate. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-81844-3.
- Geraghty, Christine (2008). Now a Major Motion Picture: Film Adaptations of Literature and Drama. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-7425-3820-6.
- Glavin, John, ed. (2003). Dickens on Screen. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-00124-2.
- Hutcheon, Linda (2006). A Theory of Adaptation. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-96794-5.
- Kranz, David L. and Mellerski, Nancy, eds. (2008). In/Fidelity: Essays on Film Adaptation. Cambridge Scholars Press. ISBN 1-84718-402-2.
- Leitch, Thomas (2007). Film Adaptation and Its Discontents: from 'Gone with the Wind' to 'The Passion of the Christ. The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-9271-6.
- McFarlane, Brian (1996). Novel to Film: An Introduction to the Theory of Adaptation. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-871151-4.
- Naremore, James, ed. (2000). Film Adaptation. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0-8135-2813-5.
- Stam; Raengo, Alessandra, eds (2005). Literature and Film: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Film Adaptation. Blackwell. ISBN 0631230548.
- Sanders, Julie (2006). Adaptation and Appropriation. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-31171-3.
- Troost, L. and Greenfield, S. eds. (2001). Jane Austen in Hollywood. The University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-9006-1.
- Welsh, James M. and Lev, Peter, eds. (2007). The Literature/Film Reader: Issues of Adaptation. Scarecrow. ISBN 0-8108-5949-1.
- Movie Adaptation Database, UC Berkeley Media Resources Center
- The history of Erich von Stroheim's Greed, from welcometosilentmovies.com
- The Art of Adaptation from hollywoodlitsales.com
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