Why do studios adapt books into movies?

When it comes to the success of film adaptations it’s often hit or miss - especially when studios adapt books into movies. When it comes down to it, the likability of an adapted film is not the main concern for studios; may it be a hit with critics and a failure to fans, loved by fans and hated by critics, or unanimously loved or hated. It’s the box office numbers that studios pay attention too.

“From the producer’s standpoint, whether or not viewers end up loving it is secondary to getting tickets sold in the first place,” Dr. Steven Lipkin, TV and movie script writing teacher at Western Michigan University said. “In the entertainment industry, money means everything, and that is something that will never change. As long as there is money to be made, producers will find ways to make more of it.”

For studios, books create the perfect opportunity to make money because the book, or series, provide an instant fan base that is often times loyal and excited to see their favorite book on the big screen. When a fanbase is already established, studios save money as they don't have to worry so much about people liking it; they know that people will see it.

“Book-to-movie adaptations are very good for the industry since the story and characters are pre-sold, raising the likelihood of audience interest,” Lipkin said.

Back in 2000 when Warner Brothers Studio was deciding whether or not to adapt the Harry Potter books into a movie, the biggest factor that influenced their decision to spend $125 million on a single movie was the fact that over 30 million copies of the first three Harry Potter books were sold. Warner Brothers took that as a sign of financial success, and moved forward with investing so much in the books. To date, the Harry Potter franchise has garnered WB over $25 billion. More than doubling the total amount WB spent to make the franchise.

While box office success may be the main reason for studios to adapt books, reception still plays an important role. If an adaptation is a hit among critics, then the possibility of it winning awards is more likely.

Take “Silence of the Lambs” as an example. The movie was based on the book by Thomas Harris and went on to win five Academy Awards in 1991: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay. Critics loved “Silence of the Lambs” with many like Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times, praising actor Anthony Hopkins and his portrayal of the “terrifying qualities” of Hannibal Lector and calling the movie a “horror masterpiece”.

As a result of the critical success, audiences flocked to the theaters. Fans praised director Jonathan Demme and writer Ted Tally for successfully adapting their beloved book. By the time the movie left theaters, it had raked in over $272 million increasing its budget of $19 million by nearly 14 times.

At the same time, critical success isn’t always important to studios. When Summit Entertainment decided to adapt the young adult book, “Twilight” by Stephanie Meyer, the studio heads weren't expecting it to be a critical success. They were just hoping the pre-established fan base would enjoy the movie enough that the newly formed studio could make back the budget of the film. Unbeknownst to them and many others in Hollywood, “Twilight” would go on produce four sequels and raking in over $3.3 billion at the box office all while getting an average of 49 percent rotten on Rotten Tomatoes from critic reviews.

In the end, it all comes down to money. It doesn’t matter how bad of a movie an adaptation is, Hollywood will keep making them if people are going to see them.

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