Sliding Scale of Adaptation Modification
aka: The Sliding Scale Of Adaptation Decay

When creating a movie from a story already well-known in another medium, those making it are often faced with a crippling dilemma. How true can we stay to the source material without risking a failure at the box office? It can be a very hard call for a director. On the one hand, Fan Dumb will cry "Ruined FOREVER" if there's even one change to the source material, and he may find himself a victim of the fandom's ire from then on. On the other hand, not changing a thing can result in either a very poorly-made movie or one that relies so heavily on the source material that people unfamiliar with the work will be completely lost.

The scale runs something like this:
  • 5. Identical Adaptation: A movie in which next to nothing is changed.
  • 4. Near-Identical Adaptation: A movie that changes the material just enough to gain a specific rating or be of reasonable length. Sometimes rereleased with a Director's Cut.
  • 3. Pragmatic Adaptation: Probably the ideal rating in most cases. A movie that manages to capture the spirit of the original work, while at the same time, embracing the new medium. These are generally big hits.
  • 2. Recognizable Adaptation: Still bears enough resemblance to its source material that it can be realized as an adaptation. May involve a Setting Update.
  • 1. In-Name-Only: Shares only the name and possibly the main characters. It likely could have stood on its own as an original work otherwise.

The scale, however, is not set in stone, and often times, there is overlap. Also, Tropes Are Not Bad as any movie in any of these categories can become a great success. However, the further a movie falls from the center, the less likely that is.

This trope is usually applied to movie adaptations — The Film of the Book especially — although it can be applied to adaptations from movies as well, since other formats (books, comics, television series) have room for more material. See also The Problem with Licensed Games for the video game equivalent.


Type 5:

Type 4:

Type 3: Pragmatic Adaptation

Type 2:

Type 1:

Special Cases:

  • The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad: The Wind in the Willows segment scores a 2, and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow segment scores about a 3.5 or 4.
  • The first Shrek film is somewhere between a Type 1 and Type 3. The films story borrows very few elements from the original William Steig book save for Shrek himself and Donkey (who only appeared on one page), but the original story was only 500 words long to begin with, so some major Adaptation Expansion was done to make the books story viable for a feature length film.
  • Film adaptations of Les Misérables run the gamut from Type 4 (1934, 1958, 1978) to Type 3 (1982) to Type 2 (1998, 2012) to borderline Type 1 (1935, 1948, 1952).
  • Matilda: Scores about a 3.5. Changing the setting to America leaves an impact on the film, but it's one of the more faithful adaptations of Dahl's works.
  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe. While most people would agree it's usually a 3, there are some movies that hit 4 (using a lot of elements from the comics as they were, i.e. The Super Soldier serum), with others that hit the 2 area (removing or heavily altering comic book elements, i.e. how Pym Particles work).
  • Adaptations of the Pokémon games fall all over the scale, though so far none have quite reached the extremes of 1 or 5. Of the more widely-known adaptations:
    • The original anime is a type 3 with heavy type 2 leanings, with exactly how heavy depending on the circumstances; most of the basics of the world of the games are there and the show adapts parts of the plots of the games to at least some extent suiting its format (collecting badges to face the League, fighting the evil teams of each generation), but there's a lot of Adaptation Expansion and the fine details of it all can get a fair bit different from the games.
    • Pokémon Special is very much a type 3, but has shades of Type 4 and Type 2 in its interpretation of certain aspects of the 'verse, certain characters, and certain plotlines (Type 2 for the latter two being more common early on.
    • Pokémon Origins is a blatant Type 4 (and deliberately designed as one) of the original pair of games. There are still several things preventing it from being a Type 5, however, the most notable being the franchise debut of Mega Charizard X.
  • Power Rangers has varied in faithfulness to Super Sentai from season to season. They range from being as similar as a 4 (Wild Force, Samurai) to as different as a 1 (In Space, RPM).
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017): The first three episodes (The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room and The Wide Window) are all Type 4, while the fouth episode The Miserable Mill (which is the only episode so far not to be written by the original author, Daniel Handler) scores somewhere around a 2 or a 3.
  • Stanley Kubrick's film of The Shining is interesting in that it starts out as a Type 4, but it gradually deviates further and further from the book until it becomes a Type 2.
    • The Nutty Professor remake has a similar process. The first half ranges roughly between a 3.5-4, and the second half becomes a Type 1, but turns into a 4 again at the Climax.
  • The Disney Silly Symphonies shorts adapted Hans Christian Andersen's The Ugly Duckling twice—the 1931 short is a Type 1 (In-Name-Only) adaptation of the original story, while the 1939 short is a Type 4 that sticks much closer to the source material.
  • Simon Birch, the film adaptation of A Prayer for Owen Meany, goes from Type 5 to Type 1 as the story progresses, passing through almost every type along the way.
  • The 1934 Betty Boop cartoon Snow White starts off as Type 4, but drifts into Type 1 around the middle.
  • Dragon Ball Super and its manga is an odd case - Neither the anime nor the manga are adaptations of each other, but rather based on a plot outline provided by franchise creator Akira Toriyama. Since the plot outline in question is evidentally rather loose, the anime and the manga vary wildly in different aspects - major plot points can be completely different and anime-exclusive transformations are commonplace, but random throwaway jokes appear in both formats. In practice, they're ultimately both a Level 2 to each other.
  • The Abridged Series are all pragmatic and altered to at least some degree, but how much this is the case can vary. Some of the more faithful ones (Dragon Ball Z Abridged, most notably) go as high as a 3.5, most (such as Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series and Sword Art Online Abridged) lean towards a 2, and a few (Alternate Reality DBZ being one particularly glaring example) go as low as 1.5. However, reliance on the original footage means they can never really reach full In-Name-Only territory.


  • The older and more established the original work is, and the more existing film adaptations that have been done with it, the less "need" new adaptations will feel to stick closely to the original, and the more likely chance that they will take their own approaches. This is especially true if the work is in the Public Domain, and that's why works by people like William Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens get so many Setting Updates and reinterpretations.
  • Musicals and more recent plays that get film adaptations tend to be relatively faithfully-adapted, other than for length. It helps that they're already adapted to a more similar medium (they have a script, they take into account the visual element in a way novels don't, etc.)
  • Anime fall into some predictable patterns:
    • Manga and novel adaptations that are of finished works tend to be in the 3-5 range, unless they are very old and established works with previous adaptations, in which case they might fall lower on the scale.
    • Manga and novel adaptations of ongoing works vary based on what the original creator and the studio want them to do with it. If they just stop the story at a certain point (planning to animate more when there's more if the show does well enough), they're usually type 4-5. If they stall for time using "filler arcs" (see: Naruto and One Piece), the presence of those fits them into type 3. Series that get anime-original endings vary based on how early the ending is established, varying from type 2-3 depending on that.
    • Video game and Visual Novel adaptations necessarily have to make some changes to turn a branching story into a linear one, so they usually fall in the 2-3 range. In the case of some mobile or card game adaptations, they might have to make up a story from scratch where the original didn't have one, falling into type 1.

Alternative Title(s): The Sliding Scale Of Adaptation Decay, Sliding Scale Of Adaptation Faithfulness, Sliding Scale Of Adaptation Decay