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Hard-to-Adapt Work

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"The bible was written by Bruce and Reed Shelly. Reading it, you could tell that they were still struggling to get a handle on the show. I mean, the core problem was obvious: There are no real characters or stories in a Nintendo game, so how do you turn one into a TV series? [...] There was little indication about the kinds of adventures our heroes would have, and a lot of unanswered questions about how we would incorporate elements of the game. I had no clue how to solve those problem and didn’t see how that show was going to work at all! But DiC had an order for 52 episodes and deadlines were looming. We had to make some decisions fast or fall behind schedule, which would be a disaster. So at the beginning there was a lot of urgency to solve those problems and get on with it."
Perry Martin on the Super Mario Bros. adaptation The Super Mario Bros Super Show!

Some popular works never get adaptations, or if they do they have long and difficult production processes. It's not for lack of trying, however. Some works are just hard to adapt into certain mediums.

One common reason for this is an Audience-Alienating Premise. What might be popular for one medium is not for another. For example, xenofictional literature works are rarely ever adapted. Most are too dark for kids' shows or films, but most older audiences aren't interested in serious works about talking animals or non-humanoid anthropomorphic aliens. This often coincides with differing writing and content standards between mediums.

This can lead to No Adaptations Allowed if a work is deemed too difficult to work with. This is also a major reason adaptations fall into Development Hell, and frequently undergo noticeable Adaptation Decay once they're Saved from Development Hell.


Video Game Movies Suck is a subtrope, given the incompatibilities between video games and film: either the former a) doesn't have enough plot to fill in the run time of a feature-length film without significant expansion, b) has too much plot for one without significant compression or c) is too strongly tied with the interactive nature of the medium in order to translate well into a passive format. Also compare to Polygon Ceiling, i.e "hard-to-be-3D game".


Examples by Original Medium:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Berserk is a very long series that gets much of its atmosphere from a combination of decompressed storytelling and highly-detailed art. It's hard to cut out content because it has a lot of sensitive topics and Broken Bird characters, which without the original context risk becoming pointlessly dark and nonsensical. Most adaptations tend to follow the Golden Age arc, since it's a Flash Back that's largely self-contained.
  • The art-style and writing style of Goodnight Punpun leads most fans to think it can't be adapted into an anime or live-action work.
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi is an extremely long manga that famously went through a slow Genre Shift over its life, transforming from a fanservice-filled slice of life comedy into a still admittedly fanservice-filled action fantasy tale. Thus, the vast majority of adaptations focus only on the earlier chapters, ignoring (or never reaching) the later parts of the story when it becomes more of a fantasy epic, though one OVA did simply start 100 chapters in and cover some of those later chapters. That the manga ended very abruptly due to rights disputes doesn't make it any easier, either.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion was once considered for a Live-Action Adaptation by ADV Films and WETA only to end up in Development Hell. While Evangelion is rather popular in its native Japan and has a cult following in the US, its unique identity wouldn't be a sell for the general masses. A visually faithful adaptation would be ludicrously expensive for capturing the action and spectacle of the series, yet the series's graphic violence, sexual imagery (most of which involves characters who are minors In-Universe), angsty human drama, and surreal plotline would alienate mainstream audience that would be necessary for justifying the enormous budget. Despite multiple attempts, the project was abandoned.
  • Word of God states that this trope is why Yotsuba&! is in permanent No Adaptations Allowed status: despite its gag-a-day nature and relatively simple premise, the series features a good number of jokes that are only able to work in the format of a comic, to the point where attempting to adapt the series into an anime or live-action series would result in a poorly Compressed Adaptation.
  • The works of Junji Ito heavily rely on the nature of print media to build suspense leading to Jump Scares and intricately detailed artwork depicting Body Horror, both of which are difficult to translate to the screen without resulting in Narm, Special Effect Failure, and Nightmare Retardant. While Ito's works have seen multiple live-action and anime adaptations, none of them are highly regarded by Ito fans.

    Comic Books 
  • This was the main reason given why it took decades for Wonder Woman to get her own feature film or animated series. She's a part of the "Big Three" at DC (alongside Batman and Superman) but, except for a 1974 film starring Cathy Lee Crosby, the 1970s series, and the 2009 animated direct-to-video film that sold worse than expected, she never starred in her own work until 2017. Wonder Woman has been relegated to co-starring alongside other Justice League members. Wonder Woman doesn't have a concrete personality, lore, Rogues Gallery, or supporting cast compared to Batman or Superman, so she was considered hard to work with. The Girl-Show Ghetto also didn't help. In 2017, Wonder Woman finally came out and was very successful, paving the way for more material starring Wonder Woman.
  • For Supergirl, it's been difficult (outside of the 1984 movie and 2015 series), for Kara Danvers to make any stand-alone appearances in other mediums (there's been a rumored solo film for her in the DC Extended Universe, but it has yet to go out of Development Hell). The fact her character varies Depending on the Writer and the fact that Alternate Self Power Girl version exists contribute to this.
  • For decades, Watchmen was considered impossible to adapt due to its highly visual-oriented nature and the large amount of supplemental material that was connected to the plot. Zack Snyder eventually managed to create a film adaptation in 2009 that covered most of the plot points and adhered as closely to the comic as possible within the limitations of live-action film (right down to copying the broad majority of the comic's panels verbatim, similarly to his earlier adaptation of 300). Neither author Alan Moore nor a number of the book's most devoted fans were happy with it, although the film's appreciation has grown since. A successful miniseries series came to HBO in 2019, though it's a Broad Strokes sequel and not an actual adaptation of the comic book.
  • Warner Bros. does not plan on adapting Kingdom Come to animation, viewing Alex Ross' style as incomparable.
  • Frank Miller actually made Sin City with the intention of making it impossible to adapt to film, since he'd had bad experiences working in film previously. Robert Rodriguez eventually proved it could be done.
  • The Spirit is one of the fundational titles of modern comic books, but also demonstrated to be hard to adapt to other media and even to new comic-book titles, being DC Comics' Darwyn Cooke run one of the most successful intents. Being hard to adapt, there're only 3 intents to be adapted to other media, all with bad results: the 1987 Direct-to-TV Pilot Movie with Sam Jones as The Spirit, the known (and Box Office Bomb) Frank Miller's 2008 version, and recently the discovered 1980 animated project by Brad Bird that was cancelled before it saw the light. Much of this is because the actual general setup and character are fairly generic—the appeal was mostly Will Eisner's experiments with the form and willingness to push boundaries.
  • There have been multiple attempts to adapt The Sandman into a TV show or movie but they all ended very early in production due to the very nature of the series. To produce the series in live action would require a lot of expensive CGI, a lot of lore and exposition, and a large cast.
  • Vampirella: Never there has been a more mundane problem. Her costume is so iconic that fans never accept a change (this even holds for the comics themselves). But we're more likely to get our personal jetpacks than a Vampirella costume that stays put during a fighting scene...
  • Adapting the Fantastic Four into standalone film and television has proven difficult due to the team being explorers and scientists as opposed to typical crimefighters, hence why the 2005-2007 Tim Story films and the 2015 Josh Trank film were criticised for their relative lack of action compared to other superhero movies. Much of the Fantastic Four's appeal is meant to be driven by their character dynamics and their versatility, which makes them well-adapted to long-form storytelling since they can go just about anywhere—advantages that don't kick in when you're doing a standalone film. Not helping matters is their strong connections to other Marvel heroes, which until recently, couldn't be adapted in any of the films due to the rights to various Marvel characters being spread out over several other studios, and the concept of a shared cinematic universe being scoffed at until the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With Marvel Studios gaining the Fantastic Four film rights in 2019 and announcing a reboot within the aforementioned MCU, this may change.
  • Saga was made with creators Brian K. Vaugn and Fiona Staples specific intention of doing things they believed they could never do in a movie or TV show.
  • An adaptation of another one of Vaughan’s works, Y: The Last Man, has been trying to get off the ground since 2007 for similar reasons. He and his co-creator, Pia Guerra, sold the film rights to New Line Cinema that year and they had hoped to start filming the next Fall. The script passed through many hands, including Vaughan’s, but no one could figure out how to compress the story to fit into a film’s runtime. They considered making a trilogy but that idea was also scrapped. It took until 2013 for them to come to a compromise script but by the time filming began, the rights had reverted to Vaughan and Guerra, who by then had decided it made more sense to turn it into a television show. They sold the rights to FX in 2015 but the original showrunner left during the writing phase due to disagreements about how to adapt it. The pilot was finally filmed in Fall 2019 but has since run into unrelated production issues.

  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is this despite being Adaptation Overdosed. The biggest reason is that it's structured episodically which means it's hard to translate to a movie with a beginning, middle, and end. Much of the humor is based on puns and math humor (the author's day job was a math professor at Oxford) that can't properly be conveyed in a spoken word medium. The book also spoofs the way kids in the mid-19th century were raised and general stuffiness of Victorian upper class British society which is lost on modern readers who aren't as familiar with the culture of that place or era.
  • Perhaps the most famous example of this trope is with James Joyce's landmark novel Ulysses, which makes heavy use of lengthy internal monologues, incredibly surreal and postmodern-before-postmodernism imagery, highly experimental chapter structures built strictly around breaking literary conventions, and a plot that attempts to follow multiple different characters over the same series of events. As a result, the book is typically considered the archetypal example of a work that is impossible to effectively adapt into any medium other than the one in which it was originally published. That said, adaptations of the book have been attempted to varying degrees of success, including a 1967 film that earned BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Oscar nominations for for Best Adapted Screenplay.
  • Adaptation. is an adaptation of the Susan Orlean book, The Orchid Thief. It's hard to adapt a story that basically has no plot and is mainly about flowers.
  • Isaac Asimov's short story "Gold" is an In-Universe case. A writer requests a movie producer to adapt his seminal book, which is recogniseable as the second part of Asimov's own The Gods Themselves. Since it features Starfish Aliens everybody thinks it can only come out as cartoonish, but the author wants a serious feature.
  • For the longest time, The Lord of the Rings was considered this. We did have an animated version headed by Ralph Bakshi, but he ran out of money half way through and never finished it. Peter Jackson and his visionary work, a rather high budget, and the unprecedented step of making all three books as three movies at the same time got it finally made, and turned LOTR from an impossible-to-film work into arguably the single greatest adaptation of a literary work onto the big screen.
    • The Hobbit is still considered to be this by many, despite three attempts to adapt it to film. Some difficulties are that most of the dwarves are quite literally comically under-developed and the book is highly episodic to the point that it has multiple points that could be considered a climax. There are also several scenes that contradict later parts of the Middle-Earth canon, like talking animals, a talking bag, and the existence of giants. However, maybe the biggest hurdle is that it's tempting to treat the work as a prequel to Lord of the Rings when it really isn't.
    • Peter Jackson eventually adapted The Hobbit and went the LOTR films prequel route to try bringing back the cinematic Middle-earth magic that had worked the first time around, though it was stretched into a film trilogy by Executive Meddling. It garnered significantly less public and critical acclaim than the LOTR trilogy overall, especially the third film, but was still a massive financial success. The extended editions were somewhat better received, that being said.
    • The Silmarillion is still considered unadaptable, as it's less of a single narrative and more a collection of smaller tales that form a more-or-less cohesive historical account. Most of it takes place during the First Age and the War of the Jewels, and covers a period of about 600 years, switching the narrative between many different characters and filling in lots of exposition. This is before accounting for the insane distance between it and Lord of the Rings—as in, the War of the Jewels was as distant to the events of the prologue of the films as the prologue was to Frodo.
  • The works of H. P. Lovecraft have a reputation for being uncinematic and exposition-heavy. This is mainly due to their reliance on Eldritch Abominations that can drive anyone who merely looks at them insane, which is hard to put to film without it becoming Narm, Special Effect Failure and Nightmare Retardant. Doesn't stop filmmakers from trying though: see Lovecraft on Film.
    • Special mention should go to "The Colour Out Of Space", for which a true-to-the-source adaptation would be literally unfilmable. How do you visually depict a Fictional Color?
      • Turns out, inherently unnatural color in nature does exist (it's magenta). The official film adaptation of the short story from Richard Stanley took that color as the "color out of space".
  • Being very monologue-centric, along with the fact its author J. D. Salinger forbids it, is why there have been no screen adaptations of The Catcher in the Rye.
  • Despite being a popular children's book, for the longest time A Wrinkle in Time was considered "unfilmable" because of the fantastic elements and philosophy in what is ostensibly a children's story. Two attempts to adapt the work to live-action have been made, one a TV movie in 2003 and the other a theatrical release in 2018, but neither were successful with either the book's fanbase or general audiences.
  • In-Universe example in Sherlock Holmes: Sherlock often reproaches Watson for using cheap tricks like environmental descriptions verging on Scenery Porn or deliberately retaining information from the reader to make for a more interesting story, which he feels makes the actual scientific part of the case (i.e., his deductions) less important. In the two cases narrated by Holmes, he finally admits that Watson had a point, and that presenting the story in a compelling manner is harder than he thought.
  • A Warriors film has been greenlit, however a film adaptation has previously been in Development Hell for this reason. The series has over two dozen books and over a thousand named characters. This alone makes it difficult to produce a self-contained film based off of even the first arc due to its length and the number of characters. However, the major issue is that the series is about feral cat colonies. With its crap ton of Family-Unfriendly Violence and Family Unfriendly Deaths (with the first book more-or-less beginning with a cat being murdered), it's impossible to get a kid's film out of the series but it's unlikely the film would appeal to the mainstream teenage demographic. Warriors already had adaptations in the case of Comic Book Adaptations, but they are heavily toned down compared to the books and go for the Bloodless Carnage route.
  • The Dune universe has proven difficult to successfully adapt to the big screen due to its length, complexity, and significant amounts of spice-induced psychedelia. Alejandro Jodorowsky unsuccessfully attempted an adaptation of the first book in the 1970s, despite first-rate talent at his disposal (see also Jodorowsky's Dune). The director's cut of David Lynch's film is over three hours long and still has to cover large portions of the book in narrated Time Skips. The Sci-Fi Channel had a little more success by adapting the first three books of the series as two separate TV miniseries, with the extra run time of a mini-series format going a long way to making the material more accessible. There's a movie for 2021 but it's the first in a duology as a means to not have to compress as much.
  • This is the reason that House of Leaves has been declared No Adaptations Allowed: the footnotes and appendices, multi-tiered Nested Story, and symbolic use of formatting clues such as the different font colors create an experience that simply can't be translated to any other medium without sacrificing its bite.
  • Life of Pi is a Defied Trope example. Life of Pi (the book) was considered "unadaptable" because of the strange narrative, but the film pulled it off to rave reviews, albeit by using enough high-quality CGI to bankrupt the animation company.
  • The Sound and the Fury and indeed the majority of William Faulkner 's novels do not adapt well to the screen, because so much of the books consist of long, stream of consciousness internal monologues rather than external action or conversation.
  • Tristram Shandy is an incredibly metafictional novel about a man trying (and failing) to write his own autobiography, now regarded as a precursor to Postmodernism. It's widely considered to be unable to work as a film adaptation. A 2006 adaptation, A Cock and Bull Story, was favorably received—but rather than a straight adaptation, it added another layer of metafiction, thus becoming a film about two actors trying (and failing) to adapt Tristram Shandy.
  • The Land of Oz series is a children's classic but few adaptations adapt more than the first book. It suffers from this for three reasons:
  • George R. R. Martin reportedly made A Song of Ice and Fire under the premise that he was creating a story that had no chance to be adapted into a movie or series. Game of Thrones seemed to take that as a challenge, and being an HBO series was able to throw a lot of money to create an acclaimed show. It still required extensive changes to the original story, as well as surpassing the story of the books due to Martin's Schedule Slip.
  • Despite the countless adaptations of Jane Eyre, to the point of Adaptation Overdosed, Charlotte Brontë's later novel Villette has only had a few radio adaptations. This is most likely because of the novel's Unreliable Narrator, who deliberately hides things from the audience, including never revealing her Darkand Troubled Past.
  • The uncentered, interview-based structure of Max Brooks' World War Z caused it to be difficult to adapt. The movie version of World War Z instead takes a more traditional narrative approach, focusing on a few central characters before and during the Zombie Apocalypse.
  • This trope is generally considered to be the main reason why Stanley Kubrick took so many liberties with his 1980 adaptation of The Shining. The original Stephen King novel relies on a good amount of imagery and lore that would be difficult to effectively convey in a visual medium, as the later miniseries adaptation demonstrated. Kubrick stripped back so much of it that the final product only followed the most basic elements of the source material, with Kubrick adding in and rearranging content to fit his own vision. The end result is generally praised as a good movie in its own right and is widely considered to be one of the greatest horror films ever made, but most agree that it's a poor adaptation of the book, leading to a longstanding bout of Creator Backlash on King's part. This incidentally was what led to the miniseries' creation in 1997, and while the miniseries was highly praised upon its initial premiere, it's now criticized for trying to be too faithful to the book, generally being considered inferior to the much-beloved movie.
  • One of the most infamous and unique examples ever is Mordecai Richler's The Incomparable Atuk. It's not that it's a difficult book to rewrite into movie; it's a fairly straightforward comedy about an Inuit man who moves to Toronto. Rather, the issue is that everybody who tries to adapt it seem to either fail miserably or die, causing many to declare it cursed. Throughout the 80s and 90s, numerous different filmmakers, studios, and actors would try to make the movie, only for it to fall back into Development Hell yet again for some reason or another. Eventually, everybody just gave up and declared it unadaptable.
  • William S. Burroughs considered Naked Lunch to be this, being deliberately incomprehensible, disturbing, and having nothing in the way of overarching plot. As such, when he allowed David Cronenberg to adapt it into Naked Lunch, the latter compromised by crafting a new story that incorporates many themes from Burroughs overall work and events from his biography. While still pretty Mind Screw-y, it's much less so than the book.
  • Discworld is a series all about storytelling and the abstract nature of language and puns. Terry Pratchett's erratic writing style and wild imagination have made his work seemingly only fit for the medium of the printed word. Adapting the books takes key elements out—in particular, one of Terry Pratchet's signature writing motifs is his use of footnotes that add clever asides and jokes, something that struggles to work on film. Though there have been a few adaptations, none have quite been able to put Pratchett's words together in a satisfying way.
  • Cormac McCarthy has seen many of his works put to film, but Blood Meridian is not one of them. The violent nature and complex plot would make it difficult to write. A film perhaps could be done, but it would take dedication and no regards for censors.
  • Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun is built around the tension between what the narrator Severian has the means, vocabulary, and inclination to describe, and what the book's characters and surroundings must actually BE like. Any adaptation would have to be explicit about things whose very ambiguity is the engine that powers the story.
  • Of Jane Austen's works, Mansfield Park is one of the least-adapted. Although the other books with The Stoic heroines have received multiple acclaimed adaptations, the character of Fanny Price is a true Shrinking Violet whose monologue is extremely internal because she doesn't believe she has the right to express an opinion to her wealthier relatives even when she sees their behavior as truly wrong. It also lives up to Austen's promise that she would write something "less light, bright, and sparkling"; the themes of emotional abuse and the dire consequences of infidelity exposed are sometimes an Audience-Alienating Premise for viewers expecting the typical comedy-of-manners. And apart from all that there is the Values Dissonance of the romance between Fanny and her first cousin plus the implication that the Bertram family trade involves slave labor. As a result this one is adapted a lot less frequently during periods of Austenmania, and when it is, Fanny tends to get an Adaptation Personality Change.
  • Jane Austen's works in general tend to be difficult to adapt, as many of the famous Audience Coloring Adaptations lack her trademark Lemony Narrator style and play them as straight romances rather than the World of Snark the books tend to be.
  • Story Thieves would be incredibly difficult to adapt to film, due to the series large amounts of Breaking the Fourth Wall, to the extent that book four was a choose your own adventure where the character knew they were in one, having been placed there by the villain of the series in the previous book.
  • Marvel Comics adapted only one Ender's Game book that isn't related to the Bug War, its sequel Speaker for the Dead. And it remains the only time that book got a derived work, as author Orson Scott Card deems it unfilmable, given "It consists of talking heads, interrupted by moments of excruciating and unwatchable violence." The follow-ups Xenocide and Children of the Mind can also be considered hard to adapt, being bloated philosophical works.
  • Most of Agatha Christie's detective stories are and have been adapted quite easily, barring some tweaks here and there to suit the format. There are, however, a couple of exceptions:
    • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which fundamentally relies on several quirks of the First-Person Perspective narration (specifically, the story is an account written in first person by the murderer himself). While it has been adapted as part of the Poirot television series starring David Suchet, unlike many of the others this one is often considered less satisfying, simply because the mystery is considerably weakened by having to show what was happening, rather than relying on the narrator's interpretation of events.
    • Lord Edgware Dies, in which the solution to the mystery hinges on a device that is rather difficult to to pull off on-screen without being obvious. The actresses playing Jane Wilkinson and Carlotta Adams have to look similar enough to each other that the audience won't guess that it was not Jane at the dinner party, but not similar enough for the resemblance to stand out and raise suspicions (the 1985 film, for instance, had Faye Dunaway play both parts). The director of the 2000 Poirot adaptation resorted to a cheat by showing the real Jane Wilkinson (Helen Grace) at the dinner party rather than Carlotta (albeit only for a few seconds and from an oblique angle), seriously undermining the Fair-Play Whodunnit - although, to be fair, not showing her face at the dinner would have been too much of a giveaway.
  • Brave New World has traditionally been regarded as a far less easy book to adapt than its counterpart, 1984 (or, to a lesser extent, Fahrenheit 451), due to its plot being much less straightforward than Orwell's novel and due to its heavy use of gratuitous sex as a part of the novel's setting. It'd be immensely difficult to accurately portray this without it getting branded as pornography— which would make it far more difficult to distribute— and the fact that children are depicted as freely engaging in sexual activity (and being tortured and abused into not liking flowers and books) and intercourse in the book only amplifies this. Even though the book depicts that last part as something for the reader to feel disgusted by, trying to actually depict it would be impossible at best and hideously illegal at worst. Despite this, Brave New World has had three adaptations: two TV movies (a 1980 version from the UK that was more-or-less in line with the book [though the problematic parts involving children were heavily implied in this version] and a 1998 American-made version that didn't include the problematic parts involving children) and a serialized streaming series that doesn't even include children in the futuristic hedonistic world.
  • Stephen King's The Stand has proven itself to be difficult to adapt to film, due to its massive length and focusing on well over a dozen main characters across several locations. As such, attempts at a cinematic adaptation have never left Development Hell, with the book instead receiving a 1994 miniseries (which still needed several cuts to fit the story into its runtime) and another miniseries released in 2020 for CBS All Access.
  • John Milton's Paradise Lost could be this, due to either the surrealistic premise (The War on Heaven) and perhaps an Audience-Alienating Premise (depicting Satan as the protagonist) for a (mostly) Christian audience. The ambiguity of the whole thing also doesn't help.
  • Wilbur Smith claimed to have deliberately set out to write The Sunbird (1972) in such a way as to make it unfilmable (there are two intertwined stories - one set in the then-present, the other in ancient times - with characters from one appearing as different people in the other). Several of his earlier novels had been filmed and this was his way of breaking free from a situation in which he felt that he was losing control over his stories.
  • As of 2021, Inherent Vice is the only film adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's work and the first one in more than fifty years of his literary career. That's because it is one of his few comprehensive works (comprehensible by his standard), and the rest are notoriously long and dense, and contained with complex narrative and sentence structures with excessive amount of puns and wordplays. Even with the movie's straight-forward narrative, it received criticisms from detractors that the story is too hard to follow along.
  • Don DeLillo's works are rarely adapted into visual medium since his works are meant to be read than experienced. David Cronenberg's film adaptation of Cosmopolis garnered some backlashes when it was released due to its dry and didactic nature.
  • Animorphs has a very youthful cast (they're 13 at the start of the series and 16 by the end), who live double lives where they fight aliens by turning into animals. The concept makes it sound like it ought to be aimed at the same demographic as Power Rangers, but the series also contains incredibly violent fight scenes and ruminations on the cost of war that more or less reserves it to older audiences when portrayed in a visual medium. That's before mentioning how the concept requires you to depict animals and complex, ostentatious alien designs that puts an accurate adaptation well beyond a live-action TV budget. Meanwhile, the episodic structure of the books mean that they don't really work as films either. For most of these reasons, the TV series that ran at the same time as the books was mostly remembered as an embarrassment.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Grey's Anatomy is one of those series that has proved harder to adapt outside of Live-Action TV, with a video game adaptation which got poor reviews from critics for being a Minigame Game and Loose Canon at best. As such, it's had no other adaptations since the 2009 game.
  • Police, Camera, Action!, due to being an Edutainment Show / Gearhead Show has proven to be harder to adapt to another medium (aside from an obscure 1996 book with photo-stills) due to being a Real Life documentary, although a video game based on it would be a difficult exercise, and costly. Outside of parodies, there's been no real adaptations since.
  • Catch Phrase had a Board Game adaptation in The '90s, but it's proved difficult to adapt except for as a smartphone game, where it makes sense.
  • While Doctor Who has seen a number of mostly well-regarded adaptations in print novels, comic books, audio plays, stage plays, video games, and even pinball tables, feature films appear to be a much more difficult format for the franchise, to the point where a good number of fans regard the series as next-to-impossible to properly adapt into a movie. Much of this stems from the fact that the series already tends to feature long, drawn-out plots, which in the 1963-1989 iteration of the series already tended to reach or even surpass the length of a feature film. As a result, it would be difficult to create a Doctor Who movie that didn't tell the kind of story that could already be told in the show itself (barring the possibility of better effects, and even then the 2005 revival is generally considered to be close enough in that department). Additionally, the heavy continuity and complex premise of the series would make it difficult to create a film that could appeal to neophytes, as there's so many things that would need to be introduced at once that it would end up bogging down the pace of a film. The show had only been adapted to the big screen on two occasions in the 1960s, and these were adaptations of already-aired serials, adaptations that existed within their own continuity independent of the show (not to mention that it was early enough in the show's lifetime for its premise to not be anything more than "old man and his granddaughter travel through time and space with a couple accidental stowaways"). The one time the series got a movie actually based in the show's continuity was a TV movie in 1996 intended to kickstart an American revival of the series, but this ended up flopping as a result of its indecisiveness about whether it wanted to appeal to old fans or new, unfamiliar viewers (to say nothing of its glaring continuity errors) and is generally seen as So Bad, It's Good as a result.
  • Super Sentai:
    • Samurai Sentai Shinkenger is considered one of the best Super Sentai series and a Gateway Series for new fans, but it is also one of the hardest to translate into other languages due to its heavy Japanese themes. This is why it did not get an Korean dub, and is also the reason why its American adaptation, Power Rangers Samurai, was rather lackluster compared to it.
    • Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger is the 35th Anniversary series of Super Sentai in which the rangers transform into past rangers, which naturally makes it really hard to make a good Power Rangers adaptation out of it: the Stock Footage has 15 other Sentai shows which weren't adapted at all and it would also be hard to change the footage into only the series which were adapted since it would cost a whole lot to do that. Power Rangers Super Megaforce responded to this by... just using the unadapted Sentai teams with only the vague explanation of how they've "never been seen on Earth before", which many fans decried as a lazy solution.

  • Genesis' 1974 Rock Opera The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is generally considered to be the musical equivalent of Ulysses in terms of works that would be impossible to make a good adaptation of, primarily owing to its Mind Screw plot and heavy use of surreal imagery. The album was already hard enough to adapt on stage; the associated tour required a bevy of extraordinarily elaborate effects, and at no point was all of it ever able to work as intended. Since then, nobody has attempted to adapt The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway into any medium, to say nothing of the performance stage.
  • This trope is often considered a key reason why David Bowie's 1995 album 1. Outside never received the film adaptation that was suggested for it at one point, being perhaps more directly comparable to Ulysses in that it features a heavily non-linear plot and frequent use of internal monologues (most of which are the songs on the album itself).
    • Similarly, Bowie's earlier album Diamond Dogs from 1974 was never the easiest to translate to another medium thanks to its lack of an actual plot— it was written as a Captain Ersatz version of 1984 after Bowie failed to secure the rights to making a musical adaptation of the book, but the album foregoes any semblance of a story in favor of simply exploring a general set of themes; it arguably has less of a plot than Ziggy Stardust! The one time Bowie did try to bring Diamond Dogs to another medium was on the stage during the album's associated tour; like The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, it was marred by constant technical issues, and Bowie eventually dropped the whole shtick altogether during the second leg of the tour in favor of a far more minimalist, soul-inspired setup.
  • This trope is likely the reason why it took until 10 years after Frank Zappa's death for Thing-Fish to see its long-promised stage production. The plot is so convoluted and directionless that it's hard to make any sense of it, even as the triple-album + libretto it was originally released as, to the point where its one stage adaptation in 2003 had to take a number of liberties to ensure that it could even be made at all. At least Uncle Meat was meant to be the soundtrack of a never-released film than a conveyance of the story itself, and Joe's Garage intentionally derailed itself for the sake of humor— Thing Fish, meanwhile, is the story through and through, and attempts to play itself as straight as possible.
  • The Nutcracker has proven to be a challenge to adapt beyond the ballet stage. Since the show has its conflict reserved for the first half, and is mostly a showcase of music and dancing, nobody seems sure of how to add plot to a story which is so... plotless. Though Hollywood has certainly tried, no major film adaptation seems to have captured the spirit of the ballet too well.

  • Cats is a play based on a book of poems. Virtually every song is a poem set to music. There's no dialogue in the play, with the story being told through song. The loose, vague story and characterization makes it hard to adapt into other mediums, which is a reason it took until 2019 to get a film adaptation, and even then one of the many criticisms (that doesn't focus on the film's sheer amounts of Uncanny Valley) was that the play's structure and thin plot is something one can only accept on the stage.
  • Cirque du Soleil has successfully recorded many of its shows (which usually feature Excuse Plots at best) for the TV/video market, but attempts to adapt them — or at least their acts — into narrative media have by and large failed. The IMAX 3-D Movie Short Film Journey of Man worked due to its deliberately episodic "stages of life" plot, brief length, and the shows being excerpted having similar aesthetics to each other. By comparison, the dramatic film built around Alegría was too dark for children and too odd for adults, the Variety Show / Thematic Series hybrid Solstrom came off as a hard-to-market Widget Series for non-fans and a butchering of the original shows for fans, and Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away's loose stringing of vignettes lifted directly from actual Las Vegas shows upon an original Everywoman's quest resulted in an aimless story and odd tonal shifts due to the shows' clashing visual and aural aesthetics.


    Video Games 
  • One of the staff writers on The Super Mario Bros Super Show! explained that the show's production team found it hard to derive material from the shallow plots and thin characters of the games (which was especially the case in 1989, when the series' presence in the United States amounted to just the first two home console games and the freshly-released Super Mario Land, which wasn't even out yet during the cartoon's production; Super Mario Bros. 3 wouldn't be out in the States for another year), which is why most of the episodes are structured around stock movie and historical parodies. Indeed, Nintendo of America themselves had cold feet about the idea of adapting the games into an animated series, and this trope may have been a factor in that opinion.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog only had the first two games representing the brand in the States when the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM) debuted, with Sonic, Tails, and Dr. Robotnik being the only recurring game characters. Also not helping is that the localization process excised what story info the Japanese manuals originally had. The 2020 movie showed very little of Sonic's homeworld and opted for a Human-Focused Adaptation starring Sonic escaping to Earth, to favorable results.
  • The Persona series generally consists of RPGs that can easily take 100 hours to complete, so parts of the story will inevitably have to get cut for a 2-cour anime with an OVA or two (Persona 4: The Animation, Persona 5: The Animation) or a film tetralogy (Persona 3: The Movie). Unfortunately, this can be a risky proposition considering that in the Persona series, small details and seemingly innocuous scenes can become very important to the plot. The Persona 5 anime adaptation got this the worst; not only is the game the longest of the three, but the dungeons are more elaborate and have more story scenes, and the non-party Confidants are more relevant to the plot, meaning that more is lost as a result of cutting down in those areas.
  • It took the film adaptation of Uncharted a decade to get off the ground due to this. The games’ stories are already structured like films and use film-like cinematography, meaning adapting them would just be condensing the story to a movie’s run time. The series' creators at Naughty Dog believed this so much that they refused to help their parent company Sony on the project until they gave up on a making straight-up adaptation of the series. In 2018, Sony decided to not adapt one of the games and go the Prequel route. ND officially gave their blessing and are helping consult on it.

    Visual Novels 
  • Visual Novels tend to be harder to adapt into anime than Light Novels and manga because of the very nature of their works consisting of branching paths, as well as having Multiple Endings. The Fate/stay night adaptations tend to stick with one route out of the dozens of other options as to keep a consistent story, but nonetheless, manages to achieve success, becoming one of the rarer exceptions to the rule. Tsukihime's anime adaptation, on the other hand, suffers badly from a lot of cut content of the original visual novel, and it shows with the inconsistent story pacing (although its manga adaptation fared better by incorporating elements from multiple routes into the story).
  • The above-mentioned Fate/stay night is an interesting case in this regard, due to the fact its story branches have to be played in a certain order. The first route, Fate, take the time to put all its cards on the table for the player's sake, and demonstrates how the central conflict is intended to play out. This makes it pretty straightforward to adapt since all the exposition is already there— in fact the first anime adaption came just two years after release, with the only major deviation being the removal of the porn scenes. That said, it is also generally considered the blandest of the three routes, due to the fact that it explores Shirou's character the least and more or less goes how you'd expect it to go, which is likely why it tends to fare poorly in adaptations after that initial one.
    The second route, Unlimited Blade Works, has a clear point of divergence that allows the story to focus on certain characters and events that were glossed over or even Killed Offscreen the first time around, but this point is before more of the exposition happens. Shirou actually complains several times that he has to play catch-up with all the magi-babble Tohsaka spits out, but the game knows the player's already familiar with these concepts. This all makes UBW very difficult to adapt to another medium without destroying the pacing with tons of additional exposition, and even the best-regarded attempts are admitted to have some Continuity Lockout.
    The third route, Heaven's Feel, was long considered completely un-adaptable. Put simply, the plot is driven by an In-Universe case of Off the Rails and without understanding how things are supposed to go (which is completely skipped, as the player's been shown twice by now), it's next to impossible to see where things go wrong, let alone understand the characters' reactions. Additionally, a third subset of characters are focused on, and take full advantage of two whole routes worth of Foreshadowing; without it, most of their development teeters back and forth between Diabolus ex Machina, Shocking Swerve and Ass Pull.
  • On top of struggling with the usual hurdles of adapting the Visual Novel medium, Dies Irae has a few more factors further complicating things. In addition of the same issue as the above mentioned Fate Stay Night of having the routes needing to be read in a specific order due to the Eternal Recurrence plot going on, it has the added hurdle of the novels sheer length which means it would require a lot of episodes to cover everything. Even Fate barely scraped by with it's 24 episodes for just one of its routes which of course means that the Dies Irae anime's episode count of 17 was far from enough.
    But further making things more difficult is that it also struggles with a similar issue as the works by H. P. Lovecraft in that, due to the power scale of the verse, it uses a lot of fairly flowery language to describe abstract concepts and ideas that would be extremely difficult to portray on screen in contrast to the written format. Add in all of the both internal monologues and philosophical musings by the characters that is essential to understanding them and their motivations on top of all this and it is no surprise that any attempt at an adaptation will be fighting an uphill battle.

  • Andrew Hussie has said that Homestuck was meant to the be the sort of story that could only be told on the internet, as it makes extensive use of Infinite Canvas and multimedia. When asked by a fan how he would hypothetically adapt Homestuck as a film, Hussie answered that he would throw the plot away entirely, and just write something set in the same universe and that conveyed the same themes as the comic.

    Western Animation 


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