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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?"
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 and even if attempted will often rely on Human-Focused Adaptation.

Story Branching is another common headache, particularly the form found in Visual Novels (which can already have vast amounts of text to work with). A single VN can feature not only multiple long, mutually exclusive storylines, but also cross-continuity Chekhovs Guns (i.e. a detail is explained but not relevant in the first route, then relevant but not explained in the second). Most adaptations either pick one route and stick with it, or invent a composite storyline with elements of all of them.

The ability for novels to expand on environments, explain motivations and personality traits within the text makes it near impossible to replicate in a film format without tripling down on the exposition and explaining their emotions in a hamfisted manner. A reader can also experience a book at their own pace both in segments they read at a time and being able to easily double back on passages they might have overlooked, while a three-hour movie can continue on even if you leave the room.

Films are rooted in visuals, dialogue and music to different degrees, all edited together in a cohesive whole. Kinetic action sequences timed to the soundtrack creates a fundamentally different appeal, as well as enormous spectacle filled with naturalistic details. See also Starring Special Effects.

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.


Examples subpages (by original medium):

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    Anime & Manga 
  • AKIRA may be a successful manga adapted into an even more successful anime film, but efforts to create a live-action film have frequently stalled out, despite efforts from directors such as Jordan Peele and Taika Waititi. Most have pointed out that intricately detailed set pieces such as the destruction of Tokyo and Tetsuo's mutation are much easier to accomplish via animation (and even then the anime film cost so much to make that it risked tanking Japan's entire animation industry), and that its dark plot involving drug abuse, gang violence, and tyranny via superpowers does not have broad audience appeal. Not helping matters is the predominantly Japanese cast, raising concerns about the Minority Show Ghetto. Despite these factors, other Capepunk films inspired by AKIRA have seen success, and Chronicle can be argued to be a Spiritual Successor.
  • Projects with character designs by Yoshitaka Amano tend to struggle with adaptation to animation, due to his designs being wispy, wavery watercolor paintings crowded with detail, depicting very similar-looking characters in very complicated and ornate outfits—all things that do not translate well to animation. This means that Amano projects tend to need either the high budget and short runtime of an OVA or film (Angel's Egg, which still ends up looking very strange in motion) or a significant redesign to the point of looking little like his original work (The Heroic Legend of Arslan, where the anime is based on the retooled manga adaptation by Hiromu Arakawa). This is even somewhat evident with his Final Fantasy work, where the protagonists of the first six games barely resemble their Amano-made character designs (though the monsters, being static sprites, were much easier to manage).
  • Berserk falls victim to this thanks to two major factors:
    • The manga 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 90s anime and Golden Age film trilogy, despite being extremely violent (particularly the latter), still censor a lot of the more explicit violence, sex, and rape scenes, either toning them down or omitting them outright to make the series suitable for broadcast. A completely faithful adaptation of Berserk would likely demand an NC-17 rating (The third film in the Golden Age trilogy, where the Eclipse goes down and the ugliest stuff in the Golden Age Arc happens, even has an unrated version shown during midnight screenings). The manga itself ran on a seinen magazine, which gave it fewer restrictions for its content and subject matter. It's worth noting that the series has many scenes that, even by manga standards, are outright pornographic, with onscreen penetration.
  • Cowboy Bebop is one of the most beloved and critically acclaimed animes of all time, but when it was adapted into a live-action TV series the critical response was far from ideal and resulted in the series being cancelled after just one season with accusations of this being understandably made. One of the primary reasons the anime is hard to adapt is because its fluid animation and stylistic character designs (especially Spike, Faye and Ed) are extremely hard to translate into live action without coming off as awkward or outright cringeworthy. Another problem is that the Cowboy Bebop anime itself homages films like Blade Runner and Pulp Fiction, making especially hard for the TV show to capture its style when it's already effectively borrowing from other The Future Is Noir works in its own unique way. Along with this, is that the 1998 anime often had a subdued and brooding tone and was deliberately vague and minimalistic about things such as Spike's past. The TV show however has hour long episodes and thus is obligated to have a lot Adaptational Expansion, leading to questionable changes to characters like Julia and Vicious and the tone being made to be more humorous than the original anime, which results in a messier experience overall. Fair to note, that the anime isn't just difficult to adapt into live action, there is also a lesser-known manga adaptation of the series that isn't highly regarded either, despite it being much more accurate than the Netflix show.
  • Dragon Ball has long since proved that it can be adapted effectively into animation, both 2D and 3D, being one of the most universally popular animes of all time. When it comes to a Live-Action Adaptation, however, it's proved three times to be phenomenally difficult, if not nigh impossible to adapt into live action without serious Special Effects Failure or, in the case of Dragon Ball Evolution, ending up as In Name Only to the source material. The main difficulties is that the world of Dragon Ball is a massive anachronism packed Fantasy Kitchen Sink with a futuristic setting, dinosaurs, talking animal characters, robots, aliens, and multiple superpowered-martial artist characters who can fly around destroying mountains and planets, shoot beams from their hands, and also travel to other worlds up to and including the afterlife. To remotely do the series justice in live action, the budget would have to be around the level of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Avatar with fight choreography on the level of Ip Man and most Wuxia films, but few film companies are willing to go that length. Whilst there's been no attempts to adapt the series of late, films like The Matrix Revolutions and Man of Steel do pay homage to Dragon Ball with their high-flying fight scenes and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings can be seen as a Spiritual Adaptation to the point of a direct Shout-Out.
    • Another issue, which goes for most Shōnen live action adaptations, is that Dragon Ball is known and loved for its Awesome Art especially when it comes to its characters and fight scenes. Translating it into a medium like live action is very difficult, even when it's as faithful as possible. For example JoJo's Bizarre Adventure Diamond Is Unbreakable Chapter I, Fullmetal Alchemist (2017) and Bleach (2018) all got drummings for struggling to capture the look and feel of their source materials and ended up visually closer to just cosplay. This also why a good of fans are anxious about the upcoming Netflix adaptation of One Piece, as its zany art style is in many respects even harder to replicate in live action than Dragon Ball or Bleach.
  • Though Getter Robo saw many a successful adaptation to TV, film, and OVA, it stands out in the realm of toys for being almost impossible to work with—ironically for the series that essentially created the Combining Mecha concept, which went on to be defined by Merchandise-Driven works using it to make toys. This is because the mech's core concept requires three components that can take on four modes each (jet, upper third of a robot, middle third, and lower third), and just about every iteration of the Getter Robo design cheats the transformation heavily, fluidly morphing into a design that simply doesn't fit in the small jets that usually make up its components. The vast majority of toys from the series abandon transformation completely, and the ones that don't and manage to be even remotely accurate tend to cost hundreds of dollars.
  • 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.
  • Efforts to adapt Gundam into a Live-Action Adaptation have been met with Development Hell. Much like Dragon Ball or Evangelion, the series is extremely expansive and full of incredible spectacle regarding its beautiful mechs making it immensely hard to do justice in live action without a massive budget and creative scope. However, after the success of Pacific Rim "this can't be adapted" attitude towards the Gundam series has soften among fans and relatively more optimism towards announcements that Legendary Pictures and Netflix would take a stab at adapting the series.
  • 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.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: It took the better part of 30 years for the manga to get a reasonably faithful anime adaptation for many reasons. Hirohiko Araki's character designs are incredibly busy and go through a lot of Art Evolution, the fights and powers are hard to work with if you don't have the aid of constant narration, and the most iconic part of the franchise that introduces the signature Stand system, Stardust Crusaders, is the third arc and serves mainly to tie up the plot of the first two (which deal with a completely different power system that becomes irrelevant from that point on). This even translates to trying to get it a Western release, as Araki's great love of Musical Theme Naming turns the series into a trademark minefield. The 90s OVA had to cut and change a lot of things to make it work, and the David Productions anime simply shrugged and embraced the operatic unreal stylism of the source material, going so far as to even create an animated equivalent to Araki's refusal to stick to a color scheme.
  • The original Kinnikuman anime never saw the light of day in America because distributors would have the difficult, if not impossible, job of translating/censoring the show so that it's suitable for their audience given the sheer amount of violence (and to a lesser extent, its Toilet Humor), the main protagonist being a drunken pervert and there being a heroic Nazi character with a lot of screentime. While toys and a video game based on the series did make it over stateside, it was renamed M.U.S.C.L.E and the aforementioned Nazi character was removed. Also worth noting is how the original cartoon did air in France, where censorship laws are less rigid than in the US... and was quickly banned.
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi is a manga that ran for nine years and 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 audiences that would be necessary for justifying the enormous budget. Despite multiple attempts, the project was abandoned.
  • Sailor Moon rather unsurprisingly has proved to be a challenge to be adapted into live action, as seen by both Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon and Sera Myu. While both adaptations are quite enjoyable in their own ways with plenty the Narm Charm, the effort to try replicate the iconic transformation sequences and general beautiful art and animation of the manga and anime, particularly in Pretty Guardian's case is arduous. Thereís just no getting around the fact the Sailor Senshi and the rest of the characters were designed to be as stylised as possible in both appearance and actions and attempting to bring them to life with only a modest budget, even when written by the original mangaka Takeuchi, is a recipe for trouble. Even more minor things like the billowing of the Senshiís hair and skirts, which can be effortlessly done in animation is lost in live action thanks to wardrobe and effects constraints.
  • Kiyohiko Azuma stated that Yotsuba&! is in permanent No Adaptations Allowed status because, despite its Slice of Life nature and relatively simple premise, the series' distinctive pacing and comedic style 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-done Compressed Adaptation.

    Comic Strips 
  • In one of their Sketchbooks, Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman mentioned that Zits is not meant to be animated due to much of the strips' humor relying on surreal paneling, oddly shaped speech bubbles, and other static visual gags that would be incredibly hard to translate in an animated medium.

    Film 
  • Apocalypse Now could be considered the cinematic equivalent of Ulysses, in terms of works that would be impossible to make a good adaptation of, primarily owing to its challenging plot and heavy use of surreal imagery. The movie was already hard enough to adapt beyond the screen; a Tie-In Novel would expand the story unnecessarily.
  • Adaptation., as mentioned in the Literature subpage, is ostensibly based on a non-fiction book The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. Charlie Kaufman looked to turn the book into a movie screenplay, but it is a book about flowers where nothing really happens. So he turned his own struggles to adapt the book INTO the movie, focusing more on the existential crisis he now faces as he desperately wants to avoid throwing in needless drugs, sex, and violence to spice it up into a generic Hollywood movie. The movie still ends up going down that path, but far from any traditional story structure. The amusing part is by having Charlie obsess over all the details of The Orchid Thief the audience will still leave knowing the broad story and thematic points from the book, making it an oddly successful adaptation in the process.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • Doctor Who: While the series has seen a number of mostly well-regarded adaptations in other mediums, two of them are considered far trickier:
    • Many fans regard the show as next-to-impossible to adapt into a movie. Much of this stems from the 1963-1989 series' nature as a serialized show, already featuring drawn-out plots that match or even surpass the length of most feature films, making the idea of a movie redundant. Additionally, the series' dense lore and tangled continuity would make it difficult to make a movie that appeals to neophytes, as so much stuff would need to be introduced at once. Only three Doctor Who movies were ever made — the first two were adaptations of already-aired serials set in an independent continuity, while the third was poorly-received by fans thanks to being indecisive about whether it wanted to appeal to longtime fans or newcomers.
    • The other medium Doctor Who has a strong amount of difficulty fitting into is video games. While the series' "fighting monsters through time and space" premise would theoretically make for a good game, it's set back by the fact that the Doctor is not a conventional action hero, preferring to confront enemies with guile more often than not, with the Doctor's companions typically acting as The Watson to them. Consequently, while multiple attempts have been made to create viable Doctor Who video games, none of them were particularly well regarded.
  • Super Sentai:
    • Samurai Sentai Shinkenger is considered one of the best seasons and a Gateway Series for new fans, but it is also one of the hardest to translate into other languages due to its heavy rooting in uniquely Japanese cultural themes (Pillars of Moral Character, familial honor over profession, etc.). Because it was the first Sentai series Toei worked on after its western adaptation, Power Rangers was seemingly canceled, it's believed that they made a series strictly for themselves as they no longer had to worry about an international audience and how they'd deal with the inevitable cultural clash, and it's why it didn't even receive a Korean dub. However, Power Rangers was Un-Cancelled and the series was adapted into Power Rangers Samurai, which was seen as rather lackluster, in large part due to mostly being an untouched retread that repeated several plot elements and character beats but lacking the cultural assumptions motivating them, confusing western audiences.
    • Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger is the 35th Anniversary series 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 be hard (and expensive) to change the footage into only the series which were adapted. Power Rangers Super Megaforce responded to this by... just using the unadapted Sentai teams, and lazily handwaving it as them being teams "never seen on Earth before."
    • Prior to the announcement of Power Rangers Cosmic Fury, producer Simon Bennett stated this was why the source series, Uchuu Sentai Kyuranger, would not be given an adaptation. The show features a full team of twelve Rangers, which is a logistical nightmare in terms of giving them all proper character development over a single season. Cosmic Fury took a third option with the show adapting the Kyuranger mecha footage and having the team from Power Rangers Dino Fury in new suits.

    Music 
  • 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.
  • David Bowie:
    • 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 Nineteen Eighty-Four after Bowie failed to secure the rights to make 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 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.
    • 1. Outside from 1995 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).
  • It took 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 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 a plot to a story that is so...plotless. Though Hollywood has certainly tried, no major film adaptation seems to have captured the spirit of the ballet too well.
  • This is likely why the planned HBO TV adaptation of Nine Inch Nails' 2007 Concept Album Year Zero died in Development Hell after Trent Reznor failed to find the right writer to execute his ideas. The albumís story is basically a Scrapbook Story assembled from a series of now-defunct websites, emails, phone numbers, and even a live event (the Open Source Resistance meeting with the NIN performance cut off by the police raid). Details archived on nin.wiki include a timeline of a 15-year chain of events that was becoming increasingly more reliant on alternate history until 2022 eventually came and went. The titular "Year Zero" is only six weeks long, has a lot going on around the same time, is largely reliant on internet usage, and is only resolved by sending information back in time that made the audience in 2007 prevent the Bad Future from happening simply by receiving the information. This works for an Alternate Reality Game like the one that promoted the album, but is harder to translate into a medium where more conventional storytelling is expected.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The reason so many of the earliest attempts at adapting Dungeons & Dragons to film proved failures in some way or other can be attributed to the difficulty of adapting the game into such a medium. This is because DND is a social game, meaning you have the meta aspect of playing the game, and the story aspect of what the dice are being rolled for. Although the meta aspect is generally more important due to being the reason events can happen, it also is just rolling dice and people playing a character, which isn't going to seem appealing to a casual movie goer. Due to that, films often focus on the fantasy side of DND as a name and at most just reference things from the game, but because DND is still a social game about dice and playing with people, the loss of the meta aspect makes it a generic fantasy movie, which tends to cause people to not want to see the films. As a result, almost every DND movie released exclusively focused on the fantasy side of DND, and ended up failing due to coming across as generic fantasy movies that seem to think just the name DND is enough to get people to watch. It would ultimately take until 2023 for one to come out that gained a very positive reception, and it only did so by incorporating gameplay mechanics into the setting and narrative, making it as close to adapting the meta aspect as possible while avoiding the whole game aspect.

    Theatre 
  • 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, and even then one of the many criticisms was that the play's structure and thin plot is something one can only accept on the stage. The very specific, campy costumes of the visuals are also difficult to translate to anything but theater, as the main characters are cats that frequently spring into complicated dance numbers but make a few cat-like mannerisms on the side. It ultimately drew on the energy of a live performance with enormous sets, fanciful costumes and boisterous music, which would require an adaptation to match that step for step (an animated film produced by Steven Spielberg was once in the planning stages). Despite its popularity it took until 2019 to get a film adaptation, which attempted to translate as this as actors rendered with CGI to look like cats and Green Screen Sets, and it did not go over well with audiences.
  • A Chorus Line is a musical about the lives of Broadway chorus dancers, combining elaborate choreography with musical soliloquys from each of the dancers. As the show is heavily based around Broadway culture and purposefully lacks a main character, the 1985 film adaptation did not do well with critics or audiences. The appeal of seeing all the dancers come together on stage is lost on film, and rather than focus on its Ensemble Cast, the film makes Cassie the main character, even recontextualizing "What I Did For Love" as her Break Up Song to Zach as opposed to the cast singing about their love for their craft. Note that a huge theme of the original story is that every character in the ensemble is important in their own way, but the choice to prioritize Cassie's story to give the film a more traditional narrative undermines this.
  • 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 AlegrŪa 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.
  • A major criticism people had with the film adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen was that, similar to Cats, the original stage show was too inherently theatrical to transition to a cinematic setting. On Broadway, the show is executed with a Minimalist Cast and little in the way of an actual set, instead utilizing dynamic lighting that dominates the stage, matches the music, and showcases Evan's inner feelings and increasing instability. This was completely lost in the transition to film, making the finished movie look a lot less lively and more mundane. Several of the musical's more dreamlike elements were also dropped in this transfer, including the majority of Connor's role, which significantly damaged the audience's understanding of and sympathy for Evan. Multiple plot-relevant songs were also cut, likely to prevent the movie's runtime from being too lengthy; however, the absence of "Good for You" made it feel like Evan never really got any kind of comeuppance in the end, to say nothing of how the other cut songs severely limited the side characters' development. And, finally, the main plot of the musical is something of an Audience-Alienating Premise when taken at face value, and removing it from the spectacle and theatricality of Broadway forced the viewers to confront it more directly, which made Evan very unlikable for some.
  • While most of Little Shop of Horrors wasn't difficult to adapt for the 1986 film adaptation, the ending proved to be a case of this. Originally, the film was supposed to retain the stage musical's ending where Audrey and Seymour are killed and Audrey II begins its spectacular conquest of Earth to the tune of the song "Don't Feed the Plants". However, the Downer Ending proved to be a disaster with test audiences and the creators were forced to create a Focus Group Ending where the Audrey and Seymour live and Audrey II is defeated. Director Frank Oz later realized that the differences between theatre and film were the reason why the original ending was received so poorly.
    Oz: In a stage play, you kill the leads and they come out for a bow. In a movie, they don't come out for a bow, they're dead, as opposed to the theater audience where they knew the two people who played Audrey and Seymour were still alive.

    Toys 

    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy is an RPG series that was popular enough for a film adaptation in 2001, but the problems are that each game is completely unconnected to the previous one; taking place in a different universe with different lore, only sharing some similarities that depend on the games. While some of the games could make for a miniseries, and the seventh and eighth might not be too effects heavy given their futuristic worlds and mostly human casts, the problem lies in which one to adapt first - since several of the initial games were released in the west under differently numbered titles (the fourth was released as Final Fantasy II for example). And since each game has a significant fan base, in choosing to adapt one, it would likely alienate a group of fans sad that their favourite wasn't adapted first. The actual film adaptation ended up as a standalone story that just alienated most of the franchise's fans, especially since it was set on Earth After the End rather than an original world like the games were. Even attempts at film sequels or spin-offs to existing games, such as Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, were poorly received for being unable to translate to a different medium.
    • One of the reasons why itís so hard to translate into film also lie in the structure of how most Final Fantasy plots are told. While itís pretty easy to adapt a few memorable story moments from the games as seen by the Last Order: Final Fantasy VII OVA, itís a much taller order to try and weave the seriesí conventions into an hour and 40 minutes without disastrous pacing. The fact is most FF games are densely plotted, with the length and size of the games allowing for an equal amount of exciting action and compelling character drama, Advent Children and to a greater extent Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV however tried to cram as much character drama into the runtime and try and make up for it with massive action spectacle in their climaxes.
  • Thereís been difficulty with adaptations of Devil May Cry and Bayonetta. Both got adapted into animes but despite geuinely great animation, neither were as highly acclaimed as the games they were adapted from. The number one issue is that the protagonists Dante and Bayonetta are meant to be effortlessly cool with the difficult Hack and Slash gameplay actively making the player strive to be as awesome as the characters are in cutscenes and in-story. However, when the gameplay is taken out of the picture itís quite hard for Dante and Bayonetta to not come off as just boring Invincible Heroes a lot of the time. Devil May Cry: The Animated Series also took a more downbeat and Slice of Life tone, with the crazy all-out action that the games were known for being limited likely for budgetary reasons, something that disappointed a portion of fans. Since then, Castlevania producer Adi Shankar announced they be making a Netflix animated adaptation of Devil May Cry back in 2022 and promised it would be faithful as possible.
  • Thereís been a Metroid film in Development Hell since 2003 and even John Woo was set to direct at one point before it got canned. The problem, as explained by film producer Brad Foxhoven is that Samus isnít particularly complex as heroines go and is largely a voiceless avatar for the player to boot and so the discussion with Nintendo to expound upon her character led the company getting cold feet about the project. Even when Nintendo themselves decided to have Samus talk and give her a personality in Metroid: Other M, it got derided by fans for being too stereotypically girly and damsely and contrasting badly with other versions of her character (which were closer to Master Chief or Doomslayer). Along with Samusís character, the games are generally meant to be isolationist with Samus being alone without other humans to talk to, which is a tough sell to general audiences (despite films like Gravity doing well). Even when the producers are on board with going in that direction, such as Jordon Voght Roberts who envisioned the film like Drive (2011), Nintendo are still hesitant about it. This was also seen when Adi Shankar the Netflix Castlevania producer pitched a Metroid series, it got turned down by the seriesís co-creator Yoshiro Sakamoto who still feels the cutscenes of Metroid Other M are worthy of the movie label. Despite this, the Metroid manga adaptations are pretty well received by fans and even one of the authors Idzuki Kouji encouraged a film to be made.
  • 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. Mario in general has proven to be tricky to adapt as seen by the live action Super Mario Bros. (1993) film which understandably made Nintendo wary of letting Hollywood adapt their games for decades until Pokťmon Detective Pikachu. The Super Mario Bros. Movie by Illumination, however, was created with direct assistance from Nintendo themselves, and is firmly set in the visual style of the games and obviously more faithful for it.
  • A The Legend of Zelda film has long been in Development Hell, with two animated film pitches (one by Imagi Animation Studios who did TMNT and Astro Boy) getting rejected by Nintendo along with a live action Netflix series. In fairness to Nintendo, while a Zelda film with the scope and quality of something like The Lord of the Rings or a Studio Ghibli film would doubtless be great, the fact that Link is usually a voiceless avatar for the player in the games presents a serious problem with characterization as he isnít usually meant to a deep character with complex emotions, which results in the seeming necessity to give him a deeper personality in adaptations to make him easier to sell to the type of audiences who'd generally watch a cartoon or film. Unfortunately, much like with Samus, giving Link a personality that would be easily accepted by those familiar with the games has proven difficult. The 80 cartoon managed to give him a solid personality, and it wasnít a very nice personality; something fans either found irking or hilarious and was a big departure from the games regardless. That being said, the Zelda manga adaptations have given Link a compelling personality and character drama and managed to be fairly well received, and it's also worth noting that Legend (1985) is more or less a The Legend of Zelda movie (a forest boy saves a princess from evil incarnate with the help of a fairy) in spirit and actually helped influenced the Nintendo games themselves, so hope could yet remain for a proper film or cartoon adaptation of Zelda at some point in the future.
  • 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 stands out; 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.
  • The commercial failure of both Doom and Doom: Annihilation show that the Doom franchise as whole is a case of this. In principle a brutal and stoic protagonist in armour tearing through hordes of enemies shouldnít be so hard to get right (especially given works like The Raid, The Mandalorian or John Wick) but neither adaptation has managed to recreate the tone or story of the games. The main appeal of Doom is the Rule of Cool Power Fantasy as the player is supposed to embody the Doom Marine, whoís only purpose or joy in life is decimating The Legions of Hell. Later games like DOOM (2016) understand this with the characterisation of Doomslayer purposely being kept at a bare minimum to the extent of an In-Universe apathy for non-demon slaying matters. For the films however such a character is a very hard sell to audiences, leading to obligatory tortured angst as seen in the 2005 film with Doomguy-expy Reaper, which conflicts the point of the character from the games. Doom Annihilation canít resist giving its protagonist Joan some depth and drama either, which only furthers distances the film from the games beyond her wielding the BFG.
    • Another difficulty is the filmmakers fully committing to the Hell setting and iconography of the Doom games, being not only costly to film but a sure-fire way to trigger Christian groups. The 2005 film does a lot of Doing In the Wizard and making all demons infected humans rather the denizens of the inferno, which renders the plot closer a Paul W.S. Anderson Resident Evil more than anything to do with Doom. Doom Annihilation to its credit does use Hell and demons, albeit in a more sanitised fashion compared to the games.
  • It took the film adaptation of Uncharted a decade to get off the ground because the gamesí stories are already structured like films and use film-like cinematography, meaning adapting them would just be condensing the story to a movieís run time. At one point, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were approached for the screenplay, but they passed. According to Rogen, no matter what they attempted with the material, it just felt like they were continuously ripping off Indiana Jones due to the nature of the game. 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, with Naughty Dog's blessing, resulting in Uncharted (2022). While that movie was a financial success, it received mixed reception with fans who criticized the film for radically changing the personalities of Nathan and Sully while critics dismissed it as an Indiana Jones knock-off.
  • There's been two cinematic live-action attempts at Street Fighter and in contrast to Mortal Kombat: The Movie, neither were particularly accurate to/as liked as the games (though most people will agree Raķl JuliŠ's Ham and Cheese as M. Bison alone makes the 1994 movie worth watching). The main trouble is that the story of the games doesn't usually lend itself to a traditional movie structure, being a global Tournament Arc with a metric butt ton of characters, and narrowing that down to just beating Bison and Shadaloo as the films do leaves a good many fan favourite fighters by the way-side. Also the cast of the games are iconic and beloved for their anime-inspired designs and flashy fighting moves, which if not given proper justice or commitment to on screen can be disastrous, as The Legend of Chun-Li shows extensively. Another issue is that Ryu the actual protagonist of the games, doesn't tend to have much in-story stakes being a wandering fighter whose sole motivation is fighting stronger opponents and improving his own martial arts talents, as opposed to beating the Big Bad Bison to avenge a loved one or an ally. Which may be why the films swap him out as The Hero for Guile and Chun-Li respectively (though it might just be a case of Mighty Whitey in the former). Not to say it's been impossible to have a more accurate live-action adaptation, Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist is very faithful to the games and well-reviewed despite its lower budget struggling with the ki effects and Akuma's design. Cobra Kai is also considered a Spiritual Adaptation of Street Fighter by some fans.
  • Tekken for very similar reasons to Street Fighter proved to be quite a mess when adapted into live action, as it's mainly about a fighting tournament with numerous characters. In fact, one of the main reasons why the games are so liked in the first place is because there's many characters each with their own unique backstory, distinct personality and character arc. Not to mention that it's the kind of fighting game series where a bear and dinosaur with boxing gloves can be part of the roster. But trying to make such a story work in an hour and 27 minutes, unsurprisingly has been a fiasco. The 2010 live-action film similar to The Legend of Chun-Li tries to take a grounded Darker and Edgier tone, which jars greatly with the tone of the games and turns the story into more of a generic gritty martial arts film. The animated adaptations have been better received, especially the more recent Tekken: Bloodline series which got appreciation for giving genuine depth to characters such as Jin. Though like the previous anime adaptations, the de-emphasizing of particular fighters in favour of solely focusing on the Mishima plotline was bemoaned, given the serial-based narrative could allowed enough room for it.
  • Much like the aforementioned Street Fighter and Tekken, The King of Fighters also struggled with its own movie adaptation, for most of the same reasons: the large cast and team-based structure of the original games necessitating Cast Herds of at least three characters, most with iconic, yet also stylized designs and powersets that don't translate well to live-action means that attempting to shrink it down to a more manageable number and change the designs and powersets to be more realistic would irk long-time fans. Another problem is the fact that the backstory of the games focuses heavily on both supernatural and scientific elements that require multiple games just for one specific saga, and that the film's attempt to streamline the Rugal/Orochi Saga (which took four installments to complete, making it the longest Story Arc in the franchise's history) with its limited runtime and budget overall made it feel like yet another run-of-the-mill martial arts film. That, coupled with several other differences that alienated diehard fans and confused general audiences, led to the film sinking in obscurity.
  • Cracks at a movie adaptation of Metal Gear Solid have languished in Development Hell since the game's release in 1998. While the game and series have some hallmarks that could translate into a film — memorable characters, big set pieces, giant nuke-carrying mechs — they are also densely plotted and outright strange, especially in their rogues gallery, making it a tough climb for anyone who could condense a weird, complex twelve-hour trip into a coherent two hours.
  • When the Halo (2022) got middling reviews, accusations of this were made. Much like Doom, Halo doesnít have an audience-friendly protagonist with Master Chief being The Faceless and having minimal characterisation. The official web series Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn got around this by framing Chief from other charactersí POV. In contrast, the Paramount series unpacked Chiefís character by giving him standard angst and drama, turning Chief into more of a Action Genre Hero Guy. While this personality change, plus multiple scenes showing him without his helmet, were intended to make Chief be more accessible, both of these elements were instead heavily criticized for undermining the mystique of the character that made him so appealing in the first place. Not helping matters were unfavorable comparisons to the acclaimed The Mandalorian, which proved you could effectively have a faceless armoured warrior hero in a serialized show. The Paramount series also makes many other crucial changes like focusing mostly on human politics instead of the Covenant to save on VFX budget, which only confused newcomers and alienated fans, the latter of whom were the biggest audience for the show.
  • While most games-to-movies were critically thrashed for being shallow Excuse Plot excursions, the adaptations of Silent Hill and Assassin's Creed were ill-received for having too much plotting. Because of the dense lore of both franchises, their respective movies were criticized for being overly long and plodding, with too much info-dumping and exposition trying to pass as plot and character, and overwhelmed most who were not familiar with their existing canon (the former confused even them by making numerous crucial changes to the plot that rendered a lot of the events and symbolism taken from the games nonsensical).
    • In Silent Hill's case it's especially hard to get right, since the games like the best J-Horror are about sublety, nuance and Minimalism something that is alienating to most mainstream horror fans and consequently why the films feel to need to use standard horror movie conventions that fly in the face of the orignal games' intentions (e.g Pyramid Head being a Jason-like menace to everyone rather than a personal demon to one character). Another example of this is switching Harry from the first game into a woman, simply becuase a man running around looking for their child and getting scared is too "feminine" of a role, according to the director.
  • Despite talks of a Five Nights at Freddy's film adaptation for years, it has remained in stasis. Scott Cawthon posted on Reddit revealing that a reason why was because many scripts for the movie were scrapped and rewritten. Most of the scrapped scripts were either because they were FNAF In Name Only, had serious Continuity Lockout, or were not tonally appropriate for a FNAF adaptation. FNAF's story is a lore-dense Jigsaw Puzzle Plot in Anachronic Order, which also happens to be filled with Mind Screw, Surreal Horror, and Black Comedy, likely playing a part. As it stands, the closest thing to a FNAF film adaptation is Willy's Wonderland. And while a direct film adaptation of the first game is set for release in 2023, only time will tell how well it turns out.
  • Resident Evil has gotten Adaptation Overdosed, but unfortunately only a handful of works (such as the comics, manga, CG films, books and a commercial) are actually accurate to the games while everything else like the live action adaptations take a notoriously loose approach to the gamesí canon. The first hurdle producers reach is that REís story much like Metal Gear is quite impenetrable with a plot somewhere between The X-Files and G.I. Joe and thus creators find it much easier to just take elements from the games like the zombies, monsters and the Umbrella corporation and make a new story with a Canon Foreigner hero as was the case with the Paul W.S. Anderson' Resident Evil Film Series and Resident Evil (2022). If characters from the game do show up, theyíre Demoted to Extra, unrecognisable or killed off as characters in horror media generally arenít expected to live long. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City does at least attempt to adapt the games, but like the Silent Hill films make crucial changes to the characters and the story. In particular, it mashes the plots of the first and second games together, which are better suited separate, as cuts into the pacing and leaves multiple characters without room to grow. Tragically, the father of zombies George A. Romero pitched a movie script for RE1 that was fairly faithful (besides Chris not being a S.T.A.R.S member and Barry being black) but it got rejected by Capcom.
    • One big issue with adapting the RE is getting the tone right, as most of the games go for a Camp B-Movie tone mixed with actual scary Survival Horror elements (like Evil Dead 2) and finding that balance is very difficult with a lot of adaptations just back sliding into action. Also, the idea of actually following narrative themes and tone of the games when came to video game adaptations were often scoffed at, prior to works like Castlevania and The Last of Us (2023).
  • Various attempts to adapt the Myst series to either film or TV have wound up in Development Hell, likely due to the games being told from a first-person perspective with a nameless, faceless protagonist and a focus on exploration and puzzles rather than action and violence.
  • A Tetris movie has bounced in and out of Development Hell for years due to the fact that, well, it's a simple shape-stacking puzzle game with exactly zero narrative potential. Larry Kasenoff, the producer of Mortal Kombat: The Movie and the director/producer of the infamous Food Fight, had the rights for a while and expressed a plan for an "epic science fiction trilogy" based on the game... however the hell that would work. Eventually, the rights were picked up by Apple TV+, who decided that rather than directly adapting the game, their movie would instead be about the very odd and interesting real life story behind the development of the game.

    Visual Novels 
  • Fate/stay night, while one of the more successful VNs in terms of adaptations, has a number of elements that are very hard to preserve in other media. Most of these relate to it not only having multiple very long routes (each one is about ⅔ the length of The Lord of the Rings), but requiring them to be played through in a specific order.
    • The first route, Fate, takes 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, because it explores Shirou's character the least and more or less goes how you'd expect it to gonote , which is likely why it tends to fare poorly in adaptations after that initial one. Even that first adaptation threw in scenes or references from the other two routes in order to better pace the run-time and give characters Out of Focus in Fate more character.
    • 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. Furthermore, the UBW route is the most fight heavy, as it focuses on the Servants duking it out more than the others, so it relies on a lot of exposition and detailed breakdowns of the characters abilities, which doesn't flow well outside the confines of a visual novel.
    • The third and final 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 and Ass Pull. Finally, the route includes two alternate endings ("Mind of Steel" and "Sparks Liner High") which are among the most popular scenes in the VN, but impossible to work into the main story.
    • In all routes, Shirou is a First-Person Smartass with severe psychological issues which leave him unable to laugh or smile, and compel him to help others even when he knows they're just using him; at the same time, he knows he's strange and tries hard to conceal it from others. Whenever the player is given a choice on how Shirou should act, usually picking the more reasonable options will result in him dying in bizarre and horrific ways, with the option that sounds crazy being the only way to progress. The story actually encourages you collect as many of these bad endings as possible before moving on to the correct answer, and they often provide Foreshadowing for later plot developments. None of this is easy to work into the adaptations (which are linear and usually don't include any of Shirou's snarky narration), resulting in Shirou coming across as far more of The Fool than his VN counterpart.
  • 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 to 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 its 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, 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.

    Webcomics 
  • Andrew Hussie has said that Homestuck was meant to 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 
  • The live-action adaptation of ∆on Flux is very unpopular with fans of the cartoon, but the entire format of the show makes it hard to see what the filmmakers really could have done with it. The show has very little plot, not a lot more characterization, and doesn't lend itself to a feature-length format. That's not to say there was nothing the filmmakers could have done better, but there was a good reason this time for the continued low quality of live-action adaptations.
  • As Roger Ebert noted in his evisceration of its live-action film adaptation, Avatar: The Last Airbender is a show that only really works in animation because it is so fantasy-based, forcing the film to resort to Coconut Superpowers and often causing Special Effects Failure.
  • An episode of The Simpsons has an In-Universe case of this, as the plot was about Homer and Marge having in the past played characters in a movie Krusty the Clown was making based off of his favorite Sci-Fi book, which was stated to be impossible to adapt, with Krusty out to make it as accurate to the book as possible.


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