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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!
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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.

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.

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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".


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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.
    • It's also hard to adapt for content reasons as well; 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 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 beyond pornographic, with incredibly detailed onscreen penetration, among other acts.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • It took the better part of 30 years for JoJo's Bizarre Adventure 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 copyright 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.
  • 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.

    Comic Books 

General

  • The Marvel and DC Universes are unique in that individual characters and franchises within said universes are generally easy enough to adapt to other mediums, but the scope of those universes is hard to fully depict, if only because so many characters end up being Exiled from Continuity because they've been Screwed by the Lawyers note , among other things (including just the sheer size of it all). There's also the fact that for a long time, the more pulpy, camp aspects of comic books were considered too weird and esoteric for mainstream audiences (though this was mainly limited to live-action adaptations. Animated adaptations could get away with the more outlandish scenarios and overall vibe, but were also beholden to the Animation Age Ghetto for years, which meant animated adaptations of Darker and Edgier storylines were almost entirely off-limits). Some aspects of this are very different now due to change in audience perception.note 

DC

Marvel

  • 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 especially 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 anywhere and do anything—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 took a long time to 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.
    • A particular element of the comics that has had abysmal luck in adaptation is Doctor Doom—despite Doom being one of the most popular and iconic villains in comic history and therefore almost mandatory for an adaptation, he ended up being one of the most despised elements of both the Tim Story films and the Josh Trank version (funnily, the Corman film was fairly accurate). This is because he's simply got too much going on to really fit in as a first-outing villain: he's not just a Mad Scientist, but he's also a powerful mage and the ruler of a sovereign nation, and his backstory is fairly complex and only briefly involves any member of the Four (though said involvement does form the core of his motivation). Consequently, the temptation comes to give him a stronger Adaptation Origin Connection or easier-to-handle Stock Superpowers rather than handle a character with his eclectic skillset and near-mandated extensive origin, but this almost invariably results in him becoming In Name Only and losing what makes his comics self appealing.

Other

  • 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 came to HBO in 2019, though it's a Broad Strokes Sequel Series and not an actual adaptation of the comic book.
    • The majority of Alan Moore's works serve as meta-commentary on comic book history, whether it be the tropes contained in those stories or observations on the industry itself, meaning a lot of the commentary is rendered meaningless, or at least loses a lot of its power, when removed from its original context. This matches Moore's stated intention of telling stories that can only be told in the medium of comic books.
    • It's a safe bet that we will never get an adaptation of Lost Girls of any kind because of it being literal pornography. The story features re-tellings of Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz into dark tales of sexual awakenings and trauma (plus featuring sexual acts depicting teenage girls).
  • 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 foundational titles of modern comic books, but also demonstrated to be hard to adapt to other media or new comic-book titles, with DC Comics' Darwyn Cooke run being one of the most successful attempts. Being hard to adapt, there are only 3 attempts to be adapted to other media, all with bad results: the 1987 TV Pilot Movie with Sam Jones as The Spirit, the better-known (and Box Office Bomb) Frank Miller's 2008 version, and the discovered 1980 animated project by Brad Bird that was cancelled before it saw the light the day. 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.
  • Saga was made with creators Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples having the specific intention of doing things they believed they could never do in a movie or TV show.
  • An adaptation of Brian K. Vaughan's Y: The Last Man had no luck getting off the ground. Vaughan 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 ran into production issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The show finally debuted in 2021, but was cancelled before the season finished airing.
  • The Incal takes Alejandro Jodorowsky's ideas for his cancelled Dune adaptation and makes a wild, fast-paced sci-fi epic that influenced films like Blade Runner, yet is too broad in scope and filled with spiritual and sexual themes to be feasibly adapted into an actual film. The closest we ever got was The Fifth Element, which hired Moebius to do concept art, to Jodorowsky's disapproval.
  • 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...

    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' humour relying on surreal paneling, oddly shaped speech-bubbles, and other static visual gags that would be incredibly hard to translate in an animated medium.

    Literature 
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is Adaptation Overdosed, but 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.
  • James Joyce's landmark novel Ulysses 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 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 an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
  • Adaptation is an adaptation of the Susan Orlean book, The Orchid Thief. It's hard to adapt a story that has almost 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.
  • Tolkien's Legendarium:
    • For the longest time, The Lord of the Rings was considered too difficult to adapt to film — it was a Doorstopper, it had tons of characters who occasionally had different adventures, and there was so much exposition that the books needed several appendices to explain it all. Ralph Bakshi tried an animated adaptation, but he ran out of money halfway through and never finished it. Peter Jackson's film adaptation was considered remarkably ambitious, seeking to adapt all three books as separate movies and film them at the same time — but he was able to convince the meddling executives to let him do three movies and give him the money to do so, and the rest is Oscar-winning history. In fact, the Jackson trilogy is a candidate for the single greatest adaptation of a literary work of all time, and it was so groundbreaking in this respect that modern audiences occasionally don't understand how hard it was to make.
    • The Hobbit has had three attempts to adapt it to film, none of which were as successful as The Lord of the Rings. For Tolkien, it's got a lot of Early Installment Weirdness, including talking animals, a talking bag, and the existence of giants. It's so episodic that there are multiple points that could be considered a climax. Its dwarf characters are comically underdeveloped, especially compared to LoTR's protagonists. And most problematically, despite happening before The Lord of the Rings and containing several characters who appear in the later work, it's not really a prequel to LoTR — the temptation to treat it as such is perhaps the biggest stumbling block. Peter Jackson, in adapting The Hobbit to film, essentially tried to clone The Lord of the Rings, making it a prequel trilogy as long as the original — in spite of the source material being much shorter than The Lord of the Rings, leading to a lot of Padding. Jackson's hand may have been forced by Executive Meddling, and the Hobbit trilogy was significantly less acclaimed than LoTR, but it was still a massive financial success (particularly the third film), and its extended editions were somewhat better received.
    • The Silmarillion is less a single narrative and more a collection of smaller tales that form a somewhat cohesive historical account. Essentially, it was pieced together posthumously from a body of material J. R. R. Tolkien had worked on for much of his life, ever since World War I, and the earlier-published but later-written books were practically just spin-offs of it. But he had never managed to complete the work to his satisfaction due to his constant rewrites and additions. 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 dispensing lots of exposition. As such, an adaptation would be nearly incomprehensible, even to people who were familiar with The Lord of the Rings, unless you were a big nerd who already studied the background. Even then, it's difficult to link to The Lord of the Rings because of the insane time differences — to put it in perspective, the War of the Jewels was as distant to the events of the prologue of The Lord of the Rings films as said prologue is to Frodo and his adventures.
  • The works of H. P. Lovecraft have a reputation for being un-cinematic. This owes in part to their being heavy on exposition, and in part to their descriptions of Eldritch Abominations that can drive anyone who merely looks at them to insanity. The latter is difficult to put to film without being either Narm, Special Effect Failure, Nightmare Retardant, or some combination thereof. None of this has stopped filmakers from trying. A particular challenge was Color out of Space, an adaptation of a story which would be unfilmable if it were true to the source, which chose to take advantage of the discovery of magenta technically being an inherently unnatural color.
  • 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 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 dozens of 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 (documented in 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. The 2021 movie, which is the first half of duology, has been very well received but is considered a bit too slavishly loyal to the book and accordingly a bit slow in some places.
  • House of Leaves has been declared No Adaptations Allowed because 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: 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 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 Dark and 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.
  • 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 seems 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.
  • A Confederacy of Dunces has had many hangups, usually in the form of the fat comedian being cast as Ignatus (John Belushi, John Candy, Divine, and Chris Farley) dying before production could begin. The latest effort attempted to get around this "curse" by casting Will Ferrell as Ignatus, and things seemed to be going well...until the head of Louisiana's State Film Commission was murdered and Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, shelving the project indefinitely.
  • William S. Burroughs considered Naked Lunch impossible to adapt, 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.
    • Endless Night is narrated by the murderer, and there aren't even that many suspects running around, making a faithful adaptation rather a difficult task. It has been adapted twice: the 1972 adaptation had a lukewarm reception (including from Agatha Christie herself), and the 2013 adaptation fared somewhat better (a 6.9 iMDb rating to the 1972 film's 6.0) by virtue of making considerable changes to the plot, most notably, including Miss Marple in it while there was no trace of her in the book.
    • 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:
    • The Shining: The reason why Stanley Kubrick took so many liberties with his 1980 adaptation is because the original 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.
    • 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.
    • Dolores Claiborne, which is a bit odd since he wrote it specifically to allow Kathy Bates to play the main character in an adaptation after being so impressed by her in Misery. The book is a long, rambling monologue by the title character as she gives a statement to the police after being suspected of murder for the second time in her life, ultimately giving the full story behind both deaths, but going down numerous tangents on the way there which all add something important but would be incredibly awkward to translate to a film structure. King's wish ended up coming true, with the film massively restructuring the story to focus on Dolores' relationship with her daughter in the present day, and adding a whole new major character in an Inspector Javert detective trying to get her convicted to tie things together.
  • John Milton's Paradise Lost, 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. Films that homage Pynchon and follow the spirit of his works, such as Under the Silver Lake and Southland Tales, have faced this exact criticism, featuring confusing plots unsuited for narrative films.
  • 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. A movie was greenlit in 2020, but the author and her husband ended up walking away from it feeling they weren’t being listened to.
  • The plots of P. G. Wodehouse's light comedies wouldn't be impossible to adapt to film, but it's the author's scintillating and witty wordplay that really make them classics that they are, and capturing that on film, especially the dialogue, is a major challenge. Hugh Laurie, despite appearing in a well-regarded television adaptation of Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories, has gone on record as saying that Wodehouse's work is essentially unfilmable.
  • American Psycho was deemed nigh unfilmable due to its graphic violence and sexual content. The film managed to maintain the spirit of the book while losing some of the more graphic scenes.
  • As the critical and financial failure of the 1986 film adaptation and the passed-over TV series pilot attest, Earth's Children is tricky to adapt to another medium. The books are all doorstoppers with huge casts and they're rather exposition-heavy, going into intricate detail about prehistoric life, geography and wilderness survival amongst other things, and the plots themselves tend to be slow-paced and introspective (including heavy use of the Inner Monologue at times), which can be difficult to translate to a purely visual medium without coming off as dull or confusing (especially as you'd have to cut out a lot of details for a more reasonable run-time). Then there's the fact it's set in the Ice Age and so you'd have to factor in a decent special effects budget to create extinct creatures like cave lions, mammoths, woolly rhinos etc. (and most of them are covered in fur which is more difficult and costly to animate).
  • Dr. Seuss's books don't tend to translate well to feature length film, and the film adaptations of his books tend to fail more than succeed. Many of his books tend to be incredibly short and simplistic at their core, making Adaptation Expansion necessary in order for them to fit within a typical kids film structure. However, because of this, the films tend to be incredibly drawn out as a result, with the additions made to extend the story often detracting from and muddying what were meant to be simple short stories.
  • Both of Vladimir Obruchev's most famous books, Sannikov Land and Plutonia, suffer from that. The reason is that their whole premise depends on the author's Shown Their Work musings on geology, geography, and biology, with barely any plot to go with it and few of the characters rising above Bit Character personality level, and on top of it all, both books (especially Sannikov Land) are wrapped up with a heavily bitter Bittersweet Ending. Technically, Sannikov Land does have a beloved film adaptation, but in fact it is a very loose one, bordering on In Name Only.
  • While there are many adaptations of Dracula, and many of them are perfectly good works, the book doesn't have that many outright scares. Instead, it has a feeling of slow-building dread that the adaptations lack, since the book is a Scrapbook Story made up of the letters, journals, and records of characters who, for the first half of the book, have no idea what's going on. Dracula is a complete Outside-Context Problem for them, and only Van Helsing has even the foggiest notion of what to do about vampires once he's aware one is in England. Even for a modern reader who knows exactly who Dracula is and what he's up to, it's still a very unsettling read because you're just waiting for the other shoe to drop and want to warn the characters somehow, but can only read on as they slowly put the pieces together themselves. The format of the book allows Stoker to build a great deal of atmosphere and ambiance, and give the reader insights into almost all the major characters, and the plot is a spooky slow-burn as you watch all these characters you like gradually realize the true nature of what they're up against. It's one of the book's greatest strengths, and it unfortunately can't really be adapated to any other medium. The adaptations have to take a different tactic entirely, either reworking the plot or going at it from a different angle (i.e., playing the situation for Dramatic Irony, showing it from Dracula's point of view, etc.).

    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 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 (it was also 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 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 cancelled, 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."

    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'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).
    • Bowie's 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 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.
  • 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 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.

    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, which is a reason it took until 2019 to get a film adaptation, 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 that could only work with human bodies; the film attempted to translate this as CGI cats with humanlike proportions, and it did not go over well with audiences.
  • 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.
  • A major criticism people had with the film adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen was that 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, 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.

    Toys 

    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.
  • 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.
  • It took the film adaptation of Uncharted a decade to get off the ground because 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. 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.
  • 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 setpieces, 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.
  • 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.

    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.
    • 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 


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