July 12, 2018
Movies are basically just Books 2.0
by Susan Rella
No one should write anything original ever again, all day long, forever until the rapture. This, it seems, holds especially true for screenwriters.
So says new research by the UK-based Publishers Association, which found that films based on books take in forty-four percent more at the UK box office than those based on original screenplays. But the UK is actually doing better, original content-wise, than the world as whole: the same study found that, worldwide, films based on books earn a staggering fifty-three percent more than original work.
Thanks to Heloise Wood over at the Bookseller for being one of the first to report this on Monday, and for providing more mind-boggling breakdowns, such as:
- The monetary value of forty-four percent in the UK is £5.4 million ($7.13 million); fifty-three percent globally comes to $91 million.
- Forty-three percent of the top twenty box office grosses in the UK between 2007 and 2016 were based on books, but an additional nine percent were based on comic books, which are considered a separate category. This is to say: STOP WRITING YOUR SCREENPLAY, KEVIN, YOU DON’T STAND A CHANCE.
- The trend continues in TV, too; almost a quarter of all UK television dramas were based on books, and had a fifty-six percent larger audience share than those based on original content.
It’s hard not to feel conflicted about this. On the one hand, yay books! To a publisher of forgotten gems, duh, it’s a great thing that people are now realizing a good book has life beyond its pages. Not only that, but adaptations of books are a financial and cultural boon to authors, publishers, and booksellers. As Wood writes:
In one of the in-depth case studies, the Hollywood adaptation of “My Cousin Rachel” was shown to have a significant impact on the sales of the Daphne Du Maurier thriller. The sales of the book in 2017 alone accounted for nearly a quarter (23%) of all sales since 1992, both in terms of value and volume, according to the report.
See? This much is unequivocally good.
(I would also like to comment that My Cousin Rachel is by far the best of Du Maurier’s books and it’s fucking fantastic that it saw an uptick in sales because of the movie.)
What’s not so good, though, is the fact that this literary dominance of the film world means there’s less space there for new voices, and thus less opportunity to create new masterpieces, which we can happily and ludicrously rip off later. And while there’s a definite appeal to seeing our old, familiar, dog-eared friends on the big (or little) screen, there should also be an appeal in using the comparatively new mediums of film and television to explore new stories, to create what is difficult to capture in a book or a play, and to expand the parameters and definitions of writing, rather than contract them.
And besides… everyone knows the book is always better.
Susan Rella is the managing editor at Melville House, and a former bookseller.