Skip to main content

Film Studies: Film adaptations

This guide is an introduction to the resources for Film Studies at Dartmouth. If you are interested in Television, see the separate research guide for Television.

A definition for 'Adaptation'

A pre-existing work, often literary or theatrical, that has been made into a film. More commercial properties such as musical theatre, best-selling fiction and non-fiction, comic books, and so on, are also regularly adapted for the cinema. Adaptations of well-known literary and theatrical texts were common in the silent era (see silent cinema; costume drama; epic film; history film) and have been a staple of virtually all national cinemas through the 20th and 21st centuries. Bram Stoker's Dracula and Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels have been adapted in a range of national contexts but probably the most adapted author is Shakespeare, whose plays have appeared in film form as a large-budget Hollywood musical (West Side Story (Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, US, 1961)), a historical epic set in feudal Japan (Kumonosu-jo/Throne of Blood (Akira Kurosawa, Japan, 1957)), a Bollywood musical (Angoor (Gulzar, India, 1982)), and children's animation The Lion King (Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, US, 1994)), to name but a few. Adaptations often sit within cycles associated with a particular time and place, as with the heritage film in Britain in the 1980s, or the cycle of Jane Austen adaptations in the late 1990s (see cycle). It is claimed that adaptations account for up to 50 per cent of all Hollywood films and are consistently rated amongst the highest grossing at the box office, as aptly demonstrated by the commercial success of recent adaptations of the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling. A property ripe for adaptation is referred to as pre-sold; older works in particular are attractive to film producers because they are often out of copyright (see deal, the). Video game (Resident Evil (Paul W.S. Anderson, US, 2002)) and comic book/graphic novel (Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, US, 2001)) adaptations are increasingly common and a certain level of self-reflexivity regarding the process of adaptation itself can be seen in films such as Adaptation (Spike Jonze, US, 2002).

Kuhn, A., & Westwell, G. (2012). "Adaptation." In A Dictionary of Film Studies. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 27 Mar. 2017

In the Library's collections

The following are useful subject headings for searching the online catalog. The books on adapting source materials for films are shelved in the call number range PN 1997.85 on Baker Level 4.

Introductory reading(s)

Selected book titles

Finding journal titles & articles

Articles and other writings about movies can be found in many publications. Our collection has one journal that looks exclusively at film adaptations, Adaptation. You can use Film & Television Literature Index or the Summon box below to find articles. You can also search in Worldcat to find other titles about film adaptations. Use a subject search with the terms "film adaptations" and "periodicals."

Adapted films

Here is a short list of adapted films located in the Jones Media Center or available through streaming. To see more titles, click here.

Keeping up with the journal literature

Want an easy way to keep up with the journal literature for all facets of Film Studies? And you use a mobile device? You can install the BrowZine app and create a custom Bookshelf of your favorite journal titles. Then you will get the Table of Contents (ToCs) of your favorite journals automatically delivered to you when they become available. Once you have the ToC's you can download and read the articles you want.

You can get the app from the App Store or Google Play.

Don't own or use a mobile device? You can still use BrowZine! It's now available in a web version. You can get to it here. The web version works the same way as the app version. Find the journals you like, create a custom Bookshelf, get ToCs and read the articles you want.