In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Adaptation

  • Introduction
  • Filmographies
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Literature versus Cinema
  • Painting, Performance, Television
  • Convergence Culture
  • Adaptation, Remediation, and Intermediality
  • Translation
  • Textual and Biological Adaptation

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Cinema and Media Studies Adaptation
Thomas Leitch, Kyle Meikle
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 September 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0116


Studies of cinematic adaptations—films based, as the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences puts it, on material originally presented in another medium—are scarcely a century old. Even so, particular studies of adaptation, the process by which texts in a wide range of media are transformed into films (and more recently into other texts that are not necessarily films), cannot be properly understood without reference to the specific period they were produced in. Each generation of adaptation studies has produced its own principles and orthodoxies, typically by attacking the orthodoxies and principles of the preceding generation. Adaptation studies have regularly alternated between polemics that attacked earlier assumptions in the field and readings of individual adaptations that have explored the implications of these attacks and so implicitly established new orthodoxies. The earliest work on adaptation, from Vachel Lindsay’s The Art of the Moving Picture, first published in 1915, to André Bazin’s “Adaptation, or the Cinema as Digest,” first published in 1948, grapples with the general relationship between literature and cinema as presentational modes. The second phase, focusing mostly on adaptations of individual novels to films, follows George Bluestone’s highly influential 2003 study Novels into Film, originally published in 1957, in assuming a series of categorical distinctions between verbal and visual representational modes. Most studies of individual adaptations and their sources, and most textbooks on adaptation, have been produced under the influence of these assumptions. In this third phase, Robert Stam’s 2000 article “Beyond Fidelity: The Dialogics of Adaptation” rejects the binary distinctions between source texts and adaptations; Kamilla Elliott’s 2003 book Rethinking the Novel/Film Debate deconstructs the binary distinctions between verbal and visual texts; and Linda Hutcheon and Siobhan O’Flynn’s 2012 book A Theory of Adaptation emphasizes the continuities between texts that have been explicitly identified as adaptations and all other texts as intertextual palimpsests marked by traces of innumerable earlier texts. This third phase has generated most of the leading work on adaptation theory. An emerging fourth phase is heralded by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s 1999 study Remediation: Understanding New Media and Lev Manovich’s 2001 book The Language of New Media. Both are inspired by the rise of the digital media that establishes every reader as a potential writer. These analysts use a Wiki-based model of writing as community participation rather than individual creation to break down the distinction between reading and writing and recast adaptation as a quintessential instance of the incessant process of textual production. A leading tendency of this fourth phase has been to use methodologies developed for literature-to-film adaptation to analyze adaptations that range far outside literature and cinema.

General Resources

Earlier than any other area of cinema studies, adaptation began to generate a substantial body of resources specifically designed for teachers, students, and academic researchers. The dominance of the case study in the second phase of adaptation studies produced an especially comprehensive and wide-ranging series of literature-to-cinema filmographies, some aiming for exhaustiveness, others for greater selectivity and more extended analysis of particular novel-to-film or theater-to-film pairs. The prominence of college courses in film adaptation generated a number of textbooks focusing on cinematic adaptation, and later a series of essays considering the larger theoretical and pedagogical issues that were raised, or that could be raised, by focusing on adaptations.

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