The Best and Worst Book-to-Screen Fantasy and Sci-Fi Adaptations of 2021
It was a brilliant year for lovers of the fantasy and sci-fi genres. In 2021, we saw some of the most popular speculative fiction classics come to life on the big screen. There were loyal adaptations and questionable translations, but nevertheless, book nerds were able to relive their favorite novels in the world of cinema.
Here’s a list of the best—and worst—fantasy and sci-fi book-to-screen adaptations of the year.
The best adaptations are those that are made by fans. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, the first film accomplished the near-impossible feat of condensing the plot of the first book in the series in a way that still remained true to the spirit of Dune. While it’s inevitable for there to be changes in the screen adaptations, the best ones are those that add to the already impressive body of work. In the case of Dune, the movie was able to translate the desert landscape of the planet Arrakis into a moment of brilliant cinematography.
2| Station Eleven
Station Eleven might not be hard sci-fi, but its excellent TV adaptation is worthy of including the dystopian novel to this list. The HBO Go series is still only halfway through airing its 10-episode season, but it’s already gotten plenty of praise from critics and book fans alike. The miniseries follows a group of survivors 20 years after a catastrophic pandemic destroyed civilization. The all-too-familiar scenario might seem like a nightmare, but the lesson of the book is insightfully translated to screen: that life goes on.
3| Shadow and Bone
Gearing more toward the YA genre, this fantasy series was adapted into a wildly popular Netflix show earlier this year. But what’s curious about the show is that it successfully adapted two separate book series by fantasy writer Leigh Bardugo: the Shadow and Bone trilogy and the Six of Crows duology. Both series take place in different cities and timelines, but somehow, showrunner Eric Heisserer made it work and delivered a show that’s all the better for it.
4| The Witcher
The Witcher might be Netflix’s most popular series ever, but book fans know that it wasn’t loyal to the book series—no matter what the producers tell you. Season two is based on The Sword of Destiny and The Blood of Elves, but the season underwent plenty of book-to-screen changes, changing subplots, adding characters, and even fast-tracking certain events three books too early. Nevertheless, the series still stayed loyal to the heart of The Witcher: monsters, mayhem, and magic, so the highly enjoyable second season still deserves a spot at number four on this list.
Like The Witcher, Foundation underwent plenty of changes from Isaac Asimov’s books. Entire subplots have been added and timelines have changed, but these changes are justified in that they managed to enrich the plot. Asimov’s books aren’t known for their exciting action scenes or vivid prose. Apple TV+ got lucky in that they were given plenty of room to grow the Galactic Empire into a world worth watching.
1| Chaos Walking
It hurts to see a classic YA sci-fi novel make it to the worst adaptations list, but here it is. Even Tom Holland wasn’t enough to save the movie adaptation of The Knife of Never Letting Go, one of the most popular and critically acclaimed YA novels of all time. The moving sci-fi and coming-of-age story about manhood and community was made into a bland and uneventful film that had book lovers cringing in their seats.
2| The Wheel of Time
The Wheel of Time has quickly become one of Amazon Prime’s most-watched series, but that isn’t enough to appease fans who were disappointed with the series adaptation. The Wheel of Time is fantasy fiction’s biggest series after Lord of the Rings, and we can’t help but feel that too much potential was lost to be forgivable. The characters felt underdeveloped and the plot felt skimmed and rushed. Still, the show has 13 more books to cover and plenty more seasons to go, so there might be time to develop the show into a series the fans can get behind.