I don’t need to tell you that book adaptations to film and TV are incredibly popular. This time-honoured tradition of bringing beloved stories to life on the screen is a sure-fire hit with film execs who want to embrace the box office power of a work’s existing audience, and with those audiences who are longing to see their favourite characters realised on screen. 

As these adaptations come to fruition, one of the critical creative decisions is the design of the film and TV posters. Often, designers draw inspiration from the original book covers, adapting the essence of the literary artwork to captivate audiences. In this article, we delve into the art of adapting popular book covers into film and TV posters, exploring the similarities, differences, and the reasons behind these creative decisions.

The Power of Iconic Book Covers

Some book covers are so immediately iconic that they become visual signatures of the stories they represent, deeply ingrained in the memories and minds of readers. Great examples of these are the book covers for ‘Jurassic Park’, ‘Jaws’ and ‘The Godfather’. When adapting work like this into film or TV posters, designers don’t try to reinvent the wheel (perhaps because of instructions from the studio or perhaps their own instincts). These film poster designs share a clear DNA with the original book covers, although there are changes such as colour and shape. 

Translating Themes and Tones 

Most posters aren’t quite as closely related to the original imagery, but when crafting film and TV posters, designers may borrow visual cues such as colour palettes, structure and style to keep the spirit of the book alive in its new medium. A case in point is Alice Oseman’s ‘Heartstopper’: the poster for the Netflix adaptation utilises the book’s title font and a similar pastel colour scheme, as well as juxtaposing the two main characters opposite each other and incorporating the illustrated leaf motif that features in the series itself.

Just a Nod

While adhering to the original book cover can be a powerful design choice, not all designs may work in a film or TV context. Designers may reinterpret the story to align better with the cinematic medium. Often these changes emphasise characters – such as in ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’. The film poster keeps the marshland setting but puts the (obscured) face of protagonist Kya up front and centre. It also keeps the book’s original title font and colours it with the main colour scheme from that cover. 

Making sweeping changes but keeping the book’s original title treatment is a popular choice – as no matter how different the poster may appear – it still makes its relationship to the original work clear. A good example of this is Robert Bloch’s ‘Psycho’. The film poster’s vibrant use of colour, shape and characters contrasts strongly against the book’s stark black and white design, but the use of the bold, cracked title in both – keeps them in conversation with each other.

All Change

The unique demands of film and TV marketing versus that required for publishing can sometimes mean that using elements from the book design isn’t always the best choice. There is a delicate balance between staying true to the source material’s visual identity and infusing originality to make this new adaptation stand out. In cases such as ‘Interview with the Vampire’ and ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’, each poster contains a complete set of new elements when contrasted with the original book covers. But it’s worth noting that there is still a general ‘feel’ that carries over from each – ‘Interview with the Vampire’ still has a very warm and all-encompassing palette and ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ conveys a sense of trying to keep things in balance along with a light, bright ambience.

The journey from book cover to film or TV poster provides a fascinating insight into visual storytelling and the individual needs of these respective mediums. Drawing inspiration from book cover art can be a brilliant way for designers to create a sense of familiarity and evoke the emotional connection between a literary work and its dedicated readers. But equally, it is important when adapting work for a film and TV context to allow for creative interpretation and ensure that you are tailoring the poster to its form whilst remaining true to the spirit of the written work.

How do you feel about the evolution of book covers into film and TV posters? Can you think of any really successful (or unsuccessful) examples? Any other thoughts about this process? Don’t forget to let me know in the comments!

For poster and graphic design services for your latest TV or film project, (as well as book cover design) drop me a line at adam@strelka.co.uk.