Why Crime Novels Make the Worst Film Adaptations

Love the book, hate the film.

The market has been saturated with crime based television series for a long time now, from Criminal Minds to SVU. Does anyone even know how many different CSI spin offs exist today? I know I don’t. But when it comes to movies they never live up to the standards I’ve learned to expect from long running series.

My personal preference was always Chicago, I love a good cast crossover so Chicago PD, Chicago Fire AND Chicago Med? Dick Wolf = genius.


If you watch any fictional crime show then you’ll recognise the format by now. There’s the character back stories, a main antagonist for each season and lots of little sub-plots, some for only the duration of one 45 minute episode. It’s predictable, but given the running length of these shows it’s clearly successful.

From an adaptation point of view I’ve often been heavily invested in crime television shows long before discovering they were originally based on a book series.


And those I’ve gone into willingly I have never regretted, even with artistic differences here and there.


Why then do I find modern crime fiction films fall so flat?

I wasn’t a massive fan of Gone Girl or The Girl On The Train if I’m being honest, either the books or the films. Dark Places and Before I Go To Sleep I much preferred as books, the films were average for me.

Actually the adaptation that set me so firmly on this path was ‘The Snowman‘ by Jo Nesbo.

We missed it in cinemas so were excited to finally watch it at home..

I was BORED.

My S/O was watching through his eyelids within 30 minutes and as huge Fassbender fans that isn’t easy to admit.


I’ve narrowed it down to the choice of main characters. When the sole focus is on the police work and perpetrator I lose all the suspense that an author builds in their novels. The connections made with the main characters, the perspectives gained through monologue, it’s all lost in a feature length film.

For any other genre the focus can be shifted. There’s the imagination in fantasy and scifi, the character development in romance and drama, the terror of a horror movie. But crime fiction?

The character development is either non-existent or so quick to unfold it just seems shallow. The cat and mouse games feel uneventful and the red herrings are predictable.

How do you film the antagonist as an MC yet keep them unknown and interesting to the audience? Even from a first person POV there’s still hints to be found. If a picture paints a thousand words how many do we see in video? My suspense dies here.

I was intrigued and thoroughly enjoyed Zodiac, Prisoners and Spotlight… watching through the eyes of victims, news reporters, any POV other than law enforcement characters still makes a good movie for me.

What I’m sure of is the cat and mouse/ criminal investigator vs killer plot is not a film adaptation I want to see. Give me the book, make it into a mini series, even flesh it out into a seasonal TV show, just don’t ask me to watch it in film. 90+ minutes is always either too long or too short to hold my attention.

Do you know of any crime fiction film adaptations that will change my mind?

Were there any crime based book adaptations you actually preferred in film?

Tell me..

Author: Roxanne Michelle

Dramatic, curly-haired wannabe writer from a nowhere town in Somerset. Stop-starter of all projects great and small. Here to talk books, film, mental health and lifestyle.

One thought on “Why Crime Novels Make the Worst Film Adaptations”

  1. You’ve completely summed up my feelings about crime shows/movies. I absolutely love certain ones, like Criminal Minds, but most of the ones that have been adapted from crime novels have never lived up to the book or have completely missed the mark in terms of the story they’re telling. I wasn’t particularly impressed with The Girl on the Train either. I attempted to watch the film but I couldn’t get through the first half an hour, it bored me to sleep.


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