And that’s at the earliest.
For the uninitiated, Rick Riordan is the author of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, a middle grade/young adult book series focused around one simple premise—the Greek gods are alive and well in modern day America. The first book, The Lightning Thief, came out in 2005, and Riordan’s been expanding on the series and sequel series, The Heroes of Olympus and The Trials of Apollo. The world of Percy Jackson has captivated many fans, young and old, throughout the years, and fans have long been wishing for an on-screen adaptation of the novels.
And yet, when Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief movie, directed by Chris Columbus and starring Logan Lerman as Percy, Brandon T. Jackson as Grover, and Alexandria Daddario as Annabeth, came out in 2010, fans were not satisfied. The sequel movie, based on the second book in the Percy Jackson series, The Sea of Monsters, was similarly met with critique. While the movies do have their good moments and can be pretty funny, the massive changes they made to the plot, structure, and characters (especially in the second one) meant that fans were greatly disappointed.
And no-one knew this better from the beginning than the author himself. Riordan didn’t have any creative control over the movies after signing away those rights in what was then a standard Hollywood contract, and he is well-known for his massive dislike of them. On his website, he shared a letter he wrote to the producers after reading the script in 2009. First, he shares a short list of what he did like about it, and then he wrote, “having said that, here’s the bad news: the script as a whole is terrible. I don’t simply mean that it deviates from the book, though it certainly does that to the point of being almost unrecognizable as the same story. Fans of the book will be angry and disappointed. They will leave the theater in droves and generate horrible word of mouth. That is an absolute given if the script goes forward as it stands now.”
He goes on to talk about the major problems he has with the script and gives many reasonable ideas to fix it and make it a better adaptation. However, as Riordan adds at the end of the letter transcript, “they did not accept my offer to rework the script.” So the movie we have today has been firmly and fiercely rejected by the author from the start. You’d think that if the author of the book you’re adapting, who has a much better idea of his fanbase than you do, is so vehemently against it, you’d maybe have second thoughts about what you’re doing.
The Lightning Thief got another adaptation in 2014 as a one-hour musical by Theatreworks USA, which then went on national tour. Then a new version, with a new score and expanded script, was performed at the Lucille Lortel Theater Off-Broadway from April 4th to May 6th, 2017. In 2019, the musical went on a national tour. The musical then made it to Broadway for a four month run in 2019-2020. The website still says that another national tour is planned for Fall 2020.
The musical was written by Joe Tracz, with the music and lyrics by Rob Rokicki. The current Broadway cast includes Chris McCarrell as Percy, Jorrel Javier as Grover and Mr. D, Kristin Stokes as Annabeth, and James Hayden Rodriguez, Jalynn Steele, Sarah Beth Pfeifer, and Ryan Knowles as several different characters each. While Riordan wasn’t fully involved with the production, it was very-well received and nominated for several awards.
However, a The Sea of Monsters musical would be pretty complicated, and The Lightning Thief musical shows no signs of slowing down. At least for now, it seems like a fantastic adaptation whose medium unfortunately doesn’t really support taking on the entire series, much less its sequel series.
It seemed like that was the end of the adaptation game for Percy Jackson. Then, on May 14th, 2020, Riordan tweeted a video announcing that the Percy Jackson series would be adapted into a TV show on Disney+. Riordan said in a later tweet:
We can’t say more at this stage, but we are very excited about the idea of a live-action series of the highest quality, following the storyline of the original Percy Jackson five-book series starting with The Lightning Thief in season one. Rest assured that Becky [Riordan’s wife] & I will be involved in person in every aspect of the show. There will be more news in the future, but for now, we have a lot of work to do!
And some more news has just been tweeted again by the Riordans. Becky tweeted on July 6th, “Any news to share? A couple of studio meetings this week. Getting close to wrapping up the pilot outline…We are having a blast! We love our team! More soon.”
Rick also tweeted on July 6th, in response to a fan asking when we can expect the show to be done, “we are still in the earliest stages of writing, which will take months. Most optimistic guess 2 years? Maybe?”
So the Percy Jackson Disney+ series will definitely not be out until 2022, and it could be even longer than that. While this news may be a little discouraging, given how exciting and awesome the TV show sounds, we need to remember that the more work they put in for this series, the better it’ll be.
Even given the fact that the coronavirus pandemic will obviously slow down and delay writing and production, they’ve clearly been working on the pilot script for at least a month. And since each season will be based around one of the five books in the series, this pilot is merely the beginning of one book, and yet they’re dedicating a lot of thought and time to it. That’s a good thing.
The fact that the Riordans are working closely with the TV show is a very good sign. After reading Riordan’s offered changes to The Lightning Thief movie script and knowing how much he hates it as is, it’s clear that he has a good idea of what his fans want in an on-screen adaption and that he’s going to do his best to deliver. We’ll see how faithful the TV show is to the books—some change is good, even necessary, to adapt a story from book to TV—but since the Riordans themselves are working on the script, it’s safe to say that the characters, plot, and structure of the series will remain the same as what we know and love from the books.
So don’t despair, Percy Jackson fans. It might take until 2022, or even 2023 or 2024, but we’ll get the adaptation eventually. And it seems like it’ll be worth the wait.