'Just didn't resonate': Percy Jackson creators express 'disappointment' over unpopular movie adaptations

Grover, Annabeth, and Percy stand in a foggy forest in Percy Jackson and the Olympians' TV series
Percy Jackon's creators hope its TV adaptation will right the wrongs of the unpopular films. (Image credit: 20th Television/Disney Plus)

Percy Jackson author Rick Riordan has revealed Disney's TV adaptation of his fantasy book series gave him "an opportunity" to redeem the franchise after its poorly received film conversions.

2010's Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief and 2013's Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters failed to capture audiences' imagination – and convince them to part with their hard-earned cash – at a time when teen fantasy was all the rage. Indeed, despite other hit book series – namely, Harry Potter and Twilight – becoming cinematic hits, the Percy Jackson duology failed to catch lightning in a bottle, with its film adaptations earning 49% and 42% critical scores respectively.

When Disney came calling to inquire about Riordan and his wife/executive producing partner Rebecca Riordan's interest in turning their much-loved novels into a Disney Plus show, then, the duo sensed an opening to do Percy Jackson justice and create a fitting on-screen adaptation. The result is Percy Jackson and the Olympians, an eight-part series (its first episode will also be available on Hulu) that'll finally justify the books in the eyes of many, Riordan claims.

Percy walks into a forest camp in Percy Jackson and the Olympians' Disney Plus series

Percy Jackson and the Olympians debuts on Disney Plus on December 20. (Image credit: 20th Television/Disney Plus)

Speaking to TechRadar at the show's UK junket, Riordan said: "The major change [from the films] is that we were involved this time – we were allowed to be involved – which makes all the difference. Becky and I went out to LA, and we started making conversations happen and telling people ‘look, you can do a new adaptation’. After many months of that, we were able to shake loose the film rights and get them over to Disney so we could make a series. We were very clear that it needed to be television because television gives you a broader canvas."

One of the biggest criticisms of the Percy Jackson movies was the casting of teen and adult actors to portray Percy and best friends/fellow adventurers Annabeth and Grover. Considering the trio are children in the source material, many fans were unhappy with them being aged up in the film adaptations – a mistake the Riordans were determined not to make this time around.

"When the [first] film came out, it was very disappointing because of the age of the characters, who were teenage, and it didn’t hit," Rebecca Riordan explained. "There were a lot of fans who came to the books because of those movies – and there are still a lot of fans from those movies – but the little kids were disappointed as it wasn’t friendly for them. Teenagers were disappointed as it wasn’t hip enough for them, so it just didn’t resonate with people the way we would have liked it."

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Long time fans weren't the only ones unenthused with 20th Century Fox's take on the books. On X (formerly Twitter) in a post he's since deleted, Rick Riordan previously described the films' development as watching "my life's work going through a meat grinder when I pleaded with them not to do it". Unsurprisingly, he confirmed he's never seen the films, but did admit the forthcoming TV adaptation allowed him to approach his seminal works through a fresh vision. Rebecca, though, was equally attuned to the responsibility of ensuring the series could act as an entry point to franchise newcomers.

"There are a lot of people who aren’t readers that have never picked up Rick’s books," she said. "They come to the fandom with preconceived ideas from the movies that don’t match the rest of the fandom that has read the books, so there is a pressure to try to embrace those viewers as well, to give them something that they’re interested in."

The final product is a live-action spin that the Riordans are extremely pleased with, though we're not sure it'll make it onto our best Disney Plus shows list. "There’s no detail that we were not involved in," Rick added. "We were involved for the last four years and every conversation, every choice from casting, artwork, scripts…all of it."

Percy Jackson and the Olympians debuts on Wednesday, December 20. New episodes air weekly on Disney Plus until the finale on January 31, 2024. 

Laura Martin
Freelance Writer

Laura Martin is an entertainment journalist who covers TV, film, and music. She's written for numerous big publications, including TechRadar, Esquire, BBC Culture, The Guardian, and The i newspaper. Her favourite stories usually involve prestige TV drama, reality TV, or true-life documentaries. Basically, the more obscure, the better!

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