Book Vs. Film: Maze Runner

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Probably not. The Maze Runner franchise seemed to both blossom and wilt in a very short season of success; but maybe I only think that because this fabled third film is taking so long and I’d forgotten about it? That being said the first film grossed over $348  worldwide and was a massive success so who am I to judge its popularity?

Fans of the series, or ‘gladers’ will already have read all the books and seen the first two films but as we are still waiting on the third instalment I thought it was about time we started talking about it again.

I didn’t love the first book, I thought the film was better – despite the lack of character development  (full review here) and I haven’t got to the sequels yet because of it. Don’t get me wrong I like the book and I like the film but I’m not a superfan. By all means please share with me your love of this great series (I’m always eager to be converted by a fandom) I’m just telling you this upfront in an effort to better avoid a bias or unfair comparison. (or at least to prepare you for my shameful interpretation of the two, arguably very different, texts.)

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So, if you’re here you’ve probably watched or read book/film one and have some understanding of the basic plot (you guys can skip this next bit if you like). If you have not (and don’t mind the spoilers this post is crawling with) here’s the sitch:

So there’s this glade – a big ol’ grassy area (stone in the books) with some trees and basic structures – where a small group of ‘lost-boy-esque’ teenagers live. The glade is bordered by enormous walls with gaps that close during the night-time and open again at first light (4 gaps in the book and one in the film). These doors lead to a mysterious maze full of partially gelatinous, partly mechanical monsters. The maze itself is deigned to be the puzzle of all puzzles; it’s also the only possible way out for the gladers. Gladers enter the maze through this box elevator in the ground and cannot go back down. We join the story at the arrival of the last two gladers, Thomas first then (just a day later and completely out of the blue) a girl: Teresa. In the film she appears a few days after Thomas but we mostly put this down to the film’s necessary timeline adjustments.

Oh, also, seriously now, before I forget:

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Notable Differences

Book Film
Telepathy No telepathy
More griever attacks (for plot, to trigger memories) Thomas remembers things almost immediately (no need for all those griever attacks for memory!)
Alby and Thomas conflict Mentor relationship
Escape plan through griever entrance Keys in dead griever leads to escape plan
Maze of words Maze of numbers
Griever attacks one per day Chaos in battle
Gally’s mad because he has flashbacks Gally hates change
going down in the box will result in you being sliced in half The box doors are sealed shut


You really do lose a lot of brutality in adaptations from this genre. A lot of the draw in books like The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games is the result of a clever tension between brutality and hope. You simply do not get that same tension on screen for a young adult or children’s adaptation, everything is a little softened. You can see it so clearly watching the Harry Potter films and how with the growing age of the audience comes more darkness and more powerful and brutal instances of violence. There is a tangible disparity too between The Maze Runner film and its cinematic adaptation. The book opens with descriptions of boys being literally cut in half for trying to escape. (I mean seriously!) the wounded are festering in makeshift hospital beds and fighting a fiery fever. Ultimately, things weren’t quite as gruesome in the film as they ought to have been. These gross and haunting aspects made the characters’ fear authentic and tangible, something the filmmakers would’ve had a hard time replicating. I think they did so very well using the design of the grievers as their opportunity to showcase that fear. They used insects and mechanics, that were so far removed from humanity, to create this really frightening image. The use of moisture and darkness as well as those awful clicking sounds was really well done. I mean look at the thing:

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It was a PG-13 which is really as high an age rating as you can get away with if you want the majority of teen and YA book fans to actually be allowed into the cinema. Unfortunately, this brings a whole host of restrictions and guidelines. That means we don’t get the same rawness and visceral visuals Dashner’s writing might have conveyed. Many young people watch shows like Game of Thrones and American Horror Story and audiences are becoming increasingly desensitized to gore and violence. That being said the fight scenes in The Maze Runner film didn’t have me focused on the lack of gore the way The Hunger Games did. It was pretty well choreographed; I’m sure fight scenes are almost always better on-screen plus with an enemy as gruesome as that ^^ you’ve got a good chance of having audiences’ eyes glued to the screen.

Character Development

I really wanted to be more attached to the characters on-screen but they didn’t seem to be there long enough for me to really grasp what they were all about. Gally in particular seems possessed with madness in the film without any real explanation. It’s as though he’s intimidated by Thomas and Teresa and afraid of the change their arrival represents. In the book his flashbacks give him this fabulous complexity where the reader is, at least initially, unable to discern whether or not Thomas is the good guy or not. He sees something none of us can see and we are prompted to find justification in the bizarre situation. It creates an uncertainty about Thomas’ reliability as protagonist and adds deeply to the story; especially in those last pages. Gally’s also painted as completely vulnerable to W.I.C.K.E.D in the books; they use him as a vessel to enact certain events: Chuck’s death was so heavy and powerful and it was partly resulting from Gally’s own complexity of character. The weight of this plot event also draws on the intimacy between Chuck and our veritable hero, Thomas.

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The relationship between Chuck and Thomas in the book is such a wonderfully developed thing, each saving the other from numerous faux pas and potentially life threatening situations. They were made brothers over the course of the book and removing Thomas’ only resemblance of family at the end of the book was a fierce but important move for Dashner to make for the story. I can only imagine the effect this has on Thomas’ behaviour in the following books (and indeed the films) and would hope that it’s significance is not lost. His journey from uncertainty to leadership throughout the narrative was supported heavily by his relationship with Chuck; each bettered the other and chuck’s absence will no-doubt weigh heavily in the subsequent narrative.

The relationship between Teresa and Thomas is a whole different kettle of fish. They were both distrusted by the original gladers due to the nature of their arrival. In the book Teresa and Thomas can communicate telepathically with one another and both are seemingly different from the others in a way that remains a mystery until much later on. This gives them a kind of bond and Teresa seems closer to Thomas than any of the other gladers. Also in the book, Teresa brings ‘the end’ to the gladers sparking a series of events that leads to their escape (but not without hardship). Her character is left very open in the first book, no doubt allowing for development in the second but it is (like chuck) her relationship with Thomas that drives his character development forward. She takes Thomas’ position as the ‘Greenie’ (or newest arrival) at the glade and gives him someone to figure out his memories with. She elevates him somewhat into a position where he can become brave and become the leader he is by the end of the book.

Puzzle Resolution

So this was a difference I found significant in my reception of both texts; maybe you didn’t? Let me know but either way it is something that definitely needs mentioning. In the book there’s this ‘griever hole’ through which those mechanical monsters enter the maze and set course to terrorise the gladers and *this* is the key to escaping the maze. Once they figure that part out the gladers have to input a series of words (discovered by mapping the shape of the maze for months) into a computer (FLOAT – CATCH – BLEED – DEATH – STIFF – PUSH) the last of which refers to an action not a word that needed to be typed. However, in the film an interesting idea is used, one that makes the grievers much more interesting robotic antagonists: they contain the key to escaping the maze.

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In the film there is no Griever hole and Thomas only discovers the little beeping key things (pictured above) after one of the grievers is ripped apart. The keys lead them to the grievers’ place of origin and they escape using the sequence of sections that exist within the maze: 71526483. (I’m as confused as Minho looks here but it does make sense when you watch it, promise!)

I found the book method more realistic in terms of the way the gladers recorded the shapes of the maze. The map room is exactly how I think a bunch of ‘random’ people chucked in a maze would go about recording it; the huge model in the film seems a bit over the top for me but I did actually like both. The book version seemed very simple once they figured it out; good job they worked out there was going to be a code before they went gallivanting off to wilderness unknown – I dread to think how it would’ve turned out without knowing which words to input!

Ultimately I enjoyed the film marginally more than the book (perhaps because I watched it before I read the book) but they’re standing on pretty level ground really. I’m fairly sure that’s an unpopular comparison but I really do think both are closely matched. The book creates characters with more depth and events with more gore but the movie adds complexities that are also really interesting. Perhaps I’ll change my mind when I catch up to the later books/films but all in all I think we can thank Dashner for writing a fabulous dystopian story and look forward to the upcoming cinematic release.

Thanks for reading! Let me know where you stand on the film/book debate in the comments 🙂



  1. Cait @ Paper Fury | 4th Sep 17

    Oooh I LOVE this series! I particularly love the book sand I’ve only seen the first film, but I thought it was a really good adaption too!😂 And like their changes made sense so I was fine with them, hehe. And it helped the cast is downright amazing, just sayinnnnng.😂 I kind of forgot about the 3rd movie too though and definitely need to see the Scorch Trials soon. 😱

    • tackfiction | 4th Sep 17

      Thanks for reading! and, oh my gosh, I was writing this and thinking about how great the cast was and I didn’t even mention it 😂😂😂 I’ve only seen the first film but was pretty pleased with how they did it all. I feel like if I get around to the second and third books they’ll have me hooked for sure. I’m a sucker for becoming crazy addicted to fandoms but only once I’ve committed myself 😂 Did you have a favourite book or just loved them all? <3

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