Neal Shusterman’s Scythe Might Signal a Fresh Direction for SFF Blockbusters

This article originally appeared on 

Neal Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe series has captured the hearts of many readers, mine included, since the first installment was published in 2016. I read the first novel in one sitting. I was home sick from work with the kind of cold that kept me couch-ridden but not tired enough to sleep the day away. A gripping sci-fi book was the perfect fit for such a day, and I plowed through 400+ pages of Scythe in a six-hour sitting.

Scythe has long been locked in my mind as a prime contender for adaptation, and it turns out I’m not alone in thinking this. In a rare occurrence for my Please Adapt column, I selected a book that already has an adaptation in progress, though “progress” here is slow and a tad troubled. We’ll get into it!

Minor spoilers for Scythe follow. I won’t spoil Thunderhead or The Toll because I haven’t read them yet!

The Story So Far

I felt equal parts giddiness and trepidation when I began my research for this article. Giddy because behold—a Scythe adaptation is in the works! Trepidatious because hey, wait a minute, is it still worth writing about?!

Yes, indeed it is. The Arc of a Scythe adaptation has endured its fair share of turnover, changing hands quite a few times so far. Universal and Amblin Entertainment are behind the project. Sera Gamble, famous for The MagiciansYou, and Supernatural, was originally penning the script. Gamble exited the project in 2020, making way for Gary Dauberman of It and Annabelle fame to write the new draft. November 2022 brought news that the Scythe series was yet again redrafting with a new writer, and Steven Spielberg was now involved. All along, Shusterman has been attached as a producer.

The project remains in development. We don’t know when it’ll grace our screens, but Spielberg’s attachment is reason to be both excited and wary (see Ready Player One’s film adaptation, depending on how you feel about it).

Still, Scythe has a lot going for it that’d be really interesting on the big screen.

A Vision Of “Utopia”

In Shusterman’s world, medicine and technology have eradicated most of humanity’s problems. An AI dubbed Thunderhead governs much of day-to-day life. You can fall off a building and be revived without much effort or resources. Only two things can outright kill, or “glean,” a human being: fire or a Scythe.

Scythes are beings trained to cull the population, and each one goes about it differently. Some try to keep to statistics, using numbers to justify their killings. Others take a more random approach. Still others decide who to target by looking for the people who have grown tired of life. Scythes are revered and feared by most of the population. Our protagonists Rowan and Citra become apprentices to Scythe Faraday, learning the ways of a Scythe and the inner workings of the organization that governs them. But more on that later.

This concept—beyond being cool as hell—makes for a refreshing change of pace, when it comes to the kind of cinematic stories we’re used to seeing. The young adult dystopia trope ran its course years ago: The Maze RunnerHunger GamesDivergent, to name a few, dominated the genre before the trend eventually petered out and the superhero craze took over completely. Shusterman’s Scythe takes a different direction, asking the bold question: what would Utopia look like?

In a world without death and disease, the population needs to be controlled. The result is a “utopia” with its own set of unique problems, as you might expect. The world of Scythe is both visually and conceptually interesting, which is already a major point in its favor. Factor in the unique conundrums that come with it, and you’ve got an excellent premise for adaptation.

A Heart Of Mystery

Shortly after taking Rowan and Citra as apprentices, Scythe Faraday disappears. Turns out he broke some unwritten rules by taking on two proteges. His disappearance sparks the core mystery of the novel, which Shusterman juggles deftly alongside the worldbuilding burden of his imagined utopia and the inner workings of Scythedom, which we’ll get to soon.

The driving plot of Scythe provides plenty of narrative fodder for prospective viewers to latch onto. The mystery at the heart of Scythe makes it easy for us to root for Rowan and Citra as they learn to navigate their new community—which can be more hostile than one might expect—and try to uncover what happened to their mentor. The novel has the benefit of 400+ pages for this all to play out. In a movie, where the details will have to be condensed at least a bit, the mystery angle will help us relate to the characters and empathize with their struggles in a fish-out-of-water scenario.

To be clear, I’m not saying a mystery is a shortcut to character development—we still need to spend ample time getting to know Scythe’s characters. However, in a film version, where we’ll be spending less time in this fictional world, focusing on the mystery within will help ease viewers into our protagonists’ journeys.

Dirty Rotten Politics

By far my favorite aspect of Scythe is the institution of Scythedom itself. Scythes are governed by commandments indicating who they can “glean,” how, and why.

Scythes aren’t subject to the normal laws of society. Instead, they meet at a Conclave thrice annually. There, they vote on new rules and appointments.

Not all Scythes agree on how to go about their gleanings or how they should generally behave. The tension between different factions of Scythes makes for juicy political intrigue that will be incredibly fun to watch play out on screen. The “bad” Scythes are gleefully villainous in the book, and encounters with them always prove fun to read. With the right cast and writing crew, they could really shine as major highlights of the film.

I’m keeping this section short on purpose so I don’t spoil much, but rest assured, the political threads of Scythe provide a whole lot of adaptable content.

Outlook: Very Likely

Arc of a Scythe is about as close to a sure thing as I could find for a Please Adapt column. Despite a shuffling of potential writers, updates from Shusterman himself have consistently provided hope. With a studio and Spielberg attached, things are looking good for a Scythe film, and possibly a full series adaptation.

We may not have a release date or even a release window at the moment, but the Scythe project remains in development, and that’s something to be excited about!

Let me know in the comments: have you read Scythe? What would you like to see from the eventual adaptation?

One thought on “Neal Shusterman’s Scythe Might Signal a Fresh Direction for SFF Blockbusters

  1. I think a tv series adaptation would be best for the multiple storylines in this book trilogy. I’d tune in for it!

Leave a Reply