Netflix is re-adapting a classic 2000s thriller and fans demand one thing

Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning in 2004 thriller Man on Fire.
(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

It feels like every week brings a new TV show adapted from a classic thriller novel, and news is starting to break about the latest one. A. J. Quinnell's 1980s novel "Man on Fire" is about to get its third screen adaptation, which is being made by Netflix.

Recently, Deadline broke the news that Watchmen, Aquaman 2 and The Get Down actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is set to star in the series, which will be executive produced and partly directed by The Land and Creed II director Steven Caple Jr. And now that recognizable faces are attached to the project, fans are beginning to make demands about the direction of the show.

"Man on Fire" is about a former veteran called Creasy who becomes an alcoholic after burning out from combat. At the behest of a friend he becomes a bodyguard for the daughter of a wealthy textiles producer, and slowly a friendship blooms between the two which cracks through Creasy's touch shell... but when she's kidnapped, he plots a course of revenge that will claim many lives.

The story has been adapted into two movies before: one in 1987 starring Scott Glenn, and a more recent one in 2004 starring Denzel Washington, which you can see in the image at the top of this article. Both of these adaptations make one small but dramatic change from the source material, which fans are pleading with Netflix not to copy for its adaptation.

Spoilers for the original novel and the two Man on Fire movies ensue!

In the comments section of the above Deadline article, and across Twitter, people are demanding one thing (well, two, if you count people pleading with Netflix to try making a new idea instead of constantly adapting things)...

What does this mean? 

Well in the novel "Man on Fire", the child who Creasy connects with gets kidnapped... and then promptly killed. It's a dark twist that justifies the man channeling his rage into his mission to bring down the Mafia who he blames for the death. He's burning with rage — one could call him a man on fire (metaphorically).

However, in both movie adaptations of the story, the child is only kidnapped and not murdered. The hero's quest isn't one of revenge, but one of rescue, which is obviously more palatable to general audiences but doesn't quite fit with the anger motif that's built into the character.

And it's worth flagging that both Man on Fire movies received generally negative reviews, even if they did make money.

Clearly fans didn't quite connect with the Man on Fire movies due to the changing of the source material — a morbid stance for sure, but one that's understandable given the popularity of the novel.

So could Netflix stay true to the book or will it change the story too? Well the streamer used to keep its projects pretty PG, but there have been some spectacularly bloody projects from the streamer recently (without wanting to spoil it, I saw an episode of 3 Body Problem last night which shocked me with how gory it was!).

The exact faithfulness of the adaptation will depend on the creators, then, but I wouldn't be surprised if Netflix was okay with keeping this grim part of the story.

It's worth flagging that unlike the movies, it's actually an adaptation of the novel as well as its follow-up "The Perfect Kill". So the 2004 movie's other change from the source material, which sees Creasy die at the end, definitely won't be kept in play.

There's no word on when this latest version of Man on Fire hits Netflix screens, but it'll likely be 2025.

Tom Bedford
Streaming and Ecommerce Writer

Tom is the streaming and ecommerce writer at What to Watch, covering streaming services in the US and UK. His goal is to help you navigate the busy and confusing online video market, to help you find the TV, movies and sports that you're looking for without having to spend too much money.