The 10 Best Book to Big Screen Adaptations

An excellent movie adaptation must enhance the book in some way. Improve it and make you forget the book even existed. Below is a list of the best of the best. A list that will no doubt encourage great debate and war. However, there are only ten slots (children’s movies as well as comic adaptions were not considered) and I give a special shout out to my runners up, Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Lolita (1962).



Rebecca (1940)

Novel by Daphne du Maurier (1938)

Daphne du Maurier is not an author whose books end with puppy dogs and rainbows. Alfred Hitchcock had the reputation of a director who was dark and controlled. When you put the two together, you get Rebecca, a gorgeous film noir about a young woman who marries a man she barely knows and is frightened by his large mansion and the mysterious death of his first wife. Hitchcock stays faithful to the original material, allowing his leading man, Laurence Olivier, to keep you on your toes and inserting wide eyed Joan Fontaine as the cliché, naive blonde who is in way over her head. This is worth a watch on a cozy de Winter’s night.



The Shawshank Redemption (1996) SPOILERS

Novella by Stephen King (1990)

Stephen King recently stated that his favorite adaptation was The Mist and all viewers can agree that its ending will make you jump up and start screaming at the screen. However, The Shawshank Redemption is the work of art. A masterpiece that tops most critic lists as one of the greatest movies of all time. Originally a short story called, “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”, the screenwriters weave a plot full of betrayal, murder, and justice. Director Frank Darabont, using the location of an abandoned Ohio prison, makes us feel as helpless as Andy, a man wrongfully convicted. Finally, we have the greatest bromance in film history thanks to Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman’s characters. We are still hoping that Andy and Red, after finding a couple of babes, are sailing around the world on their boat and playing chess.



The Color Purple (1985)

Novel by Alice Walker (1982)

Ready for a really great cry? You don’t have to go to Titanic for your fix. Check out the novel and movie, The Color Purple, and you will weep with anger and then joy. This story about black oppression and hardship in the early 1900’s was an odd choice for Steven Spielberg who had, up until then, been making great movies that mostly had to do with white guy problems. Walker’s book is a series of letters and stories told by Celie as she is beaten, raped, and belittled by a man who is old enough to be her father. Putting it to film seemed an impossible task but Spielberg masterfully unfolds the movie as someone who may have lived through it. Then there is the phenomenal Whoopi Goldberg, worth every award she should have been given, as the abused but hopeful Celie. Go ahead, I dare you not to cry at the end … and cheer.



Let the Right One In (2008)

Novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist (2004)

Have you ever gone outside in the middle of the night during a snowstorm and listened to the hollow sounds of nothing, when everything was a bluish white? That’s the setting of Let the Right One In, a forgotten gem of a movie. Let’s forget that the American interpretation (Let Me In, 2010) ever happened; even the talented Chloë Grace Moretz couldn’t save that mess. The original film’s marketers wisely took advantage of the Twilight frenzy of the time, while holding onto their dignity and a wildly clever plot. Let the Right One In centers around two children, not teenagers. These vampires catch fire when they are exposed to the sun. And in lieu of romance there is a different kind of love. A boy, mercilessly bullied at school, is happy to find a friend. His new friend (she’s a vampire) is just happy to find someone who cares about her. The novel is a long and wordy translation of Swedish so I would suggest watching the film instead. The ending is so shocking that you will have to re-watch it because there is no possible way that happened.



The Godfather (1972)

Novel by Mario Puzo (1969)

There are very few situations where you should never read the book after having seen the movie. This is one of them and most people know the movie by heart thanks to AMC’s annual Father’s Day marathons. The problem is this: the movie is far superior thanks to the director, actors…heck, probably thanks to the catering cart. If you are curious about the ins and outs of the Mafia, you may want to take a peek at the novel. The politics and details will teach you more about what is driving the characters you thought you knew. You also come to find that Sonny is the proud owner of, ahem, a large appendage and Puzo enjoys writing about it. A lot. What can possibly top Marlon Brando, though? The speech Don Corleone gives at the meeting of the five families, when he warns them about hurting his son, Michael? Worth watching ten more times.



The Hours (2002)

Novel by Michael Cunningham (1998)

Are you having a good day? Are you a generally happy person? Go ahead and watch this movie and all of that will be a long forgotten memory. This faithful translation of a difficult to translate Pulitzer Prize winning novel is one of the most depressing movies of all time. However, it is masterfully directed and executed and worth the Oscars it won. The Hours is a lesson in acting and direction, a movie every film buff and student should watch at least once. The heavyweight talent of Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman flesh out shattered characters who are showing you one single day. A day that is pivotal to their lives but miserable and heartbreaking. Watch for the film’s beauty but you’ve been warned.



Gone with the Wind (1939)

Novel by Margaret Mitchell (1936)

Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn.” Did you know that the producer was almost fined for keeping this line in the film? Many have not read the book because they worry about the length but it’s worth the journey. Those who have not seen the movie worry it’s a long winded story of southern belles and love during the Civil War but it’s so much more. Slavery and battle. Murder and deceit. All with the fabulous and bitchy Scarlett O’Hara at the wheel, played by Vivien Leigh like she was born for the part. Reading the book is difficult because the subject matter and language are like the Confederate flag; it’s hard to accept our dark history. But there are surprising laughs on screen thanks to the feisty Mammy, Rett Butler’s witty comebacks, and at the expense of our tenacious Scarlett. You’re rooting for her even when you hate her. Perhaps we see a little of ourselves in Scarlett. Dreaming of home. Sabotaging our own lives. Selfish and ready to fight in order to survive.



Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Novel by Jane Austen (1811)

Ang Lee? Really? The man who brought us Chinese family drama and Taiwanese wedding comedies directed this delicate and heartwarming Regency tale focused on sisterly bonds? This was the movie that made you realize he was a threat in all countries. Sense and Sensibility is about controlling one’s heart and understanding your loved one’s motives which has always made it the most difficult Austen novel to bring to the screen. Few have tried. Emma Thompson’s script cuts out the filler and you are left with the most important encounters and scenery for the actors to chew through. Oh, and that great shot of a sad face Willoughby on his horse. Shortly after, Kate Winslet would be working on a little movie called Titanic, but we will always see her as the perfectly passionate and reckless Marianne Dashwood.



The Constant Gardener (2005)

Novel by John le Carré (2001)

This book is le Carré at his best. Heart pounding danger for the hero. Gnarly deaths. A global conspiracy that takes the reader to isolated locales. This forgotten film adaption, with characters played by the likable Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes, is just as captivating. A man’s activist wife is murdered in Africa, forcing him into a perilous region of the country as he investigates what happened to her. The horrific first scene will make a room of viewers go silent as they are riveted from that moment on. You know how you’re always looking for that next gift book for dad? Make it this one. Oh, and buy him the movie to go with it.



A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Novel by Anthony Burgess (1962)

In the wake of the bleached 1950’s, there was nothing scarier than disenchanted youth. Books and movies like The Blackboard Jungle may have frightened Mom and Pop but nothing prepared the populace for the movie adaptation of A Clockwork Orange, a futuristic story about a young man named Alex whose life is made content by rape, drugs, and mayhem. The film held mostly true to the book, forcing the audience to take either the side of Alex or the authority that chooses to rob him of his free will. Even with a more redemptive ending than the novel, it was called, “dehumanizing” and “pornographic”. 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Stanley Kubrick was the perfect ringmaster and treated us with a nightmarish “rehabilitation” as well as Beethoven, milk mustaches, and bowler hats. It wasn’t all bad news for the director. A Clockwork Orange was the most popular movie in France and it received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.




Nicolina Torres
Nicolina Torres

Nikki worked for Barnes & Noble for 15 years, in seven stores. She is the author of This Red Fire, Young Nation, and Girls Who Wear Glasses. She prefers to live in the country and is a new aunt to a potential bookworm.

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