Top 10 Best Book-to-Film Adaptations

Most of the books that are made into movies suck.  Horribly.  Hollywood has decided to spit in my face by not only sodomizing one of my favorite books, World War Z, but by deciding to turn it into a film franchise.  Fuck you, Hollywood.  But occasionally, there are some adaptations that do the source material justice.  Now, I’m not going to judge this by how much I liked these adaptations.  I am going to judge this by how true they stayed to the source material, while still making a good product.  That’s not to say that they couldn’t take liberties.  I just mean staying true to the essence of what their material is about.  If you don’t agree with my list, or have books of your own that you want to put on, hit me back in the comments section.  Alright, here we go…

Jaws10. Jaws
Novel by Peter Benchley, film directed by Steven Spielberg
This is a film that strayed a LONG way away from the source material, content-wise, but it still stayed very true to what this was about.  The original novel had a larger focus than the film.  In addition to trying to deal with the shark, Chief Brody was also investigating the corruption that was leading to those in charge of the town putting the people of that town in danger.  There was also a sub-plot of Brody’s wife, who had come from wealth, but now we living a very plain life with her husband.  She had regrets about leaving and wants back.  The film kept the story smaller, focusing on Brody and his battle against the shark, along with trying to keep the town safe.  The effects are dated, and they REALLY took liberties with the ending, but it is still a solid film that gives the source material its due.

Jurassic Park9. Jurassic Park
Novel by Michael Crichton, film directed by Steven Spielberg
Another Spielberg film, this one strayed VERY far from the source material.  The book was hardly a monster story, even though it did have its share of gruesome deaths.  It was more about the science (as most Crichton books are), a serious examination of what happens when man takes technology too far, without understanding what it is capable of.  The film had some issues, but overall, it is a great monster flick that brought CG technology to the big screen in a great way, while also using animatronics in other places to give it realism.  It let us all see the most terrifying creatures ever to walk this planet up close and personal.  An awesome movie, to be sure.

The Shining8. The Shining
Novel by Steven King, film directed by Stanley Kubrick
Given how many horrible adaptations of King’s novels there are, this film is a masterpiece.  It takes HUGE liberties with the source material, but it all works.  Kubrick created one of the greatest horror films of all time.  The dark atmosphere and claustrophobic setting work perfectly with the grim tone that the film is trying to portray.  And Jack Nicholson’s performance as he goes insane is just terrifying.  To this day, it gives one chills.  A great film, which did a lot of credit to the author who wrote the book.

The Green Mile7. The Green Mile
Novel by Steven King, Film directed by Frank Darabont
Now, maybe I am going to be alone on this, but I think that this was a REALLY good adaptation of the book.  Of course, the book is hella-long, so a ton of stuff had to be left out, and some of the characters were a little different, but I think that this adaptation was good.  The film stars the late Michael Clark Duncan doing what I think was his best role.  The good-natured by cursed with being able to read people by touch man is sent to death row to be executed for the murder of two young women.  It briefly touched on the racism of the time, had awesome performances by Duncan and Tom Hanks and was pretty intense without having to be bombastic.  Its intensity came from the personal side.  When you hear some of the darker stories that Duncan’s character, John Coffey, tells about his life and how his abilities are a curse.  I thought that this was a really good adaptation, along with being one of my favorite films.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea6. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
Novel by Jules Verne, film directed by Richard Fleisher
This is a film that has withstood the test of time better than almost all others.  It kills me that this film isn’t getting the respect it deserves today.  I think that the reason that younger audiences don’t know if this film now is that it has the name of Disney attached to it.  With that name, people expect really kid-friendly material.  This film, however, is a a VERY grown-up piece of film-making, with some amazing roles from James Mason, Paul Lukas and Kirk Douglas.  While it deviates a lot from the book, it is still an amazing film to watch, giving this a very respectable take.  As a kid, I thought that this was an awesome movie.  As a grown-up, I like it even more.

To Kill a Mockingbird5. To Kill a Mockingbird
Novel by Harper Lee, film directed by Robert Mulligan
This is probably one of the greatest films ever made.  Period.  The only reason that it isn’t higher on this list is because I think that other films got the feel of stuff down better.  But don’t think that this film’s designation on my list is reflective of its quality.  This was a daring film to make.  Being released two years before MLK was shot, it was a film that cast a rather ugly look at racism on society and a man’s struggle to be fair amounts to in a society who hates a man just because of his skin color.  John Grisham would do an awesome modern interpretation in his novel “A Time to Kill” (which also had a pretty good movie adaptation of it, if you’re interested), but this novel and this film set a standard for others to follow.  Every role in this movie was flawless.  Every line of dialogue was perfect.  It is one of the few films that comes as close to perfect as is possible in a movie.  It did the source material proud and it is a great film to watch.  Like I said, it isn’t at this spot because of it’s quality.  I just think that other films did the adaptation better.  But for real, if you haven’t seen this movie, please do.  You won’t regret it.

The Andromeda Strain4. The Andromeda Strain
Novel by Michael Crichton, film directed by Robert Wise
When it comes to staying true to the source material, this film arguably did it best.  While it did change a couple of things, like having one of the scientists be a woman instead of a man, it worked very diligently to hold true to the kind of writing that Crichton does – focusing on the science.  Telling the story of a space-born pathogen that gets brought to earth inside of a satellite, this film is cool because it is all from the perspective of a group of scientists inside of a top-secret research facility.  It is all about the human element trying to quickly solve a mystery that could potentially doom the entire human race, all without having contact with the rest of the human race.  While a lot of the effects in this movie are dated, it still holds up due to some awesome acting and the scientific knowledge that gave Crichton his edge when writing this story.  Kudos to Wise for working so hard to stay true to the source material.  If only some other adaptations of his works did so well at that *cough*Congo and Disclosure*cough*.

Lord of the Rings3. Lord of the Rings
Novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, films directed by Peter Jackson
Just a few years before the first of these movies debuted, this was a series of books that people said that nobody could make into a movie.  People said that it couldn’t be done.  But Peter Jackson rose to the challenge.  While he did take a LOT of liberties with the source material, he made some of the most epic fantasy films of all time.  These films are all amazing, and the fact that the sequels got better and better is a tribute to it.  Normally these movies get worse and worse as time goes on.  This franchise will probably go down in history as one of the greatest adaptations that has ever been done.  So, why isn’t this at the top of my list?  Well, let’s see two reasons why…

Fight Club2. Fight Club
Novel by Chuck Palahniuk, film directed by David Fincher
This is probably one of the best and worst adaptations of a film that has ever been done.  It’s the best in that it captured the book’s message about how lost, lonely and obsessed western society has become.  But it is the worst in that it takes liberties at the worst time.  The absolute pinnacle of bad liberties is the ending.  In the book, the main character realizes that his alter-ego will never be able to be stopped.  The only way that the madness can be stopped is by killing himself.  Which he does.  In the film, it sets it up like he was supposed to have killed himself, but then, magically, he doesn’t.  How does that work?  You put the gun in your mouth.  You pulled the trigger.  How did this work to have you not die?  I genuinely don’t get it.  But at the same time, this is an awesome movie.  The critical look at how enslaved western society is by the things we own and the world we live in is not only thought-provoking, but it is ugly.  We are a generation who is bred to believe we are destined for greatness, only for most of us to end up being middle-management and a fast food joint of an office.  I genuinely love this film, specifically for how far it goes in looking at the dark side of our existence.  But I do have to credit that there are some pretty major plotholes in the film, done so that the main character can get some kind of redemption.  Yeah…

And the best (in my opinion) adaptation of a book is –

Cloud Atlas1. Cloud Atlas
Novel by David Mitchell, Film Directed by Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer and Andy Wachowski
When I heard that they were making a film adaptation of this book, my first thought was – how on EARTH can they possibly do this without making it a total fuck-up?  The book this film was based on is one of the most complicated books that I have ever read.  The idea that a film could be made out of this and not be a complete disaster was inconceivable to me.  Yet against all odds, they made a film that was a damn-good adaptation.  The best that has ever been done!  This film is not only the best book-to-film adaptation of all time, but one of my favorite films of all time.  The beautiful cinematography, the interconnected nature of the stories and the beautiful thoughts about character were just wonderful.  A lot of people got on this film for this and that, but in my eyes, given what they had to work with, the Wachowski’s did an amazing job and should be proud of doing right by a book that I thought would have been impossible to adapt.

So, what are your favorite adaptations?  Hit me back in the comments sections.  Oh, and if you say The Hunger Games, I will mock you without mercy.  That movie is terrible.  Really terrible.

Until next time, a quote,

“You talk about vengeance. Is vengeance going to bring your son back to you? Or my boy to me”  -Don Corleone, The Godfather

Peace out,



5 thoughts on “Top 10 Best Book-to-Film Adaptations

  1. Great list (As always). My favorites from this list are definitely Lord of the Rings, Jaws, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Shawshank Redemption. If you counted TV, Game of Thrones should definitely be on it because it is, right now, one of my favorite TV dramas of all time and it has only just begun. Also, A Clockwork Orange would have been a really good movie to be included in this list.

    • I have, actually. I deliberated about that, but I decided not to include it because of how it ended. I have the same problem with it that I do with Fight Club. It actually would have tied with Fight Club on my list. But I wasn’t going to have there be a tie, so I chose that one instead. And it’s funny – I’ve never seen Game of Thrones. I keep hearing everyone drown it in praises and I think to myself – yeah, I’ll get around to that, eventually. I bet that I never will. It’ll be on my to-do list until I die. 😛

      • Haha, oh yeah the ending. You know what, I hated the ending of A Clockwork Orange the first time I watched it, but I have gradually liked the ending better over time. I try to avoid ties on my lists on me and my friend’s blog as well. Game of Thrones is a very very good series. I actually did a list of my favorite characters of the series but if you didn’t watch it you might as well not see it because there are spoilers (haha).

      • Yeah, I had the same deal with my top 10 Mass Effect characters list, but I gave a spoiler alert beforehand. But for me, I could never get past the ending because I do love the book that much. The message in the original ending, showing the main character grow out of the part of his life where he was a monster is profound, and says a lot about humanity, I think. Maybe Kubrick didn’t know about that ending when he made the film, but for me, it just killed it. It is still an amazing film, don’t get me wrong, but yeah, it didn’t make the cut. The only reason Fight Club did is because I just resigned myself to the fact that the hero couldn’t have killed himself in an American movie. I swear, this country avoids sensitive subjects like that like the plague. Annoys me to no end.

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