Top 10 Films Adapted From Books (That I’ve Read)

This week I saw The Great Gatsby, something I’ve deeply regretted ever since. You can expect a less-than-complimentary review in the bear future, brace yourselves. I was thoroughly disappointed with the film, mostly because I’d read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel last year in preparation for the film, and really rather enjoyed it. This got me thinking about the best films adapted from books. However, the potential candidates for such a list would include roughly half of all films ever made, if not more, so I slimmed it down somewhat in the only manner I knew how, by making it about myself. Therefore, this is a list of my favourite films adapted from books that I’ve actually read, a list of books nowhere near long enough in my opinion, but with so many films to watch how can I hope to find the time to read more?

Anyway, the list is comprised of books I read before the films came out, some I was drawn to by the film, and others I read upon finding out the film was to be released, as was the case with Gatsby.

Honourable MentionJurassicParkAs much as I’d love Jurassic Park to be on this list, at present I’m only halfway through Michael Crichton’s so far excellent novel, so alas the best I can do is say the first half of Jurassic Park is my Honourable Mention. In terms of complete books, there are some adaptations that have done a stellar job in maintaining the themes and style of their source material – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is impenetrable and muddy, The Time Traveller’s Wife is bland and queasy, Touching The Void is gripping yet informative – whereas others have differed greatly from where they began – There Will Be Blood covers only a fraction of Upton Sinclair’s Oil!. I think I’ll settle upon Fight Club as my official honourable mention, and it remains the book I’ve read the fastest – in one sitting at that – and quite possibly in the same amount of time as it would have taken to watch the film. It is a rather slim book, you see, but well worth a read if you’re even a passing appreciator of the film.
10. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire HP4-TRL2-0026Although I don’t talk about it much, I’m something of a fan of the Harry Potter series. I’ve not only read but own the entire series of books – in fact we have two copies in our flat as my girlfriend was an avid reader too, and our first date was peppered with Potter talk – and I could have been found queuing outside the store on the day of the final book’s release, although in my defense that was unintentional, as I had the opening hours wrong by half an hour, and am generally an early riser anyway. The books are better than their teen fandom may lead you to believe, and the films are almost as good. When asked to pick a favourite, I generally opt for book number four, The Goblet of Fire, because of the series I find it has the most balanced blend of action – the Quidditch World Cup, The TriWizard Tournament – with the ever-increasing darkness that slowly seems to engulf every ongoing franchise. Also, there’s dragons – four of them! – as well as mermaids, and the introduction to the series of Brendan Gleeson’s irascible Mad-Eye Moody, one of my favourite characters, and Fleur Delacour (Clemence Poesy), who is just lovely.

9. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
hitchhike9Douglas Adams’ five-part science fiction comedy trilogy is my favourite book of all time, and one day I hope to retrieve my copy from the guy I lent it to six years ago. The fact that my favourite book has led to a 9th position on this list should say something to how disappointed I was with the film, which did little right other than casting Martin Freeman as unwilling hero and last man alive Arthur Dent. Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox was also an inspired choise, and I don’t even mind Zooey Deschanel as Dent’s dream girl Trillian. Mos Def as Ford Prefect, however, is something the film never recovers from. The film also suffers from a confused script, trying to cram too much into too little time, and an ending that never satisfies. So if I dislike it so much, why is it on the list? Well, however poorly adapted it may have been, it still features enough of Adams’ ideas to keep it entertaining and amusing. Also, Alan Rickman is a delight as the eternally depressed Marvin the paranoid android, and Bill Bailey voicing the running stream of consciousness for the sperm whale that pops into existence for a very brief – and highly unlikely – fall is just wonderful.

8. The Mist
the-mist-face-offThe Mist is so far the only Stephen King book I’ve read, and if it hadn’t come free with my DVD of Frank Darabont’s film (his third adaptation of a King work) then chances are I wouldn’t have read it. I’m not all that glad that I did though, as the novella isn’t terribly good. The film also has its detractors, but I’m a fan of this kind of story – a small group of everyday people fighting off an unknown force – and enjoyed the direction taken with it, adding a threat from within the group as well as dealing with the origin of the attack. The film gets a lot of praise for its gut-punch ending – a new addition to the film not scene in the more open-ended book – but personally I think there is far more going for the film than just the conclusion.

7. Watchmen
FILM Reviews 2Yep, I’m classing graphic novels as books, which is good because there’s another one yet to come on this list. I discussed Watchmen recently on my Top 10 Superheroes list – twice in fact – so I won’t go into too much detail here. Suffice to say, Alan Moore’s graphic novel was one I read upon hearing the basic premise for the then-upcoming Watchmen film. The book was great, from the artistic style to the directions the plot took, and I’d argue that Zack Snyder’s effects-heavy film was even better, although it helped if you’d read the source material, as there was an awful lot to take in if you hadn’t.

6. Into the Wild
into the wild PDVD_030It’s strange to think that there’s a film out there featuring Zach Galifianakis, Vince Vaughn and Kristen Stewart, and that I not only tolerate it, but love it. Jon Krakauer’s documentation of the true life story of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch), a promising law graduate with a bright future ahead of him who burns or gives away all his worldly possessions to go and live in the wilderness, is a great read and a great watch. I hate to use the phrase, but it really is an emotional rollercoaster of a film, featuring some outstanding performances, particularly from Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt as Christopher’s buttoned up parents who have difficulty accepting or understanding his decision.

5. High Fidelity
High_fidelityI’m not really a huge music buff, so when I watch Stephen Frears’ adaptation of Nick Hornby’s story of a recently single record store owner and his eccentric employees (John Cusack, Jack Black and Todd Louiso) I pretend they work at a DVD store instead, something far more relatable. The book is great – I found it for 50p in a charity shop – it just would have hit far harder home with me had it been based around movies instead of music, but I can see how some people go for that. What I can most definitely relate to is Cusack’s character, Rob, a man constantly looking for someone to blame for his dissatisfaction with life, and who fills his time by obsessively compiling lists and rearranging his music collection. Why, only last weekend I re-sorted my DVD collection for no real reason other than I hadn’t done it in a while. Not sure I could quite handle organising it autobiographically though.

4. Sin City
sin-city_77538Whilst I read Watchmen just before the film was released, I didn’t get to Sin City for some time after, when I discovered a comic-loving friend of mine owned the entire collection. I hastily borrowed the set from him and devoured it within a matter of weeks – for me that is a considerably short amount of time to read one book, let alone seven. The graphic style really appealed to me, and I love how practically every shot from the film is lifted directly from Frank Miller’s pages, but yet they’ve been expanded upon with the addition of colour, something otherwise missing from the monochrome novels. I’m tentative about the upcoming sequel in spite of some good casting choices – Eva Green, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Dennis Haysbert amongst others – because it’s a film that’s been in the works for an awfully long time, which is rarely a good thing these days. Still, if it’s even half as good as the first one I’ll love it.

3. No Country for Old Men
no-country-for-old-men-03My second favourite Cormac McCarthy book so far (The Road is better, though I hear the film is worse) has led to one of my favourite Coen Brothers films (top 5 at least). I’m a fan of the Coens, and it is usually their way with words that keeps me hooked, but here they had the majority mapped out for them by McCarthy, so instead they made sure the right people were hired to say those words. Josh Brolin I can take or leave, but Tommy Lee Jones is perfect as sheriff Ed Tom Bell, and Javier Bardem fully deserved that Oscar for his unforgettable portrayal of unstoppable killer Anton Chigurh. Add in Roger Deakins’ legendary cinematography and a great supporting cast – Woody Harrelson, Kelly MacDonald, Stephen Root – plus an ending I adore, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a film.

2. L.A. Confidential
la-confidential-19971L.A. Confidential is one of those books, like the aforementioned Oil!, where the film has only taken part of the story, but the part it’s chosen is great. The book includes diversions into a Disney-esque figure creating amusement parks, and his friendship with the father of ambitious yet underqualified detective Ed Exley (Guy Pearce in the film), but that entire storyline is omitted in favour of greater focus on the converging cases of Exley, brutish thug Bud White (Russell Crowe) and Hollywood schmoozer Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey). The story has a great mix of intrigue, classic detective story and, at times, modern cop thriller, and it features some great twists and performances from one of my favourite casts. Director Curtis Hanson hasn’t made anything close to this before or since – Wonder Boys is OK, 8 Mile forgettable and the less I say about In Her Shoes the better – so I think James Ellroy’s novel probably has a lot to do with the quality of this film.

1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
the-lord-of-the-rings-the-return-of-the-king_2Well this is a bit of an obvious one, isn’t it? Sorry about that, but let’s face it, it’s an obvious choice for a reason. The trilogy, plus The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, although I’m positive the other two Hobbit parts will make it as well, are the very definition of epic, both in terms of scale and length, and it is that last point that’s the only reason I don’t watch the films more often. Fitting a viewing in requires a great deal of foresight and planning, but is always worthwhile, especially if watching as a marathon (which I’ve now done I think four times, twice on my own). The film is full of pretty much every kind of scene you could want, bar robot ninja vampires fighting alien dinosaurs in space, and whilst there are certain bits I’d happily skip through – most of the singing, for example – the level of achievement on display is nothing short of phenomenal.

So did I leave anything out? Well how would you know, you don’t know what books I’ve read! Instead, why not recommend to me some other great adaptations, or even the original books that inspired films, or even those that haven’t.

23 thoughts on “Top 10 Films Adapted From Books (That I’ve Read)

  1. Nice list. I haven’t read the original works for most of these (ironically, I’ve read Hitchhiker’s Guide (numerous times) but have not seen the new film, only seen the eighties BBC miniseries which has horrible special effects, but I still kinda love it), but I wanted to add that GoF was the HP book that turned me into a rabid Potterhead. I read the dang thing in two days back in January of 2002; I couldn’t put it down. Until that point, the three previous HP books had been “nice” and “interesting.” GoF was… spectacular. And dark – holy crap, dark by comparison.

    LotR would also occupy the number one spot were I to make a list like this. How could it not. It’s just sublime.

    • I just couldn’t think of anything that even compared with Lord of the Rings, it almost wasn’t fair including it at all. GoF was the first book that really drew me in too, it has such a fun story, but yeah it’s so damn dark at the end.

      I keep meaning to watch the Hitchhiker’s TV show as I hear good (read: cult) things about it, I just haven’t gotten around to it. I wouldn’t overly recommend the film, especially if you’ve seen and loved other adaptations.

      • The 80’s series is actually a lot better than the film in my honest opinion, even if the budget was horrible, it held a sort of early-Red-Dwarf charm – and i did like that they reused the 80’s Marvin in the film (albeit in the background, not being Marvin).

        By the way, I love that High Fidelity made it onto your list, it’s one of my faves too, and one of the most true film adaptions to the book itself that i’ve seen. I think if i were to make a list (in true High Fidelity spirit) I would have definately included The Silence of the Lambs and A Scanner Darkly, and maybe even The Exorcist; but i share your aversion to Steven King so sadly The Shining wouldn’t fare too well…

      • Alas I’ve yet to read Silence of the Lambs, A Scanner Darkly, The Exorcist or The Shining, although I do like all of those films. Would you recommend the books?

        And if it’s anything like Red Dwarf, by the sounds of it I need to watch the Hitchhiker’s TV show!

    • Let’s see, I think it was in the 2nd year of college, so that would make it about 2004? Or was it during a break from uni? Ah who knows, all it means is that we need to do it again! And this time with the extended editions!

      • That, sir, is a crime I intend to rectify! Once Aisha and I have moved house (which will hopefully be soon) we shall have you over for some Rings-based marathons! Or shall we wait until all the extended Hobbitses are released, and do a 6 parter? With King Kong in for good measure!

  2. Seriously? Out of all the Potter films, you bring up Goblet of Fire? In terms of actual adaptation, Goblet of Fire is a disaster zone. While I actually dislike Prisoner of Azkaban more (as an adaptation), Goblet of Fire has easily the worst book-to-screen transition of the series. Except for the Graveyard scene, which is awesome.

    • I wanted to include the Potter series in here somewhere. I can’t count Order of the Phoenix or Half-Blood Prince because as films go I can’t remember a single second of either of them. Similarly, I feel Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets aren’t very good. Of the three (four) left, I prefer Goblet of Fire, because in my opinion it has the best story, decent effects, etc. Regardless of how well it was adapted, it’s the one that always springs to my mind as the film I enjoyed the most. Which would you have put on here?

      • It really depends on how you look at it. If you look at it PURELY on an adaptation level and what stayed truest to the books, the order would be… Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Deathly Hallows (combined), Half-Blood Prince, Order of the Phoenix, Prisoner of Azkaban, and Goblet of Fire.

        If you look at it cinematically, ignoring the books entirely and going in from that angle, the order would be… Order of the Phoenix, Deathly Hallows (combined), Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, Half-Blood Prince, Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets.

        But if you combine both and look at both factors of taking the presented material and bringing that to the screen not only faithfully to the source material but also which works best in a cinematic quality, I’d say the order is… Order of the Phoenix, Deathly Hallows (combined), Sorcerer’s Stone, Half-Blood Prince, Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, Chamber of Secrets.

        The problem with the first two is that they’re very faithful and magical, but almost to a fault. And most of the visuals don’t hold up. Prisoner of Azkaban looks visually stunning, but ignored the purpose of the book and thus becomes pointless. Goblet of Fire is an exciting story, but it either cuts out or changes everything (SO much was changed or cut, not to mention other characters like the other Champions become nearly non-existant. There’s too much focus on the Yule Ball. And don’t even get me started on angry, violent Dumbledore. The graveyard scene nearly makes up for a lot of it, though). Order of the Phoenix took the biggest, most meandering book and turned it into one of the tightest and most entertaining movies–its downfall is the one thing it needed to do (explain the prophecy) it totally failed at doing properly. I personally love Half-Blood Prince, though I’m in the minority. I love the look of it all, and the humor, but it does cut out a ton of the memories and make things a little less exciting for some people. And Deathly Hallows… damn near perfect adaptation, and it has a mix of everything (and no, the camping stuff does not bother me in the slightest).

        So I guess you could say if we ranked them in order of my favorite to least favorite, it would be… Deathly Hallows (complete), Half-Blood Prince, Order of the Phoenix, Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Goblet of Fire, Prisoner of Azkaban.

      • I really liked Deathly Hallows (combined) too, and wasn’t oo put off by the camping scenes. The first two books are definitely too faithful, but you could argue that they had to be because they didn’t know which bits would be relevant to later films, as the last ones hadn’t come out at that point. When the inevitable remake happens I’m sure that’ll be tightened up somewhat. Clearly I need to revisit some of these films, something which I’m sure I’ll get to one day. Thanks for the comment Nick, I appreciate all the time that went into it!

  3. Of your choices I’ve read the book and seen the movie for Goblet of Fire, Hitchiker’s Guide, Watchmen, Into the Wild, and Lord of the Rings. In every case I read the books long before I saw the movies. I agree with all but Goblet of Fire. My reactions to the books and their movie adaptations were almost polar opposites: the books I liked more were the films I liked less. You can read about that in more detail here:
    It’s the “Overall Thoughts” link that is most pertinent to this.

    As for what book/movie combos I would have that you did not, The Princess Bride would be number 1 on my list for sheer enjoyability. I had read the book mulitple times before there was ever a movie and I consider this movie to be my favorite from all the ones I have seen.

    The Hunt for Red October would be on my list. None of the other Clancy adapations would be, though. If you count TV mini-series then Roots would definitely be on my list. John Carter got shit on by the critics, but it was actually a pretty faithful and well-done adaptation of Burrough’s book A Princess of Mars. The biggest problem was that the movie didn’t explain things to the viewer and that was apparently a mistake. Since I had read the book I was able to follow all that was going on.

    I’m looking forward to and cringing about the upcoming Ender’s Game movie. I love the book and the fact that they cast a lead who is too old already gives me pause. Maybe it will be okay, though. I once had doubts about this Hugh Jackman guy playing Wolverine because he was a foot too tall for the role.

    • I haven’t read The Princess Bride, but if I had that would definitely be on here, love that film. The Hunt for Red October is a film I own but haven’t seen, and I’ve avoided John Carter so far because of all the negative buzz. I’ll get to it eventually, I’m sure. Ender’s Game is worrying me too. I recently read the book and really enjoyed it, but the casting choices are very concerning. We’ll just have to wait and see, I suppose.

  4. We just did a podcast list on this one. Jurassic Park was a general favorite as was Fight Club. I really want to start committing to reading one book a month because I honestly can’t remember the last book I sat down and read cover to cover. Any suggestions for a good jumping off point?

    • Dammit, I didn’t intentionally copy you, I promise! I haven’t got that far yet (just listened to #130, Top 10 of 2012), but I have been noting down some ideas I can use in the future… I need to read far more too, I used to read all the time but it’s tailed off recently and been replaced with films, which take far less time! As to recommendations, what kind of thing do you like to read? If your book tastes are similar to your film tastes then I’ll be at a bit of a loss, as I’m not big on horror stories. I love the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – I’ve yet to find someone who doesn’t like it – but it’s a quite random breed of humour, as is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. They’re also quite British, so not sure how well they’ll translate across the pond. Ender’s Game is a cool sci-fi book I just finished, World War Z is an awesome zombie survival book, Three Men on a Boat is an odd yet wonderful comedy from 1889 by Jerome K Jerome I picked up one day. I’m a little bit addicted to second hand bookshops at the moment, and we’re going on holiday to Wales this year to visit the second-hand book shop capital of the world, Hay-on-Wye. I’m so rock’n’roll.

      • Awesome!
        I do tend to lean towards horror and mystery literature. There’s so much out there to sift through though. My bf just finished reading Ender’s Game and Ready Player One. RPO sounded pretty dynamite but I might save it for later. I’ve also always heard great things about Hitchhiker’s Guide.

        Wales sounds great! We’re actually trying to put together our European vacation itinerary. Would love to go in 2014 but all we have down so far is where we want to go and a bunch of random travel ideas. We want to learn a few languages if we can because we totally, totally just have so much time on our hands to do so. haha

      • I’ll keep an eye out for RPO when I’m in Wales. If the UK is part of your European plans, you’re more than welcome to pop in for a cup of tea! We may even have a bigger house at that point with -gasp!- a spare room!

    • I don’t know if I’d recommend L.A. Confidential as a read, it works much better as a film once it’s been edited down, as the novel is fairly dense and has a much greater scope.

  5. Really good list this. Fully agree with LOTR being at the top. Have to say, I find Goblet of Fire to be one of the weaker Harry Potter films because of all the changes from the book (the weakest and the only one I don’t like is Chamber of Secrets, not even Jason Isaacs (hello) and Toby Jones (my favourite actor) could save it) and I personally think that Prisoner of Azkaban is the best. In regards to Hitchhikers, I really enjoy the film, simply for Martin Freeman being perfectly cast as Arthur Dent but my favourite adaptation will always be the Radio Show on Stage that the original radio cast did last year, along with Jon Culshaw as the Guide (and his cock-ups and impressions during the cock-ups were hilarious)

    • I really need to watch/listen to more Hitchhikers adaptations! As of about 12 hours ago LOTR would now be knocked off the top spot, as I ‘ve just finished reading Jurassic Park. But yeah, it’s a really solid trilogy (LOTR, not JP), and a faithful adaptation too.

  6. Pingback: To Kill A Mockingbird | Life Vs Film

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