Do you know how many movies are based on books? A lot. Classics from the early days of the film industry like Tarzan of the Apes (1918) based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel of the same name—or the more modern Jurassic Park that Steven Spielberg adapted from Michael Crichton’s novel. Then of course, there are the recent film adaptations of classic literature—y’know the kind we read in high school—such as Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby and Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. There is also the trend of turning book series into television shows, as HBO did with Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City. Given the sheer number of books adapted to the screen, at least a few of them are bound to good, right?
Since I’ve already listed the adaptations I’d love to forget exist, I think it’s time to talk about the film and TV based on books that I just can’t get enough of. Out of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of movies and series inspired by literature, I decided to list my top five. To be clear though, this list only includes movies/television based on books I’ve read, which made the pool of possibilities woefully small. This list was much harder to create, but then, I think the entertainment industry is still perfecting the art of adapting books for the screen. For now, here are my favorite book-to-film adaptations.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
If you thought we could get through this list without at least one book from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, you thought wrong. Sure some of the movies weren’t so great—Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, Half-Blood Prince—but Order of the Phoenix was my favorite out of the book series, and the film series. Harry’s fifth year at Hogwarts is by far his most angst-filled and that became slightly annoying in the book (no one will ever understand the boy who lived, we get it.) Instead of Harry’s angst, the movie focuses on the darkness that hangs in the air as the teenaged wizard tries to convince everyone that their worst fears are coming true: Voldemort is back. Although some stuff gets lost in translation (Quidditch, and one of my favorite parts of the whole book: when George beats the crap out of Malfoy on the Quidditch pitch,) I think this movie is the best adaptation of any of the Harry Potter books.
The Bridge to Terabithia
I remember reading Katherine Patterson’s The Bridge to Terabithia when I was twelve years old, when I could still play outside in the ditch next to my house, which I imagined was the crossing point into Terabithia. My childhood, thankfully, lacked the tragedy that befalls Jesse and Leslie, but Terabitha still had an impact on me. It’s the book I can credit with inspiring me to become a writer. So I was hesitant when the movie came out. Not only had I grown out of imagining I could leap into my own Terabithia (I was 17,) but I hadn’t read the book in years. However 2007’s The Bridge to Terabithia surprised me, it captured my imagination just as much as the book had. I also found that I could understand and relate to more of what was going on in Jesse’s life outside his imaginary world. I still haven’t re-read the book, but I love watching the movie version. Plus, young Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb are so adorable.
I read Louis Sachar’s Holes when I was young, long before it became a movie. Andrew Davis’s adaptation of the young adult novel is by far one of the best adaptations I’ve ever seen because it stays true to the story and improves upon it. Also, unlike the musical numbers in Ella Enchanted, the song written for the cast of Holes, “Dig It“ works a lot more because it’s a music video separate to the movie itself. On top of that, the casting choices for this movie were fantastic. Shia LeBeouf, Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, and the rest of the cast all portrayed their characters amazingly. Holes took a great book and made it into a great movie, which is something not very many adaptations can do.
Perks of Being a Wallflower
Stephen Chbosky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower seemed like mandatory reading in high school; you didn’t know anything about being an outsider until you’d read Perks. But I wasn’t a huge fan of the book. It was good, sure, but I always got stuck wondering to who Charlie was writing, which is totally not the point. However, while the Perks movie didn’t eliminate the letters Charlie writes, the story isn’t told through them. Because I wasn’t distracting myself with the mystery of the letter receiver’s identity I actually paid attention to the characters. I fell in love with Charlie, Sam, and especially Patrick. Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller bring to life these characters that so many people had fallen in love with through Cbosky’s novel. I think Cbosky’s hand in the movie—as a writer, producer, and director—has a lot to do with why this adaptation is so fantastic. Nobody knows the book quite so well as the author.
Game of Thrones
George R. R. Martin’s book series A Song of Ice and Fire starts with Game of Thrones, released in 1996. This is the only book on the list that I read after I had already seen the adaptation. HBO’s Game of Thrones premiered in April of 2011 but I didn’t get into it until that summer when I watched all ten episodes in one day. The second season was even better and once I finished, I decided I was going to read the book series through to the third installment before the third season premiered. Although I finished A Storm of Swords two weeks late, I had certainly fallen in love with ASOIAF as much as the television series. It’s hard to pick whether I like the books or the show more. The characters are even more amazing in the books, but the television series brings all the stunning landscapes of Westeros to life. I also love that the HBO series doesn’t stay completely true to the books but the changes that they make are great. In season two, I loved watching Arya Stark play a cupbearer for Tywin Lannister, and this season I’m really enjoying the friendship between Sansa Stark and Shae. The show changes enough from the books to stay interesting, but is still true to the original story written by Martin.
Do you agree with some of the adaptation’s I’ve listed here? Or have a missed some? Again, I’d like to stress that there are a whole slew of great movies based on books left out from this post simply because I haven’t read them. Are there any you’d suggest? Should I read Peter Benchley’s Jaws? Let me know in the comments.
With good and bad book-to-film adaptations out of the way, next I’ll talk about the movies inspired by books coming out in the next few years that I am most excited about.