The 5 Best Book To Film Adaptations

The 5 Best Book To Film Adaptations

In this post, we look at the best book to film adaptations.

Last time we looked at the 5 Worst Book To Film Adaptations, so it’s only right that we turn our attention today to the 5 Best. Before we begin though, we need to acknowledge that books and films are different mediums and what works in one may not work as well in the other.

And what constitutes ‘adaptation’ anyway? Sticking true to the text, or to the spirit of the book? How far can you change it up before the book has been abandoned?

Then there’s the problem of imagination. Everyone who reads the books first, imagines something different. My Mr Darcy, for example, looked quite different to Colin Firth, Matthew MacFadyen, and Laurence Olivier.

The 5 Best Book To Film Adaptations

So, with that in mind, here are 5 Of The Best Book To Film Adaptations.

Ninety-five percent of the time, the book is much longer than the film. Welcome to the mini-series, which is why you won’t find Pride And Prejudice on this list. Look out for another blog on 5 Of The Best Mini-Series based On A Book.

  1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I can’t remember which appeared first in my life – the book or the film. It doesn’t really matter in this case, as not only is the book one of the masterpieces of American literature, but the movie is one of the best films ever made. And there has only been one film version. Could anyone else but Gregory Peck play Atticus Finch?

How The Film Differed From The Book

The book is narrated by the young girl, Scout. As a film device this is can be very hit-and-miss. As the story is so important in this film, the film makers decided not to use narration but instead went for more subtle techniques to make sure it was being told from a child’s perspective. For example, the music. It was a basic score composed of single notes, no chords, or embellishments.

While the book is a coming-of-age story, it was, more importantly, a story about racial injustice. The coming-of-age aspect was handled in the film as it pertained to the trial. Without wanting to give away spoilers the ending is frighteningly powerful and still so relevant for today’s audience. The fact that it ‘makes people uncomfortable’ is one of the reasons why, in certain American states, the book is always high on the banned or to-be-banned books list.

  1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

After I first read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald as a teenager, I walked around in a daze for weeks. There have been 5 film versions; 1926, 1949, 1974, 2000, 2013. Unfortunately, the silent 1926 version has been lost. There is only a 1 min trailer to prove it ever existed.

It’s nigh on impossible to find a trailer of the iconic 1974 Robert Reford version that hasn’t been remastered with a modern song. Ditto the 2000 Toby Stevens version. But I did find the film in parts on YouTube. The most recent 2013 version is the Leonardo DiCaprio.

How The Film Differed From The Book

My personal preference is the 1974 version. Gatsby was far more controlled. You were never sure if he was a gangster or not. You sympathised with his feelings for Daisy, who came across as a drug addict in both the film and the book. His boasting to Nick Carroway seemed out of place, odd, not completely unbelievable. The 2013 version, however, was more focused on the wealthy, the glitz and glamour which seemed far too overdone, and Gatsby’s rage, which wasn’t in the book at all. His boasting made you lose all sympathy for him.

  1. The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring by JRR Tolkien

Seldom do films improve on the book on which they are based. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy is one of the few. No matter what you imagined when reading it, nothing could come close to Peter Jackson’s visual masterpiece, which also stayed true to the spirit of the book.

How The Film Differed From The Book

Although some of the dialogue was given a more modern twist much was lifted straight from the books. The characters as well, had minor tweaks but stepped almost directly off the pages and onto the screen, as did the books’ themes.

  1. Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

In this instance, the book is a script. It’s one of Shakespeare’s comedies and as such is an amusing, rollicking ride, albeit rather silly. It’s clear that Kenneth Branagh had a lot of fun making the film.

How The Film Differed From The Book

The only difference is the fact that Branagh took advantage of the fact he wasn’t confined to a stage. That’s it really.

He took an amazing cast who clearly had a ball, fabulous costumes, wonderful sets, shot the film in the Italian countryside, and with the ‘screenplay’ written by William Shakespeare how could he fail? Instead of trying to shoehorn the story into a modern setting, Branagh revelled in the romanticism of the text and the location giving the film a simple, enjoyable, timeless quality. At the same time, thanks to Shakespeare, a swathe of human frailties is explored in both the text and the film.

  1. Lord Of The Flies by William Golding

Another book that is often railed against by book banners, this novel is a depiction of how thin the shell of civilization can be sometimes. Published in 1954, ten years after the end of World War II, Golding wasn’t afraid to tackle deep adult themes in the book. How easy is it to follow the loudest, or angriest, or most self-centred voices into the us vs them maelstrom of hatred and violence when that voice gives us permission to be our worst selves? And how quickly can that happen?

Interestingly, in real life, a small group of boys were stranded on an island in 1965, and not rescued for 15 months. It turned out very differently.

How The Film Differed From The Book

There were two film versions. Peter Brook’s 1963 black and white version had non-professional child actors and is faithful to the book. Much of the dialogue is word-for-word from the book.

The 1990 version was directed by Harry Hook and starred, among others, Balthazar Getty was shot in colour. Its deviation from the book delivered a weaker version with a less potent message. Instead of the post-war world, this version was set in a contemporary world and included an adult presence on the island. Which seems more like helicopter parenting from the director.

The Last Word

As I mentioned at the start, the title of this blog is 5 Best Book To Film Adaptation. Five, dear reader. just five. It’s inevitable therefore that I will miss one, if not more, that would appear on the list if someone else were writing the blog. But that’s why we’ve provided a comments section. And we love to hear from our readers.

How do you define ‘adaptation’ and what film adaptations of books have you seen that were, in your opinion, the best book to film adaptations?

If you have always wanted to learn how to write a book, Writers Write is the perfect place to discover how to navigate the journey to getting your book down on paper.

Elaine Dodge

by Elaine Dodge. Elaine is the author of The Harcourts of Canada series and The Device HunterElaine trained as a graphic designer, then worked in design, advertising, and broadcast television. She now creates content, mostly in written form, for clients across the globe, but would much rather be drafting her books and short stories.

More Posts From Elaine

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  2. 5 How-To-Write Books That Have Impacted My Writing
  3. A Case Study For Deep Theme In Pride And Prejudice
  4. How To Create A Book Trailer
  5. From Original Story Idea To Book Trailer
  6. Plot Or Character – Which Comes First In A Romance Novel?
  7. 4 Great Fiction Books That Have Fictional Authors As Their Main Characters
  8. The Five Best Heroes And Heroines Of Romance Novels
  9. 3 Great Fiction Books That Have Real Authors As Their Main Characters
  10. 3 Great Books Set In Book Clubs

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Posted on: 23rd August 2023

15 thoughts on “The 5 Best Book To Film Adaptations”

  1. I seem to recall an Adult Scout doing bits of narration for the film version of “To Kill A Mockingbird”

  2. Heart of Darkness to Apocalypse Now definitely deserves a mention as an excellent adaptation.

    A great example of a film easily misunderstood as simply a “war movie”
    It encapsulated the dark brooding horror and descent into madness of the book, whilst fully grasping the cinematic potential and spectacle afforded by shifting the time and location from late 19th century colonial Congo to the expansion of America’s war in Vietnam to the jungles of Cambodia.

    The essence of the story was preserved, indeed it was presented in a way that meant many people who would not have picked up Konrad’s novel still got (and get) to experience it.

  3. My favorite book to movie adaptations include Atonement, Remains of the Day, Howard’s End, and Wuthering Heights. I agree with you on To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby.

  4. Smiley McGrouchpants

    I don’t even know what you’re talking about. Do you know Cormac McCarthy just died … ?? 🤔 *What do you even MEAN*?? I look at the title and I think it’s a no-brainer and I look at the article and it’s these five titles INSTEAD … I’m like, “Wha — which, HOE-now … ??” I don’t even know what you’re talking about. I truly *don’t*. 🥴 So.

  5. Although the LOTR films were superb, they were not nearly as faithful to the books as most people believe.

    First, they left out two critical chapters – “In the House of Tom Bombadil” and “The Scouring of the Shire.” Jackson claims he left out the former because it would have been “confusing” to audiences to meet a character over whom the Ring had no power (Bombadil does NOT disappear when he puts on the ring). True Tolkien aficionados felt it would have been important to introduce a GOOD character older than the Ring in such close proximity to the Shire, and having such a character to explain a little of the backstory of what was to come. Leaving this out was wrong.

    As for the latter, it is critical for two reasons. First, it is scenes of the Scouring of the Shire that Frodo sees in the Mirror of Galadriel, though he cannot make out who the figures are. It turns out they are Saruman and Wormtongue, and the four hobbits’ excision and ultimate defeat of them from the Shire is a critical coda to the trilogy. In this case, Jackson claims there simply was not enough time to film the sequence.

    And yet, there would have been, had Jackson not taken an appendix to the trilogy – the love story of Arwen and Aragorn – and inserted it into the main picture. This not only bogged down the picture, but was done – according to Jackson – primarily because there were not enough female characters in the story. This is not sufficient reason to add it, particular given the following.

    Finally, there were many smaller but important details that were wrong – some of which needn’t have been. Just one example: when the hobbits reach the Ford of Bruinen after the attack on Weathertop that leaves Frodo poisoned by a morgul blade, in the book it is not Arwen who taken him across (it is the elf Glorfindel), nor is it Arwen who summons the river to attack the Black Riders (as Gandalf himself says in the book, “It is Elrond’s river, and Elrond commands it.”) This is yet another reason why adding Arwen into the films was wrong.

    Jackson did a yeoman’s job on the films, and they richly deserve the praise they get. But as for whether they are among the best book to film adaptations, I would have to say no.

    One book to film adaptation that SHOULD be on your list is Philip Dick’s “A Scanner Darkly,” which was remarkably faithful to the book.

  6. Some runners up:
    Slaughterhouse Five, although I’m not sure how it plays if one has not read the book.
    The Maltese Falcon. Essentially a master class in adaptation. With Bogart.
    Get Shorty. Especially noteworthy given how Elmore Leonard’s work seems to generally defy adaptation.
    Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Considering the poor quality of the source material.

  7. “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Much Ado About Nothing” are definitely on my list. I would also include “Sense & Sensibility,” Remains of the Day”, “Howard’s End”, “The Color Purple”, “Nanny McPhee”, “Sophie’sChoice”, “The Devil Wears Prada”,”Titus”and “Jaws.”

  8. There are six film versions of “The Great Gatsby.” The author of this article left out “G”, director Christopher Scott Cherot’s uneven 2002 movie that retells the story with a predominantly Black cast, set in the world of contemporary hip-hop.

  9. GODFATHER and BOURNE IDENTITY. The former movie was faithful to an excellent novel. The latter took a typically convoluted Ludlum novel, lifted the spine of its plot and created a relatively streamlined screenplay and a nicely paced action movie.

  10. In adapting the book “To Kill a Mockingbird” into a film, how did the filmmakers approach the challenge of presenting the story from a child’s perspective without using narration? Could you provide examples of the techniques they used, such as the use of music, to achieve this goal?

  11. The score for To Kill a Mockingbird definitely has chords. Bernstein’s harmonic language in this score isn’t particularly complex but the harmonies are an integral part of the score’s childlike character.

  12. Solid list. I am a bit surprised that there is no Steinbeck selection. My personal favorite for book/movie is The Grapes of Wrath.

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