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The Top 12 Book-to-Movie Adaptions Ever Made
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The Top 12 Book-to-Movie Adaptions Ever Made

Picture of Sophia White
Updated: 1 November 2016
A common complaint among cinema audiences is that the film wasn’t as good as the book, and, to be fair, a lot of the time this may very well be the case. The two mediums are completely different, so many films do fail to convey the overall message of the book. Here are our choices of films that buck this trend and have skillfully adapted their source material for the screen.
American Psycho | © Lions Gate Films
American Psycho | © Lions Gate Films

American Psycho (2000)

This isn’t the first or the last film that has been adapted from a Bret Easton Ellis novel, but it is certainly the one that has been met with the greatest critical acclaim and overall cultural impact. Ellis’ writing lends itself to film, with the novel almost being able to be seen as an extended director’s note. American Psycho gives us one of Christian Bale‘s finest screen performances as Patrick Bateman, the high-flying investment banker whose hobbies include a number of psychopathic and psychosexual activities.

Blade Runner (1982)

Philip K. Dick‘s philosophical sci-fi novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? may not seem like the most obvious or easiest book to be given the big screen treatment, but thankfully Ridley Scott was up to the challenge and in the process changed the face and possibilities of the genre with Blade Runner. Harrison Ford is perfectly cast as Deckard, a bounty hunter, or expert ‘blade runner’ in pursuit of four androids who have returned to earth to find their creator. Hardcore fans can search out each of the seven different cuts to see just how differently the story can be retold.

Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961)

This classic film has garnered one of the most successful monetization campaigns of film posters and paraphernalia. However, the countless images of Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly that now adorn teenage girls’ walls shouldn’t detract from the genius of Truman Capote‘s work and its resulting screen adaptation. Golightly is Hepburn’s most memorable role, although it was originally envisaged for Marilyn Monroe. The film is set some 20 years later than the novella and caused some controversy for its decision to give Capote’s story a Hollywood ending.

Fight Club | © 20th Century Fox
Fight Club | © 20th Century Fox

Fight Club (1999)

It is probably not advisable to do as Edward Norton‘s character did and try to get over your insomnia and other psychological problems by taking part in an underground fight club, but, at the very least, it makes for a good story. Fight Club streamlines Chuck Pahlaniuk’s multifaceted narrative, but it is still raised to excellence by auteur David Fincher and accomplished performances by each of the leads. It is worth watching for the ending alone, which makes you want to re-watch the whole film immediately. We all know the first rule of fight club.

The Godfather | © Paramount Pictures
The Godfather | © Paramount Pictures

The Godfather Part I (1972)

Widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, The Godfather is one of the few films that has well and truly surpassed its literary source in pop culture consciousness. Mario Puzo‘s novel contains a number of story elements that were split over the first two films, but Puzo’s screenplay for Part 1 uses most of his novel in part 1; we just have to wait until Part 2 to see Vito’s history. An epic film with exemplary cinematography and acting, and some of the most memorable scenes in cinema history.

Gone With The Wind (1939)

The novel weighs in at over 1000 pages, so it is no surprise that Gone With The Wind has a running time just shy of four hours. With well crafted epics such as this, the time just flies by. At its center, it is a historical romance film that concentrates on the turbulent affairs of Scarlett O’Hara, the daughter of a Georgia plantation owner. It is set against a backdrop of the Civil War and Reconstruction Era and has been both praised and vilified for its depiction of African Americans. A historically significant work that is still cinema’s greatest box office success.

To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

Up until a week ago, To Kill A Mockingbird was Harper Lee‘s only novel-length contribution to the literary world, so her surprising new addition may bring the attention back to her début work. Bringing a story about tense race relations in the deep South in the early 20th century as well as themes of isolation, family and morality to the big screen is quite the task. While a number of the subplots involving Jem and Scout were cut in order to focus on the trial, and to give Gregory Peck the showcase that he deserved, To Kill A Mockingbird still succeeds in being one of the finest stories put to celluloid.

The Maltese Falcon | © Warner Bros
The Maltese Falcon | © Warner Bros

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Dashiell Hammett’s detective novel was originally published in a serialized form in Black Mask magazine, so, today, executives may have been more inclined to produce it as a TV series. Luckily, the 1940s film was the primary visual oeuvre, and The Maltese Falcon enlisted some of the eras finest stars in Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor to bring film noir to the big screen in a major way for the first time. A stylish and explosive story that reinvented a genre.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Mental health is a difficult topic to address in either literature or on screen, but One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest addresses this and the issues surrounding institutionalization engagingly on both the page and the screen. The book has appeared on a number of best novels lists in the past century, but the movie flew past its novels accolades by becoming only the second film to take home the big five Oscars. While it is less harsh in some respects, such as in its treatment of Nurse Ratched, than the book, it still gives a thought-provoking account of the mental health system.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

There are so many fine Stephen King stories that have been given a new life on the screen and a large number of them could have appeared on this list. The Shawshank Redemption, adapted from King’s novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, follows Tim Robbins‘ Andy Dufresne as he is wrongfully incarcerated for murder. A number of scenes are quite harrowing, but the contrast between the claustrophobia of the prison and the passages of freedom make it an ultimately uplifting film by the end. It may have disappointed in the box office but its enduring acclaim is the real testament to the power of the film.

The Silence Of The Lambs | © Orion Pictures
The Silence Of The Lambs | © Orion Pictures

The Silence Of The Lambs (1988)

While all three of Thomas HarrisHannibal trilogy got a big screen adaptation, it is The Silence Of The Lambs that is the standout film, gaining both a cult following and widespread critical acclaim. The chemistry between Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins is electric, and their performances earned both actors Academy Awards, in addition to the Best Film, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay awards that the film took home. One of literature’s greatest villains brought expertly to the screen in one of cinema’s most taught thrillers.

Trainspotting | © Miramax Films
Trainspotting | © Miramax Films

Trainspotting (1996)

Cementing Danny Boyle‘s place as one of the finest British directors of all time, Trainspotting is a film that has gained a loyal, widespread following. From the aesthetic and dialog stylization to the soundtrack, it is one of the British films to have had the greatest cultural impact. Irvine Welsh’s story is really brought to life on screen, with Renton and his group of friends bringing realism to the Edinburgh drug scene, even in the particularly surreal sections. A contemplative masterwork.