Best Book To Movie Adaptations

Have We Missed Any?
How many times have you loved reading a book, looked forward to the film version and then urrgghhhhh: utter disappointment when you watch the movie? The story has been changed, the cast seems all wrong and the whole tone and feel of the novel has been lost.

Then there are those movies that not only honour the book and everything you imagined in your head, they elevate the experience of the novel in a whole new way – with faithful storytelling, perfect casting, stunning images, music and special effects. We’ve made a list of some of our favourite book to film adaptations...


Emma Donoghue’s international bestseller presented challenges for any filmmaker wanting to adapt it for the screen because the novel is told from the perspective of a 5 year old boy. So it is a triumph that the movie version of Room, while removing the narrative voice of young Jack, still upholds the innocence in which the book is so eloquently communicated. Room is authentic, true and worthy of the praise it has received, including the Oscar awarded to Brie Larson for her role as Joy. 


When you are the best-selling book series in history and beloved by millions of children, teens and adults, any film adaptation is going to be a challenge.  Steve Kloves, the screenwriter for all but the fifth Harry Potter film, had to be pretty nervous. Fortunately he nailed it. The film franchise is the most successful to date, grossing $7 billion worldwide.

Mathew Quick’s acclaimed debut novel could have translated badly into film had it not been for the sympathetically handled adaptation by director David O’Russell.  Mental illness was treated so adeptly that Silver Linings Playbook managed to be both entertaining and provocative. Jennifer Lawrence deservedly won an Oscar for her performance. Critics argued Bradley Cooper was unfairly overlooked for the Best Actor gong.

Margaret Mitchell’s novel was an epic tale, over 1000 pages in length, so any film adaptation ran the risk of being too long and boring for audiences. The film was long all right – almost 4 hours – but it was so faithful to the book and incredibly well produced, it captivated audiences and remains (inflation adjusted) the highest grossing film in history. It won 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. This latter Oscar was ground breaking because Hattie Johnson was the first Afro-American to be nominated – and win an Academy Award. 

Loving a book so much can sound the death knell for the movie version but when the author also writes the screenplay, readers can breathe a sigh of relief. For Jojo Moyes, it meant she could translate her poignant story of loss and love truly and deeply. Moyes not only wrote the screenplay of Me Before You, but was involved in the casting process too: ”Emilia [Clarke – Game of Thrones] came in and it was like Louisa had just jumped straight out of my head and into an audition tape“.

It can be difficult adapting funny books into funny films but like Renee Zellweger, we’d like to put our weight behind Bridget Jones’ Diary. She famously put on 13 kilos and a rather good English accent for the role of the thirty-something Londoner. Eyes rolled when American Zellweger was cast in the lead but she took up the mantle of perennially unlucky-in-love Bridget with aplomb and fans of the book embraced her and the film. It grossed over $280 million at the box office.

Here’s an adaptation many believe was better than the book. It’s a big call but in many readers’ eyes, Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy brought J.R.R. Tolkien’s book to life better than they imagined when reading it. Groundbreaking in scale, production design and visual effects, The Lord of the Rings movies were in the hands of a great storyteller whose interpretation of Middle Earth was inspired. Trilogies are a challenge for directors whose task is to keep the energy and interest alive across all 3 movies. Jackson’s skill and vision were acknowledged and rewarded with The Return of the King winning a record-tying 11 Oscars including Best Picture. 

Despite a sizeable proportion of the male population cursing Nicholas Sparks for his romantic drama, the film adaptation of his first novel The Notebook became a global sensation. The New York Times bestseller had struck a chord with thousands of readers but it was the film version of the book that made Nicholas Sparks a household name.  Today The Notebook enjoys a cult following and is often the love story by which all 21st century romantic dramas are measured.

When Australian author Thomas Keneally penned “Schindler’s Ark”, he could never have anticipated that director Steven Spielberg would one day credit the book with changing his life. The book changed Thomas Keneally’s life too. Based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a Nazi Party member who saved 1200 Jews from concentration camps, it was adapted for film in 1993 with Jewish director Spielberg at the helm. At the time, it was Spielberg’s riskiest and most personal film. It won him his first Academy Award and was acclaimed for its haunting and quietly devastating portrayal of the Holocaust.

Honourable mentions:
To Kill a Mockingbird, Jaws, Dr Zhivago, The Kite Runner, Wuthering Heights, The Wizard of Oz, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas,  Like Water for Chocolate, The Shining, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

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