Blog The Writing Process Best Book-to-Screen Adaptations

Best Book-to-Screen Adaptations

Kathy Edens

Kathy Edens

Copywriter, ghostwriter, and content strategy specialist

Published Jan 22, 2019


Almost as acrimonious as finding out someone’s political party affiliation directly opposes your own, discussing book-to-screen adaptations of your favorite novels can lead to contention. Because either they’re superb or they’re terrible. There is no in-between.

When you fall in love with a book and find out its movie will soon hit theaters, you’re beyond excited. Finally, you’ll get to see the characters and the setting and all the wonderful action happening on the big screen. To say you’re looking forward to the upcoming release is to understate your anticipation. You’re like a five-year-old waiting for Santa to visit. You won’t sleep until you see it.

God save those who aren’t faithful to the plot, characters, timeline, and every other aspect of your favorite book. Because if the movie makers change the details and screw with the image you have in your head, someone must pay. And heaven help those who change the ending. There couldn’t be a worse infringement.

Scores of articles cover book-to-screen adaptations. We scoured both sides of the coin. We looked at successful movies that did the books proud and those that aroused the ire and—dare we say—hate of readers around the world.

Here are our top ten book-to-screen adaptations that work. We'll cover the worst adaptations next time.

  1. The List
  2. Final Thoughts

The List

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee


Could anyone be more perfect for Atticus Finch than Gregory Peck? He epitomizes the wise and stalwart defender of racial justice we all adore. The movie is just as powerful as the novel. It leaves you with a faithful view of the story that Harper Lee tells, regardless of small changes from the book.

2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling


While some may argue that the rest of the series didn’t follow the books as faithfully as diehards would like, the first was fairly faithful. It seems like entire conversations were filmed verbatim from the novel. It gives you a wonderful view of the magical world of Hogwarts on the big screen.

3. Life of Pi by Yann Martel


A decidedly difficult book to translate to the screen, Life of Pi took most by surprise. How could you show the gravity of a boy stuck on a raft with a tiger and how the two co-existed? We thought it was pretty good and the experts agreed: the movie won Oscars for Best Director and Best Original Score.

4. The Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King


This movie didn’t do so hot at the box offices when it first came out, but over the years has generated an almost cult-like following. Now considered one of the greatest movies of all time, over two million people rated Shawshank a 9.3 stars out of 10 on IMDb. You can usually find The Shawshank Redemption on one streaming service or another.

5. Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally


The film titled Schindler’s List had both directing and acting star power, with Steven Spielberg as director and Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes in starring roles. An incredibly moving film, Schindler’s List is a little on the long side, but well worth the watch. IMDb has it rated 8.9 stars by over a million people.

6. The Godfather by Mario Puzo


Mario Puzo also wrote the screenplay for this film with Francis Ford Coppola, so maybe that’s why it’s such a great movie. It certainly also had something to do with the all-star cast playing the Corleone family. The movie, just like the book, creates the deep sense of family love, loyalty, and respect juxtaposed with bloodshed.

7. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien


Almost 1.5 million people rated The Lord of the Rings movies from 2001 to 2003 on the list of best films ever made. They got 8.8 stars out of 10 on IMDb. It would be hard to gain that level of devotion if the movies hadn’t followed Tolkien’s vision of Middle-Earth and those who inhabit it.

8. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk


No spoilers, but you need to read the book and then watch the film, if you haven’t already. This is one of the greatest adaptations from page to screen, and it’s one of the best films ever made. Its tagline says it all: "How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?"

9. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess


Thanks to Stanley Kubrick, the film was just as intense as the novella (except for the final, optimistic chapter). The film is a futuristic look at a sadistic gang leader going through a conduct-aversion experiment and was deservedly nominated for four Oscars. Not for the faint of heart.

10. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming


The very successful Bond series written by Fleming translates well to the big screen, the greatest of which was Casino Royale. This was the first Bond book published in 1953, and has been adapted for film three times, but the Daniel Craig version in 2006 is the one we love. It was the highest grossing Bond film of all time—until Skyfall.

Final Thoughts

The other side of the coin—the worst book-to-screen adaptations—can infuriate diehard book fans. You know what we’re talking about: Everyone’s seen at least one movie changed so much from the book it was almost unrecognizable. Few things can make a reader more angry than messing up the ending and yet filmmakers continue to slaughter good books.

The ones listed above, however, are worth the read—and the watch. Did your favorite make the list? Let us know in the comments.

Look for our picks of the worst book-to-screen adaptations coming next month.

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Kathy Edens

Kathy Edens

Copywriter, ghostwriter, and content strategy specialist

Kathy Edens is a blogger, a ghost writer, and content master who loves writing about anything and everything. Check out her books: The Novel-Writing Training Plan: 17 Steps to Get Your Ideas in Shape for the Marathon of Writing and Creating Legends: How to Craft Characters Readers Adore... or Despise.

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Enchanted April - The movie was almost better than the book. It demonstrated that the movie could keep the original work's integrity.
Cool! We'll have to check that one out.
I once heard a comedian talk about how everybody says the book is better than the movie. Then he said, "You know what I liked about the movie? No reading." I always thought that was funny.
Mystic River, Snow Falling on Cedars and Cider House Rules are all excellent book to movie offerings. .
Absolute best movie adaptation was The Reader. I try to avoid seeing movies before reading the book after the disaster they made when it came to adapting The Power of One. I really like the movie but it's so unlike the book that I all but consider them separate entities. The Reader broke my rule about not seeing the movie first which started after seeing The Power Of One in about year 8. When I came to read it I have to say it is the most faithful adaptation of a text I have ever seen. If you've seen the movie you have read the book. The only difference was the deletion of one tiny scene of about a page and a half from the book which was not overly important to the story as a whole. With regards to your comments above the thing that annoyed me in Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone movie was that the Sorting Hat didn't sing which would not have been difficult to do. At the opposite end of the spectrum I still want to do violent and exceptionally painful things to the director who changed the ending of My Sister's Keeper. The book blew me away with its unexpected twist at the end which had me trying not to cry, or more accurately bawl my eyes out in the chicken shop while waiting for lunch on my break from work.
This is definitely a great topic for debate. Thanks for adding your thoughts! :)

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