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Great Books Turned into Great Movies

  • Jun 22, 2010
Normally, I can barely stand to sit through movies that have been adapted from books, but there are a few that I find to be thrilling and interesting. There's been a recent upswing in the trend of turning books into movies (i.e. Harry Potter series, Twilight series, Push/Precious, Lovely Bones, The Blind Side, The Time Traveler's wife, etc.), and I wanted to look at a few that are less recent contributions but great ones.
Barnes and Noble books
The BBC version of this movie featuring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle is to die for. I watch it once a year (and it's 6 hours long!). Because it is so long, it retains a lot of the essential elements of the story to make it my favorite adaptation of this book.
The Lord of the Rings (novel)
I doubt few people would argue that Peter Jackson's version of Tolkien's novels are fantastic. While the books can sometimes become tedious with the belabored discussions of lineage etc., the movies almost completely avoid that tedium. Jackson brings the story to life in a way that does justice to the novels.
The Secret Garden
The 1990s production of this featuring Maggie Smith is awesome! It makes the translation from print to screen VERY well.
Jane Eyre
I know there's been a billion film adaptations of this novel, but the Robert Stevenson version with Orson Wells and Joan Fontaine is truly one of the best. Of course the work is torn to pieces, but the inherent story remains and the acting is incredible.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
The is an incredible film adaptation. Two thumbs way up for Kathy Bathes, Mary Stuart Masterson, and Mary-Louise Parker! I believe the original author Fannie Flagg helped in the adaptation from the story to screen, so that may account for it's success. The humor, the tragedy, the characters, all come together to create a wonderful story.

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June 25, 2010
I still need to sit down and watch all of Pride and Prejudice. One of these days. Nice list, though. :) I would definitely have "To Kill A Mockingbird" at the top of mine. Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch - nothing like it.
June 25, 2010
Awesome list! The 1990s Secret Garden was my favorite movie and one of my favorite books as a child. I watched it every time I had the flue. And BBC Colin Firth/Darcy...I'm glad you put it at number 1, that's where it belongs.
June 25, 2010
The only one out of the five that I haven't seen as a film adaptation is Jane Eyre. I should watch the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice again. It has been a while, but I do remember it being quite true to the novel, perhaps a bit more so than the Keira Knightley one from a few years ago.
June 24, 2010
You all are great! I guess I should chime in after what Kit said because I started to think more closely about WHY I really love these books/movies. These are five of my favorite because they're so true to the original text. I've seen plenty of movies that have been adapted from books--A Time to Kill, Emma, Wuthering Heights, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Eragon (kill me now!), The Namesake just to name a VERY few---the five listed here, I think, are great BOOKS as well as great MOVIES. But there are of course so many more book/movie combinations out there that I haven't seen. I'd love to hear recommendations :-)
June 28, 2010
Great explanation of your list, Gen!
June 24, 2010
I've only seen #5, but I didn't realized that it was based on a book, love that! One of my favorite movie scenes ever comes from that movie. The parking lot one ;P I'm usually weary of catching movies that were based on amazing books, but it sounds like I'll have to catch these. Thanks so much for sharing!
June 23, 2010
Yeah, I think the recent trend of books into movies is purely because screenplay writers are not creative anymore. They would rather borrow someone else's writing and adapt it to the big screen. I thought the first book "Twilight" was better as a film than the book. I also thought that way about "Memoirs of a Geisha." Great list idea, and thanks for sharing!
June 23, 2010
The whole "Turn a book into a movie," has been around forever.  They've been doing it long since before any of us were even born.  Most of out most cherished films were books or short stories before they were movies.  You have original stuff, but moves like Blade Runner, The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, almost anything Stanley Kubrick touched, Cape Fear (though the book went by a different name), Die Hard... even movies like Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the first Rambo movie were all based on books.  The difference: Particularly with Die Hard, Roger Rabbit and Rambo... was that screenwriters ignored the source material in favor of giving people the very movies we have now.  Who Framed Roger Rabbit was, I recall, a ridiculously dark book (ummm... Roger Rabbit dies at the end of that one). 

I think the major difference is that they now take more well known works and adapt them to the screen rather than not.  Most people, for example, don't even know that Die Hard, First Blood, Psycho and Who Framed Roger Rabbit... are all based on books.
June 24, 2010
I think these productions are often doomed to unfair criticism as well. They are either blamed for being unoriginal and lacking a separate non-literary voice or they are lambasted for not following a well loved story closely enough / with proper attention to details. Since when has the general movie watching audience craved creativity over formulaic drivel? It is very different for movie adaptations of the past because expectations were less concrete (given that movies were newer and viewed with more wonder) and because people continue to amplify their pretension & criticism of quality as time goes on. Every one is an 'expert' and don't we just love to see things go bad so we can leap on them with sharp words? I am talking about myself here, I am always spouting off about how something should have been done better. I recognize that films have a hard row to hoe in these challenging times. That being said, I also would like to note that a feature length film can NEVER come close to the kind of detail inclusion and audience intimacy of a novel. The middle ground is almost entirely visual and fleeting, while a novel is the property of imagination and enduring. No wonder it is so common to have a feeling of emptiness after the adapted experiences. Great list, Genessa and great thought-provoking all.
June 24, 2010
I agree with Sean's take. Something that is already a great story with a great following (ex. The Da Vinci Code) is easy pickings to make a successful film usually. When Hollywood is investing all those bucks and want results they will always go with a known quantity over the unknown. Many of the Classics of Science Fiction and Horror have done well (War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man) and it was a no-brainer to make the Harry Potter movies.
June 24, 2010
Great discussions, everyone! I do enjoy book to film adaptations, but I enjoy even more when Hollywood "wows" me with an original script. Personally, I agree with Christopher. I get more enjoyment from reading the novels than watching the adaptations. There have been a few adaptations that have surprised me, but most of the time I feel like they are let downs.
June 24, 2010
Oh, I so agree with you Kit. I'm certain I'm in the camp that flinches when I hear that a book that I've read is going to be turned into a movie because I'm concerned that they won't stay true to the original story. That certainly happened when I heard that Jumper by Steven Gould and The Dark is Rising(aka The Seeker: The Dark is Rising) by Susan Cooper were going to be made into movies. I'd read the former about two years prior to it's release and the latter about fifteen years before it's release. As a result, I haven't seen either of the movies. But I did see Dave Barry's Big Trouble after I found out that it had been made into a movie and I was fairly impressed. And I saw Pay it Forward a couple of years after its release because I thought it was foolish that I was avoiding it because they'd changed the racial background of one of the main characters (which btw plays HUGE role in the book), and I was pleasantly surprised. Maybe we ARE to harsh on these productions and we should take them more at face value.
June 28, 2010
Wow, didn't expect such a reaction on the way back.  But in truth, I've never been a big fan of comparing mediums.  When it comes to film adaptations of books, I don't think people ever take into consideration just how different the mediums are.  As I said before, many classic movies were adapted from books that, for the most part, people didn't know WERE books, which made it easier to adapt it and mold it for the film medium.  Nowadays people are too concerned with accuracy that they can't see the limitations that film has... that books actually don't.  The reason no one cared whether "Die Hard" was like the book was because no one actually read the book to begin with.

Nowadays Hollywood is adapting books you've actually heard of, and that makes people pay more attention to how accurate the movie is.  Not realizing that sometimes certain changes must be made for the sake of the film medium... and that you can't avoid cuts.  No matter what.  My favorite example for now is Youth in Revolt.  The book is over 500 pages in length.  It's over 200,000 words!  The movie was only given a length of 90 minutes.  You CAN'T fit that much of the novel into that time frame.  It's impossible.  So the reaction from audiences who read the book to complain there wasn't enough.  In order for Youth in Revolt to have actually been able to include so much... you'd have to settle for a six hour long movie.  Can YOU find an audience that'll sit in a dark, uncomfortable theater seat for six hours?  You can also really go into a characters thoughts, feelings and emotions in a book.  You can't exactly do that in a film.  You have to rely on facial expressions and a bit more exposition.  So sometimes even when the film doesn't get it all right... I sympathize and try to think about it from a film makers point of few.  When a movie adaptation of a book is bad... it would probably still be bad if you hadn't read the book, for example.
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Gen ()
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I recently graduated with a Master's degree in English. I love reading, writing and researching so much that I hope to make it my life's work! I've taught first year composition and have worked … more
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