Musings

A Series of Adaptations: The best book-to-movies around*

So! I’m back for another stab at my series of adaptations. This is the list of the completely definitive best BOOK-TO-MOVIE adaptations of books around.

Just kidding! this is a completely subjective, not at all definitive list. These are simply the movies that I believe captured the spirit of the novels they came from – and in some cases, surpassed that spirit. There are obviously a ton of good book-to-movie adaptations in the world. But I can only talk about what I know, so even if I’ve seen a great movie I know was once a book, it’s not on this list. Only combos where I’ve read the book and seen the movie are included. Feel free (and please do!) to let me know if you agree or disagree in the comments. NOTE: This is just a list, not a ranking

10. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
-image from Google
-So the story this movie is based on is actually only 8 pages long. That gives a LOT of leeway for improvement/plot additives, etc. In reality, the only things that are the same about the story to the movie is the name and the fact that Walter daydreams. The movie made Walter younger, made him single, and gave the story a moral point. I think all of those changed worked really, really well. I saw this movie originally in theaters on New Year’s Eve, so the whole theme of getting the best out of your life and really living seemed apt. I really loved the journey Walter goes on throughout the movie. I loved the casting. Kristen Wig was fantastically not annoying (can you tell I’m not a huge fan?) and Sean Penn’s character was great. The backstory they created in the movie really fit well with the older Walter Mitty I read in the story. I felt like this could be his origin, in a way. This is a movie that truly embodies the spirit of the original while making its own path.

9. Chronicles of Narnia
-image from Google
– If you’ve been reading the blog regularly, you’ll know I’ve been less than ecstatic about the way CoN was written. Not having read the books in close to 15-17 years will do that, though! One of the reasons I really wanted to read the books again, however, was because of how much I loved the three movie adaptations of Lion, Caspian, and Dawn Treader (Books 2, 4, and 5). Watching Lion when it was released was magical for me. I thought the White Witch was played PERFECTLY by Cate Blanchett, and I thought the relationship between the Pevensie siblings was done really well.  Georgie Henley, really captured the youthful innocence of Lucy, and Anna Popplewell gave SO MUCH MORE LIFE to Susan than Lewis did in his books – most likely a sign of the times, but still! I really can’t speak enough about how much I loved Lion and Caspian (Ben Barnes as Caspian helped IMMENSELY, let’s not lie). Dawn Treader fell flat for me, much like the book itself did. Despite being a cross-world adventure, it just felt stunted. Lucy’s jealousy of Susan honestly seemed contrived to me in the movie – especially because I didn’t really see that side of her in the book, personally.

8. The Polar Express
-image from Google
The Polar Express is one of the greatest Christmas stories of all time. Literally. My mom read this book to me so many times when I was younger. And then, in 9th grade, my Spanish teacher read it to us again (in English) and just reminded me of what the magic was in the book. The movie came out not long after that. Another fab Tom Hanks performance, btw, in this movie. Dude rocks. Anyway, my family and I watch this movie each Christmas. While my dad’s creeped out by the animation style, we watch it because it really does allow us, even for a little while, to believe. That was the point of the book. To remember, even as you grow, that it’s okay to believe. The movie, in longer format, does the same.

7. Disney’s Alice in Wonderland (animated movie)

-image from Google

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was the first book I read this year. I really enjoyed it, and have documented my struggles on here to get through its companion, Through the Looking Glass. One of the main reasons I’ve wanted to read this book for so long, really, is this animated Disney movie. I was a little blonde girl growing up – although I liked school and reading in a way Alice doesn’t. I identified with her. Also, Dinah is adorable and the Cheshire cat is so cool. I have such vivid memories of the scene where Alice is small and the flowers are singing and wondering if she’s one of them. What I didn’t (and couldn’t, at the time) know was that this movie IS a combination of both stories, so it’s unfortunate that I haven’t gotten all of the contents from the book yet. Ultimately, this movie is on the list because it perfectly captured the haphazard, chaotic spirit of the story and gave me such a clear desire to read it when I was older.

6. Life of Pi

-So I’ve discussed Life of Pi on this blog before. That book was massively influential in my teen life, so when I finally saw the movie back in February, I was really nervous. Luckily, my fears were assuaged. Aside from the, at times comical, CGI and 3D aspects, I really felt that this movie tapped into and channeled properly the intensity of Pi’s journey. His young journey learning of different religions in India was informative, respectful, and clearly carefully thought out. There was no judgement, just what Pi chose to do. Once Pi was on his unintended journey, his fears, frustrations, reliefs were all incredibly detailed. The actor who played teen Pi, Suraj Sharma (which was his first major role, btw), was brilliant. I believed every word he said. When he has to deliver the crushing moral/existential blow to the insurance people at the hospital, I felt his devastation, his confusion, his anger. Also, Ang Lee did a brilliant job directing this – truly. The colors were vibrant, the shots were elegant. Honestly, this movie brought out the same emotions in me that the book did.

5. The Da Vinci Code/Angels & Demons

– I have also talked about how much I enjoy Dan Brown books. But if I’m being honest, I watched Tom Hanks bring Robert Langdon to life before I ever met him on the page. Tom Hanks was the perfect movie Robert Langdon, but he doesn’t exactly jive with the book’s description. Still, I’m okay with that. I like the Robert Langdon Tom Hanks gives us – less physically attractive, less conceited, more inquisitive and sympathetic. Before The Da Vinci Code movie, I’d never given much time to thrillers, really. I enjoyed mysteries, a lot, but I don’t know, there was always a disconnect. DVC really brought that out for me. I love symbols and signs and art and Paris and London so really, this movie had it all for me!Then Angels & Demons came out and I was like WHOA. While the A&D villain wasn’t enough for me in the movie… DVC’s Silas and Teacher eclipsed the book versions. Honestly, I feel so dirty saying that’s a possibility. Isn’t it a rule the book is always better? Well, oops. Rules are meant to be broken. I think Tom Hanks is a cooler Robert Langdon, and honestly, I think I liked DVC coming before A&D better! Overall, these two movies really enhanced the reading experience for me, which is why they deserve a spot.

4. Much Ado About Nothing (Kenneth Branaugh version)

-Let’s start out by stating the obvious: Kenneth Branaugh is a straight up Shakespeare genius. I might even venture to call him a Shakespeare God. But this movie, Much Ado About Nothing, in which he plays male lead Benedick… nothing compares. Shakespeare is difficult to read. For me, watching a play or movie really enhances my ability to understand the story. This MAAM movie was more than I ever could have expected. The whimsy, humor, intelligence of this movie, while derived from the source, is enhanced so incredibly by Branaugh’s directing and acting – as well as those who are acting around him, of course. It’s a brilliant cast. Just brilliant. Sigh no more. This movie’s existence means the world will be alright.

3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (both animated AND Jim Carrey)

-Another Christmas movie! Love Christmas, not a huge fan of winter. So glad we’re finally getting to spring. But who can deny the magic of the animated HTGSC? I don’t think anyone can, personally. That magic, so perfectly bottled up from the books and released in technicolor, gave an incredible life to that story. The way the Grinch smirks! I know you’re picturing it in your head now. It’s perfect. And then, the Jim Carrey version. Whether you’re a JC fan or not – I can’t argue with either viewpoint – he was brilliant as the grinch. He brought such a wonderful comedic edge to this movie. It made it simultaneously funnier for kids and more adult. I can’t get enough. It brings out all of the sinister energy of the book while also highlighting what a sympathetic character that green monster really is. You can’t have one movie without the other, I don’t think, because together they bring out all of the tones of the book to screen.

2. Romeo + Juliet (Baz/Leo version)

-Another Shakespeare adaptation. Sorry, I’m not sorry. This may seem like a strange choice, especially compared to the brilliance of Kenneth Branaugh, but give me a chance, okay? The best book-to-movie adaptations are ones that really enhance, highlight, and promote the spirit of the original sources. By modernizing the setting, but sticking with the dialogue, Lurhman completely reinvents Romeo and Juliet while keeping it the same. AND I LOVE IT. Whenever I see this movie, I want to read the play again – not because it sucked and I want to get the taste out of my mouth, but because I enjoyed it and want to remember why I love the story in the first place. And that’s what makes a good adaptation. Recreating that feeling of enjoyment and satisfaction. Leo DiCaprio and Clare Danes are perfection in their roles, as well. I know this is probably the adaptation that will get me the most crap, and I understand why it would, but I think when people write this off they’re making a mistake. I think this movie opens up Shakespeare to a world that wouldn’t necessarily have given old Billy a chance. And that matters.

1. Mockingjay Part 1

-Seeing this movie last November actually gave me the initial inspiration for this post. As it’s now late April… I don’t really know what to say about that. This movie created a lot of debate. Some people thought this movie was dull. To quote President Obama’s recent White House Correspondent Dinner speech… “Some people are so dumb.” This movie was AWESOME. Full disclosure: I’m not a huge fan of Mockingjay. I’ll probably develop an entire post as to why that is later in the year, but for now, just know I’m not a supporter. This movie takes ALL of the interesting things from the start of that books and flawlessly puts them on screen. The addition of Effie, instead of Fulvia (which I originally wrote as Flavia), was brilliant. In fact, it had been so long since I read the book I forgot Fulvia existed. Obviously, the movie has an edge in that it’s not all in Katniss’ head. They’re able to travel outward and see what’s going on. This is where the movie shined. Highlighting the different ways Katniss inspired the rebels was incredible. The tree and dam scenes were two of my favorites, as well as the scene in which “The Hanging Tree” is sung – that was literally beautiful. This movie, in my opinion, elevated its source material. It gave me reasons to care about this rebellion in a way that reading it through Katniss’ eyes didn’t. Can’t wait for the next movie in November!

So there we are! The totally definitive, not at all opinion-based list of 10 best book-to-movie adaptations! Oh wait… Now it’s your turn. Where do you think I went wrong in this list? Is there another book-to-movie adaptation you believe is a must-see? Let me know below!

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5 thoughts on “A Series of Adaptations: The best book-to-movies around*

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