Ten book-to-movie adaptations that got it right

By Meghan McEniry Brosnan Apr 4, 2019

By: Meghan McEniry Brosnan

It’s always a blessing and a curse to see a great book on the big screen. Some remain faithful to the writer’s original ideas while some take the source material into previously unexplored territory, for better or for worse.

While most film adaptations can never compare to their paperback predecessors, a small handful of films have managed to leave audiences in awe and in some special instances, torn between the novel and the film.

With the release of the second adaption of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary (the original being King’s favourite adaptation of his work to date), here’s a list of 10 book-to-movie adaptations that got it right.

To Kill A Mockingbird

Harper Lee’s era-defining novel preaches compassion and tolerance in the face of violence and hatred, a message perfectly encapsulated by Robert Mulligan in his 1962 directorial. Gregory Peck is perfectly cast as the modern, heroic Atticus Finch as are the children Scout and Jem, the book’s protagonists.

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The impeccable Gregory Peck in Oscar-winning form as Atticus Finch.

The Silence of the Lambs

It goes without saying that The Silence of the Lambs is one of the greatest films ever made – it won the Big Five (best film, best director, best actor/actress and best adapted screenplay) at the 1992 Academy Awards – but it is also a distressingly, wonderful recreation of Thomas Harris’ novel Silence Of The Lambs with a career-defining performance by Jodie Foster as the determined FBI fledgling Clarice Starling.

Purists and hipsters may say Michael Mann’s Manhunter from 1986 is the more faithful-to-the-novel Harris adaptation (indeed, it was remade by Brett Ratner of all people in 2002 with Red Dragon) but you can’t argue with the movie the late, great Jonathan Demme blessed us with.

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Breakthrough: Silence Of The Lambs was the first horror film to win Best Picture

Gone With The Wind

With the novel weighing in at over 1000 pages, it should come as no surprise Gone With The Wind has a running time just shy of four hours. At its core, it is a historical romance film that concentrates on the life of Scarlett O’Hara, the daughter of a plantation owner.

Set against the backdrop of the Civil War and the Reconstruction Era, Gone With The Wind is a historically significant work that remains cinema’s greatest box office success adjusted for inflation – take that, Avatar!

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The Godfather

Widely regarded as one of the greatest gangster movies ever made, The Godfather is one of those rare instances where the film surpasses its literary source in pop culture consciousness. Mario Puzo’s tale of family and crime contains some story elements that were split between the first two films: Part 1 uses most of the novel while Part 2 focuses on Vito’s backstory. An epic film featuring a murderers row of talent and some of the most memorable moments in cinema history.

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Silver Linings Playbook

A well-handled, sympathetic adaptation – a fact that needs mention due to the book’s sensitive subject matter – it delights, surprises and entertains throughout. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence’s chemistry was so electric that the sparks led them straight to the Academy Awards, and Lawrence to take home Oscar gold.

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Schindler’s List

Originally named Schindler’s Ark, the book was on blockbuster icon Steven Spielberg’s radar as early as 1983.

But back then, the ET and Indiana Jones filmmaker felt too ill-equipped to tackle the tragedy of the Holocaust.

The project was initially set to be directed by Martin Scorcese and Steven Spielberg was set to direct The Last Temptation Of Christ.

One swap later, Speilberg finally got his Oscar with a devastating tribute to survivors that continues to rattle audiences to the core.

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople

In 2016, Taika Waititi took Barry Crump’s Wild Pork and Watercress and turned it into a light-hearted comedy inspired by the works of Wes Anderson. The adventures and mishaps of the charmingly odd couple, Ricky and his foster father Hec are perfectly portrayed onscreen by newcomer Julian Dennison and the always charming Sam Neill.

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A treat of a film – Hunt For The Wilderpeople is the most successful film in New Zealand box office history!


Stand By Me

Based on Stephen King’s 1982 novella, The Body, Stand By Me tells the story of four boys in a small Oregon town who go on a hike only to find the dead body of another young boy. While it may not be your average coming-of-age story, the universal themes of childhood and loss are just as well covered on screen as they are on the page with fantastic performances by the four leads, including Corey Feldman and River Pheonix.

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Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility was Jane Austen’s first published novel: a shamelessly romantic story with a dash of social criticism. Ang Lee’s adaptation manages to remain faithful to early 19th-century tradition, despite its many Hollywood clichés. Emma Thompson penned the glorious screenplay, won an Oscar for her troubles, and launched Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant into the statrosphere.

For Austen scholars, the consensus agrees this is the best Austen adaption ever put to screen.

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Director Ang Lee on set of the movie, years before he played The Hulk via motion capture

The Shining

Stephen King may not have been too impressed with Stanley Kubrick’s decision to deter from the source material, but that doesn’t take away from the sheer brilliance of this chilling film. Is it a faithful adaptation of the book? That’s for you to decide.

Stephen King himself is quoted as saying “The Shining is like sitting inside a big, beautiful Cadillac with no engine inside it.”

But as an iconic piece of cinema, it’s a mesmerizing must-see.

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