Top 10: Literary Adaptations

A book being adapted into a feature film is a cinematic tradition that has been going on for ages (think of D.W. Griffith’s iconic adaptation of The Birth Of A Nation). While there are some who believe that these films are never successful and that they tarnish the reputation of a good novel, they must be doing something right, for not only are “adapted films” still existing in the realm of cinema today but they also make up Hollywood’s most profitable genre. With releases like The Hunger Games and, more recently, Cloud Atlas already hitting theaters this year, plus the upcoming releases of The Hobbit and Life of Pie, it seems that Hollywood isn’t straying from this literature-to-screen tradition anytime soon. In honor of Cloud Atlas’ release this past Friday, it seems only right to look back on the classic book to film adaptations and celebrate the great ones:

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10. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) While all of the Harry Potter films can be considered great book to film adaptations, the third installment is the one that, overall, does the most things right. Between the fantastic acting (the three leads particularly come to form in this installment, especially the feisty Emma Watson who memorably punches Draco Malfoy in the face) and the brilliant balance between the technical side of wizardry (the use of mind-bending time travel is more Christopher Nolan than J.K. Rowling) and the compelling and gripping storyline, The Prisoner of Azkaban is easily the most entertaining and captivating movie in the series. It also is the game-changing installment in the entire film series, for with director Alfonso Cuaron, the Harry Potter films turned from light and cheeky to dark and foreboding. Ultimately, this is the Harry Potter film that will capture you and make you want to stay along for the rest of this magical ride.

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9. The Prestige (2006) – From one of my favorite personal directors, Christopher Nolan, The Prestige follows the story of two magicians who turn a friendly competition into a deadly rivalry. Based on Christopher Priest’s 1995 novel of the same name, The Prestige delivers all of the stunning aspects we have come to expect from Christopher Nolan: incredible direction (the film is hypnotically moody with its airy shadows), fantastic acting (here by the vulnerable Christian Bale and the monstrously obsessive Hugh Jackman), and the twists and turns that challenge the audience to no end, especially the double-take ending that throws the entire film for a loop. Like mostly every Nolan film, though, the reward in the end is well worth the brain games throughout.

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8. Jurassic Park (1993) – While movies about animals usually have good and bad qualities, it makes sense that a film about dinosaurs being genetically brought back to life is pretty close to perfect. Jurassic Park, adapted from Michael Crichton’s novel, is one of the major sci-fi adventures everyone remembers from their childhood. While the interesting story (who doesn’t want to see dinosaurs brought back to life?) and solid acting from Sam Neil and Laura Dern were perfectly suitable, Jurassic Park will forever be famed for its groundbreaking special effects that gave the dinosaurs a life-like feel that was truly and utterly terrifying. Be it the jump-out-of-your-seat T-Rex car attack or the cringing Valociraptor kitchen escape, Park delivers a spectacle that will live on for many years to come (it will soon make its way back to theaters in 3D too)

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7. The Avengers (2012) – Although it is technically not based on a traditional novel, this film does loosely follow a storyline from the comic books so I’m counting it. While Nolan’s The Dark Knight is a masterful film, The Avengers is ultimately a comic book movie done completely right – it’s a literal comic book brought to slam-dunk life on the big screen. Between the amazing set pieces (the final invasion of NYC is a super-spectacle climax, one that Michael Bay could only dream of), the top notch acting from the top notch ensemble, and a script from Joss Whedon that not only delivers character development but self-referential humor as well, The Avengers set the scale high and delivered all of the suspense and superhero action that any comic book fan could ever want, plus schwarma too! Though The Dark Knight is arguably a better movie, when it comes to direct literary adaptations, nothing provides the entertaining thrill of a good comic book like The Avengers.

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6. Fight Club (1999) – I probably shouldn’t be talking about this film because it breaks the first and second rule of the club, but it’s honestly just too good to ignore. Adapted from the novel by Chuck Palahniuk, director David Fincher turned what could’ve been an un-filmable plot into a highly original motion picture that had never been seen or done before. Headlined by the sensational Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, Fight Club immediately establishes itself as one of the more influential dark comic dramas of the 90s from its very first scene, and once you start it’s impossible for the film not to take you along for it very enjoyable ride. Another big plus: the film wraps up almost perfectly and, personally, it has one of my favorite endings to a movie ever.

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5. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) – When thinking about fantastic fantasy-adventure books translated almost flawlessly to film, Lord of the Rings is a series that needs to be mentioned, if not praised. The Two Towers, in my opinion, is the best of the three, balancing mind blowing action (The Battle of Helms Deep is one of the most astonishing sequences ever captured on film) with storytelling full of heart. The inspiring acting and beautiful cinematography just adds to the experience, giving the audience enough to be fully satisfied while simultaneously excited for what was to come in the next installment.

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4. Silence of the Lambs (1991) – Silence of the Lambs is just one of those movies that sticks with you in the most gut-churningly menacing way. Adapted from the 1998 novel by Thomas Harris, Lambs stunned the world upon its release, garnering critical praise and becoming the third film to win all 5 of the Academy Awards’ most prestigious prizes: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, Best Actress (the stunning Jodi Foster), Best Actor (the nightmarish Anthony Hopkins in his legendary role as Hannibal Lector), and Best Picture. Rather than the traditional horror movies that offer chilling anticipation and a few jump scares, Lambs screwy psychology actually gets inside your head and spins you around in a terrifying cat-and-mouse game. If you’re ganna watch this one, good luck sleeping for the next couple of days!

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3. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) – When anyone thinks about Jack Nicholson’s career and all of the fantastic films he’s been in, there is no way One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest isn’t mentioned. While everyone in the film is great (from a young Danny DeVito to the tour-de-force Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched), Jack Nicholson steals the show as Randle McMurphy in what I believe to be his best performance of all time. In order to perform well, however, you need a script that shines, and this script, adapted rom Ken Kesey’s iconic 1962 novel, does exactly that, mixing humor and drama with a psychological gravitas that gives each individual moviegoer a cinematic experience that he/she will never, ever forget. Like Lambs (see above), Cuckoo’s Nest was the second film in history to receive all 5 of the Oscars’ biggest prizes and it’s so surprise why: this is one of the best films of all time.

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2. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – Never before watching The Shawshank Redemption did I believe that a film about the inside mechanisms of a jail could be so compelling and relatable, but low and behold I was wrong. On top of a compelling story lifted from Stephen King’s novella, The Shawshank Redemption delivers some of the best acting in a film to date from Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins, two veterans who capture the essence of friendship and trust as Andy Dufresne and Red, respectively. I swear, if you’re not cheering by the time Andy makes his ingenious getaway or at least tearing up during the film’s emotionally redemptive final scene, than you must not have a heart. There’s really no other way to put it other than saying The Shawshank Redemption is a true American classic, and, without a doubt, a very close second to the best adaptation of all time…

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1. The Godfather (1972) – The Godfather is pretty much the definition of perfection when it comes to American cinema. Adapted from the 1969 novel of the same name, Mario Puzo took his epic crime novel and turned it into a sprawling, multi-layered, and emotionally powerful crime/family drama, one that is flawless in every sense of the word. With Francis Ford Coppola’s stunning, noir-ish direction and the commanding performances from Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, every single scene in this nearly three-hour movie delivers exactly what it’s supposed to and brings the audience into a sense of cinematic shock while doing it. The Godfather, along with its equally brilliant second part, has set the bar at an unprecedented level, not only for book to film adaptations but also for American cinema as a whole as well. When it comes to the movies, it doesn’t get much better or more perfect than The Godfather, and I expect it will stay this way for decades to come.

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So there you have it – my top picks for favorite book to film adaptations, but I’m very curious to hear your opinions. Did you like my list or do you think it is horrible? What would you change if you could? Do you think Cloud Atlas deserves a spot? Sound off in the response section below.

Article by Nick Franco

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One thought on “Top 10: Literary Adaptations

  1. Pingback: Top 10: Worst Literary Adaptations « Reel Reactions

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