Film adaptations of books often get a bad reputation, but usually for good reason. There are some truly awful book-to-film adaptations out there, and they will no doubt continue to be made. Either because the director didn’t read the source material or the book just doesn’t have the right kind of plot to translate to the big screen, bad film versions of books are plentiful.
However, sometimes we forget that, occasionally, a film actually does a pretty great job of capturing a book’s story. It could be said that some films may have even surpassed the source material. Regardless, these films are rare gems that can make people rush to buy the book or make avid readers fall in love with the story all over again. Here are eight films that really hit the mark when trying to create an author’s work for the big screen.
To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962
To Kill a Mockingbird is the late Harper Lee’s classic novel, one of only two books she published – the other being a first draft turned sequel of To Kill a Mockingbird – and tells the tale of Scout and Jem, two children of the lawyer Atticus Finch, who defends a black man in court who is being accused of rape. The book deals with racial inequality, gender roles and class in the deep south. The book is studied to this day in many American classrooms with lessons revolving around tolerance and prejudice.
The 1962 film was well received and a hit at the box office. It won three Oscars: Best Actor for Gregory Peck – playing Atticus Finch –, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black and White and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. But the film was also nominated for five more. The author herself loved the film, calling it a work of art.
The Godfather, 1972
The Godfather is the story of a Mafia family in New York amid a mob war in the years after World War II. The author of The Godfather himself worked on the screenplay for the film, which no doubt assisted in assuring the film’s faithful portrayal of the book. Some backstories were altered, however, whereas some appeared in the sequel: The Godfather II.
The film was the highest-grossing of 1972, and the highest-grossing film ever made at the time. It received universal acclaim from critics and audiences alike, with particular praise going to the cast performance, the direction, the screenplay, the cinematography, the score and the portrayal of the Mafia. Today, the film is considered one of the greatest and most influential films ever made, especially in the gangster genre. At the Oscars, it received Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1975
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is set in an Oregon psychiatric hospital and serves as a study of institutional processes and the human mind. The author, Ken Kesey, was inspired by his stint as an orderly in a mental health facility in California, where he spoke to patients and voluntarily took psychoactive drugs as part of Project MKUltra – a project which performed experiments on human subjects to identify and develop drugs and procedures to use in interrogations.
The film was well-received and is also considered one of the greatest films ever made. It was the second ever film to win all five major Academy Awards – Best Picture, Actor in the Lead Role, Actress in a Lead Role, Director and Screenplay – and did not happen again until 1991 with Silence of the Lambs. The film has been preserved in the National Film Registry.
The Silence of the Lambs, 1991
The Silence of the Lambs is a psychological horror novel that introduces us to the cannibalistic serial killer Dr Hannibal Lecter. It tells the story of a young FBI trainee, Clarice Starling, given the task of drawing up the psychological profiles of serial killers, so she goes to meet Lecter. Her real intention, however, is to solicit Lecter to help her hunt for a serial killer known as “Buffalo Bill”, who skins his female victims.
The film became the fifth highest-grossing film of 1991 worldwide and became the third film to win the top five categories at the Academy Awards. It is also the only horror film to hold the Best Picture award, and just one of six horror films to have ever been nominated in this category. The American Film Institute voted Staling and Lecter one of the greatest film heroines and villains respectively.
Trainspotting, published in 1993, takes the form of a collection of short stories and revolves around the residents of Leith in Edinburgh who either use heroin, are friends of the group of heroin users or engage in destructive activities. The novel achieved cult status, aided by the film which came out not long after its publication.
The film follows this group of heroin addicts in an economically depressed area of Edinburgh and their journey through life. The film is ranked tenth by the British Film Institute in its list of Top 100 British films of the 20th century.
American Psycho, 2000
American Psycho is the story of a serial killer and Manhattan businessman; the novel is largely a critique of the vicious aspects of capitalism, with the characters being predominately concerned with material gain and superficial appearances.
The film version was received with generally positive reviews, particularly for Christian Bale’s performance as the lead, Patrick Bateman. The film has since gained a cult following in the years since its release.
The Devil Wears Prada, 2006
The Devil Wears Prada is a 2003 novel about a young woman hired to be a personal assistant to a head-strong and powerful fashion magazine editor. Her life soon turns into a nightmare as she struggles to cope in a world she does not understand and with her boss’s gruelling schedule and demands. The book was featured on the New York Times bestseller list.
The film was released just three years later starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway. The film was well received, with particular praise going to Streep for her performance, earning her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. It was the 12th highest-grossing film worldwide in 2006 and had one of the most expensive collections of costumes in film history due to all the designer brands used throughout.
No Country for Old Men, 2007
No Country for Old Men is a novel by Cormac McCarthy; the story follows an illegal drug deal gone awry in the Texas desert backcountry. It was originally written as a screenplay, and as a result, has a fairly simplistic writing style different from the author’s other novels.
The 2007 film is a cat and mouse thriller that explores the themes of fate, conscience and circumstance. In total, the film won 76 awards and received 109 nominations across multiple organisations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay. More critics included the film in their 2007 top ten lists than any other film and it is widely regarded as one of the best films of that decade.