When they’re done correctly, film and TV adaptations of books can be magical ✨ They bring the fictional world’s, characters and stories we fall in love with on page to life on the screen. For me, a good adaption isn’t necessarily one that follows the book exactly but one that remains true to the source material or provides a fresh, interesting and entertaining perspective. Adaptations have led me to great books or enabled me to connect with books I’ve already read in new ways. They provide opportunites for creators to reimagine stories and I love seeing the innovative ways that others present the stories of authors and the fresh insight that adaptations can bring to a book. So, in no particular order, here are my favourite book adaptations.
Harry Potter (2001-2011)
A predictable choice to start with but there’s no denying that the Harry Potter films are solid adaptations of the books. They bring Hogwarts to life and stay true to the magical world J.K Rowling created. The casting is top notch – Alan Rickman as Snape, Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid, Maggie Smith as McGonnagal and Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix are just outstanding – and the characters are (mostly) represented accurately and reflect the book characters. Although lots of details are cut, it has the important plot points and does justice to the overall story. These films are also stunning and visibly high quality productions. The sets and the cinematography is beautiful and it all comes together in a way that elevates the world beyond the books.
The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
Another predctable choice, but we might as well get this ones out of the way and save the surprises until later in the post 😂 The Lord of the Rings films are, in my opinion, THE BEST book adaptations I’ve ever seen. They’re very different from the books but they bring Middle Earth to life in such a vivid way. Tolkien was a master at world-building so it was a huge task to do his world justice, but these films do an inredible job. The setting is breathtaking, the attention to detail is staggering and Middle Earth feels other-worldly despite being filmed in real locations. Casting choices are fantastic – Ian McKellen IS Gandalf – and despite plot changes, the films convey the core of the story brillantly. They cut out the slower parts of the books and expand on the more interesting parts. The films also make appreciated changes such as giving more of an arc and depth to Aragorn and giving Arwen more of a role in the story. I do like the books, but personally, I think I will always love the films more for the way they take the world, characters and story but bring it to life in such a tangible, engaging and epic way.
The Shining (1980)
The Shining has got a lot of stick over the years for being an inaccurate adaptation of the books. Stephen King himself has spoken out against it for “not having heart” and whilst I agree that the film makes a lot of fundamental changes that separate it from the book, I think it’s a great film and I actually prefer it to the book. The book is a slow paced psychological horror with elements of the paranormal and supernatural but the film is punchier. It does remove and diminish core aspects of the story such as Jack’s alcoholism, his possession and the ending, but this is an adaption I like it for the ways that it’s different from the book. The book is ambigious and the film capitalises on that by taking inspiration from the source material but putting its own spin on it and the result is a highly entertaining film which is an icon and classic in horror cinema.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Jurassic Park is a sci-fi book which goes into great detail around the science of genetically recreating dinosaurs. It has a lot of technical, mathematical and scientific language and has social commentary around the ethics of scientific research, development and innovation in the same way classics like Frankenstein did. It’s a great book but the film is fantastic. It stays true to the book but shifts focus away from the characters and the specific details of the science and towards the dinosaurs and action. The characters in the film are more likeable and not as stereotypical as they are in the books. Overall, I like that the film prioritises entertainment value over science because the idea of creating a zoo of dinosaurs is so wild that all I really want to see is people losing their sh*t as the dinosaurs wreak havoc 😂
The Vampire Diaries (2009-2017)
The Vampire Diaries is the perfect example of how a great adaptation can be made from shoddy source material. I strongly dislike the books but love the TV show. Like The Shining, this is an adaptation that works so well because it’s so different from the books. In the books, the characters are unlikeable caricatures, it’s melodramtic in tone, there’s barely a plot and a complete lack substance. Although the show isn’t perfect, it takes the characters and world and crafts genuinely loveable, complex characters, an entertaining plot and a supernatural world with rich lore.
Flowers in the Attic (2014)
Is this a controversial choice? Probably, but I really like this adaptation (I also like Lifetime’s adaptions of Petals on the Wind and If There Be Thorns). It suffers from the same issues most Lifetime films do of having a low budget and some mediocre acting, but overall, this adaption captures the essence the book. Previous adaptations erased or glossed over the incest between Cathy and Christopher but this one acknowledges it. This is such a key part of the book, that I can’t get on-board with any adaptation that doesn’t include it. It portrays as much of the horror that the children suffer that it’s able to given its rating. Although I personally feel that any adaptation of Flowers in the Attic should categorically be a horror film with an 18 rating, this adaptation does what it can with what it has and does it well. I actually saw it before reading the book and it intruiged me so much that it compelled me to pick the books up, which shows me that this adaptation definitely has merit.
The Notebook (2004)
I really do love the book and the film for The Notebook. Rachel McAddams and Ryan Gosling’s chemistry is electric and they bring this couple’s love story, emotional intensity and passion to life beautifully. Due to the nature of the book and its simple plot, the film is generally a very accurate representation and doesn’t devitate too much from the book. The only real difference is that the book provides a more in-depth insight into Noah and Allie’s relationship in their later years. But as far as adaptations go there’s very little to find fault with.
Peter Pan (2003)
I’m not a big fan of Peter Pan in general, but even I have to admit that this is a solid adaptation and one I really enjoy. My issue with Peter Pan adaptations and the general perception of it in the public imagination is that it’s infantalised. This probably stems a lot from the Disney adaptation, but Peter Pan is not and never has been a whimsical fairytale for children, despite how it might seem on the surface. It’s is a very dark, twisted and psychologically complex story and this adaptation captures that. It’s an unsettling film to watch. I can’t necessarily explain why but watching this film makes me uncomfortable. It explores the complexity of Peter’s character and pushes the boundaries with the romantic and sexual undertones of Peter and Wendy’s relationship. On a more practical level, the casting in the film is strong and the setting feels like Neverland to me in a way no other film adaptation does. Most of all, I like this adaptation for setting the right tone, having high emotional stakes and presenting a complex, conflicted, morally grey Peter.
What are your favourite book adaptations? Let me know in the comments.
Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.