Before I get started, let me just say that I’m not one of those people who thinks that the book is always superior to the movie. Nor am I someone who has to read the book before I see the movie. Maybe when I was younger did I think that I needed to do that, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that it doesn’t make sense to compare one art form to another. They constructed and consumed differently. It’s literally like comparing apples to oranges.
I think there are many cases throughout modern history that show an amazing movie or TV show can emerge from a mediocre book. It’s just as likely that an amazing movie or show can come out of an amazing book, while making significant changes to the source material.
Ready Player One was a book I loved and was able to binge-read overnight after starting it early one evening. While I was reading it, I felt I could see it play as an epic mini-series in my head. After all, the protagonist undergoes several major changes throughout the book. It would’ve been a dream part for a young actor to play. I could envision places where the story could end between episodes. When I found out it was going to be a movie, I was hopeful but my expectations were not high.
By managing my expectations, I was able to enjoy the movie. I was pleasantly surprised by the plot changes, which I recognized were necessary for the constraint of a movie’s conventional screen time. There were some amazing changes that helped the movie shine on its own; I’m thinking specifically of the ode to The Shining and how the one-who-got-away arc was portrayed!
Some of the books I’ve listed below I have not yet read, but I included them and their adaptations purely on my love of the screen versions! So while I cannot speak to the source material, I can say that I would be willing to check them out in book form should the right occasion ever present itself. So I guess the books are listed based on the virtues on their adaptations!
The Hunger Games
I read this book in college after watching the first movie. I wasn’t fond of the first-person present POV and felt the movie did an amazing job bringing Katniss and The Hunger Games alive in a way that made me care and feel for the oppressed people of this dystopian world in a way I’ve not felt since these movies. I was not compelled to keep reading the books, but I did keep watching the movies!
Last year was a great year for mini-series adaptations based on books for cable network television. Showtime brought us Patrick Melrose (2018), the semi-autobiographical story of an upper middle class British man who was abused as child and grew up to become a self-destructive man. Almost every episode was set in a different decade, checking in on Patrick as he came into adulthood and struggled with his past and, ultimately, his parents’ death. It was so moving, I almost wanted to read the books. Ultimately, however, these kinds of books are not what I’m ordinarily drawn to.
The other amazing mini-series that came out last summer was Sharp Objects (2018), based on the book by the author of Gone Girl. Amy Adams portrays a troubled journalist, similarly scarred by her childhood, who is summoned back to her hometown to cover the investigation into the disappearances of two young girls. It’s an amazing whodunnit mystery set in the South complicated by the small town’s secrecy and hidden prejudices. The soundtrack is also fantastic.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
The movie adaptation for this book came out a few years ago and was a great example of how to take a source material and make it your own. The director, or screenwriter (who was the author?!), made a lot of subtle changes to the story and characters, none of which took away from the characters but instead rounded them out a bit more. I found the book hysterical and the movie kept a lot of that humor intact, which was really satisfying as there is still a sad story at the core. I think the movie might have been a tad melodramatic towards the end. To me, the book and the movie are very different, but I love them equally.
I adored Keira Knightley and James McAvoy growing up, so I saw Atonement (2007) when it first came out, even though I might have been a tad too young for it. I followed the story and themes well enough, but I’ve really come to appreciate the true beauty of the film and its narrative devices as I’ve gotten older. All the actors in this film are brilliant. I’ve tried to read the book a few times over the years, and it hasn’t managed to hold my attention. I do think I may be ready to make another attempt soon!
Never Let Me Go
I can’t remember if I read the book before watching the movie, but I know that I knew about the movie before I knew of the book. It was one of my first forays into adult literary fiction and a book that defined my senior year of high school, strangely enough! I can’t remember how far the movie varied from the book, but the actors brought the Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy to life beautifully. And I think the movie stayed true to the ambivalence of the book regarding the dystopic vision of organ donation.
Interview with a Vampire
Okay, so this was an odd one to include on this list! I read the book when I went through an Anne Rice phase as a freshman/sophomore in high school. I had seen the movie in bits and pieces on TV growing up. I think we probably owned it on VHS. But having read the book, I think the movie is a great adaptation. The book is extremely mature, verging on erotica. Maybe it was supposed to be erotica. I don’t know! But I remember being really impressed by Rice’s writing style growing up. Anyway, the movie makes the story more palatable for a general audience and highlights the theme of eternal life’s loneliness from the book really well. The movie can stand alone on its own two feet!
I think I read an abridged version of Little Women when I was younger, and I think I found it relatively enjoyable as an adolescent. I think the source material is ripe for great adaptations, similar to Pride & Prejudice (which I did not include on this because it’s too obvious a choice!). Jo is a relatable protagonist for all the rebellious young girls no matter the time period! I loved the Little Women (1994) movie with Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder, and Christian Bale.
I tried reading the book a summer or two ago and struggled mainly because of how long and laborious the first chapter was, but I could recognize it was also beautifully written. It’s a bucket list item to read something of Stephen King’s and I’d like to read this book ahead of the next movie that is to come out. I often don’t feel compelled to read a book before the movie anymore, but I do want to be able to analyze the movie from the lens of the book.
From what I’ve read and heard, Andrés Muschietti’s films are great adaptations. All I know is that the first movie was beautiful and the teaser trailer recently released shows the next film will be as thrilling, if not more so, than the first.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
I think the first two page-to-screen adaptations of the Harry Potter series were wonderful, but I don’t feel like the director/screenwriters did much to heighten the experience of the world. The movies were magical because they captured it from the books, which is all you could really ask for. But I think Alfonso Cuarón did a beautiful job bringing the third book to life and adding his own personal flair and style to the experience. In case you didn’t know, he also directed The Little Princess (1995)!
Let me know what you think about any of my picks in the comments down below! I apologize for the lack of images or links in this post, but I almost didn’t post it. I came on a last minute trip to visit family and I didn’t find the time or will to finish this post beyond writing it. I think it’s time to try something new for the blog and for myself, but I’m still mulling things over. I want to be more regular, but I think it’s time call a spade a spade…