The 15 Best Book-To-Movie Adaptations


by William Thomas |
Updated on

Books have been fodder for movies almost since the art of cinema began. And some tomes have made for truly wonderful trips to the cinema, the filmmakers facing the challenge of distilling what made the story great while tweaking elements to work on screen. The most successful of them manage to channel the spirit of the book, while truly transforming what makes it work to another medium.

Stephen King (find our Beginner's Guide to his books here) has provided a wealth of great stories that have been skillfully adapted, even if he didn't always love the results (and yes, that one is on our list, since it's a classic film). Meanwhile, Steven Spielberg has shown a real knack for turning beloved books into blockbusters that stick in the brain and stay on box office charts all at once. The two have yet to collaborate on screen, but the resulting film could very well break the internet. Elsewhere, the work of JRR Tolkien, Michael Crichton, Harper Lee and Philip K. Dick have all successfully made the transition.

If you're a huge fan of film adaptations, or you know one, you'll love our list of the tomes you should check out. It's fun to see what has changed, what has vanished on the trip between the two and where the filmmakers actually managed to improve on the source material (yes, it does happen).

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Best Book-To-Movie-Adaptations Of All Time

The Lord Of The Rings1 of 15

The Lord Of The Rings

Peter Jackson took what for many years had been considered one of the great unfilmable tomes (Ralph Bakshi tried in the 1970s, but the animated movie didn't spawn a sequel), and the result was one of the most successful trilogies of all time. So successful, in fact, that he then went on to tackle The Hobbit.Buy the books at Amazon Buythefilms at Amazon

Jaws2 of 15


Steven Spielberg brought Peter Benchley's book to life, scared us all away from the ocean for a while and largely invented the modern blockbuster with this shark tale.Buy the book at Amazon****Buy the movie at Amazon

Blade Runner3 of 15

Blade Runner

Philip K. Dick's sci-fi is full of big ideas and clinical plotting, but Ridley Scott managed to dig out the humanity from his tome Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep. The film may not have set the box office alight, but it's a cult classic.Buy the book at Amazon****Buy the movies at Amazon

Silence Of The Lambs4 of 15

The Silence Of The Lambs

Thomas Harris' continuing culinary adventures (sort of) of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, brought to chilling/charming life by Anthony Hopkins. He's matched by Jodie Foster as driven FBI rookie Clarice Starling, while director Jonathan Demme works the macabre madness like a master.Buy the book at Amazon****Buy the movie at Amazon

The Godfather5 of 15

The Godfather

Stanley Kubrick once described Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of Mario Puzo's novel as the best film ever made, and we're hardly going to argue. Buy the book at Amazon****Buy the movie at Amazon

Room6 of 15


Emma Donoghue's emotional, dark novel (which she adapted for director Lenny Abraham ended up helping Brie Larson to the Oscar stage). It's not tough to see why – Room as a film is gripping and compelling.Buy the book at Amazon****Buy the movie at Amazon

The Shining7 of 15

The Shining

Famously disliked by Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick's film nonetheless stands the test of time, and is lodged deep within pop culture consciousness for its visuals and dark examination of madness and the supernatural.Buy the book at Amazon****Buy the movie at Amazon

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy8 of 15

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

While John Le Carre's books had been brought to British TV, Tomas Alfredson made it work in film form just as effectively. And that cast – Mark strong, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Gary Oldman... the list is longer than MI5's security passwords.Buy the book at Amazon****Buy the movie at Amazon

Fight Club9 of 15

Fight Club

It's almost a wonder that Chuck Palahniuk didn't just give away copies of his moody anti-capitalism satire for free on the streets. But David Fincher was the perfect director to adapt it, bringing all the stylish visual flair you'd hope for. Buy the book at Amazon****Buy the movie at Amazon

jurassic park10 of 15

Jurassic Park

Spielberg again, still with big toothy beasties, but this time tackling Michael Crichton's thriller about genetic tinkering and dinos run amok. Another winner that boils the book down to a thrill ride that also has memorable characters.Buy the book at Amazon****Buy the movie at Amazon

Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban11 of 15

Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban

It's not just the fact that it's based on one of the very best – and uniquely Voldemort-free – Potter books that makes Prisoner Of Azkaban so good. It's also that incoming director Alfonso Cuarón so exquisitely shakes up the look and feel that Chris Columbus established in the first two movies, injecting flair, quirks and an impish sense of humour into Hogwarts and its inhabitants. The genius device of Hermione's Time-Turner makes for a twisty, brilliantly structured final act, helping it stand out from the wand battles of other instalments – and the introduction of Sirius Black, the only living family Harry has left, provides an effective emotional strand that carries on to the fourth and fifth films, and beyond.

To Kill A Mockingbird12 of 15

To Kill A Mockingbird

Harper Lee's books sits squarely on the list of literary classics, and the film is just as successful, thanks to director Robert Mulligan and writer Horton Foote. And not forgetting Gregory Peck, whose performance as legal bloodhound Atticus Finch scored an Oscar.Buy the book at Amazon****Buy the movie at Amazon

Little Women13 of 15

Little Women

Louisa May Alcott's sister-stuffed coming-of-age is brought to the screen on an almost annual basis, but Greta Gerwig's 2019 adaptation is one of the best. Buy the book at Amazon****Buy the 2019 movie at Amazon

No Country For Old Men14 of 15

No Country For Old Men

The Coen brothers took on Cormac McCarthy's crime tale and brought the world a superb movie, not the least of which was Javier Bardem's creepy, oddly-haired villain. Buy the book at Amazon****Buy the movie at Amazon

Trainspotting15 of 15


For their follow up to the superb Shallow Grave, Danny Boyle (director), Andrew Macdonald (producer) and John Hodge (screenwriter) foolhardily elected to film the supposedly unfilmable: Irvine Welsh's scrappy, episodic, multi-perspective novel about Edinburgh low-lives. The result couldn't have been more triumphant: the cinematic incarnation of 'Cool Britannia' came with a kick-ass soundtrack, and despite some dark subject matter, came with a punch-the-air uplifting pay-off.Buy the book at Amazon****Buy the movie at AmazonRead Empire's review of Trainspotting

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