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 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
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
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
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 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
No Country For Old Men
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