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By David Young · November 21, 2022
It can’t be a coincidence that the best stories make the best movies, and in the case of the films below, that’s absolutely true. Each story stood out enough to bring onto the big screen, whether it’s an epic fantasy tale like Game of Thrones or a reimagining of a musical like Into the Woods or the account of a real estate investor’s abuse of the financial system. In other words, to get an adaptation made, you want to pick a story that hits hard. Have a look below at the best book-to-movie adaptations adaptations!
An iconic novel about money, identity, and the ability to connect with others, Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club has become the source of analysis and controversy among critics for years. But the narrative, even when brought to the screen, doesn’t feel like it’s trying to make you think, and that’s the secret of its success. While intellectualism often has that branded feeling of being an “art film,” Fight Club entrenches its themes in a very well-represented struggle that comes to a head the way you’d expect in book-to-movie adaptations with a star-studded cast!
Nothing really hits the spot for storytelling like verisimilitude. The Wizarding World achieves this through several of the Harry Potter movies, making it feel lived-in and real while still magical. This achievement is seen most prevalent in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, where the best features of the book are brought in and the rest of the narrative is given different, but fitting touches to make it feel more real. Some stories can’t survive the change from book-to-movie adaptation when being translated verbatim — you have to allow some creative differences to build the world in a shorter amount of time. This installment of the series does that as the director darkens this world by a few notches, and the 8-part series takes a steep turn toward dire stakes.
The raw and intense experience of the novel written by William Blatty is a force to be reckoned with. That may be clear to you already if you’ve experienced The Exorcist in your own home — or God forbid, in the theater. If you’ve seen it, you already know the bone-chilling success associated with the film, and the truth is that the book does the same thing to its readers. You’re welcome to look further into it if you dare.
The epistolary novel known as Dracula by Bram Stoker was a game-changing piece of speculative fiction at the turn of the 19th century. Its depiction and fullness captured the mystique, the power, and the dread of the vampire. More than that, though: It used a wide cast of characters to explore the effects the monster has on them — everything from diary entries to newspaper clippings giving a more holistic look at Count Dracula himself. The book-to-movie adaptation explores these multiple points of view as well, even adding its own twist: some perspective from the monster before and after his transformation.
The world of dinosaur theme parks might be a mess now, but the original that started it all was a cinematic wonder. It was also an adaptation from the genius mind of Michael Crichton, whose penchant for the medical world and the world of sci-fi makes his stories much sought-after. None of his books spelled success like Jurassic Park, though — there’s something ultimately poetic about bringing dinosaurs and amusement parks together in a disastrous clash as he did here. That poetic clash is what we see when Spielberg puts the story on screen, as well!
The real estate market crash of the mid-2000s was very real, and its effects were felt everywhere. The Big Short collects the real-life stories of several people who believed that the housing market was going to fall — those who were betting on it, in fact. Much like the book, the book-to-movie adaptation takes on those real-life stories and paints them vividly for the audience, showing you exactly who could profit from such a precipitous moment in the economic meltdown.
It should surprise no one that the Lord of the Rings trilogy came first as a novel, with astounding worldbuilding that has yet to be matched by any author. J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels then became the basis for the astounding cinematic series directed by Peter Jackson — and with it came a sense of grandeur and wonder that still grips audiences today. Whether you’re a fantasy nerd or you just love some epic storytelling, the books and movies alike will make your experience worthwhile.
There’s something notably thrilling about the story of No Country for Old Men, but that thrill wasn’t captured first as a movie. It started as a screenplay by Cormac McCarthy, who then turned it into a novel. This novel, capturing the visceral chase of a psychopath, accomplishes the same thing with even greater results as a film — with incredible performances like Javier Bardem’s really adding that last notch of excellence.
It isn’t the only book-to-movie adaptation of Frank Herbert’s legendary epic fantasy sci-fi novel — but it’s the best one, and by far. Denis Villeneuve’s version of Arrakis, the desert planet, is full of impressive imagery to capture its deadliness and its alienness, among other things. While the novel dives deep and lets you see into the minds of the characters all the more, Dune (2021) accomplishes more of the visual worldbuilding that lends a sense of wonder and mystique to the stage of this ongoing political battle.
Another Peter Jackson book-to-movie adaptation with some considerable renown, The Lovely Bones is a story that follows the spirit of Susie Salmon, who was raped and killed, as she starts to understand what happened to her. She watches down on her family as they come to grips with her disappearance and the aftermath. The novel in itself is heart-wrenching enough that when it came to the big screen, it gripped the audience with pathos in the same way.
The world’s first modern blockbuster, the high-concept that started it all, was a book before it became a movie. That’s right, America’s favorite summer flick started on the pages of a novel by Peter Benchley. While it took a lot of doing, mainly by taking out some subplots here and there, the movie adaptation is hailed as even more entertaining and impactful than the book — though the same can’t be said for its many sequels. In that way, Jaws still has a lot in common with many other summer blockbusters.
The books of The Hunger Games series were known for their world — doomed and dystopian, filled with fear and frightening political action that all masqueraded as “fun and games.” In other words, The Hunger Games shows the danger of entertainment. There’s a lot to it, of course, but the narrative’s main draws were steeped in the character conflicts and the deadly game itself, both of which became the hook-and-line for the movie as well.
Yet again, there’s a book-to-movie adaptation that was so nice they made it twice — something we’ve seen a couple of times already with Stephen King’s masterpiece novels. His sense of horror is all about transforming the mundane: Something that seems real and normal and lived-in becomes the stage for a walking terror, and that’s all the more true of his creature, Pennywise. It (2017) captures the mystery and almost magical quality of this demon’s presence in more ways than one — and it does this in a chronological sense that works far better for the big screen than the framed narrative seen in the original TV movie.
These films made an impact as books first, and it’s through these novel experiences (see what I did there?) that we get a sense of what inspired a storyteller to bring those ideas to life on screen through book-to-movie adaptations. Whether it’s the utter shock of a dinosaur theme park gone wrong or the real-life dangers of the crashing real estate market, there are impacts in each story — reasons to buy in.
And each one became a film with a measurable impact because of where it came from. (It also doesn’t hurt that these titles also had a built-in audience — something Hollywood definitely wants.)