Top 10 Movies: Book to Film Adaptations

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Lots of book to movie adaptations coming out this year - including Something Borrowed coming out in May, which just had a new trailer released today.

It seems many movies these days –I would even be so bold as to say close to half –are based on novels.  Heck, there’s even an Oscar category devoted strictly to adapted screenplays.

Most of the time, avid readers complain films don’t even come close to depicting complicated character development and in-depth descriptions painstakingly weaved through the intricate plots of novels.  Yet despite all that huffing and puffing, we still flock to the theater on opening night to see how the director depict our favorite novel on the big screen.

Here is our top 10 best movies based on books:


Sophie's Choice Poster

Based on the award-winning novel of the same name by William Styron, “Sophie’s Choice” depicts the friendship between the narrator Stingo, a novelist, and lovers, Sophie and Nathan. The film was nominated for numerous Academy Awards including Best Adapted Screenplay attesting to the great homage the film plays to the novel. 


The Color Purple Poster
Director Steven Spielberg’s “The Color Purple” takes on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker.   The film portrays Cecile Harris’ life of abuse and subsequent healing.  Although criticized as portraying too many race stereotypes and telling an African-American story through the eyes of a white director, critics mostly praised the film.


Field of Dreams Poster
Many people didn’t know the beloved film “Field of Dreams” was based on the novel Shoeless Joe by W.P Kinsella when they first saw it. Ray, a farmer, builds a baseball field for seemingly no reason, but it’s later revealed he makes the field after hearing Shoeless Joe Jackson’s voice telling him to do so.  The film focuses on Ray, leaving out the relationship with characters Eddie and Richard, but you don’t really feel like you’re missing anything. 


The Notebook Photo

Ruining all notions of realistic romance for women, the 2004 romantic drama “The Notebook” depicts book-turned-movie author extraordinaire Nicholas Sparks’ novel of the same name.  The novel is mediocre, even wavering on sappy, with shallow character development.  The film, on the other hand, makes us believe such an unlikely romance is possible.  With good acting by Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling, the film portrays a love story between teenage sweethearts Noah and Allie.


Pride and Prejudice Poster

The 2005 adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” featuring Keira Knightley is the best I’ve seen.  I am a huge fan of the novel, yet many film adaptations can’t seem to find the right balance of wit and charm for Jane Austen’s infamous Elizabeth Bennett.   Keira Knightley plays the main character with precision and grace even garnering her first Best Actress Oscar nomination.   Although true literary critics might argue the film underwent too many changes to be on this list,  the character development and emotion from the actors captures the true essence of the novel and deserves high praise.


Little Women Poster
Another period piece that deserves praise is the 1994 film “Little Women” based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott.   The film takes viewers on a journey with the four sisters through times of joy and suffering in Massachusetts around the time of the American Civil War.  Although adaptations of this film have the risk of becoming too sweet and child-like, this version takes the novel and the pains the characters go through seriously and with just the right emotion from the actors who portray the famous women. 


The English Patient Poster
For the film adaptation of his novel “The English Patient,” author Michael Ondaatje worked very closely with filmmakers to ensure accuracy… and it paid off.  The film won 9 of its 12 Oscar nominations, winning both Best Picture and Best Director for Anthony Minghella.  Although the novel focuses on four main characters during World War II, the 1996 film focuses on the relationship between Hungarian mapmaker, played by Ralph Fiennes and a wealthy Englishwoman (Kristen Scott Thomas).


Bridget Jones's Diary Poster
A light and funny film, “Bridget Jones’s Diary” plays out the personal ramblings of a woman in her early 30’s.  Based on the novel by British writer Helen Fielding, “Bridget Jones’s Diary” depicts a woman who is not happy with her love life or her weight and believes there is a direct relationship between the two.  Masterfully portrayed by Renee Zellweger, Bridget Jones emphasizes the often trite concerns of women everywhere.


Memoirs of a Geisha Poster

Arthur Golden’s novel Memoirs of a Geisha celebrated a second success on the bestsellers list eight years after it was originally published because of a popular movie by the same name.  Although many criticized the film for casting Chinese actresses in the roles of Japanese Geisha, the overall cinematography was breathtaking.  The book provides beautiful descriptions and harrowing details of the life of a geisha.  Similarly, the film captures the essence of Japanese culture and provides character development that has viewers captivated through to the end.   


Precious Poster

Although at times extremely difficult to see played out on screen, “Precious” tells the story of Claireece P. “Precious” Jones and her struggle living with an abusive mother in the Harlem ghetto.   Based on the novel Push, Precious finds solace in school with a caring teacher and finds hope with her friends there.  The novel is presented in the first-person, but the movie lacks the first-person perspective and some of that is lost in the translation to the big screen.

 So, what’s your favorite book-to-movie adaptation?  Do they ever live up to your expectations?  Do you even read the books first or does it make the movie less enjoyable?

Check out this site for Movie Licensing USA, which includes a full catalogue of all books-to-movies titles from the 1980’s onward.  Are you surprised by some of the titles?  I sure was!

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