My favourite book to film adaptations!

Last week I watched and loved Can You Ever Forgive Me? which stars Melissa McCarthy as real life author Lee Israel, who wrote several favourable biographies before being convited of forgery.

The film is based on her biography and it got me thinking about other book to film adaptations that have worked particularly well.

Here are a few of my favourites!

1. Stand By Me (from The Body by Stephen King)

In my opinion, Rob Reiner’s adaptation is one of the definitive coming of age movies. Featuring fantastic performances from Will Wheaton and the late River Phoenix, this is a heartfelt and enjoyable story of friendship and self-discovery

2. Let the Right One In (from the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist)

I think that Let the Right One In is a masterclass in cinema and one of the best vampire movies ever. Rather than focusing on the usual gore and fright associated with vampires, Let the Right One In explores the pain and loneliness of existing in a world where you can never die. I reviewed the book on the blog, but thought the movie was one of those exceptions where the film is better than the source material.

3. Dangerous Liasions (written by Christopher Hampton, based on his play Les liaisons dangereuses, which was itself adapted from the 18th-century French novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos)

Is there anything better than watching John Malkovich and Glenn Close connive and scheme their way around the French Court of Louis II? I don’t think so! Perfectly cast and stunningly shot, I can watch this one over and over again!

4. American Psycho (from the novel by Bret Easton Ellis)

This might be a controversial choice – it’s a controversial book! Mary Harron’s pitch perfect adaptation features a preening, pouting performance by Christian Bale as the infamous Patrick Bateman and while it doesn’t shy away from the horror of the book, it also captures the dark humour that is at the heart of American Psycho.

5. Don’t Look Now (from the short story by Daphne DuMaurier)

Nicholas Roeg takes a slippery, unusual story by Daphne DuMaurier and turns it into a slippery, unusual film that defies logic but oozes atmosphere and chills. Who can forget that red coat? Those sisters? For me, this film captures the very essence of the story it is based on.

6. The Remains of the Day (based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro)

The Remains of the Day is a subtle tale of a thwarted life and a thwarted love and James Ivory’s film boasts two stunningly undersated performances by Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson who perfectly capture the tragedy of trapped lives.

7. The Sweet Hereafter (from the novel by Russell Banks)

Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter won the 1997 Grand Prix at Cannes Film Festival and earned Egoyan a Best Director nomination at the Oscars. The tale of a school bus  accident in a small Canadian town that results in the deaths of numerous children and the class-action lawsuit that ensues, The Sweet Hereafter is not an easy watch, but it’s a powerful one.

8. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (from the novel by Muriel Spark)

It’s hard to picture Miss Jean Brodie now without thinking of Maggie Smith who excels in this portrait of an unrestrained teacher whose unorthodox teaching methods in an all-girls school have devestating consequences.

9. We Need to Talk About Kevin (from the novel by Lionel Shriver)

Lynne Ramsay perfectly side-stepped some of the issues that could have arisen from adaptation Shriver’s controversial and highly-acclaimed novel by creating an other-worldy film that is as beautiful to look at as it’s subject matter is horrifying. Tilda Swinton is wonderful in the lead and although the film may have been less ambigious than the novel, it is still a fantastic watch. I was also tempted to include Ramsay’s other movies adapted from books – You Were Never Really Here and Morvern Callar – as they are both wonderful.

10. Brokeback Mountain (from the story by E Annie Proulx)

Brokeback Mountain might be based on a short story but it is a sweeping epic of love won and lost between two young men, a Wyoming ranch hand and a rodeo cowboy, who meet in the summer of 1963 shepherding in the harsh, high grasslands of contemporary Wyoming. Adapted by Larry McMurtry no less, the film features sterling performances from all the leads and won two Oscars – one for adapted screenplay and another for Best Director for Ang Lee.


There were a few more I could have included here of course, but these are just a few of my favourites. Let me know about your favourite adaptations in the comments below!

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The 746

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

46 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I love Stand By Me but I am afraid I haven’t seen any of the others, although I really must watch We Need to Talk About Kevin, as I have read that one! Some of my favourite adapted films are The Lord of Rings, Rebecca, Blade Runner, Sense & Sensibility and Harry Potter (the last two both also star the brilliant Emma Thompson). 🙂


  2. I’m thinking I might not be as bookish as I think I am – I’ve seen all these films but I’ve not read 1-3 or or 7 or 9. I have Kevin in the TBR but keep putting it off… I agree all these films are excellent! I think The Commitments is a great adaptation, and The Princess Bride 🙂


  3. Some terrific films here, Cathy. Don’t Look Now, Let the Right One In and Jean Brodie are all firm favourites. I’ll second Jessica’s recommendations of Rebecca, which never fails to grip me, even though I know exactly what is going to happen in the end.

    As for other favourite adaptations, I would say: Double Indemnity (1944), Strangers on a Train (1951) and In a Lonely Palace (1950) – a film that plays with Dorothy B. Hughes’s novel, turning into something different yet just as gripping as the book.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved the Dangerous Liaisons and Remains of the Day films — I think they’re better than the books. Then there are four more here where I’ve either read the book or seen the film, so can’t comment on how well it works as an adaptation.


  5. What a lovely post! I’ve read some of the books and seen some of the films but Stand By me was the only one I’d read and watched. Enjoyed other people’s comments to, loved The Princess Bride and Rebecca. Anything Agatha Christie, too.


  6. Yes, agree with you on Dangerous Liaisons and We Need to Talk About Kevin (which I thought was incredible).
    My absolute favourite (I love the book but the movie is my no.1 movie of all time) is Merchant Ivory’s production of Room With a View. Every single element of that movie is perfect. In fact, I might watch it for the millionth time this afternoon…


  7. This reminds me how much I loved Dangerous Liaisons (but haven’t read the Laclos, have seen the play though). I’m with you on Let the Right One In too, the Swedish film with its amazing light was masterful. I don’t think I want to see the film of American Psycho – I thought I’d re-read it last year, but one chapter in, I decided not to continue. I would like to see ‘Kevin’ though. You’ve got me thinking about this now… I’d probably add Carrie, and No Country for Old Men amongst others.


  8. I loved Brokeback Mountain but haven’t seen any of the others – this is such a great list! I’m really keen to see The Remains of the Day (it’s been on my bookshelf for ages) Thanks for sharing:)


  9. Can You Ever Forgive Me? was a surprise find for me – really enjoyable so we’ve now watched it for the second time.
    You have already mentioned one of my favourites with Remains of The Day. I thought it would have been difficult to portray on film how Stevens can’t let his emotions show and how he misreads situations so much. But the film was perfect.

    Another favourite – 84 Charing Cross Road. Anne Bancroft does a brilliant rendition of Helene Hanff’s gruff manner but also her humanity.


  10. Many attempts have been made to bring Elmore Leonard’s books to the screen but no one captured the mix of brilliant dialogue, great plotting, farce and brutality until Barry Sonnenfeld came along in 1995 and brought “Get Shorty” to the screen. It starred John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo and Danny DeVito all of whom turned in sterling performances, but it is the convoluted relationship between John Travolta as movie-mad Chilli Palmer and Gene Hackman as Hollywood producer Harry Zimm that really steers the plot. I can still laugh just thinking about the scene with the leather jacket.


  11. Great post! Some here I’ve to explore more. Mostly I’ve seen the movies but not read the book.
    And yes, I’ve my list too. It’s a post I started a few years back and keep on updating it all the way to 2019, and will continue to do so. Here’s my post: Can A Movie Adaptation Ever be as Good as the Book? The link of the title on the list there leads to my review of that movie on Ripple Effects. Let’s compare notes. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I’ve only seen a couple of these since I’m not much of a film-watcher, but I love Don’t Look Now and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. I’m currently watching the National Thetare’s adaptation of Jane Eyre on youtube – it’s a three hour play so I’ve halved it! If you haven’t tuned in, it’s excellent, and only available till next Wednesday, I think…


  13. I’ve seen most of these and enjoyed them all, and the ones I haven’t seen (Let the Right One In and American Psycho) are on my list. Perhaps I should move them up since it’s clear our movie tastes are similar!
    My all-time favorite film adaptation of a book is LA Confidential. The novel is massive and sprawling, but the movie does a brilliant job of boiling it down to the essentials.


  14. Still waiting for Can you ever forgive me? to come down in price a bit – wasn’t sure whether I wanted to watch it but I think I will now.
    I don’t tend to do both book and film, the only one I can remember is Electric Sheep/Blade Runner, which I liked a lot as a combo.


  15. I love The Remains of the Day, and I think it’s a perfect example of a film making important changes to the structure of a book in order to keep the same themes and tone as the original novel. My favourite book to film adaptation is very different to both my normal reading and watching fare, though – Bridget Jones’ Diary, which I love wholeheartedly in all forms. And can I count book to TV? If so, the Fry and Laurie Jeeves and Wooster series is pitch-perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Let the Right One In is SUCH an amazing film. I really want to read the book but I’ve heard quite a few times now that the film is better so I’m a little hesitant. My favorite film adaptations: Atonement, Revolutionary Road, the Carey Mulligan Far from the Madding Crowd, Twelve Angry Men…


  17. Wonderful list – all these are brilliant film adaptations. American Psycho was a “pitch-perfect” adaptation, I so agree. For awhile I was not a big fan of The Remains of the Day adaptation, but it grew on me over the years and now I like it. My other favourite book to film adaptations include Gone with the Wind, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, The Virgin Suicides and Rosemary’s Baby – I think these are the most faithful book to film adaptations ever made. I also like Schindler’s List and Revolutionary Road.


  18. Oh goodness, yes, Christian Bale was PERFECT as Bateman! Terrifying, but perfect! I actually really liked the HBO adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 last year (or was it the year before?), I enjoyed it way more than I enjoyed the book – just to throw in a controversial opinion of my own 😉


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