The “Best Of” Book to Movie List

A recent flurry of blogging on the subject  “Books vs. movies: which is better?” got me thinking about the whole book-t0-movie phenomenon. I even got in on the debate in a guest-blog over at Cinema Three (movie connaisseur Silver Autumn’s witty blog about films and pop-culture).

My thoughts on this subject are many. On the one hand, books and movies are such different media that I feel odd comparing them. Apples to oranges. On the other hand, I believe any director who makes a movie from a preexisting story is obligated to respect both the original plotline and the original characters. This doesn’t mean they can’t make changes; it means any changes made should respect the integrity and message of the original work.

With that in mind, here are my Top Five best book-to-movie renditions of all time.

1. Lord of the Rings Trilogy–Peter Jackson took a sweeping epic, set in a world which took one man’s entire life to create, and condensed it into three movies. He included all of the major conflicts, did not change any major elements of the ending, stayed about 95% true to the characters, and made the world feel as authentic as it did in the book. My one complaint is the sadly misconstrued portrayal of Frodo as a bumbling fool in parts of the second and third movies, but other than that, this trilogy is golden.

2. To Kill A Mockingbird–Though huge chunks of the original story had to be cut out for time constraints (think Aunt Alexandra and, oh yeah, wasn’t there a whole other year in the middle of the novel?), this movie still ranks #2 on my list. The characters are spot on, even in appearance. The accents are real. The all-important courtroom scenes pack tons of verbatim dialogue. The message of the book remains intact in all its real-life complexity. No wonder this is considered a classic movie.

3.  The Ruby In the Smoke–First in the Sally Lockhart series by Phillip Pullman (books recommended, but with a caution about sexual content), The Ruby in the Smoke was made into a Masterpiece Theater episode in Britain starring the ever-lovely Billie Piper (Billie, why did you leave Dr. Who? WHY??!!) It follows the plot of the book in every detail. No deviation whatsoever. The only reason it didn’t make my #1 is because it feels kind of flat. I don’t get an emotional reaction from watching it.

4. Harry Potter Series–Okay, okay, I know many of you catch plot changes in every single HP movie. But let’s think about this; the world Rowling created gets transferred pretty well onscreen in all its originality and awesomeness. They cast superb actors for each character (though I do miss the old Dumbledore, may he rest in peace). And we must give those movie-makers some credit, even when they leave things out. Rowling’s books have many details and plot twists. How could they all fit into each movie?

5. The Butcher Boy–I’ll bet you didn’t know they made a movie of this book, did you? The story of BUTCHER BOY strays a bit darker than what I usually read, but read it I did, and then saw the movie in a college class. Eamonn Owens plays a spectacular Francie Brady, an eccentric boy who descends into mental illness. The feel of the film fits the feel of the book, complete with even the most bizarre and disturbing of the book’s plot highlights. And something about the kids digging up the bodies while looking for Flash Bars sent me into hysterics, right there in Professor Hart’s senior year English seminar. (I promise I’m not usually so black in my humor. It was funny,dangit!)

This list represents only those book-to-movies that I have seen. Have you seen other greats that I have not? Are there some movies that you would love to enjoy, but can’t because of glaring flaws from the original story? Please share.




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9 responses to “The “Best Of” Book to Movie List

  1. Dr. D

    How about Anne of Green Gables? Yeah, its a made-for-tv deal, but I can’t imagine Anne or Marilla or Matthew any better presented!

  2. rachelhestondavis

    Those made-for-TV shows are sometimes better about sticking to the original than movies are.

  3. pastorleanne

    The two WORST:

    1. The Lords of Discipline – Pat Conroy’s story of four young men coming of age in a military school…love, love, LOVE the book; despise the movie! They cut out some of the most pivotal and powerful scenes, and excluded an entire major character. They also changed the ending in a huge way [as in keeping a character alive who died in the book, in an effort to “wrap up” everything in a nice, neat package and give everyone a happy ending].

    2. The Handmaid’s Tale – Not to say that Natasha Richardson didn’t do a fabulous job as the lead, but the whole point of the book never giving her name was that in that society, women’s individuality and names didn’t matter. So the movie goes and names her, right off the bat. The character in the movie was written to be a lot more passive, just allowing things to happen to her, while the book makes that point a lot more fuzzy.

    • rachelhestondavis

      I have a third to add to “worst”:

      I’ve seen many movie renditions of Dracula. In general, they stick to the book–Dracula comes over from England, Jonathan Harker and his fiancee Mina must hunt Dracula down with the help of an esteemed college professor, Van Hesling.

      The most atrocious version of Dracula I’ve ever seen went something like this:

      One of the characters (a protagonist in the book but a bad guy in the movie) had syphilis and needed the immortality of vampires so he wouldn’t die a horrid death; thus he brought Dracula to England on purpose. The other good guys teamed up to stop Dracula and other vampires who were holding occult meetings in England. Jonathan Harker, who survives in the book to marry Mina, died midway. Professor Van Helsing was a crazy old coot who’d been trapped in a basement for a couple of decades. Eventully they defeat Dracula, Mina marries someone else, and at the end of the movie Dracula is alive and stalking Mina with absolutely no explanation as to how he came back from the dead. The end.

  4. When I first saw the title, I immediately wanted to post my WORST list:

    The latest Harry Potter movie
    I never read the book. So I can see plot holes a lot easier. A lot of story was left out to the point where it just felt like a collection of scenes.

    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
    The recent Hollywood film version was entertaining, somewhat true to the characters, and was full of hilarious scenes. But just like the most recent Harry Potter movie, it was just a collection of funny scenes from the book. It doesn’t attempt backstory, and it leaves not only plot holes, but also the funniest parts of the book.

    The City of Ember
    That was a surprisingly good book. But even Bill Murray couldn’t save this movie. It didn’t even make sense. Story elements were changed to speed up the plot, but then there wasn’t enough story left to explain anyones motives or actions.

  5. Fishy

    Dr. D is right about Anne of Green Gables being one of the best. I can’t even read the books without imagining those exact characters and that exact soundtrack (which Megan frequently plays on the piano, might I add).

    Another WORST:

    Ella Enchanted.

    Anyone who has read the book (which is hilarious, charming, and intelligent) will automatically know what I’m talking about. The movie was a blasphemous shadow of the main character involved in an almost completely different plot. It makes me mad just thinking about it! Grrr!

    I completely concur with Chad’s three, especially City of Ember.

  6. Julie-Rose Tedrick

    I have to add as pretty good the first of the Chronicles of Narnia movies… now as they make more no promises on whether or not I’ll stay a fan (I/m hoping Voyage of the Dawn Treader will be next but as it is my FAVORITE there is the most room for error)
    Yes, there are SOME things I highly object to, in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Edmund is NEVER suppose to see Tumnus alive at the witches castle, he’s already stone, but it did make for a good “movie tension moment” and in Prince Caspian I was sad that the bear didn’t make more of an appearnce because well he’s funny. But they get the right story out there, I MOSTLY agree with all the casting and visually I think Narnia is portrayed well. We shall see if I stay mostly pleased with them 🙂

  7. rachelhestondavis

    Julie-Rose: Yeah, Edmund meeting Tumnus weirded me out too. The thing about LionWW that I disliked most was how the kids kepts wanting to leave Narnia. They had this (very modern) attitude of “Well, let’s save our own skins, the heck with these people, let’s just get outta here” and that really wasn’t the case in the book (I highly doubt that children who were raised in the era of WWII would be as individualistic and selfish as modern kids are).

    Fishy: I second Ella Enchanted as one of the worst. I think what makes that one so shocking is that the original plotline would have been SO fun to watch, and the moviemakers missed that opportunity.

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