Favourite film adaptations of novels

Some other blogs have had similar themes to this, and I saw another good one recently that has inspired to do the same on my blog. Many of you in this particular community are avid book-readers, and just as many are big fans of film and cinema. In fact, lots of us are both combined, so this should be a post that appeals to most of you.

Ever since they started to make films, adapting popular novels to the screen has been a staple of the film industry. Over the decades, the idea has grown into franchises, and also turned on its head; with novels being released based on films, and graphic novels turned into CGI-heavy blockbusters. For the purposes of this post, I am going to ask you all a question. What is your favourite film adaptation of a book you loved? Don’t worry about those you were disappointed in, that will keep for another post.

To start you off, I am going to offer a selection of my own favourites. Please add your own in the comments, and pick as many or as few as you wish to.

Charles Dickens wrote the novel ‘Great Expectations’ in 1861, around the time of the American Civil War. I read it a long time later of course, in 1963. It is still my favourite of all of his books, and has endured in my affections for over fifty years now.

In 1946, the British film-maker David lean directed the sumptuous black and white adaptation, which I was able to watch soon after I had read the book. He got it completely right, bringing Victorian London to the screen in wonderful detail, and staying true to the marvellous characterisations of Dickens. A top-notch cast was just the icing on the cake, and despite subsequent serialisations, Lean’s film has never been bettered.

It was probably around 1970 that I read Mario Puzo’s epic novel of the Mafia in America, ‘The Godfather’. I was completely engrossed in the lives of the characters, the double-dealing, and lust for power portrayed. I also learned a great deal about organised crime, how it works, and how far its reach extends. This long novel was indeed a modern masterpiece, in my opinion. I couldn’t put it down.

Two years later, I heard that a film adaptation was to be released. I was a little concerned, as I couldn’t imagine how this complex story of crime families would translate to the screen. But I needn’t have worried. Francis Ford Coppola spared no expense in transferring every detail of the book, and making it into one of the best American films of all time. I went to see it at the cinema, and was staggered by the excellence of the cast, the soundtrack, the amazing visuals, and the exciting set-pieces. Few book adaptations have ever been done so well.

My final selection is the thrilling historical whodunnit from Umberto Eco, ‘The Name of The Rose’. I bought (and still own) a lovely hardback edition of this book (pictured) in 1984. I was immediately captivated by the setting, the characters, and the historical period. This large book could not be called a light read. It has a complex plot, side plots, and many characters to get to grips with. So the fact that I read it in two days gives some idea of just how good I thought it was.

A short time later, I heard it was to be released as a film. My heart sank, as I was sure it could never hope to equal the scope of the novel. I went to see it at the cinema, and decided that I had only been half-right. It hadn’t managed to fit everything into its running time, but it nonetheless presented the very spirit of the book, and the sets and period detail were second to none. It is still among my favourite film adaptations of novels that I loved to read.

So, it is over to you. Please add your own choices in the comments, and introduce all of us to some we may not be aware of, or just remind us of old favourites.

77 thoughts on “Favourite film adaptations of novels

  1. I agree with most of the comments (although some of the books I haven’t read). Yes, King has had some quite good adaptation. I like Dennis Lehane and thought Gone, Baby Gone was well done (I think Ben Affleck could make a solid director and is much better at that than at acting). I also love the Godfather but if I could cheat slightly, I love the Granada dramatization of Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited”. I watched the series many years back and read the novel later, but I think it’s one of the best TV series ever and it made me fall in love with Castle Howard, that I’ve visited quite a few times since. I watched a more recent movie version that wasn’t bad either, but the TV series had it all, and such fabulous cast… Atonement is a wonderful novel and I thought the movie was well-done too, especially because it is a complex novel. And I think we have talked about Regeneration before… Thanks, Pete!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ‘Brideshead’ was indeed a masterpiece of dramatisation. I agree that Ben Affleck is better at almost anything rather than acting. 🙂 ‘Regeneration’ was a really excellent adaptation of Pat Barker’s novel.
      Thanks for your thoughts and comment, Olga.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So glad to see The Godfather on here! A marvelous and classic masterpiece! The movie however barely covers everything that happens in the book though, but I think they made the right cuts so that the movie would be more concise. My favourite book to movie adaptation is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest! Jack Nicholson and the nurse were brilliant in that movie!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your thoughts and suggestion, Lashaan. I agree that there was a lot more in Puzo’s book. However, I think Coppola used all the ‘right bits’ to transfer it to the screen, and do it justice. I have never read the the book of ‘One flew over…’ but also agree that the film was powerful.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great subject. Excellent shout on The Godfather. I would say most versions of Little Women really get the tone and love of the book across beautifully. Gone Girl was a fantastic adaptation of a tantalising book.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree that there are now so many book adaptations on the big screen and most favouring the ‘ loosely based’ term. It is often quite difficult to do a novel the justice it deserves, as there is always the question of how faithful they can be to the characters.

    I have read and own a copy of Great Expectations which is a marvellous story indeed and I am glad you enjoyed both, though I have not seen the movie. some I have favoured in its live screen version which i feel did follow the novels ideas through the screen very well are, The Talented Mr Ripley (1999), Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone (2001), Double Indemnity (1944), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), Carrie (1976) and Misery (1990). Just some of the countless ones I can recall. This was a very enjoyable post to read Pete.

    Sincerely Sonea

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Sonea. I have to agree about ‘Misery’, which was a great adaptation of the book, with the inspired casting of Kathy Bates. I can only urge you to try to watch David Lean’s film of ‘Great Expectations’, as it is indeed a delight and by far the best film version.
      I really enjoyed ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’, as well as the same author’s ‘Strangers On A Train’. But I have not read either book.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I shall try to watch the movie when I can. Yes Patricia Highsmith was a wonderful writer and it is a crime genre that I prefer reading usually. Strangers on a Train is a great Hitchcock movie though I felt could not include it as I have not read the novel.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. You’ll have to forgive me Pete as I have no solid suggestion. I guess I enjoyed both Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory the film and the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Although what I imagined in my head when I read the book was better than what I saw in the film. Then there’s Witches which I think is a great movie but still the book is better to me. I love the miniseries of Pride and Prejudice but its not one of the Austen novels I’ve read. Haven’t read Gone With the Wind but love the movie. You might be noticing a pattern here… well I enjoyed your post and sorry I can’t come up with a solid suggestion of my own.

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  6. I,too, loved Great Expectations. As it’s Christmas can I add my comments about The Wonderful Wizard of OZ? Most of us have seen the film with Judy Garland and have mixed feelings (the music is great) but the book is most strange with many more weird beasts and happenings.I based my panto on the bones of the story and made the slippers silver as the author did – not red as in the film.
    My favourite films are usually musicals and I don’t often go to see films based on books although I did enjoy the life of PI.

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  7. Pete, I’ve seen quite a few film adaptations of books. In a few cases, I read the book first (e.g., “The Exorcist” and the “LOTR” trilogy), but the vast majority of the time I saw the film before reading the book. Some examples: “Jaws,” “Schindler’s List,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Name of the Rose,” “Dracula,” “Women in Love,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Papillon,” and “The Story of O.” If I had to pick a favorite film adaptation, it would be a toss up between “Midnight Express” (author: Billy Hayes) and “Deliverance” (author: James Dickey).

    By the way, I’ve also read dozens of film novelizations. Examples: “Doc Hollywood,” “Dressed to Kill,” “The Abyss,” “Basic Instinct,” and the complete “Alien” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” franchises.

    I’ve only mentioned a few of the favorable books/films that immediately came to mind. And by the way, every single book mentioned here was read in the original French or in French translation! Right now, I’m reading “The Phantom of the Opera” (author: Gaston Leroux). I have the 2004 film adaptation (Gerard Butler; Emmy Rossum) on DVD.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your thoughts and selections, David. I thought for a while, and realised that I have never read a book based on a film, Midnight Express is a powerful adaptation indeed, and certainly brought the brutality in the book to the screen.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Ooohhhhh….nice subject indeed. I love movies as you know, and I also really enjoy reading (although I always have trouble finding enough time for the latter). But having thought of this for a bit, I really enjoyed the movie adaptation for Christine written by Stephen King. Directed by John Carpenter, even though the movie doesn’t always follow the book in the same way it still manages to do a great job.
    I also thought Jaws was of course very good, and in so many ways even better than the novel by Peter Benchley.
    And last but not least there is the post apocalyptic movie The Road, that basically followed the book to the letter and was a seriously terrific adaptation.
    Loved this post! 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Christine was my favourite Stephen King novel, and I agree that the film more than does it justice. I haven’t read Jaws or The Road, but thought both films were very good too.
      Thanks for joining in, Michel.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. I like the film adaptation of The Godfather but the book is even better. One of the best books I ever read by a contemporary author is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and the film adaptation is simply wonderful. I love the movies on Hallmark channels where they feature adaptations on Richard Paul Evans’ books. He is my fave author.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Definitely LOTR and The Hobbit, loved the books, loved the movies. In t he Name of The Rose was a good call Pete, and keeping with Sean, I also loved The Man Who Would be King, the book by Rudyard Kipling and the movie starred Mr.Connery, Michael Cane and Christopher Plummer, directed by John Huston. They did a cracking job.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The Man Who Would Be King was excellent indeed. I saw that at the cinema, and thought it was a very good Kipling adaptation. I was never a fan of the LOTR books, so didn’t really bother with the films.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t think you need to have read the book to enjoy the movies Pete in this case. If nothing else the magnitude of cinematic genius that Peter Jackson produced was ground breaking. Quality actors too. The ‘making of’ extras on the dvds were almost as fascinating, the model making in particular appealed to us, and it was quite surprising how much wasn’t CGI that I thought was. I think the genre doesn’t matter when the quality is so high, it really is a joy to watch on all sorts of levels.

        Liked by 2 people

  11. The Name the Rose, yes! Very good adaptation. Another I liked for it’s lingering sense of discomfort was Black Narcissus (based on Rumer Godden’s novel of the same name. the few more recent film adaptations that I have seen have left me disappointed, so for a later post response!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Good choices – I saw The Godfather before I read the book, which I ended up loving (and it made me enjoy the movie much more than I had when I first saw it).

    As for me, I think the Lord of the Ring trilogy is one (/three). Those are some of my favorite books, and despite the differences between the books and the movies, I love the movies as well. Another trilogy is there as well – The Hunger Games. Oh, and Gone with the Wind. I’m sure I will come up with more.

    Perhaps you should consider a third post on books you thought were OK (or bad), but you loved the movie more. I have an entire author whose books I think are just OK, but I love the movies made from them (spoiler alert: it’s Nick Hornby).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not a fan of the LOTR books, so haven’t watched the films yet.
      I will be doing some more posts on this theme soon, but it is interesting that you mention Nick Hornby, as I felt the opposite, and loved the books more than the films. Perhaps because I am a Londoner, and identified with the locations and his original style in the novels.
      I have never read the book of Gone With the Wind. Until I was much older, I didn’t even know it had been a book! 🙂
      Best wishes, and a small treat for Choppy! Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So funny that we feel exactly opposite on Nick Hornby – I bet you are correct that I don’t know the places, so it’s just gobbledy-gook to me.

        One of my co-workers LOVES the LOTR movies, but thinks the books are absurdly boring and has never been able to get through them.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Great choices. Roman Polanski’s Macbeth is my personal favorite. Also, Taylor Hackford’s Dolores Claiborne. The 1995 movie perfectly translates Stephen King’s themes. And I thought The Razor’s Edge (1946) was a beautiful adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s great book (Bill Murray’s 1984 Razor’s Edge is a bit of a travesty).

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca is another good one. Also The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy. The Godfather is excellent. Great Expectations looks stunning. Lean’s adaptation of Oliver Twist is another good one, that is a real favourite of mine perfectly capturing the time period.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your thoughts and suggestions, Maddy. I could have written about dozens of course, and I agree that ‘Rebecca’ is wonderful. I haven’t watched the LOTR films though, as I never really got into the books.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

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