Book to movie adaptations are a great source of content for writers and producers. When done well, story lovers can experience their favorite characters on the big screen in new and exciting ways. Great book adaptations revive age-old tales begging to be remembered.Because classic novel adaptations seem to run the gamut of remakes, that type of list could go on forever. I don’t see the point in adding every great adaptation ever made, so this list focuses on the 5 best book to film adaptations from the last 5 years — and even that wasn’t easy.
Top 5 best book to film adaptations
The amount of content we consume in a day is immeasurable, and so is the amount of adaptations that appear in any given year. So let's take a look at our pick of films from the last five years.
2014 - Gone Girl
Gone Girl written by Gillian Flynn based on her 2012 novel of the same name. Again, having the original author pen the screenplay, keeps the story, well, the story, but this particular screenplay was very well done. Not all novelists are up to the task, but Flynn nailed it.
Honorable mention: Graham Moore's The Imitation Game adapted from the 1983 biography "Alan Turing: The Enigma" by Andrew Hodges. The film focuses on Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) during his years as a cryptographer for the British military during WWII.
Michael Tucker analyzes Gone Girl's script
2015 - Room
Room stars Brie Larson who plays a woman who has been held captive for seven years, and whose 5 year old son was born in captivity. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson and written by Emma Donoghue, based on her 2010 novel of the same name. Having the same writer write the screenplay helps to keep this thrilling story true to its original form. Hear Emma Donoghue talk about her process or watch a video clip of Emma on set with the filmmakers.
Contrary to popular belief, writers on set can be a great thing
Honorable mention: Brooklyn written by Nick Hornby and by directed by John Crowley, adapted from the novel by Colm Tóibín.
2016 - Arrival
This adaptation is on the list not because of its Hollywood success, but the interesting way it came into existence. Arrival is actually adapted from a short story by the name of “Story of Your Life”, by Ted Chiang. Adapting a short story brings its own set of unique challenges, while also giving the screenwriter, Eric Heisserer and director, Denis Villeneuve a bit more flexibility with the film. What I personally appreciate is the screenwriter’s consideration for the original, and his dedication to various consultations with the author when changes became necessary.
“The first attempt was pretty faithful to the story, but I realized that the DNA in the story only got me halfway, and that there was a lot I had to make up on my own....it made all the difference to have [the aliens] show up in ships, so we’re face-to-face. This was by far the biggest change I made to the source material, but I needed to run it by the author to see if he saw the same value in it, because any time you’re adding something that wasn’t part of the core material, there’s a threat of the new organ being rejected by the host...”
— Eric Heisserer
Heisserer had been pitching this adaptation for years, but it wasn’t until Villeneuve expressed interest, the two had a much stronger vision for producers. Watch the aliens communicate below!
Listen to the aliens speak in this scene from Arrival
Honorable mention: Tarell Alvin McCraney and Barry Jenkins' Moonlight, based on McCraney's play "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue." Martin Scorsese and Jay Cocks’ Silence adapted from the 1966 novel of the same name by Shūsaku Endō.
2017 - It
I’m not a horror fan, necessarily. But when I hear about a Stephen King adaptation, I usually change my plans to make sure I see it, or at least, go with someone who I can hide behind. But hey, at least I show up. It was one of those times, but I’m proud to say I watched it all, and was mostly, pretty happy about it. Director, Andy Muschietti, and screenwriters Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman adapted King’s 1986 novel of the same name. And they stayed pretty true to the original. Who wants to disappoint Stephen King?
Watching this scene once was enough for me, but I'll leave it here
While very Hollywood, the movie did a great job at scaring the living sh*t out of me.
“My first reaction, when offered the opportunity to direct this movie, was basically to go back to my emotional experience reading the book when I was a child, and translating that into a movie that would blow my mind as an adult. Those were the big ideas when approaching the making of this movie."
— Andy Muschietti
Honorable mention: Hidden Figures based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s novel "Hidden Figures: The Untold Stories of African American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race." These women were critical figures in history and the adaptation did a good job at portraying their impact, but there were some compressed and overly conflated timelines in order to achieve a more engaging film.
2018 - The Hate You Give
Adapted by Audrey Wells and directed by George Tillman Jr., The Hate You Give is based on the novel by Angie Thomas. It’s a young adult novel written by Thomas that was expanded from a short story responding to the shooting of Oscar Grant. The film stayed true to the novel, but did move a few things around, most notably the Talk from the middle of the story to the opening scene.
Changing around the order of events in the story isn't always a bad thing
Honorable mentions: Wildlife — Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan’s adaptation of Richard Ford’s novel of the same name. Crazy Rich Asians directed by Jon M. Chu, written by Pete Chiarelli and Adele Lim, based on Kevin Kwan's bestselling novel.
What about 2019?
The year’s not over yet. While, there were a few adaptations already released this year, most notably Pet Sematary, The Best of Enemies, and Where’d You Go, Bernadette, I’m not sure they’d claim our spot. Our last section, details what’s next on the pipeline for 2019, and I think one of those adaptations has better shot at the top spot.
2018 saw some incredible films based on memoirs, and so while these aren’t “book adaptations” I thought they deserved their own little section. These very real and raw stories weren’t always easy to watch because they were so easy to feel. Stories so powerful, with performances that nearly rivaled them.
BlacKkKlansman, a Spike Lee adaptation is based on the 2014 memoir Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth. It follows an African American detective who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s.
Regardless of how the entire film came together, Beautiful Boy, was a gut-wrenching true story based on the memoirs of a father and son, David and Nic Scheff, drowning in the son’s addiction.
2018 also saw Can You Ever Forgive Me? The film stars Melissa McCarthy who plays author, Lee Israel. The film follows the character in her life of literary crime, forging letters from icons like Lillian Hellman and Dorothy Parker. All of this was outlined in Lee Israel’s actual memoir "Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger."
Lion is a 2016 Australian film adapted from Saroo Brierley's “A Long Way Home,” a memoir recounting the author's journey to find his Indian birth family 25 years after they were accidentally separated.
Book Adaptations for TV
Top 5 best book to TV adaptations
The silver screen shouldn't be the only one getting all the love. There are plenty of incredible adaptations that have become television shows. And that's also why this list was almost really hard.
2014 - Game of Thrones
Obviously. And if you're over it, well, facts don't change. Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, adapted from "A Song of Ice and Fire" from George R.R. Martin’s series. The first book is "A Game of Thrones." This series is probably one of the greatest television shows ever created, let alone a great adaptation. Seasons 1-5 were my personal favorites.
Because baby dragons all the time
2015 - Orange is the New Black
OITNB wasn’t released in 2015, but it was at its peak. Based on Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name, the book tells the story of Kerman’s 15 months in a women’s prison in Connecticut. The series obviously develops this much further.
Scene from Season 3
2016 - The Night ManagerBased on the novel of the same name by John le Carré, the adaptation isn’t perfectly faithful to the novel, but it’s a near masterpiece. Many of John Le Carré’s spy novels have been adapted - "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" has even been made into both a film and a TV series.
Amazon Series: The Night Manager gives us so much in one season
2017 - The Handmaid's Tale
The ability to take a story that is so incredibly heady and turn it into this external beast of a show is a screenwriter’s dream. I’m not sure how I feel about the last two seasons, but the first season of this show, adapted from Margaret Atwood’s novel, is one of the best book-to-tv show adaptations I have ever seen.
There are many of these never-forget moments
Honorable mentions: Big Little Lies and The Leftovers.
2018 - Killing Eve
Why is this show so good? It only has 8 episodes, and I’ve appreciated those episodes more than entire series. The performances from Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer, dare I say, kill it. The series is based on the Villanelle novel series by Luke Jennings.
Best book to tv adaptation: Killing Eve
Honorable mention: Gillian Flynn dominates TV too with Sharp Objects.
What about 2019?
Hulu’s latest series Shrill and Catch-22 have the critics' eye. Shrill is based on the book "Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman" by Lindy West, starring Aidy Bryant. And Catch-22 is a satirical dark comedy miniseries based on the iconic novel of the same name by Joseph Heller. It stars Christopher Abbott, Kyle Chandler, Hugh Laurie, and George Clooney.
2019 saw Chernobyl, which of course was not based off a book but the very real events following the 1986 nuclear disaster in Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
More Book to Movie Adaptations
Upcoming releases based on books
What are some other book to film adaptations to look out for?
Set for release Christmas 2019, Louis May Alcott’s classic, "Little Women," will of course be hitting theaters with the same name. The star studded cast includes, Meryl Streep, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet, and Saoirse Ronan.
A 1999 novel by Jonathan Lethem is being adapted for the big screen. A lonely private detective afflicted with Tourette's syndrome tries to solve the murder of his mentor and only friend. Starring Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Leslie Mann, and Willem Dafoe.
Set for November 2019, a Scorsese film based on the true crime book by Charles Brandt's "I Heard You Paint Houses," The Irishman is about Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran, a labor union official with mob connections, as he recalls his involvement in the slaying of Jimmy Hoffa. Stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci.
The Dune remake is set for release November 20th, 2020. Director, Denis Villeneuve has strong intentions to “honor everything” about the original novel by Frank Hebert. It will star Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides, leader of the revolution.
“David Lynch did an adaptation in the 80s that has some very strong qualities. I mean, David Lynch is one of the best filmmakers alive, I have massive respect for him,” Villeneuve said. “But when I saw his adaptation, I was impressed, but it was not what I had dreamed of, so I’m trying to make the adaptation of my dreams. It will not have any link with the David Lynch movie. I’m going back to the book, and going to the images that came out when I read it.”
— Denis Villeneuve
10 Best Shakespeare movies
If we're talking about adapting classic literature for the silver screen, we can't avoid the elephant in the room. Movies based on Shakespeare plays can be a risky proposition but these are the films that really nailed it. From the iconic dialogue to stories soaked in tragedy, get your English class fix while watching these show-stopping movies.