10 best book to film adaptations

Gone girl has been released to critical acclaim, despite many being concerned that the big screen adaptation couldn’t live up to the pulp fiction page-turner.

Thankfully, David Fincher and gIllian Flynn (author of Gone Girl) constructed a magnificent screenplay and found the perfect actors (Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck) to bring the flawed but wickedly brilliant Amy and Nick Dunne to life of screen.

But Gone Girl is just the most recent of many book to film adaptations that have successfully made the jump from page to screen. The source material is there, it just takes something special to bring the words to life. Take a look at this selection of the best book to film adaptations.

10. Sense and Sensibility

Author: Jane Austen | Director: Ang Lee

sense and sensibility

A Jane Austen classic, Sense and Sensibility was beautifully bought to the big screen in 1995. Thoroughly British Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson play Edward and Elinor, respectively to a tee. Gorgeous cinematography and Thompson’s great screenplay adaptation does justice to Austen’s wondrous words.

The film won three awards and eleven nominations at the 1995 BAFTAs as well as seven Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture and Best Actress (for Thompson).*

9. The Color Purple

Author: Alice Walker | Director: Stephen Spielberg

color purple

A powerful book, The Color Purple is just as powerful as a film. This film follows Celie battling racism and sexism in 1900 America. Walker’s use of writing in the southern and black dialects in the book came to life thanks to a brilliant portrayal by Whoopi Goldberg, who portrays her complicated relationship with Mister (Danny Glover) with real conviction.

The film was nominated for 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Goldberg. It was also nominated for four Golden Globes, including Best Picture (Drama). Goldberg won Best Actress (Drama). Spielberg received his first Directors Guild of America Award for Best Motion Picture Director.

8. A Clockwork Orange

Author: Anthony Burgess | Director: Stanley Kubrick

clockwork orange

Who better than Stanley Kubrick to bring this dark dystopian tale to life? Malcolm McDowell’s portrayal of the delinquent Alex makes many more recent juvenile rebels look tame. The film was considered very controversial upon release due to its graphic depiction of rape and violence, but even more so when copycat crimes began to occur in real life. The cult classic remains a critics’ favourite, still appearing on many ‘best film’ lists to this day. Oh and don’t forget the incredible soundtrack: an eclectic mix of Beethoven and electronic synth.

It was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, seven BAFTAs including best film and best director and won the 1972 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentaion, and the 1971 New York Film Critics Circle Awards for Best Film and Best Director (Kubrick).

7. Harry Potter (series)

Author: J.K. Rowling | Director: Christopher Columbus, Alfonso Cuarón, Mike Newell, David Yates

harry potter

When a book captures the hearts and minds of an entire generation, it’s a big responsibility to effectively bring it to the big screen. To say the Harry Potter series was successfully adapted would be something of an understatement; it is the highest grossing film series of all time, with each film falling in the top 50 highest grossing films list. Daniel Radcliffe and co were all well casted and the films do well in transitioning from the light and entertaining first years at Christopher Columbus’s direction, to the darker, more adult themes in the later films.

As well as picking up several awards for special effects, the series has been collectively recognised at both the BAFTAs ( Michael Balcon Award for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema) and with a Special Award at the American Film Institute Awards, both in 2011.

6. LA Confidential

Author: James Ellroy | Director: Curtis Hanson


American noir at its finest, except perhaps The Big Sleep or Double Indemnity, LA Confidential is the classic ‘sexy’ detective film, with an all-star cast, including Kevin Spacey and (a then relatively unknown) Russell Crowe, but Kim Baisinger sizzles as prostitute Lynn Bracken. Delve into LA’s 50s underbelly as Ellroy’s moody writing translates nearly perfectly to the screen. Unfortunately, it was overlooked at most award ceremonies that year due to the Titanic juggernaut.

L.A. Confidential was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won two, Kim Basinger for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and for Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay). In 2009, the London Film Critics’ Circle voted L.A. Confidential one of the best films of the last 30 years

5. Fight Club

Author: Chuck Palahniuk | Director: David Fincher


Now infamous for “not talking about Fight Club”, this is a film that many never thought could be played out on screen due to Palahniuk’s complex narrative. But if anyone can pull of something as dark, twisted and complicated as Fight Club’s plot, it’s Fincher. His second outing with Brad Pitt originally divided critics, but the film became wildly popular by the time the video was released, and became a cult classic and one the archetypal ‘lads’ films’.

In 2003, Fight Club was listed as one of the “50 Best Guy Movies of All Time” by Men’s JournalTotal Film ranked Fight Club as “The Greatest Film of our Lifetime” in 2007.   In 2008, readers of Empire ranked Tyler Durden first on a list of the 100 Greatest Movie Characters.  It was also listed as one of the best 100 Movies in AFI’s 100 Years… 10 Movies 10th Anniversary edition.

4. The Shining

Author: Stephen King | Director: Stanley Kubrick

The Shining

“Heeerrre’s Johnny!” is now one of the most iconic film scenes of all time, certainly in the horror genre. The second Kubrick entry on this list has become something of a horror/thriller staple, with Jack Nicholson bringing King’s unhinged character to life at the Overlook Hotel so well.

While the film did not receive great critical reception at the time of it’s release, with no Oscar or Golden Globe nominations (it actually was nominated for the antithesis in the form the Razzies) it has gone on to be another Kubrick cult hit and grown to be appreciated for how scary it really is, always frequenting ‘scariest film’ lists.

3. Breakfast at Tiffany’s 

Author: Truman Capote | Director: Blake Edwards

breakfast tiffanys

A film that is most associated with Audrey Hepburn as the epitome of glamour, Breakfast as Tiffany’s has become an iconic masterpiece. Ironically, Capote had Marilyn Monroe in mind when he wrote the book. Holly Gollightly is portrayed in a far more favourable light with her little black dress and cigarette holder as the ditzy call-girl in the film as opposed to Capote’s slightly darker novella. It’s a charming film of a complex woman and her cat; “a no-name slob. We belong to nobody, and nobody belongs to us,” and the importance of letting people in.

It was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Hepburn and Best Adapted Screenplay, winning two for Best Original Score and Best Original Song for the famous “Moon River”. In 2012, the film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

2.The Lord of the Rings (series)

Author: J.R.R Tolkien | Director: Peter Jackson


If there’s a film series you’re going to describe as ‘epic’, it’s LOTR. Everything about it is epic: the cinematography, the soundtrack, the cast (Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf, who else could do the legendary wizard justice), everything is epic. Much like Harry Potter, translating the popular fantasy books to the big screen was no easy task, but Peter Jackson pulled it off with aplomb, visualising Middle Earth to a tee.

Also like Harry Potter, the film won many accolades for its special effects and make up. The film series won 17 out of 30 total Oscar nominations. The Return of the King, won all of its 11 Academy Awards nominations, tying it with Ben Hur and Titanic for most Oscars received for a film.

1. Gone with the Wind

Author: Margaret Mitchell | Director: Victor Fleming and Sam Wood

gone with wind

The lengthy novel is also a lengthy film, but “Quite frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn (about how long it is)”; every minute it riveting, even if Victor Fleming did have to bow out of directing duties due to exhaustion. Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable bring Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler to life brilliantly. A classic to this day, it is a must watch film that everyone has (or should have) seen at least once in their lifetime.

In 1940, it received ten Oscars from thirteen nominations, including wins for Best Picture, Best Director (Victor Fleming), Best Actress (Vivien Leigh). It set records for the total number of wins and nominations at the time. Adjusted for inflation, it is still the most successful film in box-office history. In 2008 Gone with the Wind was voted the most popular film by Americans in a nationwide poll by Harris Interactive and it frequently appears in the top five in many AFI lists, including Best movies, quotes and heroes.

 (*CREDIT: All film awards and reception information taken from relevant Wikipedia pages)


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