Some of the most unforgettable movies are adapted from books and graphic novels. From The Lord of the Rings to numerous Stephen King novels, Hollywood has recreated some masterpieces over the decades for the silver screen. However, not all movies adapted have been well received by fans for various reasons. While few movies fail to recreate the moments, others completely miss the point of the original source material (Zack Snyder’s Watchmen) despite ticking all the boxes for aesthetics and acting performances. Though not all movie adaptations of books have become blockbusters or won numerous accolades, a faithful adaptation satiates the fans of the book, and honestly, that’s all it takes. With the holiday season upon us, here are the 15 best movie adaptations of books of all time you should watch.
1. The Lord of the Rings
Widely regarded as the greatest epic high fantasy novel of all time, The Lord of the Rings was written in stages by J.R.R. Tolkien written between 1937 to 1949. In 2001, Peter Jackson adapted the first part of the novel, The Fellowship of the Ring, to widespread acclaim. In the subsequent years, he further adapted The Two Towers and The Return of the King, which cemented his legacy as one of the greatest visionary directors of all time.
Directed by Joe Wright at the age of 35, Atonement is a testament to the fact that not all book adaptations need a massive budget to be successful. A devastating film on themes of guilt and redemption, Atonement has set a benchmark when it comes to portraying period dramas set against the backdrop of the Second World War. With heartbreaking performances by Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, an unforgettable score by Dario Marianelli, and visceral frames, Atonement is undoubtedly one of the greatest movie adaptations to date.
3. The Call of the Wild
Jack London’s The Call of the Wild is one of the most-read short novels since its time of publication. The story follows Buck, a St. Bernard–Scotch Collie mix who is stolen from his loving home to be sold as a sled dog in the wilderness of Alaska. Though Buck meets another loving master in the wintery lands, he fights for survival and domination. Far from the comfort of his previous home, Buck gradually accepts his primitive instincts in the harsh conditions of Alaska to become a legend. The most recent adaptation of this short novel was released this year, with Harrison Ford as the leading star. Despite its sub-par CGI, the movie managed to stay faithful to the allegory penned by London in his novel.
4. The Color Purple
A literary sensation, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple was adapted to the big screen by Steven Spielberg back in 1985. Though Spielberg was rightly criticized for directing a pre-dominantly black story, the auteur nonetheless was able to capture most of the essence of this unflinching and haunting novel. As Hollywood has witnessed considerable progress in inclusivity since the ’80s, the novel surely needs a revisit by a black director who is unwilling to compromise the story for the sake of aesthetics.
5. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012) is undoubtedly one of his greatest works. Focusing on probably the most influential political decision that changed the course of American history, Lincoln is a testament to the political genius of America’s greatest President in history. Though the movie is based only on parts from the literary tome that the source material is, Spielberg’s genius particularly shines in integrating the pages to create a masterpiece. From Abraham Lincoln’s cunning political maneuvers to his relationship with his wife Mary, Lincoln is a movie for ages to come.
6. Le Transperceneige
There are hardly a few apocalyptic movies that focus on the human condition and themes of class divide, capitalism, and segregation. Adapted from the French graphic novel, Bong Joon Ho made his English directorial debut with Snowpiercer, widely regarded as one of the best movies to have come out in recent years. As the last survivors make their way through the Second Ice Age, class segregation still exists even in the face of a literal apocalypse. With strong performances from Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer marked the arrival of the Korean director in style.
7. To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is often cited as one of the greatest stories about the pristine innocence of children. When a black man is falsely accused of raping a white woman, Atticus Finch rises up as the hero to defend the innocent man in the court. Written during the peak of racial inequality, To Kill a Mockingbird still manages to preserve its warmth and humor throughout the story. Adapted by Robert Mulligan, the movie went on to win an Academy Award, including Best Actor for Gregory Peck for his role of Atticus Finch. A story of one man rising up against systemic racism, Atticus Finch is a timeless hero that everyone must aspire to be.
8. A Clockwork Orange
Adapted from Anthony Burgess’ novel of the same name, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation is probably his most controversial movie to date. Termed as ‘ultra-violent’, A Clockwork Orange is set in a dystopian Britain with themes of juvenile delinquency, psychiatry, and youth gangs. After facing a backlash for its extremely violent content, the movie later witnessed a surge in popularity after a critical re-evaluation.
9. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Directed by Milos Forman, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is often regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made. Adapted from Ken Kesey’s novel of the same name, the movie stars Jack Nicholson as a patient at a mental institution who finds himself at odds with the head nurse who rules the place with an iron fist. Amidst the power struggle, the movie particularly shines with stellar performances from Nicholson and Louise Fletcher.
10. Schindler’s List
Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List is one of those few movies that you cannot muster the guts to revisit once again. Based on Thomas Keneally Schindler’s Ark, the movie stars Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Kingsley. Based on true events, Oskar Schindler’s act of defiance against Nazism is a hauntingly beautiful tale of guilt, redemption, and survival. Spielberg’s masterful direction and unforgettable performances from the lead actors put Schindler’s List in the list of the greatest movies ever made.
11. Casino Royale
Marking the debut of Daniel Craig as James Bond, Casino Royale revolutionized the Bond franchise for various reasons. From portraying a more vulnerable James Bond to shifting the focus on engaging cinematography, Casino Royale paved the way for an entirely new saga. Based on Ian Fleming’s debut novel, Casino Royale is often regarded as one of the best Bond movies ever made.
12. Life of Pi
Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is a hauntingly beautiful tale of finding oneself in the vast ocean of life. Prior to the movie’s release, Yann Martel’s novel was considered to be unfilmable. Nonetheless, Ang Lee perfectly captured the story of a teenage boy shipwrecked in the ocean with a Royal Bengal Tiger as his faith and morality are tested to their limits. Richly detailed with themes of spirituality, religion, and the nature of truth, the majestic graphics truly capture the beauty of the story despite its harrowing nature.
13. The Shawshank Redemption
Based on Stephen King’s Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption was a box-office failure. However, the movie soon amassed a cult following after it was released on VHS. Morgan Freeman’s unforgettable performance as Red and Tim Robbin’s Andy Dufresne became the major highlight of the movie.
Based on Irvine Welsh’s novel, Danny Boyle’sTrainspotting is a pinnacle of black comedy set in an economically depressed area following the story of a group of heroin addicts. A terrifying portrayal of drug addiction, Trainspotting is a brutal and unforgiving movie that will leave you disturbed for weeks. The movie is also notable for its unforgettable soundtrack, a staple in most of Danny Boyle’s works.
15. Fight Club
Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club is arguably one of the best subversive tropes that is widely misunderstood by fans. Anti-consumerist at its core, Fight Club follows the story of an unnamed narrator who descends into a life of chaos and mayhem to reclaim humanity’s goal of survival by discerning the post-industrial consumerist society. Directed by David Fincher, the movie stars Brad Pitt and Edward Norton as Tyler Durden and the unnamed narrator respectively. The movie’s scathing remarks on the present society are almost prophetical in nature. Despite receiving a lukewarm response upon its release, Fight Club has now become one of the groundbreaking cult movies of all time.