The Best and Worst Film Adaptations of Books

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Zac Efron and Charlie Tahan in Charlie St. Cloud Zac Efron and Charlie Tahan in Charlie St. Cloud (Universal Pictures)

What makes a film adaptation of a book work, and what makes it fail? The Takeaway talks with Patrik Henry Bass, senior editor of Essence magazine about why he believes some adaptations work better than others. We also chat with Ben Sherwood, author of "The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud," about watching his novel make the transition from page to screen.

What do you think? Which books made better movies?


Ben Sherwood

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer


Patrik Henry Bass

Comments [41]

Andrew Campbell from Mahopac, NY

Holes. The was from the point-of-view of the one character, we were in his mind. The was more about a social situation, a set of characters. The central one was still Stanley Yelnats, but I
wasn't 'in his mind' as much--it wasn't 'existential', and that is the critical point. It is one of the two stories I had to put down (temporarily) while I was reading (listening to on audio-tape) because it was too strong for me to deal with at the moment--the bare, existential aspect of things when he was out at the old boat in the dry lake was a little too desolate for me at the moment. The movie was just action.

In the film, the characters were very well drawn but what struck me was that everyone around Stanley was criminal or crazy, most were both. Stanley was and just wanted to be a normal guy, doing normal things. --Until I realized, the entire story him ('existential')--a curse passed to him through his father and grandfather!

Jul. 30 2010 06:47 PM

I have to agree with the previous comments regarding 'No Country for Old Men', 'The Road' and 'The Prestige'. All 3 were very good books that were fleshed out and brought to life quite nicely on the big screen. I'd also like to add 'Rosemary's Baby'. I loved Polanski's tone and imagery, which often outshone Ira Levin's flat dialogue in the book version.

Jul. 30 2010 01:31 PM
Andrew Campbell from Mahopac, NY

The movie , with Anthony Hopkins and Cuba Gooding, Jr. vs.
the novel by Daniel Guinn. The book was very didactic. It was easy to follow and made a story but it was so stiff and obviously written to make a point, a
legitimate and realistic point, as I remember, but not satisfying
as a 'work of art'. The film is among my favorites for the interaction of the two main charactors. Not 'good guys vs. bad guys' not even 'one against another'. It was a true 'interaction', two different people
that have to, have the challenge to exchange and find some new truth, a worthy resolution to some issue. My thesis is, it was a good movie because
of the way these two actors were able to present it as two strong, capable and complex charactors directed at each other, one way or another, without the cliche, styalization. A true psychological drama.

Jul. 30 2010 11:10 AM
Kevin K. from Brooklyn, NY

I can't believe nobody has mentioned "American Psycho" yet. Bret Easton Ellis's novel was universally (and justifiably) panned, but Mary Harron's adaption was a dark humor classic featuring a pitch-perfect performance by Christian Bale.

Jul. 30 2010 09:10 AM
Ed from Towson, MD

John Hockenberry was dead on right about "The Dead," John Huston's last film, an exceptional adaptation of James Joyce's famousr short story. I watch once a year on March 17.

Jul. 29 2010 08:25 PM
Roland from New Jersey

1984 was a very good adaptation of the Orwell novel by the same name. It was a visually striking film and it gave a real sense of the desparate world the book attempts to convey.

Jul. 29 2010 04:03 PM
Aaron Mitchell from NYC

The Godfather, clearly - glad I'm not the only one to point this out

I can agree with 2001 as well - though one of my favorite books, the movie achieves something it doesn't.

How about The Shining? I've never read the book, but I've never heard much talk about it.

Jul. 29 2010 03:05 PM
GG from new york

Bridges of Madison County - wonderful movie
Bridges of Madison County - sappy, self indulgent, poorly written book.
Thank you

Jul. 29 2010 10:03 AM
Elaine from Block Island

Lucy-You are sooo wrong about Gone With The Wind. That book is fantastic. Bridges of Madison County.

Jul. 29 2010 10:00 AM
Ned Skiff from Ft. Lauderdale, FL

The book was really OK. The movie GREAT! And on a relatively low budget for the day.

Jul. 29 2010 09:56 AM

The African Queen; I love the movie. I got the book out of curiosity. My advise- skip the book. They don't even blow up the Lousia.

Jul. 29 2010 09:39 AM
RJ from FL

Two movies that did the unthinkable and put forth a better story than the books. Apocolypse Now -much better than Conrad's Heart of Darkness and The Borne Identity - much better than Ludlam's version.

Jul. 29 2010 09:38 AM
Jeannie from Boston

Somewhere in Time (1980) with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour was a classic romance, but the book by Richard Matheson was unbearable - hard to believe it inspired such a lovely movie.

Jul. 29 2010 09:30 AM
Aric from Detroit

The Prestige
Movie: Awesome. One of Christopher Nolan's unknown gems.
Book: Boring as hell, and just plain dumb. Can't believe I read the whole thing.

Jul. 29 2010 09:28 AM
William Foster from Sandy, UT

How about "The Greatest Story Ever Told"? Epic film, but the book was unreadable.

Jul. 29 2010 08:41 AM
Freddy Jenkins

"No Country for Old Men": as much as I had a high ol' time with that book, I thought the movie brought much of the themes of order and chaos into clearer focus; and "The Shining"--Kubrick brought out the mythic qualities of a good ghost story

Jul. 29 2010 08:14 AM
Pau; from Vermont

"Unbearable Lightness of Being" the movie was much better than Milan Kundera's overwrought and over written book---

And John, thank you for noting the "The Dead" a beautiful movie.

Jul. 29 2010 08:07 AM
David Meyerson from New York City

The Da Vinci Code hands down. simple fantastic. The movie didnt do the boob justice.

Jul. 29 2010 08:00 AM
David Meyerson from New York City

The Da Vinci Code hands down. simple fantastic. The movie didnt do the boob justice.

Jul. 29 2010 07:59 AM
Pau; from Vermont

"Unbearable Lightness of Being" the movie was much better than Milan Kundera's overwrought and over written book---

And John, thank you for noting the "The Dead" a beautiful movie.

Jul. 29 2010 07:57 AM
Dave from Charlotte

I think The Road is pretty high up there as far as faithful adaptations go. I wouldn't say the movie is "better," but the book is fantastic, and watching the movie was almost exactly how I imagined it while reading.

Jul. 29 2010 07:42 AM
Arthur C Adams from Laurel, MD

The Princes Bride. It helps that the novelist and the screenwriter are the same person (William Goldman).

Jul. 29 2010 07:23 AM
Cyrus Moghtader from Boston MA

The Remains of the Day Merchant Ivory film adapted by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala from the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. I enjoy the movie much more than book superb acting by Anthony Hopkins as Stevens and Emma Thompson as Miss Kenton till to day i have no come close to anything as refine and well done.

Jul. 29 2010 07:09 AM
Marguerite from NJ

Great Expectations directed by David Lean - I loved the book but the movie presented Miss Havisham better than my imagination could have.

Jul. 29 2010 06:00 AM
loveless from northern nj

Have you ever read the short story, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" It's so bad, I could barely finish it.
"Blade Runner" is on my top 10 list of best movies ever made. How they parse that movie out of that short story is nothing less than epic.

Jul. 28 2010 09:33 PM
lynn Lauber from NYACK, NY

I also saw the movieMe and Orson Welles by Richard Linklater after reading the book by Robert Kaplow and even though I adored the book, I loved the movie (in another way) just as much. This is rare--that both mediums are so excellent.

Jul. 28 2010 08:10 PM
Cris Pereira from DE, USA

The Notebook. I think the movie was a way better than the movie.

Jul. 28 2010 07:47 PM
Robert Kaplow from New Jersey

I'm the author of the novel ME AND ORSON WELLES. Last year, director Richard Linklater made a film of my book--and I have to say it's a vibrant and affectionate adaptation--completely true to the spirit of the original novel. It's different in form (the novel is in first-person and the film artfully manages to completely omit voice-over of any kind), but it captures what the emotional world of that novel feels like.

Jul. 28 2010 07:35 PM
Harris from Harlem

Also, "Broke Back Mountain" the short story was good; but the movie was rich, intricate, and expanded. I love the movie!

Jul. 28 2010 03:44 PM
Harris from Harlem

"Kiss Of The Spiderwoman"...the movie was great; but, the book was a bit convoluted...especially with all those footnotes!!!!

Jul. 28 2010 03:42 PM

Gone With The Wind
The Godfather

Jul. 28 2010 03:39 PM
Lou from Yuma, AZ

The Silence of the Lambs was a fantastic movie but a really simply written and basic crime book. The movie fleshed it all out incredibly well.

Jul. 28 2010 02:23 PM
Jack H from Queens

I have to agree with Jeff Meyers. The Godfater movie was much better than Puzo's book. Also Blade Runner was better than Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep but then I always found Dick a tough read. Believe it or not I liked Apocalypse Now better than Heart of Darkness. I like Conrad's other works much better.

Jul. 28 2010 11:46 AM
orran from Hell's Kitchen

Don't know exactly what makes an adaptation succeed or fail, but an example of a film that was better than the book for me, was "The Firm", because in the film, Mitch McDeere didn't sell-out his clients. The way the film resolves the problem was very clever, and made for a better story, in my opinion.

Jul. 28 2010 11:38 AM
Bryan from Woodstock, NY

2001: A Space Odyssey. The movie has so many unanswered questions it sticks with you and makes you think about it for quite some time. The book explains too much and lacks the eeriness accomplished with the film's slow pace and soundtrack.

Jul. 28 2010 11:37 AM
D. Alice from Rochester Hills, MI

One of my favorite books, "Lonesome Dove" was made as a T.V. movie, & in spite of my misgivings, was beautifully done and perfectly cast. On the other hand, a wonderful book of the same era, "Bonfire of the Vanities", was treated to a full Hollywood production for theater release & was an abomination.
You can't judge a movie by it's distribution modality!

Jul. 28 2010 11:20 AM
Ryan from South Beach

Cold Comfort Farm is the only example I can think of. The book was a funny, but the movie is an ensemble piece where the real star is the casting director. Everone is given full reign to ham it up, but it successfully walks the line between satire and slapstick.

Also, the book mocks pastoral novels with overwritten passages that seem discordant coming from the narrator, but it's neatly solved in the film by having the protagonist be an aspiring writer. As Flora teters on the brink of being annoyingly competent, it's endearing that her writing is so pitifully dewy-eyed.

The net effect is to make an tolerable book an absolutely charming movie.

Jul. 28 2010 10:32 AM
jeff meyers from Ann Arbor, Michigan

As a film critic (Detroit Metro Times) I can think of many films that were better than the books they were based on.

The Godfather is probably the best example. One of cinema's greatest films is based on a crime soap opera. Let's face it, Puzo was no Hemingway.

But here's a quick list off the top of my head...

The Graduate
The Bourne Identity
Blade Runner
Fight Club
Stand By Me

Jul. 28 2010 10:09 AM
Camille from Slovenia

I think the film versions of The Godfather (by Mario Puzo) and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (by Ken Kesey) were better than the books (though the books weren't bad).

Jul. 28 2010 10:07 AM
Asa from West Village

Greene wrote "The 3rd Man" with the idea of of it being a movie and then received a writing credit on the movie. I would say it was one of the best conversions of a novel to a movie if you can consider the novel to have any life of its own.

Jul. 28 2010 10:01 AM
Joyce Dallas from Detroit

The Maltese Falcon is my favorite movie of all time. The book by Dashiell Hammett is also great, but the movie has Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. Perfect.

Jul. 28 2010 10:01 AM

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