Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.
The rules are simple:
- Each Tuesday, Jana assigns a new topic. Create your own Top Ten list that fits that topic – putting your unique spin on it if you want.
- Everyone is welcome to join but please link back to The Artsy Reader Girl in your own Top Ten Tuesday post.
- Add your name to the Linky widget on that day’s post so that everyone can check out other bloggers’ lists.
- Or if you don’t have a blog, just post your answers as a comment on her weekly post.
This week the topic is a Freebie, so I chose: Books Made into Good Movies.
How many times have you read a book only to find out that Hollywood ruined it by adapting it to the big screen? We know this happens all the time, and far too often. However, sometimes the screenwriters get it just right and the results are as good as the original, and a few are even better than their books. Here are some movies that I feel truly did justice to the books upon which they were based. I’m going to list these in order of their movie release dates, in descending order, since I’d prefer not to rank them! (I wish I had book reviews for all of them, but I’m afraid I don’t. For those I’ve never reviewed, you’ll find links to the films on IMDb.)
The Wizard of OZ (1939) – the memory of my father reading this book to me as a child is one of the loveliest ones I have of him. The characters were such that young children could really identify with, and the story was exciting. That said no amount of time can make this lovely movie any less appealing than it was when it was released, and it wasn’t just because this was one of the first movies to be filmed in color. No, everything we got from the book we got in spades from the movie, and even more so because of the great songs and dance numbers. This film is invariably on everyone’s list of favorites and will invariably also show up on most lists of best-loved children’s books.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) – while Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel made her famous, adapting it to the screen must have been no easy task. This story about a black man on trial for the rape of a white woman as told through the eyes of a young girl is both a tale of racial prejudice and the loss of innocence. Filmed when the Civil Rights Movement in the USA was gaining momentum, this movie probably ruffled no small amount of feathers (pun intended) in many viewers. But a masterful job was done with this book and the film received eight Academy Award nominations and went home with three Oscars and is considered one of the best movies of all time.
The Princess Bride (1987) – one of the most unusual and hysterically funny books I’ve ever read. In William Goldman’s novel he claims that all he is doing is giving the world an abridged “good bits” version of a famous novel by one S. Morgenstern, the most beloved author from the country of Florin. Throughout the book Goldman interjects his own commentary and explains the reason for writing the book is because his father read it to him when he was bedridden but when he went to give a copy to his own son (and by the way, Goldman doesn’t actually have any sons), found it to differ greatly from the story he recalled. The movie version plays on this concept and has Peter Falk reading to his sick grandson, played by Fred Savage. The film version was adapted by Goldman himself, and he mentions this in one of the anniversary editions of the book, noting that Stephen King wasn’t happy with the idea of him doing the adaptation! What’s more, if many say this is one of the greatest love stories ever told, it is one that even those who hate love stories can love because of the inclusion of humor, fantasy and adventure elements.
Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) – I actually read and fell in love with the book after I’d already seen this movie and adored it. In both the book and the film there are actually two stories going on in parallel. One is that of a woman who meets an old lady in an old age home and the other is the story the elderly woman tells of her youth. This is achieved with flashbacks in the film, but the book not only jumps between the two times but also includes other tidbits such as recipes, letters and pieces taken from an old local newspaper. All this gives us a portrait of the South with an edge of feminism, from a time and place when that was generally unheard of. Author Fannie Flagg uses this story to parallel how Ninny Threadgoode (Tandy) helps Evelyn Couch (Bates) become more self confident and assertive. Both the book and the film are truly delightful and can be enjoyed equally, and it doesn’t matter which one comes first for you, as the other will just enhance your initial experience. (Oh, and by the way, Flagg has a sequel to this book coming out in late October called The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop!)
Cider House Rules (1999) – this novel by John Irving is hardly the easiest of stories to bring to film, especially since its underlying message is such a controversial one. The message here is that performing abortions and giving a home to unwanted newborns are both “God’s work”. However, only those who have read the book will be aware of this because it was delicately (or perhaps politically) omitted in the movie. Other than this, the adaptation of this book for the big screen is a worthy one and generally true to the original. Although some might consider this film to be slightly on the slow side, Lasse Hallström’s direction is perfectly in tune with the feel of the original novel. Here, rather than include all the rambling sidetracks and background that Irving includes in the book (some of which are on the unsavory side), Hallström allows his central character to follow the main part of the story with a dream-like quality, which is an excellent counterpoint to the absurdity of both life and people one meets. The only small drawback of this film is the less than consistent American accent used by Michael Caine, who plays Dr. Larch. Despite this, the movie won Michael Caine an Oscar and Irving also was awarded one for adaptation of his own novel.
Chocolat (2000) – Joanne Harris became a household name after this movie came out, and if you ask me, rightly so. However, I found that something didn’t work for me in the book – that being that Harris placed it in the 1980s, and for me, I found it hard to believe that even such a small French town would still be so totally religious. The film, however, is set during the 1950s and I believe that this was a great call, which made all the difference. Yes, I did enjoy the book, but I liked the movie just a tiny bit better than the book.
Brokeback Mountain (2005) – According to the website shortlist.com, “When her 1997 short story was filmed by Ang Lee, author Anne Proulx proclaimed: “I may be the first writer in America to have a piece of writing make its way to the screen whole and entire”.” Well, I couldn’t agree more with the author’s own assessment. This is probably partially due to the fact that what Proulx wrote was a short story, which made it easier to turn into a full-length movie without losing any of the essential elements. This is probably one of the most heartfelt and tragic love stories I’ve ever read, which made for an absolutely amazing film, that fully deserved the Oscars it won.
The Devil Wears Prada (2006) – Okay, so… I wasn’t totally thrilled with this book, to be completely honest, because I think that the ending really let it down. No lessons really learned, no real consequences for anyone, and no triumphs either. It was like… so, why are you telling us this story? Just to show you how stupid people can be? I didn’t really get it. However, I think that the movie had an equally poor ending, which mirrored the novel to perfection, and left me feeling just as unsatisfied. That means that for me, the movie adaptation was equally as good (or should I say, equally as disappointing) as the novel! Take your pick.
The Help (2011) – I read Kathryn Stockett’s book just before the movie came out, and I very much enjoyed the concept, the story, and the writing. Regarding the movie, I wasn’t really happy with the choice of Emma Stone as Skeeter Phelan because she’s not really tall enough for the part at a nice but not very stately 5’6″! Of course, with the CGI they can perform these days, they surely did make her look taller, so that helped. My only other problem with the movie adaptation was it wasn’t quite as subtle as the book (particularly when it came to the part about the chocolate pie. I won’t say more if you haven’t read the book or seen the film, because… spoiler)! Now, don’t get me wrong – I know all about the cultural problems with this book and the movie. My point with this post is to find movies that did justice to the book, or improved even slightly on the book, even if both were flawed.
The Book Shop (2017) – Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel was very good, beautifully written, and with an interesting plot, but not outstanding for me. I think my biggest problem with the book was that it didn’t age very well. However, I only read this novel (or rather novella) after I saw this movie. Once again, I believe that the screenwriters did an excellent job of translating this to the big screen, and perhaps improved upon the original. I particularly liked how they added a very nice ending that wasn’t in the book. Purists will probably disagree, but there you go.
Honorable mentions go to: the 1933 version of “Little Women” staring Katharine Hepburn, and the 1939 version of Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” staring Laurence Olivier. In addition, there have been several successful adaptations of various Jane Austen novels – but that should be the subject of a separate article!
How about you? Which books have you read that you’ve found their film adaptations to equal or better their books?