It’s easy to point out all the terrible, cringe-worthy book adaptations, such as these eight we shared a few weeks ago. But every once in a blue moon, the director gets it right. I will admit that some of the best adaptations don’t stay entirely true to the book, but if the movie is good, then I’m at least somewhat pleased. We must give adaptations some leeway: they will basically never be as good as the book, and it’s impossible to pick up all the nuances and details from a written piece. When a movie adaptation is good, they deserve to be recognized. Here are some of the best out there:
Fight Club (1999)
Chuck Palahniuk’s novel is a cult classic- as is the film. The author even praised David Fincher’s adaptation, something authors often do, but this one was genuine. The movie stayed true to the central plot and crazy twist of the book, as well as the themes and grittiness. Fight Club is a shocking, highly entertaining, mind-contorting story in both book and movie form.
This shocking story of obsession and pedophilia rocked readers in 1955, as well as movie goers in the 60’s. The novel is praised for its poeticism and the complexity of the characters, specifically the unreliable narrator, Humbert Humbert. Kubrick’s 1962 adaptation captured the intricate layers of the book, making it not only about the creepy tendencies of Humbert and the lost innocence of Lolita, but a deep and provocative tribute to Nabokov’s original work. Peter Sellers (Clare Quilty) and James Mason (Humbert) were perfectly cast as well.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Loosely adapted from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now is an epic tale of war, racism, and white imperialism. Conrad’s original novella (it’s just over 130 pages while the movie is over two and a half hours) is set in the Belgian Congo towards the end of the 19th Century. The story follows Marlowe, an ivory transporter obsessed with Kurtz, and ivory trader who dominated the ‘uncivilised’ people of the Congo. It’s packed with adventure but is mostly a commentary on colonialism. Coppola beautifully translated the work to fit the frame of the Vietnam War, connecting the two time periods to show how little humans change. Plus, Marlon Brando left us in (appropriate) shock.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
“I may be the first writer in America to have a piece of writing make its way to the screen whole and entire,” stated Anne Proulx, author of the devastating short story, Brokeback Mountain. When the film hit theaters, critics and viewers could not get over the beauty of Ang Lee’s adaptation. As Proulx proclaimed, the film stayed true to the story. Lee got everything right, from the portrayal of a doomed homosexual relationship, to their beautiful romance, to the amazing soundtrack. The film won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay as well- many feel it was robbed of the Best Picture award.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)
The U.S. adaptation (by David Flincher) of the first book in Stieg Larrson’s trilogy was good, but not good enough to be a film trilogy. The Swedish version, however, was amazing. Starring Noomi Rapace and directed by Niels Arden Oplev, Larsson’s Millenium series was brought to life in true form. The unique characteristics of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist were captured and portrayed excellently. It’s thrilling but also tells an intricate story, just like Larsson intended.
The Godfather (1972)
Francis Ford Coppola makes the list again, this time for his excellent adaptation of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. You could say this is a no-brainer- people who have no interest in mafia history or culture love this movie. The Godfather is a rare example of an adaptation that many consider better than the book. *GASP* Blasphemy! Whether you agree with that statement or not, Coppola did a great job- and so did Marlon Brando, again.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Yet another no-brainer, the adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was as hard-hitting as the book. Both the book and the movie discuss racism and hatred with compelling honesty and compassion. Each character is well-defined, and easy to fall in love with. Gregory Peck was perfectly cast as Atticus Finch, who acted as a father figure to more than just lovable Scout and Jem- he taught generations of readers about morals and how to view the world with an open perspective.
Not everyone was a fan of Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s futuristic-dystopian novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It is a highly stylized film that changes many aspects of the book, but it is a cult classic, and for good reason. Viewed as a film on its own, Bladerunner is incredible. As an adaptation, many things are missing, however the premise and moral message of Dick’s novel remains. Plus, the acting is great and the score and set are legendary.
Featured image courtesy of The A.V. Club.