The Best Movie (Series) Based on Books

Adapting a book into a movie is a risky move for one pivotal reason: there are two – often divergent – goals that must be met. The film must live up to the expectations of those who have read the novel and meet the requirements that cinema demands: appropriate runtime, entertaining and attention-holding plot sequences, etc.

Marlon Brando 'The Godfather'
Marlon Brando ‘The Godfather’ | Getty Images

Unfortunately, when transforming a novel into a screenplay, adherence to the source material’s “bread and butter” sometimes slips through the cracks. Or, determined to bring the novel to life exactly as the author envisioned, film creators lose site of movie best practices, and create a “visual book” (which is by no means a movie).

From Watchmen and The Golden Compass to The Grinch Stole Christmas, it’s easy to think of films that did not live up to the book, or movies – that trying to live up the book – did not meet the standard for quality cinema. However, this list will focus on the film franchises that gracefully pay homage to the source material, while adequately transforming it to suit the screen.

‘The Godfather’

The Godfather, starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, and Diane Keeton, is one of the most famous and accomplished movies of all time. The film, winning three Academy Awards and five Golden Globes in 1973, opened to stellar critical reviews. According to Rotten Tomatoes, critics agree that this film is:

“One of Hollywood’s greatest critical and commercial successes, The Godfather gets everything right; not only did the movie transcend expectations, it established new benchmarks for American cinema.”

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Based on a crime novel written by Mario Puzo, and initially published in 1969, The Godfather movie has gone on to surpass its source material’s fame. The Godfather, famous for defying 1970s expectations of the film – as the mob movie was considered a trope of the ’60s – kickstarted Pacino’s career and put Francis Ford Coppola (director) on the map.

Filmed as a metaphor for the Italian immigrant experience, The Godfather trumped similar works due to its political, social, and cultural relevance. It was not a mob movie, it was a commentary with heart that used a pre-established mob movie structure to deliver its underlying message.

‘Harry Potter’

While not every Harry Potter movie has perfectly portrayed the novel’s depth of character or breadth of magic – when taken as a collective whole – these movies were all impressive works of art.

With a cast of characters inherently tied to their Harry Potter personas, this franchise is now an exemplar of the fantasy genre (the novels and the books). J.K Rowling created a never-before-seen fantasy world, and Chris Columbus (director) and David Yates (director) brought it beautifully to life.

From the intricate character dynamics to the potions, poisons, curses, and spells, the film creators (as the movies progressed) seemed to find exactly what needed to be included, and what could be dismissed. However, fans of the novels always wished for a little more focus on the Hogwarts Prefects.

‘The Hunger Games’

While this choice may be a little bit controversial, it’s included because the film creators, many would argue, improved upon the source material. The Hunger Games novels are entertaining, but they are plot-driven. The books, lacking adequate character development and meaningful thematic undertones, needed work to become movies.

Whether it boils down to Jennifer Lawrence’s impeccable acting or an impressive ensemble and talented director (Gary Ross) is unknown. It’s likely an amalgamation of all the lucky straws coming together; however, the film series – emotionally stirring, action-packed, and socially relevant – outshines the Suzanne Collins novels.

Honorable Mentions

Lord of the Rings

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo