12 Movie Adaptations That Did The Books Justice

Illustration for article titled 12 Movie Adaptations That Did The Books Justice

Whether or not you loved The Road, most people seemed to feel it captured Cormac McCarthy's novel. Sadly, most adaptations do violence to the original books, but not all. Here are 12 SF/fantasy adaptations that did right by the books.

The Lost World (1925)

There have been many movie adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 novel, but for our money, the original is still the best, thanks to some pretty amazing stop-motion animation showing dinosaurs trashing London. The groundbreaking special effects, by Willis O'Brien, gave rise to later classics like the original King Kong — and O'Brien trained Ray Harryhausen. This is also the only Lost World adaptation that Conan Doyle seems to have approved of personally. The whole thing is on Youtube, and here's the climax — skip to about 4:58 for the beginning of the dinosaur-rampage awesomeness.

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

Sure, it's a Disney movie, and it's got Kirk Douglas singing "A Whale Of A Tale." But it also has James Mason's understated, creeptastic performance as Captain Nemo, full of subtle menace. And the special effects still look pretty breathtaking, even 55 years later. Most of all, it captures the wonder and boundless curiosity of Verne's book.

Illustration for article titled 12 Movie Adaptations That Did The Books Justice

Fahrenheit 451

The original film version of Ray Bradbury's book-burning classic is a vivid, lurid masterpiece — I saw it as a kid, and it still sticks in my mind. But what did Bradbury think? He wrote, in the introduction to one edition of the novel:

And what do I think of the film?

I have heard those cries in the past of outraged authors whose books have just been gang-raped by a studio.

Such is not the case, luckily, with me.

I think that Truffaut has captured the soul and essence of the book. He has been careful and subtle in his shadings and motions. He has escaped making a technological James Bond film, and made, instead, the love story of, not a man and a woman, but a man and a library, a man and a book. An incredible love story indeed in this day when libraries, once more, are burning across the world.

I am very grateful.

Clockwork Orange

According to Wikipedia (although it's not sourced), original novelist Anthony Burgess felt Stanley Kubrick's film was brilliant — but almost too brilliant for our own safety. Whether Burgess really said that, he'll get no argument from the hordes of people who've loved this uncompromising, brutal look at hooligans and social control in a dystopian future. It's Kubrick at the top of his game, honoring and transforming the source material. (Note: We considered including 2001 as well, but since the book was written after the movie, we decided against.)

Illustration for article titled 12 Movie Adaptations That Did The Books Justice

Blade Runner

Yes, this film takes some liberties with Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?" But it's also one of the best reflections of Dick's constant paranoia and flood-of-weirdness storytelling methods. And of course, Dick himself wrote an ecstatic letter praising this film's vision and his belief that it would re-energize science fiction altogether.


1984 (1984)

It was almost required that this year would see a movie based on the famous George Orwell novel. Thank goodness this one didn't commit the thought crime of bastardizing Orwell's story of a totalitarian society that controls its subjects with constant surveillance and "newspeak." It's worth tracking the director's cut DVD which restores Michael Radford's original bleak color pallette and the original orchestral score (with no Eurythmics.)

Illustration for article titled 12 Movie Adaptations That Did The Books Justice

Bram Stoker's Dracula

Of all the Dracula films throughout the years, Francis Ford Coppola's version came closest to capturing the original novel's darkness, with Gary Oldman making for a captivating Dracula. The whole affair drips with sensuality, thanks to some incredibly beautiful designs. (Screencaps from DVDBeaver.)

Illustration for article titled 12 Movie Adaptations That Did The Books Justice

Handmaid's Tale

This was a troubled production, in which the original director dropped out and screenwriter Harold Pinter washed his hands of the thing. That meant that original novelist Margaret Atwood, among others, stepped in to revise the screenplay. Despite the problems, the resulting film preserves the key themes of Atwood's novel, about a fundamentalist culture in which many women are infertile and the few fertile women are given to high-ranking couples to give birth to their heirs. More importantly, it's a harrowing, weird epic.

Illustration for article titled 12 Movie Adaptations That Did The Books Justice

Lord Of The Rings

Peter Jackson takes some liberties with J.R.R. Tolkien's epic three-volume novel, but nobody would deny that the resulting movie trilogy really is epic, and really does convey just why so many of us fell in love with these books in the first place. The full-length DVD versions of all three movies will take you the better part of a day to watch, but it's an absorbing story and never loses the feeling of great events taking place.

Call Of Cthulhu

This 2005 silent movie comes the closest of all the many H.P. Lovecraft adaptations of doing a straight-up recreation of Lovecraft's world. The campiness and cheekiness are kept to a minimum, and in their place, you see only the pure majesty of Cthulhu. The Old Ones are, the Old Ones were, the Old Ones shall be, indeed.

Children Of Men

We debated whether to include this one, since it makes such a radical alteration to the book's storyline — in the book, it's men, not women, who are infertile. But this, and several other drastic changes from P.D. James' book, don't detract from the fact that director Alfonso Cuarón crafts a pretty gripping film in its own right, which preserves the dystopian feel and obsession with reproduction from the book. And the film's use of long, single-shot sequences in which huge events feel like they're happening all around you, makes it hard to forget afterwards. Here's a video about the making of the film, including those amazing long takes. And apparently, James herself was happy with it.

A Scanner Darkly

Philip K. Dick has probably had more of his books adapted to films than any other SF author — but Richard Linklater's film version of his undercover narc tripfest does the best possible job of giving you an audiovisual tour of Dick's universe. Watching this film, you feel as though you begin to understand what it might have been like to be Philip K. Dick — which is terrifying in itself.


Share This Story

Get our newsletter


Are #1 and #8 the same? If so, you only have eleven total!

The only one I'd disagree with is the Coppola Dracula. I saw a preview in Hollywood when it came out. People were laughing. It wasn't pretty.

Fahrenheit 451 was life-changing, I think, I also saw it young. I had nightmares for about six months, and I never ever forgot the message.