Some people say that when you read a book, you create a movie in your head, so there’s simply no need for the existence of book-to-film adaptations. However true that may be, those adaptations do exist, and some are excellent and others are absolute travesties. Here at Wildling, we have strong opinions on this topic, and we’re sharing them with you!
Christina's fave: His Dark Materials (2019-current)
This is a TV show on Amazon, not a film, but same diff! This series based on the Philip Pullman trilogy is a beautiful, skillful tribute to the original text. The book series is complex, fantastical, and multifaceted, and the show manages to convey all of the many layers of this story without seeming to have to compress anything together or skip anything—seriously, I was hard-pressed to find a single omission that I didn’t fully agree with. In fact, they even found the time to develop some characters and plotlines more thoroughly than the books did. This show is the perfect argument for my thesis that fantasy book series are truly better served by being developed into shows rather than films. Seasons 1 and 2 (based on books 1 and 2) are out on Amazon now, with Season 3 due in 2022.
Christina's failure: Dune (1984)
This film is an insult to the original text, its beautiful and cerebral themes, and its vast, fiercely devoted fan base. The film was too long by about two hours, and yet somehow it failed to explain properly even the most foundational concepts from the novel. Granted, the novel is dense, vast, and epic—but the movie seemed to have truly turned its nose up at the source material the way a child quits the school band when they can’t master the trumpet within a week. The ubiquitous touch of the mid-eighties didn’t help things, either. DO NOT WATCH.
The new movie is great, though.
Christina's bonus: Ella Enchanted (2004)
There are a couple of films out there that are terrible adaptations of their source material, but really fun in their own right. My numero uno in this category is Ella Enchanted. The book is great. The film is great. They have next to no resemblance to each other beyond some core concepts, like the main character having to obey any command and eventually falling in love (sorry, spoilers!). My brain can separate these enough to appreciate each of them without comparing them.
Mary-Peyton's fave: Anne of Green Gables (1985)
I could watch the 1985 film adaptation of this book over and over again! It really captured the heart of the book, and Megan Follows perfectly captured the wild spirit of Anne Shirley--a kind, clumsy, and stubborn girl adopted by an older couple who had wanted to adopt a boy, but ended up falling in love with the quirky redheaded bookworm. I wish every little girl could watch this movie, like I did (well, maybe not exactly like I did, since I had it on two VHS tapes). Anne didn’t fit into the small, quiet box that young ladies were meant to inhabit in her world (and still are in this world), and although people tried to shame her, she never apologized for being herself. The acting in this film was perfect, subtle, and real, and the writing kept much of the humor and heart that makes the book so wonderful. I highly recommend this for a family movie night.
Mary-Peyton's failure: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005)
When I read these books as a kid, I was enchanted. The real world would melt away, and I’d find myself completely within the world of Narnia alongside Lucy, Edmund, Susan, Peter, and Aslan. So years later, when I first saw the movie trailer, I was beyond excited. But I was so disappointed in the movie. As often happens when grown-ups decide to make a popular children’s book into a movie, it had lost much of what made the story wonderful; ironically, it had lost much of its wisdom and depth. The best kids books, the classics that stay with us throughout time, deal with some really heavy and “grown-up” topics, like grief, betrayal, and loneliness, in such a way that helps kids process those things. But the movie version of such books often comes out as a shallow, cartoonish, and flashy shell of the book. Ella Enchanted, The Golden Compass, and the Percy Jackson series are great examples of this--those books are downright dark and even scary at parts, which makes the story so much more intense; the more terrible the evil, the more magical it is when good wins. Kids don’t fall in love with these magical adventures because they’re fun; they love them because they are full, deep, and emotional stories of bravery, growth, kindness, and more. The fantastical adventure is only part of the appeal. It seems like the people who made these movies missed the point.
Michael's fave: The Princess Bride (1987)
Who doesn’t love The Princess Bride film adaptation? If you don’t, I don’t want to know you. Too harsh? Maybe, but this movie is amazing! It has it all: adventure, comedy, suspense, and wuv, tru wuv. William Goldman, the author, was a huge part of the adaptation and this helped keep the movie true to the book. And with Rob Reiner directing, pure magic was made. He also directed book to movie adaptations like Stand by Me and Misery. The only bits and pieces of the book that are not found in the film were edited out simply because of time constraints. And anything added were small additions; did you know there weren’t any shrieking eels in the book? As someone who deliberately reads the book before the movie comes out so they can tell whoever will listen how much the movie failed to capture the power of the book, I’m happy to report that this is one adaptation I can do nothing but praise.
Michael's failure: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
I had such high hopes for this film adaptation, especially with Tim Burton at the helm! I just knew he would be able to capture the right amount of darkness that hangs over the Peregrine universe. But . . . the movie was an utter disappointment. The author, Ransom Riggs, should have had more of an opinion during filming. Tim Burton ended up swapping the main female character’s powers for those of a weaker female character, which felt like it was just so the main male character could be more of a hero. Then, because Tim Burton wanted to work with Samuel L. Jackson so badly, he created a character and story line that isn’t found in the book. It completely changed the vibe of the first book, and the direct consequence was they couldn’t make a movie series using the other books. Maybe that was a blessing because this film was a complete letdown.
Grace's fave: Practical Magic (1998)
I probably watched this movie for the first time during my preteen years, so it has a special place in my heart. When I found out it was based on a book by none other than the amazing Alice Hoffman, I had to read it. Even though I really enjoyed this book, I truly think the movie is a culmination of the book’s strongest parts—and that’s not just because of the “special place in my heart” thing I mentioned. Okay, maybe a little. There are plenty of differences between the book and movie versions, and they’re both fabulous in their own ways, but I think the Practical Magic movie is an awesome example of how a film adaptation doesn’t have to be a scene-for-scene remake of the book to be good.
Grace's failure: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)
This movie adaptation is so bad that I haven’t even seen it!! I’ve heard enough to know I need to stay away, far away. I know, I probably should’ve included a movie adaptation I’ve actually seen, but the validity of our list would’ve been called into question without, so did I really have a choice? I somehow missed the Percy Jackson train when it rolled through years ago, so I’m catching up and reading them now. I’m smack-dab in the middle—ugh, maybe I’ll end up watching the movie one day. I’ll let you know if I do!
Feel free to add to our list with your favorite and least favorite book-to-film adaptations in the comments below!
by Grace Ball