The 10 Best & Worst Film Adaptations of Popular Books

Hearing your favorite book is about to become a movie can be one of the best and worst feelings. If it’s a box office hit, great; another way to enjoy a favorite story. But if it tanks . . . ouch. The frustration can be all too real when a movie doesn’t do justice to the magic of the novel. In response, I put together my list of the 10 best and worse movie adaptations for readers who want to see their favorite book come alive on screen . . . or pretend the movie version never happened.

Let’s start on a positive note.

The Best List

1. The Harry Potter Series (J.K Rowling)

There are some critics out there who claim there’s a lot of missing information between the books and the movies; however, there’s s no doubt the movies added its own magic to Rowling’s Wizarding World-building and further fueled the series’ huge following.

2. Me Before You (JoJo Moyes)

I was very impressed by this film adaptation, which did justice to the Jo Jo Moyes novel. You know the screenwriters represented the book well when the movie contains lines pulled straight from the book.

3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky)

I think what made this movie so successful in its adaption of the book was that the author, Stephen Chbosky, was given the opportunity to both write and direct the screenplay. Why doesn’t this happen more often?

4. The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)

The Book Thief, a hugely popular Holocaust-era novel by Markus Zusak, was brought to life wonderfully by first-time director Brian Percival. Despite being his first major film, Percival did a great job with screenwriting and casting.

5. The Hunger Games Series (Suzanne Collins)

Some may disagree, but I think Lionsgate Productions undertook this beloved series knowing the high expectations of its readers and sought to do right by them. They were able to cast the perfect actors and convey the darkness of the story while maintaining themes of hope and love.

6. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)

Both the 1995 and 2005 film versions of this beloved Jane Austen classic were great adaptations of the novel. And with period-drama experts like Keira Knightly in the mix, it really is hard to go wrong.

7. The Fault in Our Stars (John Green)

Debatably John Green’s most popular work, The Fault in Our Stars was one of the most highly anticipated movies of 2014, and it didn’t disappoint. Just like the novel, the movie was a major tearjerker, and all without changing any plot lines.

8. Twilight (Stephanie Meyer)

Yes, the fact that Twilight appears in my best list may surprise some. And yes, I know that many people do not like this movie. (I mean, it only has a 46% on Rotten Tomatoes.) However, Twilight—the FIRST in the movie franchise only—deserves some recognition for the way it stuck to the novel. I concur that the Twilight movies only got worse as time went on, but as far as sticking to the novel, the first Twilight movie did okay.

9. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)

I had to include Nicholas Sparks somewhere on this list. Now, if you read the book, you’ll definitely note some differences and major changes from page to screen. However, I argue that The Notebook is a rare bird in that the movie is actually better than the book. Yes, it’s incredibly cheesy and romantic, but the movie gave so much heart to the novel that it’s hard not to like it.

10. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)

When you read Life of Pi in high school, you wouldn’t have guessed it would translate well to screen. Filming the elaborate, surreal scenes would be difficult, and the the deeper lessons of the book could get lost in the grandness of the story. However this film, directed by Ang Lee, is a visual masterpiece. It keeps to the plot while also providing a stunning watching experience.

Unfortunately, not all movie adaptions were up to standard. Let’s take a look.

The Worst List

1. The Percy Jackson Series (Rick Riordan)

The Percy Jackson series was one of the first series I really fell in love with, besides perhaps Junie B. Jones or Harry Potter. So naturally when the movie was announced, I was excited to see it. When the fateful day came, however, I don’t think I’ve ever been more disappointed. The characters were altered unrecognizably, the plot was meddled with–it was too terrible for my 14-year-old heart to bear. Let’s just say I haven’t rewatched.

2. Eragon (Christopher Paolini)

Eragon, a book written by then 17-year-old Christopher Paolini, immediately became a classic YA fantasy novel. However, when it hit the big screen, fans everywhere were disappointed in the lack of sufficient character development, plot alterations, and simple details done wrong.

3. The Golden Compass (Philip Pullman)

In its heyday, The Golden Compass was criticized for its blatant stance against religion and the church; critics claimed it to be a rebuttal of C.S Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. However, when the movie was made the anti-religion testament was removed and with it the movie lost the controversial messages the book was known for, which in turn created its own controversy.

4. Divergent Series (Veronica Roth)

Like The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, the Divergent series was beloved and fans were itching for the first movie to come out. However, I am of the opinion that the story of Tris and Four deserved to stay on the page. The books were full of detail and character development, but the movies were lacking depth while overflowing with action. Pass.

5. The Giver (Lois Lowry)

The Giver was a notorious high school English class read, and rightly so. It explored the value of love, memory, and suffering, and whether any has meaning without the other. And while the movie wasn’t necessarily terrible, it makes this list simply because it varied significantly from the book. The movie added action sequences and love triangles, I assume to make an already interesting book more palatable to an audience raised on The Notebook and Die Hard, but this came at the expense of the true meaning of the book.

6. A Walk to Remember (Nicholas Sparks)

A Walk to Remember, another Nicholas Sparks tearjerker, is a classic romance story. However, I think it’s best in this case to consider the movie and book two separate entities, despite sharing the same name. There are so many differences between them they might as well be two different stories!

7. My Sister’s Keeper (Jodi Picoult)

This movie makes this list because the movie changed the book’s ending. I could give a movie some leeway when it comes to middle-of-the-book details, but come on–the endings should always stay consistent.

8. The Maze Runner Series (James Dashner)

With his Maze Runner titles, James Dashner provided YA readers with a great page-turner dystopian novel complete with metal monsters, zombies, and crazy scientists. It sounds weird, but in the book it all made perfect sense. On screen? It was a little ridiculous.

9. The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien)

The Lord of the Rings movies and books are classics of the written word and cinema. There’s no denying that. However, The Hobbit trilogy, based off a 200-page book, quickly became a real snooze fest. There are probably some LOTR fans out there who loved it, but to me the movies were too long and boring, given the material they had to work with. It would probably be faster to read the book than watch all three movies.

10. Cat in the Hat (Doctor Seuss)

I don’t think this one needs any explanation.

Did you agree or disagree with my choices? Let me know in the comments or by tweeting me at @scottcasss!

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