There are countless movies based upon books, including many of the most beloved films ever made. However, numerous others have failed to capture the book’s magic and left fans and critics disappointed.
Classic Movie Adaptations That Are Way Better Than Their Books
This list will focus on ten films that either succeeded or failed in adapting a beloved, non-fiction book. Thus, movies that were only loosely based on novels were far more acclaimed than the book,expanded upon short stories, or adapted non-fiction books will not be included.
Worst: ‘Eragon’ (2006)
Eragon is the first book in The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, which tells the story of a farm boy named Eragon living in a fantastical world ruled by an evil king. After finding a dragon egg in the mountains, Eragon teams up with a former Dragon Rider to take down the king. Eragon attracted readers with a storyline reminiscent of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter and was the second best-selling paperback of 2005.
That popularity led to a film being released soon after in 2006, but fans of the book rejected the adaptation, causing the potential movie franchise to be dead on arrival. The film received poor reviews and grossed just $75.0M domestically against a budget of $100M. Fortunately for fans of the books, a Disney+ series is currently in the works.
Best: ‘Harry Potter’ (2001)
Harry Potter is a series of seven fantasy novels by JK Rowling. The novels tell a fantastical tale of a young wizard who attends a magical school and fights against dark forces. With more than 500 million copies sold worldwide, it is the best-selling book series in history.
Due to its mega-popularity, expectations on the films were sky-high. Fortunately, the first two, directed by Christopher Columbus (Home Alone), drew in audiences of all ages with their whimsy and family fun. As the series progressed, the movies grew in maturity, aligning perfectly with their target audience throughout. They remained faithful to the books and captured the charm and excitement of the magical world, leading to huge box office success. The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 were particularly loved by fans and critics alike.
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Worst: ‘Percy Jackson & the Olympians’ (2010)
Percy Jackson and the Olympians attracted a large and passionate fan base and have been a bestseller for nearly two decades. The series chronicles the adventures of a young boy who discovers he is the son of Poseidon, bringing elements of ancient Greek mythology into the modern world. The books are beloved for their intriguing mysteries, thrilling adventures, and high-stakes action.
The series was so popular that it spawned a movie franchise that was expected to be the successor to Harry Potter. Unfortunately, the five-book franchise was canceled after two underwhelming films received mixed reviews and disappointing box office returns. Both alienated fans of the book with their unfaithful adaptation of the material. Complaints centered around the cutting of integral scenes, reworking both films’ endings, and the aging of the characters. Fortunately, Disney+ is currently working on a tv series with the book’s author, Rick Riordanoverseeing its production.
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Best: ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1975)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a 1962 novel about a group of inmates in a psychiatric hospital. It was praised for its nuanced critique of psychiatry, and Time Magazine included the book in its “100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005” list.
While the novel is considered a classic, the film was arguably even better. It is frequently regarded as one of the best of the 1970s and is one of only three movies to win the five major Academy Awards: Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Picture.
Worst: ‘Dune’ (1984)
Dune is a wild, science fiction epic written by Frank Herbert and published in 1965. Taking place on various planets in the distant future, the novel captivated readers with its original story and won the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel. Despite its popularity, filmmakers were hesitant to adapt the book due to its complexity and length, with many deeming it “unadaptable.”
After the success of Eraserhead and The Elephant Manvisionary director David Lynch helmed the film adaptation in 1984. Lynch, known for his unusual and ambitious projects, seemed like the perfect choice for Dune. Unfortunately, adapting the entire book into one movie proved difficult, resulting in a film that received a mixed response from critics and earned less than $28M domestically against a $40M budget.
Best: ‘Dune’ (2021)
Nearly forty years after the 1984 film flopped, another famed director took on the challenge of adapting Herbert’s novel, French-Canadian filmmaker. Denis Villeneuve. An outspoken fan of the novel, Villeneuve realized there was simply too much content to be contained in one film and wisely decided to break the novel into two parts.
The first part was released in 2021 to positive reviews from critics and won six Academy Awards. Villeneuve’s film was essentially the first half of the original novel, and a sequel, which will cover the remaining story, is set for release in 2023.
Worst: ‘The Golden Compass’ (2007)
In the late 1990s, author Philip Pullman kicked off the His Dark Materials trilogy, which told the story of two children who discover a series of parallel universes. The Golden Compass is based on the first novel in the trilogy called Northern Lights.
The book was intended for mature audiences with deep themes and thinly veiled criticisms of religion. Conversely, the film steered clear of controversy and targeted a younger audience. Despite its stellar cast and Oscar-winning special effects, The Golden Compass alienated fans of the book and disappointed critics.
Best: ‘Lord of the Rings’ (2001)
The Lord of the Rings is an epic series of fantasy novels by JRR Tolkien. Set in fictitious Middle-earth, the six-book story is a sequel to Tolkien’s 1937 book. The Hobbit. The books were praised by critics and grew to immense popularity, selling over 150 million copies.
After an animated film adapted all six books in 1978, Peter Jackson took on the project nearly 30 years later and delivered three of the best fantasy films of all time. All three were huge box office hits that drew critical acclaim and significant award recognition. The final film, The Return of the Kingholds the record for most Academy Awards, winning all eleven categories it was nominated in, including Best Picture.
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Worst: ‘Divergent Series: Allegiant’ (2016)
Divergent is a best-selling series of young adult science-fiction novels by Veronica Roth set in a post-apocalyptic Chicago. The books were popular with teenage readers that enjoy romance and dystopian action, drawing comparisons to The Hunger Games. Divergent released its first film in the summer of 2014 and two more in the following two summers.
Though the first two movies both received low scores on Rotten Tomatoes (41% for Divergent and 28% for Insurgent), they were faithful to the source material. They fared better with audiences (69% and 58%, respectively). However, the third film in the franchise, Allegiantwas maligned for its deviance from the novel and for needlessly splitting the book into two parts, the second of which was never made. Allegiant received an 11% critic score and 41% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and made just $66.2M domestically, a steep drop from the prior films, which made $150.8M and $130.1M, respectively.
Best: ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ (1991)
The Silence of the Lambs is a 1988 psychological horror novel that was the sequel to the 1981 novel Red Dragon. The thrilling sequel won the 1988 Bram Stoker Award and the 1989 Anthony Award for Best Novel.
While horror/thriller enthusiasts loved the book, the film captivated audiences. Though it’s most notable for Anthony Hopkins‘ legendary performance as Hannibal Lector, it is spectacular across the board. In 1992, it became the third and, to date, final film to win all five major Academy Awards. It is also the only horror/thriller film to win Best Picture.
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