The 25 Best Book-to-Movie Adaptations

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Twenty-five
films that made it from the book shelf to the box office with credibility
intact.

1. GREAT
EXPECTATIONS
by CHARLES DICKENS

Published:
1860-1861

Film
adaptation
: 1946

Director: DAVID
LEAN

No film version
of Dickens has ever matched Lean’s superlative realisation
of Great Expectations. From the jumpy graveyard scene to the weirdness
of Satis House, and with actors such as John Mills and Alec Guinness
giving their all, there is no level at which this utterly brilliant
film doesn’t deliver.

2. WUTHERING
HEIGHTS
by EMILY BRONTË

Published:
1847

Film
adaptation
: 1939

Director: WILLIAM
WYLER

Brontë’s
gothic tale of moors madness gets the William Wyler treatment in
this classic movie version starring Merle Oberon as Cathy and Laurence
Olivier as Heathcliffe. None of the subsequent adaptations has matched
the dark power of the brilliant Wyler’s. Not even the one with
Cliff Richard.

3. TO
KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
by HARPER LEE

Published:
1960

Film
adaptation
: 1962

Director: ROBERT
MULLIGAN

The film of
Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about racist Alabama
deservedly won three Oscars, including Best Actor for Gregory Peck
as the lawyer Atticus Finch. Including a fictionalised version of
Lee’s friend Truman Capote, this compelling and important work
has lost none of its power since its release.

4. DOCTOR
ZHIVAGO
by BORIS PASTERNAK

Published:
1957

Film
adaptation
: 1965

Director: DAVID
LEAN

Lean’s
snowy cinematic masterpiece starring Omar Sharif, Julie Christie
and Alec Guinness brings to life the Nobel Prize-winner’s story
of revolutionary Russia with tremendous style. Although beaten to
1965’s Best Picture Oscar by The Sound of Music, this memorable
realisation honours all the emotional and political complexity of
Boris Pasternak’s original novel.

5. THE
LEOPARD
by GIUSEPPE TOMASI DI LAMPEDUSA

Published:
1958

Film
adaptation
: 1963

Director: LUCHINO
VISCONTI

Most famous
for its almost hour-long ballroom scene and glorious period detail,
Visconti’s epic filming of Lampedusa’s novel examines
the honour codes of a changing Italy with the help of a handsome
cast including Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale. Spectacular,
long (originally running for 205 minutes) and good enough to eat.

6. THE
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
by THOMAS HARRIS

Published:
1988

Film
adaptation
: 1991

Director: JONATHAN
DEMME

Harris’s
psychological thriller is made horribly gruesome yet archly witty
in Demme’s 1991 blockbuster. Jodie Foster’s clever but
vulnerable Clarice Starling is the perfect counterpoint to Anthony
Hopkins’s terrifyingly competent murderer, and together they
redefine the traditional cop/killer dynamic.

7. DANGEROUS
LIAISONS
(Les Liaisons Dangereuses) by PIERRE CHODERLOS
DE LACLOS

Published:
1782

Film
adaptation
: 1988

Director: STEPHEN
FREARS

Strictly speaking,
Frears’s 1988 bodice-ripper is the film of the play of the
book, but its tense elegance captures perfectly the spirit of Laclos’s
18th-century novel of sex and manipulation. The dying ancien regime
is represented by lethally sexy performances by Glenn Close and
John Malkovich, making this 118 minutes of pure wicked pleasure.

8. THE
BIG SLEEP
by RAYMOND CHANDLER

Published:
1939

Film
adaptation
: 1946

Director: HOWARD
HAWKS

The convoluted
plot of Chandler’s detective story had screenwriter William
Faulkner turning to the original author for help. Even though audiences
still find it hard to negotiate its maze-like narrative, the real
point of the exercise is to showcase Lauren Bacall and Humphrey
Bogart at their simmering, sexy best.

9. THE
39 STEPS
(The Thirty Nine Steps) by JOHN BUCHAN

Published:
1915

Film
adaptation
: 1935

Director: ALFRED
HITCHCOCK

Adapting Buchan’s
1915 adventure story for the screen was one of Hitchcock’s
earliest triumphs. Although considerably “sexed up” for
modern audiences, with a brace of comely heroines replacing the
original’s swarthy men, it is still a classic piece of pre-war
action cinema which retains all the tension of the novel.

10. THE
PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE
by MURIEL SPARK

Published:
1961

Film
adaptation
: 1969

Director: RONALD
NEAME

Maggie Smith
gives one of her finest performances as the ambitious teacher with
a coterie of adoring “gels”. Although diverging from Spark’s
popular 1961 novel in places, fans of the book tend to love the
film as well thanks to Neame’s taut direction and a fine supporting
cast.

11. MOBY-DICK
by HERMAN MELVILLE

Published:
1851

Film
adaptation
: 1956

Director: JOHN
HUSTON

Melville’s
majestic novel of man versus beast is admirably served by Huston’s
adaptation. From Orson Welles’s priestly cameo to Gregory Peck’s
brilliantly unhinged Ahab, a fine cast is matched by an eerily bleached
cinematography. Even a rather ropy model whale cannot diminish the
power of this great film.

12. BRIGHTON
ROCK
by GRAHAM GREENE

Published:
1938

Film adaptation:
1947

Directors:
John and Roy Boulting

Brutally gritty,
Terence Rattigan’s adaptation, done in partnership with the
novel’s author, Graham Greene, shocked critics with its hard-boiled
realism. A young Richard Attenborough excels as the odious Pinkie
in a crime drama that is worlds away from the slick American noirishness
cinemagoers were accustomed to in 1947.

13. DRACULA
by BRAM STOKER

Published:
1897

Film
adaptation
: 1931

Director: TOD
BROWNING

Bela Lugosi
is Dracula, since he seethed his way to stardom in Browning’s
1931 film. Necessarily cutting out some of Stoker’s extraneous
material, this genre-defining horror classic turned out far scarier
than the book. And any hopes Lugosi had of going on to play romantic
leads were cruelly dashed.

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the rest of the article

September
24, 2009

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