There is nothing quite as satisfying as sitting down with a good book. Falling in love with a story is easy when you are transported from your living room to another time or place. The words on the page allow your imagination to take over, filling in the gaps the author left for you.
So why do so many of us flock to see the newest book to movie adaptation in theaters when the act of reading is enjoyable? Because it allows us to experience a story, we enjoy an entirely different medium. While it may seem simple to take the written word and adapt it to the big screen, it is far more complicated than simply having actors read the words off the page. Many who try inevitably fail. We have broken down the list of the best book to movie adaptations available on Netflix and why we think these films were so successful.
What Are Book to Movie Adaptations?
A book to movie adaptation occurs when a story previously written as narrative prose is recreated and reinterpreted in a visual medium. This means that what previously needed to be explained through descriptive language can be easily shown to the audience. Instead of having to explain what the main character’s home looks like, down to the color of the front door, the director can show the viewer the entire street is a single shot.
This means that characters, which were once left up to the reader’s imagination, are now front and center. When you picture Harry Potter, does he have green eyes like J. K. Rowling described in the novels or blue ones, the natural color of actor Daniel Radcliffe’s eyes? For most, his eyes matched the books’ description until the movie came out and forced you to forever associate the child actor with The Boy Who Lived.
Now, this may seem trivial, but a major story arc in the book is how everyone who meets Harry can easily identify him as Lily’s son because “he has his mother’s eyes.” Changing the color in the movie to match the actors playing the roles may seem insignificant, but for some, it brought them out of the fantasy.
What Makes a Good Adaptation
Creating a good book to movie adaptation is complicated. It requires a combination of genius, inspiration and a good starting narrative; managing your viewer's expectations are also incredibly important to the success of the film.
The descriptions of characters, locations, and landscapers in books allow the reader to use their imagination to construct a whole new world. Matching their expectation with the visuals on screen paves the way for a well-received adaptation. Paying too little attention to the visuals can lead to an unsuccessful adaptation but so can paying too much attention. It is easy for the visuals to overpower the rest of the film and then the narrative is lost.
It is also important to note that there is a difference in how we consume books versus movies. Reading a book is a solitary endeavor while watching a movie is typically shared with others. When viewers go into the movie theater expecting to have the same experience, they had when they first read the book; they are setting themselves up for disappointment.
7 Best Adaptations on Netflix
After discussing what can go wrong when creating a book to movie adaptation, now is the time to discuss when it went well. Below are our pick for the top seven best adaptations on Netflix.
Bridget Jones Diary
The Bridget Jones’s Diary films are based on the books by Helen Fielding, which are actually based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The first film was released in 2001 and stars Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, and Hugh Grant. The film is a feel good, a romantic comedy about a Londoner trying to get her life together in the new year and her quest to find a boyfriend. The success of the film is due in large part to how real the character of Bridget was originally written. She is witty, honest and flawed; Renée Zellweger is able to capture this perfectly and deliver a believable and relatable character.
Holes is a book to movie adaptations based on a book by the same name written by Louis Sachar. Released in 2003 and starring Shia LaBeouf, Sigourney Weaver, and Jon Voight, the film follows Stanley Yelnats after he gets sent to a detention camp for boys in the middle of the desert. At camp Greenlake, campers are forced to dig holes that are five feet deep and five feet wide every day in order to build character. Only later in the film do we begin to unravel the secrets behind the camp and the reasoning behind this particularly inventive form of discipline.
The success of this movie comes in large part from the casting. Each boy was written with a unique personality and appearance, and the casting directors followed these descriptions to the letter. Their acting skills, as well as a strong script, made this film a winner.
To Kill a Mockingbird
Considered one of the best book to movie adaptations, this 1962 film stars Gregory Peck, John Megna, and Frank Overton. The film is based on the book by Harper Lee and is set in a small town in Alabama in the year 1932. A black man is put on trial for rape while two young kids go on a series of adventures. These adventures end up teaching them some valuable lessons about prejudice.
This film is considered such a successful book to film adaptation for several reasons. The cast is electric, the directing is top notch, and the care that went into converting the book into a script is evident by how well the movie flows. The cinematography of the film, specifically in how they handle courtroom, is groundbreaking.
This film was released in 2007 and starred Keira Knightley and James McAvoy. Based on the novel by Ian McEwan, the movie tells the story of an inspiring writer in 1935. Briony Tallis is a 13-year-old when the film stats. She sees her older sister with her boyfriend, misconstrues the situation and sets in motion a series of events that forever change their lives.
One of the most complicated parts of bringing this movie from the pages of a book to the big screen is the reliance on first-person thoughts; much of the book takes place inside its characters’ minds. The book is also especially wordy. The film takes this in a different direction and plays with the use of silence.
This 2009 film is the only non-live action picture to make the list. This stop-motion film is based on the book by Neil Gaiman and stars Dakota Fanning and Teri Hatcher. The story follows a young girl named Coraline who discovers a parallel universe accessible through a secret door in her new home. The world turns out to be only slightly different from her own.
In order to create a story that works well for the movies, the filmmakers took a lot of liberties with the plot. They added backstories to some characters and even changed some of the personality traits of the main character to make her more three dimensional and well rounded.
The Secret Garden
This 1993 children’s movie is another book to movie adaptations based on the classic book by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It tells the story of an orphaned young girl who is sent to live with her uncle at his large estate. She befriends a wheelchair-bound young boy and discovered a hidden garden.
One of the hardest parts of this adaptation was capturing the magic that was in the secret garden. In the book, it is described with such attention to detail that the reader feels like they are walking with Mary Lennox through the flowers. A large portion of the budget for this movie was spent to make sure the garden was what the viewers were expecting.
This 2015 book to movie adaptations is based on the 1952 novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith. Considered one of the first love stories written featuring two women where neither of the characters ends up crazy or dead. The film follows these two women, one a married older woman and the other a young women working as a clerk in a department store, in 1950s New York.
This movie took a different road from book to film than the others on this. Almost 15 years before it was a movie, Carol was converted into a play. This first step of turning the novel into a screenplay was necessary in order to tinker with the script over the years to make sure the movie captured the drama and love from the original work.
While book to movie adaptations are common, only a select few are done well. Those that make it start with a well-written novel full of engaging characters. Then, with proper direction and guidance, the film is able to capture the essence that made the book so special.
Fortunately for you, our top seven picks are currently available on Netflix so you can experience them yourself and decide if you agree with our list.