Reads to Reels

Yes.  Before you say anything, books are better than movies.  Maybe because so much of the narrative--the author's commentary, the inner workings of the characters' minds and emotions, or the descriptions of scene--are glazed over when converted to cinematic form.  Maybe because the movie never quite has the same visual effects, casting, and the other little details the reader's mind imagines while reading the book. Whatever the reason, I usually agree: movies fall short of the books they're based upon.

However, that doesn't mean there aren't some really good adaptations that are fairly true to the plot (or at least are true to the main theme of the story and the characters' personalities.)  These films deserve that recognition, even if it is merely a list of titles in a blog. 

The way I'm going to categorize these films is by author and audience: I've separated children's movies from adult movies, but Jane Austen and Charles Dickens get their own category because they're special.  If there are more than one adaptation, I will specify which one I prefer* by the release date, stars, and a link to IMdb.  I will also include the rating** for parents who might want to check these movies out to watch with their kids.

Adult Miscellaneous:
  • The Big Sleep, Warner Bros 1946, NR:PG-13
  • The Count of Monte Cristo, Touchstone 2002, PG-13
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Touchstone 2005, PG
  • The Importance of Being Earnest, Miramax 2002, PG (I would actually rate this PG-13 for Gwendolen getting a tattoo in an awkward place)
  • Jane Eyre, BBC 2006, NR:PG-13 (No. No matter how soulfully Michael Fassbender may look into your eyes, beseeching you to watch his 2011 version, you must resist.)
  • Laura, 20th Century Fox 1944, NR:PG-13
  • The Lord of the Rings, New Line Cinema 2001-2003, PG-13
  • Murder on the Orient Express,Paramount 1974, PG
  • The Maltese Falcon, Warner Bros. 1941, NR:PG
  • The Princess Bride, MGM 1987, PG
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel, Edgar J. Scherick Associates 1982, NR:PG-13
  • The Thin Man, Warner Bros. 1934, NR:PG-13
  • Twelfth Night, Image Entertainment 1996, PG (I would go with PG-13. It is Shakespeare, after all. And there is a nude statue in one scene.)
Austen, Jane:
  • Emma, 2009, NR:PG  (I also enjoy the Miramax 1995 adaptation (PG) starring Gwyneth Paltrow; I don't care as much for the A&E adaptation (PG) with Kate Beckinsale, partly because I keep expecting Mark Strong to turn Mr. Knightley into a serial murderer.)
  • Mansfield Park, BBC 1986, NR:G (Actually I've never been satisfied with any adaptation of this novel.  The actress who plays Fanny Price in this version is very wooden, but at least she is not made into a tomboy like the other two.  Also, it's nice to know that after Fanny and Edmund fell in love in this version, they went on to be happily married in "Amazing Grace" (2006).  Don't believe me?  Watch it.  Even though it isn't based on a book, it's still a very good film.)
  • Northanger Abbey, BBC 2007, NR:PG 
  • Persuasion, Sony Pictures Classics 1995, PG
  • Pride and Prejudice, BBC 1985, NR:G (What?  Did she just not suggest the A&E 1995 (NR:PG) one that everyone else loves?  Yes, that one's fine too, but you forget: it has Colin Firth's disembodied head floating around in it.  Some people might not have a problem with that.  I am not "some people.")
  • Sense and Sensibility, Columbia Pictures 1995, PG 

Children's Movies:
  • The Chronicles of Narnia (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader), Walden Media 2005-2010, PG (The BBC adaptations are alright: if somewhat dated and suffering from poor special effects, they at least have The Silver Chair starring Tom Baker as, that is.)
  • Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!, 20th Century Fox 2008, G (For some reason when I read the book as a child I always heard Carol Burnett voicing the villainous kangaroo.)
  • Fantasic Mr. Fox, 20th Century Fox (haha) 2009, PG (I feel like I should
  • put this one in the adult category, not because of any inappropriate content, but because it's a really strange movie that younger viewers might not appreciate.  But because the book is a children's book I'm sticking it here.)
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, MGM 1966 (G) (I also like the Universal 2000 live-action adaptation (PG) starring Jim Carrey...but it's hard to beat Boris Karloff reading a picture book and Tony the Tiger singing "You naus-e-ate me, Mr. Grinch!")
  • Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Dreamworks Pictures 2004, PG
  • Peter Pan, Columbia Tristar 2003, PG (Sure, they change some things, add some things, omit some things...but a) it's still better than the Disney cartoon, and b) it's extremely quotable.  "If you are Hook *insert facial expression of extreme existential crisis*...then who am I?!")

Dickens, Charles:
  • Little Dorrit, BBC 2008, NR:PG
  • Nicholas Nickelby, MGM 2002, PG
  • Oliver Twist, BBC 2007, NR:PG-13 (This version alters a few characters and events to shorten the story.  Another version I like, ExxonMobil Masterpiece Theatre's 1999 miniseries, adds stuff.  Watch them both to get a balance.  Or just watch the one I like best, because the opening sequence is terrific.)
  • Our Mutual Friend, BBC 1998, NR:PG-13
*Obviously I haven't seen ALL adaptations of ALL books; that would be absurd even for a TV-junkie like myself.  In any case, if I choose one adaptation over another, it's a matter of personal opinion.

**When a movie is NR (not rated)--probably because it was originally aired on TV--I will try to guess an approximate film rating for it.


  1. I have to agree: Jane Austen and Charles Dickens are special. Most of the movie adaptions of their books sit atop my favorite movie list and my bookshelf (something none of my brothers can understand. "They're so boring!" Actually they're talking about Jane Austen there. They do like Charles Dickens).

    I am curious; aside from "Colin Firth's disembodied head", is there anything else that sets the 1985 version apart in your mind? I love both of those and the 2005 version about equally, despite the fact that the latter is so dreadfully short. Each film has something in it that the others don't, so I've never been able to pick just one. The one special thing about the 1985 version is that the Gardeners' roles are fleshed out more, something I've always wished the other versions did. I still think it's weird that Jane has dark hair, though. I've never been able to picture her as anything but a blond. :)

    1. I agree, each film adaptation has its own merits. I do prefer the 1985 version because of its fleshing out the background roles and a few of the smaller subplots. However I think it comes down to the portrayal of Elizabeth being my favorite; that's pretty much how I pictured her when I read the books, whereas I don't "recognize" an actress like Keira Knightley as Lizzie, and it takes a lot more effort for me to suspend my disbelief watching her in the role.