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Tier Ranking Book-to-Movie Adaptations

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Book-to-movie adaptations can be tricky. With so many fans of the books having so many opinions on how the book should be done, not everyone is going to leave the theatre with the same level of satisfaction. But, we can acknowledge that some movies hit the mark way more than others. This tier ranking is going to look at a couple of different metrics for placement.

  1. How close was the movie to the book?
  2. Did any changes generally enhance the plot?
  3. Was the movie at least enjoyable?

Let’s first get out of the way that this is a totally subjective ranking and all opinions are my own. With that in mind, let’s dive in!

Bottom Tier

These movies met literally none of the criteria.

Eragon

Eragon Movie Poster
Original Cinema Quad Poster – Movie Film Posters

Now, I credit this series with making me fall in love with fantasy…but the movie? Yikes. Not only did not follow the story, but the script was super clunky and the acting was mediocre at best. All in all, a good one to skip.

Percy Jackson

So many people were so stoked to see this beloved childhood series in live action, and it was terrible. Not only was it bad, but it also got worse by the second movie! They didn’t stick to the plot of the books, they added in so many unnecessary scenes, and aging up the casting did not help them at all.

If I Stay

Look, if I’m being honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of this book to start with, but the movie made me dislike it even more. This whole movie felt like they were trying to get us to cry rather than actually tell the story. That made it both hard to watch and feel extremely unsatisfying.

The Divergent Series

Divergent Movie Poster

It started so strong and then…well, it kind of fell apart. Instead of relying on the book to tell the story, they started to make changes that would interest Hollywood, and so they lost the plot completely. It tried too hard to be both an adaption of a book and a blockbuster, and so it failed at both.

The Mortal Instruments

As someone who never liked this series, I was hoping the movies could help me understand why so many people absolutely love these books, but turns out even die-hard fans of the books had choice words for these movies. Between the awful script and the bad special effects, this movie really fell flat.

The Dark Tower

Look, all they had to do was follow the source material, which was incredible! But they did not do that at all and it ended horribly. Go figure. This is one of those movies where there’s so much going on, and then you get to the end and realized that nothing actually happened in it. There were way too many confusing side plots that the main point got forgotten, and then tacked on at the end.

The Giver

Did you forget they made this book into a movie until right now? Because I did! And it was not good! I think this movie tried really hard to make itself the type of dystopian we have already seen on screen. Instead of relying on the subtle eeriness of the book, they tried to turn it into The Hunger Games, and that is not the story the book is trying to tell. In my opinion, they should have left it as a book.

Third Tier

These movies weren’t showstopping by any means, but they hit at least one of the marks.

Paper Towns

Paper Towns Movie Poster

I, along with so many people, wanted to love this movie, but it just wasn’t it. The flavor of the book was so removed it felt like a whole different story. The script in this movie really did the biggest disservice to the film. It felt awkward, had weird pacing, and did not carry the same style that was used in the original book. They tried too hard to capture the off-beat style of writing from the book but didn’t do great, and so it just felt…off.

The Hobbit Trilogy

I know some people would put these in the bottom tier, but I find them genuinely enjoyable (as long as I ignore all the romance subplots). This movie should have been at most a duology. By stretching the book into three parts, they had to add a lot of ridiculous subplots that only served to pander to audiences.

The Great Gatsby

It’s one of my least favorite books of all time, but the movie was at least very colorful to watch. Plus the casting was 10/10. The movie itself was a delight to watch because the acting and stylistic choices were on point. However, the pacing was completely all over the place, making it hard to follow.

A Walk to Remember

A Walk to Remember Movie Poster

This movie really was garbage, but several die-hard romance fans in my life still enjoy it, so it must have some redeeming qualities! The casting for this movie I think was really good, but they missed the mark on the charm of the book. The cinematography ended up all over the place, and the script didn’t seem to know what it was trying to do. Everything felt it had its personality taken out of it.

The Lovely Bones

This is a book that I think personally never should have gotten a movie. It was in the right medium to begin with. The core problem was not knowing how to bring in the same amount of drive as the book did. The movie made it feel like the characters had no agency in the story and were just carried along. That being said, I’m not sure how they could have made the movie better, so here it sits.

The Time Traveler’s Wife

This movie was the epitome of “almost.” It was so close to being good, but man, was it just not there. The casting was pretty okay, the script was semi-decent, the cinematography was alright. But none of it was great. It was all just fine. A movie that’s incredibly easy to forget.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

To All The Boys I've Loved Before Movie Poster

While the first film was really great, the rest of the series started to fall off and became more and more different from the books. If only it was able to continue the greatness of the first one into the rest of the series! As with a lot of movie series, by the second and third, the production team tried too hard to bring it to an audience that hadn’t watched the books, and in doing so they lost the original audience. By the end, the quality of the films just really fizzled out.

Watchmen

A graphic novel beloved by many. And a movie forgotten by many as well. It was purely okay in every sense of the word. This movie didn’t seem to understand that the reason for the success of the comic was because it wasn’t actually about heroes. it was about bad people who happened to be called superheroes. They tried way too hard to make this into a superhero movie and lost all the nuance readers loved about the book.

Second Tier

These are movies that weren’t terrible but still are not the gold standard.

A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in time Movie Poster

I love this movie. I know others would put it lower on the list, but I think the visuals are stunning, and while the story left a little (or a lot depending on who you ask) to be desired, I think the movie did a great job of making the world of the film feel as magical and terrifying as the book did.

Twilight Saga

It captures the source material perfectly. Should they have been made into movies? probably not. But they were, and they were better than they were worse, and we got so many good memes from it, so I guess we’ll take it. The script was bad, but the acting was exactly as the script called for (so also bad).

If Beale Street Could Talk

An absolutely stunning book turned into a fantastic movie. While the movie did miss a few marks from the book, it was able to hold the book in a new light. Fans of the book were able to see so much of what they loved about the story already but also get a fresh look. Overall a fairly successful adaptation.

The Silence of The Lambs

This movie is so good, people often forget it was based on a book. These characters have inspired countless spin-off shows and movies so there’s no doubt it had a great cultural impact. I personally just think the book was more impactful, so it’s not quite a top tier. The movie perfectly captures the creepy and unsettling nature of the book but was able to put its own spin on things to make it suit the different needs of a movie. This really was an adaptation that understood the assignment.

Room

Room Movie Poster

Room was one of those movies that both people who read the books and people who didn’t could agree on. Overall it was incredible and really well done, but it was not quite as captivating as the book was, if only because the book was so much more of a time commitment than the movie. The acting and cinematography were top tier, but having to squeeze all of the wonder and heartbreak into a two-hour run time really did them a disservice.

Mary Poppins

A classic story that improved so much on the source material and brought the beloved nanny into the cultural zeitgeist. This movie was one of the most successful at taking the source material, getting rid of what wouldn’t work on the big screen, and expanding moments that would lead to incredible shots. While the tone of the movie focuses much more on the wonder of Mary Poppins and not the unsettling bits, it quickly became a cult classic.

The Color Purple

Easily one of the best adaptations of a classic American novel. It captured both the tone and feel of the book while condemning it down for a shorter time. Alice Walker herself wasn’t the biggest fan of the movie, but she agreed that the core message was there, and that was the part that mattered most to her.

Top Tier

The Gold Standard. Perfection incarnate. Movies you make everyone in your life sit down and watch (and read).

Blade Runner

Blade Runner (original) Movie Poster

This film is way better than the book was. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is an absolutely wild book, but it did create two iconic sci-fi movies. Two incredibly shot, well-written, and well-acted movies. I just really like Blade Runner, and you need to leave me alone about it.

Trainspotting

People said that this was an unfilmable book. The movie said, “Wanna bet?” This is a movie that you can watch over and over again, and still, find something new to fall in love with. It’s an absolute delight of a film. The script is immaculate, the shots are a work of art, and the acting was next level. The movie really did not miss.

The Princess Bride

One of the most beloved and rewatched films of all time. One of the most quotable movies of all time. And one of the most talked-about movies of all time. Need I go on? Not only is the script one of the most wonderfully written screenplays of all time, but the acting was next level. The special effects were top tier for its time, and the cinematography was breathtaking. And don’t even get me started on the film music score!

The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give Movie poster

Easily one of the best book-to-movie adaptations in the past few years. This book became a cultural phenomenon and was translated so well to the big screen. It held the core of the story truthfully while making slight changes to make it better suited for the screen. Not only that, but the actors were phenomenal in their roles, and the setting of the movie was beautifully constructed.

Crazy Rich Asians

This film is absolutely fantastic! It’s engaging, interesting, funny, and keeps to the core of the book. A must-read and a must-see for romance fans, it is definitely a top ten romance movie to come out in the past five years. The script is light, fast, and natural. The actors play into their roles so well, and the movie is SO re-watchable. It’s one of the best “girls night” movies out right now.

Emma

One of the greatest adaptations of Jane Austen ever. Ever! The 2020 version of Emma hit all the right marks and felt like stepping into one of Jane Austen’s novels. This movie brings all of the charm and interest of Jane Austen on screen with remarkable ease. It’s coded in a way that makes it easier for modern audiences to follow, while still keeping the tone the same. All without being eight hours long (just saying).

Fight Club

Fight Club Movie Poster

While it’s totally one of those movies that you feel weird admitting you like, it really is brilliant. It takes the horrifying twistedness of the book, dials it up to 11, and incorporates so many visual subtle messages that you need to take a breath after watching it. It’s everything the book tried to do, but better.

Little Women

This movie is a delight that will be shown across English classrooms the world over for years to come. Not only does it perfectly capture the essence of the books, but it adds so much in the best way. You just want to root for all of the characters because they all feel so real. The movie really works hard to make you feel like you’re in the room with them, and it pays off really well.

The Princess Diaries

Both the movies in this series became new cult classics among teenage girls, as they should. They are delightful, engaging, entertaining, and add so much to the source material. The script and acting of this movie really set it apart. I know very few teenage girls who at one point in their life didn’t relate to Mia Thermopolis at least a little bit.

Lord of the Rings Trilogy

The Lord of The Rings, The Return of the King Movie Poster

Of course, we had to add in the greatest adaption of books ever. This series is the true gold standard for book-to-movie adaptions. With a clear understanding of the source material, the changes only added good things to the film. The script, the cinematography, and the movie score really work hard to make this movie unforgettable, and yet re-watchable. A true work of art that people will watch I think forever and ever.

That’s A Wrap

There are tons of movies that didn’t make the list. It’s also worth noting that there are tons of TV show adaptations that are doing an incredible job of engaging with the source material. All of the opinions in this piece are mine, and you are perfectly welcome to disagree with anything I said in this piece. Happy watching!

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