The Princess Bride by William Goldman
The Princess Bride
by William Goldman

I adore films. It's funny; if I spend two hours watching television, I sometimes feel guilty, as though I’ve wasted my time. But time at the cinema rarely leaves me feeling as though I’ve just lost two hours to the brainless abyss (I will be polite and not mention the exceptions that come to mind). So I will almost always choose a film over a television show. And even better than a movie, of course, is a book, and when comparing the two, the limitations of modern technology (particularly when compared to our own boundless imaginations), mean that books almost always win, for me.

Typically I find the book superior to the film, again because imagination is so powerful. Sometimes they get the villain's moustache wrong, or the romance feels false and wooden, or the director's vision just plain didn't match mine. Most importantly, even longer films have a limited amount of time to tell the story, and there are bound to be subtleties, nuances, and details lost in translation. Even the most well-respected literary masterpieces can fail dismally in movie form.

That said, there are certainly plenty of examples that buck the trend, wherein the movie is as good – or occasionally even better – when compared to the book. One of my favourite examples is The Princess Bride. The Princess Bride has something for everyone (unless you're a fuddy-duddy). Pirates, swordplay, murder, a princess, torture, kidnapping, true love, revenge (served ice-cold, of course), a giant, and even a fire swamp. The film adaptation is brilliant and amazing, and leaves me smiling and satisfied with every viewing (and there have been many). Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya ("Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father! Prepare to die."), Andre the Giant as Fezzik, Wallace Shawn, Christopher Guest, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, and more…the characters are cast perfectly, and play off each other effortlessly.

Conversely, the book by William S. Goldman, meanders too far off course on several occasions, and is so rife with footnotes, asides, and strange tangents that it somewhat compromises the joy and simplicity of the main narrative. In that regard, the film is more successful and fun. However, I don't know if I'd enjoy the movie nearly as much as I do without having read the book, which also delves far more deeply into the personal histories of Fezzik, Inigo, Buttercup and more, and I wouldn't miss that for the world. This is a story so wonderful it should be enjoyed in every format available. If ever there is a puppet show of The Princess Bride, I'll be first in line.

Another example is Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Truman Capote’s novella introduced us to Holly Golightly, sure, but it was undoubtedly Audrey Hepburn who brought her to life. The film brought the character into sharper focus, and made her a living, breathing, three-dimensional human with flaws and feelings and the rest. And while some critics have lambasted the film as racist (Mickey Rooney’s depiction of Mr. Yunioshi in particular), it was actually decidedly less so than the novella, in which Holly Golightly makes passing disparaging remarks about black people more than once. Director Blake Edwards (The Party, The Pink Panther, Victor Victoria) captured the essence of both the character and 1940s New York City, and expertly determined which parts of the story to focus on or discard.

So while many stories are lessened or lost by their adaptation to screen, there are indeed numerous examples where the writers, directors, producers, actors and crew come together to preserve or even improve our beloved books.

The selection below showcases books that have been made into superior motion pictures, both modern and classic.

The Best Film Adaptations of Books

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
Doctor Zhivago
by Boris Pasternak
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Atonement
by Ian McEwan
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
by Jean-Dominique Bauby
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
Fight Club
by Chuck Palahniuk
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Beloved
by Toni Morrison
Away From Her by Alice Munro
Away From Her
by Alice Munro
Being There by Jerzy Kosinski
Being There
by Jerzy Kosinski
The Cider House Rules by John Irving
The Cider House Rules
by John Irving
Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
Wonder Boys
by Michael Chabon
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Lord of the Flies
William Golding
The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
The Bourne Identity
by Robert Ludlum
Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace
Ben-Hur
by Lew Wallace
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
The House of Mirth
by Edith Wharton
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Madame Bovary
by Gustave Flaubert
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Of Mice and Men
by John Steinbeck
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
All Quiet on the Western Front
by Erich Maria Remarque
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
The Three Musketeers
by Alexandre Dumas

What do you think is the best (or worst) screen adaptation of a book?


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