Ten Recent Must-See Adaptations from Literature to Film

Siobhan Dale

Film adaptations open up all sorts of exciting possibilities for literature. Film has the power to transform literature, and re-invigorate it with new meaning. Film adaptations allow us to bring back works of literature that we feel have been lost over time, or to re-imagine works that have always been with us. It’s always powerful to hear new voices join in on the expression of art, and film adaptations are unique in that they offer a major stage on which people can reclaim works that mean so much to them. Here are ten recent examples of film adaptations which have allowed new and exciting voices to come through in expressing literature.

1. Room, based on the novel Room by Emma Donoghue

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Room is a phenomenal character study which differs greatly from its source material in terms of narrative perspective, but remains faithful to content. The film and novel detail the story of a mother and young son trapped for seven years inside one room. While the novel chooses to tell the story from the young child’s perspective, the film broadens the scope to a third person perspective. The film attempts to answer questions about how language is used to craft our world, and ultimately from whose perspective that language derives.

2. The Lure, a reworking of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid

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The Lure is a bizarre blend of fantasy, horror, rock opera, and romance. In fact, IndieWire critic David Ehrlich calls it “the best goth musical about man-eating mermaids ever made.” So why wouldn’t you watch it?

3. Tale of Tales, based on Giambattista Basile’s various fairy tales

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Tale of Tales is a fascinating film in that it imagines how three fairytales written by the same author would play out on one stage. While the fairytales at first seem disconnected, through the film’s tone, content, and pace, patterns start to emerge by which the worlds all become intertwined.

4. The Jungle Book, based on the collection of stories The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

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The Jungle Book is one of the greatest technical achievements in live action film this decade. The film electrifies Rudyard Kipling’s imaginary world and fuses language with stunning imagery. If Disney is your thing then this film will be the one for you.

5. Arrival, based on the short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang

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Arrival manages to extend Chiang’s short story into a beautifully crafted meditation on language and how it intertwines with memory. Where Arrival succeeds is in its ability to transcend the boundaries between the written word and visual representation by playing with the idea of how language is transmitted to us within the film itself.

6. The Beguiled, based on the novel The Beguiled (originally published as A Painted Devil) by Thomas P. Cullinan

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Sofia Coppola just became the second woman ever to win Best Director at the Cannes film festival for The Beguiled. Notably, she is one of only five women to have ever to been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director for her other film adaptation The Virgin Suicides. An undeniable force within the film world, her work as a female director is even more significant in light of the feminist movement in Hollywood right now.

7. Lady Macbeth, based on the short story Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov

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The film received a stunning 14 nominations from the British Independent Film Awards. Florence Pugh’s turn as Lady Macbeth has been cited by film critic Peter Travers as “a performance that will soon be legendary.” The film uses a variety of techniques to draw the audience to Lady Macbeth, and in so doing, creates an even more in-depth study of its main character than we find in the short story. It succeeds on its own as a stellar work of art.

8. Annihilation, based on the novel Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

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Annihilation is an incredibly beautiful film that has just been released in theaters. While the book Annihilation is part of a trilogy, director Alex Garland wrote the script and directed the film without having read either of the other novels. Garland stated that he wanted his adaptation to be more of a “dream” of the novel as opposed to an actual faithful rewrite. It’s interesting to see how those dreamlike qualities get transmitted to the screen.

9. Black Panther, based on the Marvel Comics

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Black Panther, which is also in theaters currently, is the first Marvel film to have a predominantly black cast. That fact in itself provides sufficient inspiration to see the film. In addition, Marvel’s adaptation of the comic book characters gives them greater depth and seriousness than in the original. Black Panther is a cinematic triumph in more ways than one.

10. The Handmaid’s Tale, based on The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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While not necessarily a “film” it seems almost necessary to include the stunning adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s work on this list, as by and large it was one of the most influential adaptations of last year. Garnering 13 Emmy award nominations, The Handmaid’s Tale paved the way for other successful Atwood adaptations (such as Alias Grace). But more importantly, it paved the way for more stories like The Handmaid’s Tale to be told, i.e. the previously untold stories of women.


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