The Top 4 Best and Worst Book-To-Movie Adaptations That Have Graced the Big Screen

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Ryan Amato Marketing Coordinator

Has this been talked about before, countless times? Yes. Does that change the fact that book-to-movie adaptations are one of the trickiest pieces of art to master? No. Am I still going to throw in my two cents? Absolutely.

As an avid reader, there’s nothing more exciting than finding out a movie is being made for one of the books on your shelf. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read—or reread—a book just because I heard it’s getting a movie (recently, shout out to The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt). Even though everyone holds the general consensus that the books are better than the movie (because they are), there’s still that electric feeling of excitement you get from seeing the stories you love brought to life.

Sometimes, those movies knock it out of the park and add to the magic you felt while reading. Other times, you get so nauseous from the blatant disrespect to the book and have to take a moment to contain yourself before continuing to watch. Deciding what is considered the “best” or the “worst” is definitely up for debate, but I think we can all agree that there have been some good and not-so-good ones. And before you decide to crucify me for my superior taste, have this disclaimer: I have not seen every book-to-movie adaptation and I don’t plan on seeing every book-to-movie adaptation. But the ones I have seen have been quite the ride. Let’s take a look:

The Best

4. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Ah, how this brings back memories of my freshman year in high school. If I recall correctly, I wasn’t excited at all to read this, mainly because it was around the time when I thought classics were the most boring pieces of literature ever. Oh, how wrong I was. To Kill A Mockingbird is such a quintessential story of racial injustice, and its characters are some of the most iconic in the literary canon, namely Atticus Finch. Yes, the movie adaptation is from the 60s, so it may not seem as polished as the movies of today, but that doesn’t mean it can’t capture the gravitas of the original story. The characters were cast so well that when I imagine Atticus or Scout in my head, I’m usually thinking of the actors who played them in the movie. There’s just nothing bad to say about the movie; it did what it had to do! The only thing I hope is that the sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird (I won’t name it out of respect for To Kill A Mockingbird) doesn’t get a movie adaptation, because I’m not sure I can stomach that story all over again.

3. The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

Okay, so even though I knew this book was getting a movie around the time  I started reading, that wasn’t the reason I picked it up. The book was actually all over Goodreads and won Best Mystery/Thriller in 2015. My mother had read it and raved about it, so I was naturally curious and wanted to see what all the hype was about. Surprisingly, I actually didn’t like the book as much as I thought I would; the characters were all terrible people (well-written, but terrible), and I couldn’t connect with any of them. After that, I was hesitant to see the movie, but I really wanted to see how they would bring the story to life. And—I just know I’m in the minority—it ended up being one of the best book-to-movie adaptations I’ve seen in a while. The plot was shaved down  to fit the movie without losing any important details or changing anything significantly. It felt exactly like what a movie adaptation should look like, and I walked out of the theater feeling extremely satisfied.

2. Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

Did I read this just for Jennifer Lawrence? Yes, and I am not ashamed to admit that. But I’m so happy I did, because I think this is one of the only times when I actually liked the movie more than the book—which is why this is so high on my list. There’s barely anything I can say about this; the characters just felt more alive thanks to Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. The chemistry and the humor translated so much better on the big screen, and to this day, Silver Linings Playbook is one of my favorite movies of all time. Do yourself a favor and watch it. Or rewatch it.

1. The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Oh, boy. Where do I begin with how much I love this adaptation? First of all, the book itself is one of the best books I’ve read. Second of all, I can watch The Help over and over again and not get bored of it; it’s just that good. I know what you’re thinking: “Ryan, that book is 500 pages long. They definitely cut out huge portions of the plot.” To that I say: you’re absolutely right, but why does it still work? Watching the movie for the first time, I was blown away by how close it stayed to the book, despite having such a shortened plot. The writers  did it in a way where the things they cut were truly negligible for the film and focused on the main points without losing the magic of the original plot. While maybe not my favorite movie of all time, The Help is definitely the best adaptation out there.

The Worst

4. Divergent by Veronica Roth

I just have two words for this adaptation: wasted potential. I read the first book excitedly, because it was around the time I was really into young adult dystopian books, and I went to see the movie right away. It took a while for it to sink in that Divergent is really just a watered-down Hunger Games. The book was decently engaging, but for some reason, the movie completely sucked all the excitement out of the series. It felt incredibly pandering and unrealistic at times. I tried reading the sequel, Insurgent, but couldn’t finish. I tried watching the movie version but couldn’t even finish that. All interest was lost once the story became way too convoluted. It’s no wonder they had to cancel the last movie in the franchise.

 3. City Of Bones by Cassandra Clare

City Of Bones was probably one of the most disappointing adaptations I’ve had the displeasure of sitting through, but the worst part is that since it was so bad, I completely lost interest in the series. I vividly remember coming out of the theater feeling betrayed, like someone had just pulled a huge prank on me. The most traumatizing part was how terrible the casting was for the movie. No offense to Lily Collins, but she was the most unconvincing Clary, and Jamie Campbell Bower sure as hell wasn’t the Jace I pictured while reading the book. And this is yet another example of a series being cancelled before finishing the franchise. Another one bites the dust.

2. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

I still have nightmares thinking about this movie adaptation. I don’t think there’s enough words in the English language to express my disbelief, my horror, my rage after watching what one could argue is a completely different story than the novel. Actually, that’s not even a stretch—the movie is literally a completely different story than the novel. The writers took such a drastic turn when writing the plot that it feels like the only thing the book and the movie share is the title. There is such a blatant disregard for character casting; Grover and Annabeth look absolutely nothing like how they’re described in the book. What hurt the most is that I read all five books in the series, and I thought the movie looked so good. Oh, how wrong I was.

1. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

This. This is it. This is the worst book-to-movie adaptation I have ever watched in my entire life. If I thought I was disappointed by the Percy Jackson movie, nothing could’ve prepared me for the overwhelming disrespect for a story that is the My Sister’s Keeper movie. When I watched this movie, I got so uncontrollably angry that I had to turn the movie off before I lost my mind. My Sister’s Keeper is one of my favorite books, so watching its movie adaptation was somewhat reminiscent of how you’d feel watching a loved one be dismembered in front of you. So much of the story was changed: Jesse, one of the narrators, has his whole plot line removed; the movie takes place in California instead of Rhode Island; Anna, the main narrator, is 11 instead of 13; Julia, another one of the narrators, was completely omitted; and worst of all, the tragic twist ending never happens. This is a perfect example of how to ruin a book. Do yourself a favor and stay far, far away from this disaster of an adaptation. Scroll back up and watch something else I talked about instead; you’ll thank me for it.

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