In honor of this weekend’s Academy Awards, I’m sharing my five favorite book to movie adaptations. I generally think the book is always better, but some of these films prove that adage wrong by doing justice to, or even outshining, their source material.
Sense and Sensibility (1995)
Since I was about 10 years old, I’ve been watching this movie whenever I’m sick or blue, so this Austen adaptation will always hold a special place in my heart. Emma Thompson wrote the impressive script and starred as a wonderfully resilient and composed version of Elinor Dashwood. I particularly love how this film depicts and deepens Elinor and Edward’s relationship, giving them conversations about gender and family expectations that breathe life into their relationship in a way the book doesn’t. I also think this adaptation manages to streamline Austen’s 350+ page novel into a 2 hour film while maintaining the book’s humorous and sweet tone.
Mean Girls (2004)
Tina Fey’s hysterical look at the “girl world” of high school was based on Rosalind Wiseman’s nonfiction parenting book Queen Bees and Wannabees. While the book has been largely discredited as pseudoscience (and honestly has done a lot of harm in its propagation of the myth that “girls are just mean”) we do owe it our gratitude for inspiring this film. The movie is able to satirize Wiseman’s claims and poke fun at the cliquishness and nastiness of high school, without lumping all girls into two oversimplified categories. Plus it’s just fun.
Gone Girl (2014)
I didn’t think a film version would be able to pull off the book’s twists, let alone its complex depiction of Amy, but it pleasantly surprised me. I’ll never forget the suspicious side-eye my husband gave me while leaving the theater after seeing this (he hadn’t read the book). It truly captures the dark and twisted nature of the book without sacrificing the nuance.
Ok...I’m cheating because a) this is a television series and b) it’s more of a sequel than an adaptation. But still, this is probably the most innovative, creative, and impressive book to screen adaptation I’ve ever seen. The way Damon Lendelof expands the world of Watchmen to both develop the graphic novel’s themes and comment on contemporary America is nothing short of brilliant. I watched this series before reading the book, but I plan to rewatch from this new vantage point soon.
Little Women (2019)
People are always surprised when I express my distaste for this novel, because on paper, it’s right in my wheelhouse. I think because I read it as an adult I saw all of its faults without feeling any nostalgia towards it. But I fell deeply in love with the new movie directed by Greta Gerwig. Her manipulation of the timeline does wonders for the plot and characters, even going so far as to rehabilitate the image of the hated Amy March. This film is also just exceedingly beautiful and while I’ve never felt this way about the book, I would gladly live in the world of Gerwig’s March sisters for a spell.