Long before the talkies got popular, people would need to amuse themselves by staring at symbols on pieces of paper that would cause them to hallucinate vividly for hours at a time. These things were called books, and their mad adherents loved them. So much, in fact, that many of the people who make moving pictures started adapting books to movies and television shows so that those of us far too lazy to be bothered to read – who would rather watch people far prettier than us play out these tales – could enjoy them like those of a literary set.
While ultimately there is no comparison between books and screen tales, those who like one or both would do well to avail themselves of the fine entertainment to be had in this list of the 30 best book-to-screen adaptations.
Still one of the most powerful miniseries ever to air, Roots takes a brutally honest look at slavery in the United States. As poignant today as #BlackLivesMatter continues to grow, it’s a retrospective on the darkest days in America’s history. Where the land of the free, wasn’t.
Harry Potter Series
From the painful to the playful, the marvelous storytelling that populated J.K. Rowling’s works was moved seamlessly onto the big screen in a way that brought fans of either the print or film mediums together.
The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler
Even more than Schindler’s List, this holocaust tale captures the passion of one woman to save children from the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. Not only is it about survival, but about people of two faiths coming together, and women striving to do good at a time when they were treated as third-class citizens.
Pride & Prejudice
Naturally we’re thinking of the British miniseries starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, rather than the later adaptation that shall be summarily forgotten. Sticking true to form as only the BBC can, it drips with Englishness and captures the romance of indomitable people in a love story for the thoughtful.
A tribute to both the book by Jeff Lindsay and the masterful storytelling of the Showtime series, each one invited us to root for the bad guy as we meet a moral serial killer where he lives. It’s a reflection of the monsters and better angels in all of us.
The Bourne Franchise
Where Harry Potter brought people together, the films around amnesiac Jason Bourne tended to divide them. Each entertaining in their own right, a fight over whether the movies or the Ludlum books are better can only end in fisticuffs.
Known colloquially as the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series, the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson was put to film in Sweden before it was brought to the United States. Lovingly true to the novels, Noomi Rapace is, to our minds, the only tattooed girl who matters.
The Hunger Games
Though the series has had some missteps, such as turning Mockingjay into two films as a naked cash-grab, it revitalized the dystopian genre offering up a strong female lead. Though the trope of the “girl who is different” is now a punchline, The Hunger Games still provides a fictional heroine who is strong, independent, and empowered.
Bottled madness, Gone Girl is a terrifying psychological thriller in any medium. To avoid any spoilers, just rest assured that you need to read it, watch it, and experience it for a long, dark look down the rabbit hole.
A genius work by Mario Puzo about the mafioso culture that was turned into a masterpiece by Francis Ford Coppola, it’s as much required reading as it is required viewing.
The Night Manager
A new work brought to the screen, prepare to be disturbed and yet unable to look away as a cast of characters draws you into their grimy, creepy little world of spies and intrigue. The book is by John le Carré, the master of espionage thrillers.
Pretty Little Liars
If you’re like many of us, you didn’t even realize that Pretty Little Liars was a book series before it was brought to television. 16 volumes deep, this takes an unusual twist on the mystery-thriller genre with both the books and the TV show needing to be seen to be believed.
The Shawshank Redemption
Get busy living, or get busy dying is the advice of this surprisingly thoughtful Stephen King book, which gives us a powerful tale of doing wrong to do right.
The other Stephen King novel to grace this list, The Shining takes a grim look at alcoholism by way of a haunted hotel.
The Silence of the Lambs
Bringing to life one of the greatest villains of all time, Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter, both book and movie sing in their own unique tune.
The 39 Steps
A disturbing tale of a girl overtaken by a demon, the trials of the men who try to save her is as harrowing a journey into the human psyche as you’ll ever want to behold.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
All hail the late Gene Wilder. A work of psychedelic art, madness, and temptation, there’s loads of darkness to be had in this 70’s work in the key of weird.
Nihilistic and powerful, both book and movie challenge our ideas of what is right and good in a modern world rotting from the top down.
The Jurassic Park Series
Though there’s a few errors along the way, a look at the original Jurassic Park and the new Jurassic World will show that our fascination with the past, and scientific endeavor can often lead us astray.
No Country for Old Men
Tense and brimming with anti-heroes, the bleak world of Cormac McCarthy’s making is realized in dour relief with dazzling performances all around.
Requiem for a Dream
One of the more mind-bending books of all time made into an equally disconcerting piece of movie history, it’s Darren Aronofsky’s addict world; we’re all just living on the fringes.
Social commentary runs surprisingly deep in this book and television series that undercuts the world of social elitism, giving a bleak yet hilarious look at how the other half lives.
Gone With the Wind
Romance against the backdrop of a country torn asunder, it holds up better than any movie has a right to.
House of Cards
Whichever television series you watch, the British or the Netflix, you’ll see the ugly underbelly of political intrigue and the vicious world where power is everything.
War & Peace
New on the scene, this miniseries takes a look at the weighty novel of battles among the aristocracy during both conflict and relative tranquility.
In the time between the first and second world wars, a family at their crumbling estate copes with PTSD, alcoholism, homosexuality, and normal life through the prism of family dysfunction.
An interesting look at racial tensions that manages to be fun, cheerful, and yet replete with themes of love, betrayal, honor, justice, and the bad things we all do.
The question is: What does it mean to be human? The answer is up to us to decide as a man who may or may not be human runs up against machines that are little more than people seeking freedom and autonomy.
Game of Thrones
Come for the nudity and dragons, stay for the rich cast of characters as they’re quickly killed off in gory spectacle. It’s a world where winter is always coming. Valar Morghulis, indeed.