Novels, fictional or otherwise, form a chunk of us and our lives. Everything we read helps us gain a little bit more perspective over a wide range of matters so that irrespective of how inane your day goes, and you can always end it on a good note.
Fictional novels introduce us to a whole new universe that exists right before us, but we can never perceive it with our bare eyes. The more you read, the more you learn, and the more you learn, the more you grow. A book is the perfect piece of accessory that would never go out of trend and is pretty versatile concerning every activity you can think of on a day-to-day basis.
So what could be better than having onscreen adaptations of some of your favorite novels or having motion pictures based on some fictional character that you’ve come to idolize for quite some time? These onscreen adaptations fit a month-long devouring novel into a narrative of a duration of near about 120 minutes.
Often this may seem like a mammoth task, and it is, a very good novel, if it is not treated with justice at the hands of the director, might be butchered to death.
You might end up feeling deflated after watching the movie because your favorite character didn’t get enough screen time, or the dialogues lacked punch, and a few of the scenes have been improvised, thereby robbing the narrative of its unique essence.
But if directed properly and meticulously, there cannot be a more satisfying experience than watching your favorite characters, albeit fictional, come to life in the 44-inch flat-screen of your living space. And the best part about these movies is that they are not a one-time watch.
Just like you can pick up your favorite novel and get immersed in it from time to time, these timeless onscreen adaptations from books should give you the same thrill and joy every time you turn them on.
Over the years, a large number of novels and plots have found their paths subtly and secretively from the cozy confines of our bookshelves to the white curtained theater screens, from “a single reader at a time” subscription to facing judgment and appraisals from “a large audience and perhaps an international fanbase.”
These movie adaptations serve as breadwinners for the crew and also bring fame and renown to the authors, who previously would be known only to a select fanbase of readers.
Keeping all these factors in mind, we’ve listed the top 50 book adaptations in Hollywood that have managed to carve out a niche for themselves in this rapidly evolving theater world and deserve a watch.
Adapted from Nicholas Sparks’ novel of the same name, this epic love story between Noah and Allie set precedence for all other romantic movies to be made thereafter.
Directed by Nick Cassavettes, and starring then-real-life couple Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling, this movie is told in retrospect and in the form of a story. The plot begins with Duke reading from his notebook to Ms. Hamilton about the two lovebirds and how they met on a summer break and instantly fell in love.
They envisioned a future together, but sadly, date intervened, and like all doomed summer romances, Allie has whisked away to her life back in the city while Noah got drafted to the war. They eventually find their way back to each other, but Allie gets diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The movie is beautiful, the chemistry between the actors is simply charismatic, and, more importantly, it’ll wreck your heart like no one else.
2. Gone With The Wind
Margaret Mitchell’s historical fiction also happens to be a timeless American classic set in the backdrop of the American Civil War and Reconstruction. The author wrote only one novel in her entire life, but this epic love story could easily be hailed as an important historical relic for Americans.
Vivian Leigh plays the hot-tempered, beautiful and intelligent but also reckless belle of Georgia, Scarlett O’Hara, who wants to get married to Ashley Wilkes, who’s completely her opposite.
However, on the day, Scarlett plans to propose to Ashley, the latter not only gets engaged to his cousin, the sweet-natured Melanie but also gets drafted off to war as the Chief commanding officer. Clark Gable as Rhett Butler simply stole the show with his off-the-charts chemistry with Vivian Leigh.
The movie, perhaps the longest-running one in the theaters, is a testament to how good classic adaptations can be and even won several Academy awards.
3. Call Me By Your Name
Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet steal the show with this beautiful rendition of André Aciman’s novel of the same name that focuses on two young men falling in love with each other one summer but unable to make something out of it because of the society that they belong to. Set in 1983 in Northern Italy, 17-year-old Elio makes an acquaintance of a 24-year-old graduate student, Oliver, who also happens to be half Jewish.
Oliver comes to Italy to spend time with the Perlmans and as Eliot’s father’s assistant (the latter happens to be an archaeologist). Elio and Oliver hit it off well with their seemingly innocent friendship, but soon they discover feelings for each other, which, pure as they might be, however, felt forbidden in a society that idolized Romeo-Juliet way too much.
Surrounded by the romanticism and mysticism of the idyllic European countryside, the two shared a profound bond that unfortunately couldn’t last. The movie is an absolute tearjerker and probably one of the best LGBTQ-themed adaptations you’ll watch.
4. Remains of the Day
Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro’s masterpiece is oftentimes reminiscent of the British aristocratic days when every politically relevant class or family would have someone to wait upon them.
Four years after its publication, James Ivory delivered with utmost panache an onscreen adaptation of the same novel starring Anthony Hopkins as the protagonist of the story, Mr. Stevens, Emma Thompson as Miss Kenton, the housekeeper, and Hugh Grant as Reginald Cardinal.
The movie is told in retrospect, keeping in terms with the original book narrative, where Stevens is offered a week’s leave after years of faithful and tireless service at the Darlingtons.
As Stevens embarks on a road trip, it makes him reminisce about the old days of British glory and how World War 2 changed British society and did away with both fascist uprising and traditional aristocracy. It reminds him of his brief romantic interlude with Miss Kenton, and he ponders the possibilities had he confronted her with his feelings.
Daphne Du Maurier’s horror classic got adapted for the screens by Ben Wheatley and has been critically acclaimed for its excellent script and brilliant cinematography. Starring Lily James, Armie Hammer, and Kristin Scott Thomas, the movie revolves around two young people, Maxime De Winter and a young woman who fall in love after a brief romantic interlude in Monte Carlo and get married almost immediately.
The new Mrs. De Winter is however not aware of Maxime’s ex-wife, declared dead, but whose legacy still lives on in the halls of their palatial abode. She tries to settle into the happily married lifestyle in the family estate of Maxime, except finds herself battling the shadow of the dead wife, Rebecca.
It takes such a toll on her physical and mental well being and before long, starts to suspect sinister doings on behalf of both Maxime and the housekeeper, Manderly.
6. A Walk to Remember
This 2000 American romantic drama starring Mandy Moore and Shane West is sure to tug at your heartstrings every time you give it a watch. Landon and Jamie are two people, as different as possible from each other. While Landon is the high school jock who’s extremely casual, extroverted, and brooding, Jamie is a kind, sweet-tempered girl who also happens to be the reverend’s daughter with an angelic voice.
So when Landon joins the school community service almost reluctantly, he befriends the socially awkward Jamie and falls in love almost instantaneously.
Jamie and Landon initially become the subject of scorn and disbelief among their high school peers but it only brings the two grow closer to each other until Landon discovers Jamie’s not all that well. The chemistry between Shane and Mandy Moore is gut-wrenchingly good and it’ll make you believe in love all over again.
7. PS. I love you
If there’s any author who comes second to Nicholas Sparks in terms of romantic sagas, it has to be Cecelia Ahern. And Ahern’s famous novel, Ps. I love you, it is nothing short of extraordinary. The onscreen rendition of the novel is equally good if not better, with Hilary Swank as the protagonist Holly whose husband and love of her life, Gerry, played by Gerard Butler passes away from brain cancer.
Only in her 30s and without any kids, Holly feels stranded alone in her New York apartment like a ship without any anchor amid a tempest. That is before she receives a letter from Gerry on her 31st birthday and a tape.
Before dying, Gerry has managed to send her a series of letters that would accompany her to Europe and back, in an attempt to help her live fearlessly even without him. Every letter, every dialogue, and every scene, shot in the beautiful Irish wastelands evoke a deep sense of love and longing for what couldn’t be.
8. Harry Potter
This cult fiction series requires no introduction. J.K. Rowling spun something extraordinary out of thin air the moment she introduced us to the Boy Who Lived, You-Know-who, and their everlasting duel, surrounding the magical land of Hogwarts.
Spanning seven movies and introducing a horde of new characters in each, the movie franchise is perhaps one of the biggest blockbusters in Hollywood and should be credited with turning several non-readers into permanent Potter heads.
The series revolves around Harry Potter, an exceptionally gifted wizard who has no clue about his true identity before his 13th birthday. Harry befriends the friendly Hogwarts gamekeeper, Hagrid, gets sent off to Hogwarts, and thereby embarks upon the memorable 7-year journey through high school.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, and Alan Rickman among others, this series is perhaps one of the best fictional adaptations for the screen and deserves a watch.
9. Lord of the Rings
Rowling’s Harry Potter might have kicked off an entire pop-culture revolution with its magic, friendship, heroism, and bravery but if you had to trace back to the origins of such parallel universes and their true inspiration, it has to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
Narrated in three epic movies, essentially a trilogy, this series chronicles the journey of four hobbits, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin as they embark on a quest to destroy the One Ring created by the Dark Lord. Set in a world called Middle-Earth, the hobbits are under the rule of a certain creature Gollum.
When Bilbo Baggins gets hold of the Ring by some sheer twist of fate and passes it onto the others, unknowing of its powers, it is up to the hobbit’s quad to protect it at all costs from falling in the wrong hands. The saga is perhaps one of the most published and reads in Britain and the movie is equally popular among all LOTR fans.
10. Peter Pan
J.M. Barrie’s classic children’s novel found justice in its onscreen adaptation by P.J. Hogan which also stars Jeremy Sumpter as Peter Pan and Jason Isaacs as the evil Captain Hook. The book chronicles Peter Pan, a guy from Neverland, who would never grow up. Peter grew up as an orphan and without any true knowledge about who he is or what a family is.
So one Christmas night when he unknowingly looks into the window of the Darlings and watches the siblings get along with their parents, he envies them but also feels an urge to befriend them, especially the oldest daughter, Wendy.
Wendy and her three brothers befriend Pan and Tinker Bell and together embark on an adventure of their lifetime, all of which crumbles down to battle the evil Captain Hook. The movie is not completely a children’s movie, although the novel is catered to a younger audience, it is an entertaining watch for the whole family.
11. The Shawshank Redemption
If you are talking about bestselling novels and blockbuster movies based on them, then The Shawshank Redemption by Frank Darabont needs a special mention.
Based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King, the plot revolves around Andy Dufresne, a hotshot banking personnel who gets wrongfully accused of murdering her wife’s secret lover one night.
Dufresne pleads not guilty but gets sentenced to life imprisonment, subject to probable release if his records are straight. But years passed, and people came and went, Dufresne, made new friends and lost a few along the way but couldn’t prove his innocence. And then one night he hatched a brilliant plan using some slate rocks and a Rita Hayworth poster and the rest was history.
Shawshank redemption is not just about a single man’s struggle to prove his innocence but also happens to be an insightful depiction of the loneliness and curse of captivation in the prison.
12. To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee’s famous novel dealt with absolute justice at the hands of Robert Mulligan and even went on to win several academy awards and nominations, a testament to how good an adaptation it is. Gregory Peck plays the fabled Atticus Finch, a white lawyer who’s also a widower and father of two, who has been assigned by the State to advocate for a black man facing allegations of raping a white girl.
Told from the point of view of young Jem, Finch’s daughter, it revolves around how deep the racial discrimination is entrenched in the minds of white suburban middle and upper-class individuals in post-Depression Alabama.
There is another intriguing character by the name of Boo Radley, who’s never seen but whose rumors are pretty strife around the neighborhood as the guy who hunts and tortures children. The movie won 3 Oscars and is perhaps a cinematic marvel when it comes to portraying racism onscreen.
13. Schindler’s List
Based on the novel Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally, this 1993 American epic novel by Steven Spielberg is perhaps one of his masterpieces and one of the most culturally significant movies ever to be made on the Jewish Holocaust. Liam Neeson plays the role of a wealthy German businessman who’s extremely self-centered, money minded and lacks compassion.
However, when the Nazi-occupied German troops storm into the capital determined to get rid of the Jews by deporting them to the Auschwitz concentration camp, Oskar has a change of heart. Based on a true story, Schindler turned his factory into a refugee camp for the Jews and managed to save 1100 Jews from getting gassed at the hands of the Nazis.
The movie is a powerful reminder of the racial atrocities that have been committed by Hitler and his troops and one man’s isolated struggle to save a couple of hundred.
14. The Silence of the Lambs
Adapted from Thomas Harris’ novel of the same name, this 1991 psychological thriller starring Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster is both unconventional and quite gritty. Foster plays the role of Clarice Sterling, an FBI agent assigned to find out the murderer Buffalo Bill, a serial killer who has so far claimed the lives of 5 innocent women victims.
All these victims had a similar physical appearance and were even murdered similarly, by drowning them in water bodies with their skins stripped off. The heinous nature of the crimes makes her question another serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, except he’s no ordinary prisoner.
Dr. Lecter is a professional of the highest intellectual acumen but lacks on one occasion, he has cannibalistic appetites and has had several young people succumb to his food fetishes. The movie is brilliant in its conception and execution and has won 5 Oscars.
15. The Help
This is yet another fascinating adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s novel of the same name that deals with racial discrimination in the suburban Mississippi State during the Civil War.
Starring Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer, and Jessica Chastain, the plot follows the day-to-day discrimination and prejudice black maids have to face in upper-middle-class rich households where the women are more concerned with holding onto their husbands in a loveless marriage rather than focusing on their lovelorn kids.
Naturally, the kids grow up under the custody of their black nannies who won’t even be permitted to use the washroom facilities or dine in the same kitchen. Skeeter is a fierce white young woman who adored her nanny.
She decides to interview the house help all over the neighborhood for her writing piece and that kicks off a whole narrative spree and brings to light the various inhumane crimes committed against them in broad daylight. The movie won several awards including an Oscar and is perhaps one of Viola Davis’ best performances of all time.
16. The Shining
Adapted from Stephen King’s novel of the same name, this intense psychological thriller drama is powerful and nuanced in its subject matter. Starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall, the movie is slightly offbeat in its depiction of human loneliness and what happens if you’re cut off from the social world outside.
Jack happens to become the manager of the Overlook Hotel in Colorado, which happens to be a crowded tourist hotspot during the summers but during winters turns into a desolate building with no vegetation or footfall. The workers are laid off during the offseason and the hotel shuts down for six months during this time Jack and his three-member family are left all by themselves to look after the place.
The first few months pass by innocently enough but true to the owner’s predictions, Jack starts losing his sanity slowly, trapped in this isolated dreary living nightmare.
17. Pride and Prejudice
If you are a classic gal and fangirl over Jane Austen heroines then this 2009 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley and Matthew McFadden should be your comfort movie. The story is not unknown to us.
It’s a classic tale of a boy meets a girl, it’s not exactly love at first sight but as it turns out their resentment towards each other turns into love even though society’s narrow-minded materialistic perceptions become an obstacle.
Elizabeth Bennett is a headstrong, determined, intelligent young woman in her twenties and she reads, an activity almost considered to be a sin among the less elite English circles if you ever want to get married. On the other hand is her sister, Jane, who’s beautiful, sweet-tempered, kind and soft-spoken, and very easily the apple of the eye of Mrs. Bennett, who hopes to get her married to some wealthy eligible bachelor.
Then enter Mr. Darcy, who’s vain and condescending, self-obsessed, and one of the most renowned figures among the social elite. Directed by Joe Wright, the movie is a clever narrative on how women get pressured into finding the right husband and the constricted societal view.
18. Jane Eyre
This is yet another classic adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s novel with the protagonist having the same name as the title of the book. Jane is a reader, almost obsessively and has a mind of her own, and is never afraid to speak her heart out. She’s perhaps a prototype, albeit fictional, of the author herself who grew up in a patriarchal household where the women were always kept sheltered and confined.
As such, they longed to be rebellious, get out of the shackles of society, and explore life. Jane takes the job of a governess at Thornfield Hall to Mr. Rochester’s kids but little does she know that her master has deep probing secrets. Rochester is eccentric, temperamental, and quite secretive in his countenance, but Jane manages to crack him through.
As their relationship prospers into uncharted territories, the dead wife’s story casts a pall of gloom on Jane’s dreams. Starring Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska, the movie is critically acclaimed and has won an Oscar too.
19. Forrest Gump
Based on the novel of the same name by Winston Groom, this Tom Hanks starrer has changed the face of Hollywood and movies made thereafter. Hanks steps into the shoes of a mentally challenged and physically beaten 20 something years old man who treats life like a box of chocolates and loves one girl by the name of Jenny with his heart.
The movie is a beautiful coming-of-age story about Forrest, a simple good-natured soul who would get picked on by bullies in high school but would soon go ahead to do great things in life. After losing his mother, Forrest gets drafted off to the war in Vietnam where he befriends two soldiers, Bubba and Dan, and performs heroic acts that win him badges and honors and make people look up to him with admiration and awe.
But Forrest is in no way satisfied or happy for he still wants to help out his childhood sweetheart, who herself has strayed off from her goals. The movie is a beautiful portrayal of how love and kindness win over everything and is a must-watch.
20. The Color Purple
Alice Walker’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel on a young black girl who goes through the daily vagaries of life constantly looked down upon, and unloved, managed to bring home some hard-hitting facts about ideological racism. The movie is even more poetic than the book and captures the raw essence of what African American women have to deal with, both within their community and outside.
Celie is only thirteen years old when she gets pregnant after repeatedly getting raped by her stepfather but loses both her kids and even before she could realize what is happening to her body, she gets married off to a widower named Albert.
This starts Celie’s journey into the world as her connection to her sister gets severed and she has to bring up four children as well as look after herself. Later she befriends a vivacious black singer, Shug Avery, and the two women share an unshakeable bond that transcends friendship and evolves into kinship.
21. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Based on Roald Dahl’s famous children’s novel of the same name, this movie starring Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, and Helena Bonham Carter needs to be mentioned if you are looking for the best novel adaptations for the screen.
The protagonist of the story is Charlie Buckett, a kind, good-natured little boy whose family is extremely poor, so much so that they cannot afford anything for dinner except thin cabbage soup and occasionally a loaf of bread.
He lives with his four grandparents and parents in their single-room house, and on every birthday, his parents gift him a bar of Willy Wonka’s chocolate which he cherishes for months before actually savoring a nibble. So when by a sheer turn of fate, Charlie wins the golden ticket to a visit to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, little does he realize that both his and his host’s fates might transform forever after their interaction.
The film has musical sequences here and there that only amps up the entertainment factor, and the color palette makes it an even more fantastical watch.
22. American Psycho
This 2000 American psychological horror movie starring Christian Bale is as disturbing and as captivating as you can hope for, perhaps even more than the novel itself. Adapted from Bret Easton Ellis’ novel of the same name, the movie revolves around a wealthy industrialist, Patrick Bateman, who belongs to the class of the Wall Street social elite.
Bateman is one of those egoistic, narcissistic, vain, and self-obsessed personalities who stresses way more on enhancing his superficial qualities like appearance and wealth to stay relevant in his circle and among his peers.
Every morning he follows a carefully crafted regimen of exercise and beauty treatment and, once he’s in the office, puts on an air of farcical humor and charisma, that would surely make him more appealing among the women.
However, beneath this facade, there are raw emotions of greed, lust, and disgust quietly lurking, looking for a sleek way to surface and overpower the man. The movie almost revolutionized the genre of psychological horror in Hollywood and to date, remains one of Bale’s more important works.
Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, and a young Saoirse Ronan turn this tale of doomed romance into a classic period drama that can easily be jailed as one of the best romantic movies of all time.
Adapted from Ian Mcewans’ novel of the same name, the movie revolves around two sisters, Briony and Cecilia, who belong to an erstwhile wealthy family and now, post World War, need to protect their material assets, in case they get left without a penny to their names.
Cecilia befriends the local help, Robbie, who’s of a relatively inferior disposition even though they both attended the same school. When Robbie and Cecilia return home on their summer break, their friendship transcends the borders of innocence, and they experience a newfound attraction and affection for each other.
Briony, who’s unaware of her sister’s feelings when she learns of the affair, makes up false allegations of theft against Robbie, partly out of spite and partly out of jealousy. Robbie and Cecilia get separated and heartbroken, and Briony realizes her folly, but only when it is already too late.
24. The Godfather
Mario Puzo’s famous novel series found justice in the hands of renowned director Francis Ford Coppola who transformed the tale of the Italian crime lord and gangster into a cinematic marvel, one that Hollywood shall swear by in the years to come.
Starring Marlon Brando as The Godfather, a young, brooding Al Pacino as his youngest son Michael Corleone and Diane Keaton as Kay Adams, this movie is a classic rendition of the values and traditions a quintessential Italian family holds dear amid their involvement in corruptive activities and malpractices.
When Corleone’s eldest son, Sonny gets murdered in a firing spree between two mafia families over who’d have the lion’s share of the crime business profits, it kicks off a war among several underworld criminal gangs and ends with an attempt being made on Don Corleone’s life.
This puts a question mark on who would be the most appropriate successor to the family business, and Michael, who’s shunned this life and everything it stands for, steps up for his family.
25. Les Miserables
Victor Hugo’s masterpiece got reenacted for the theater screens with an ensemble cast comprising Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, and Eddie Redmayne and can always be counted upon as being one of the best modern-day book adaptations. Set in 19th-century France, the movie chronicles the struggle of Jean Valjean, who breaks free from his imprisonment secretly and absconds in the hope of a better life.
He is helped by a local church priest, and soon, by dint of discipline, bravery, and determination, he can remake himself to fit the needs of a materialistic world.
He even comes to adopt and take care of a young girl, as if she were her own, but just as he is slowly settling back into society, his past comes back to haunt him and ruin him forever. The movie carries a strong message on love, kindness, compassion, and how much the human mind can endure.
Based on the novel by Emma Donoghue, this psychological thriller movie starring Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay will surely send shivers down your spine every time you think of a similar experience. Jack is a 5-year-old boy who’s extremely attached to his mother and they spend their entire time with each other, trying to make it through each day with the other’s company.
Having Jack in her life is almost akin to being able to breathe somewhat freely for Jack’s mother. This makes even more sense when you factor in their living conditions. The two have been confined in a 10×10 inch foot space for seven years, referred to as the Room, and Maa has created this sage space and a make-believe universe within it, so Jack never feels something is amiss.
However, one day an opportunity presents itself for the two to escape, and Maa gives it her all to make sure her son can get out of this hellhole.
27. One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Based on the novel by Ken Kesey, this American comedy-drama takes place within a prison facility and is a story about how prison inmates rise in anguish against the wrongdoings of one of their caretakers, Nurse Ratched. Jack Nicholson plays McMurphy, a guy with criminal charges assigned to his name, who, in an attempt to escape lifetime imprisonment, pleads mental insanity.
He gets relocated to the State mental asylum, where he forms a kinship with the other inmates. Together they come to find the evil Nurse Ratched and her ways of dealing with the patients inhumane and insufferable and band together to overthrow her in her line of duty.
Nicholson delivers a power-packed performance as he steps into the shoes of a frustrated and rebellious prison inmate, whereas Louis Fletcher as Nurse Ratched is nothing short of terrifying, all of which makes the movie worth watching.
28. Little Women
Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel about Jo and her three sisters from a small American provincial town got adapted for the screens by Greta Gerwig and became a sensation overnight.
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Laura Dern, Timothy Chalamet, and Meryl Streep, the movie is in no way a classic chick flick. Riddled throughout with feminist underpinnings, the plot revolves around a headstrong, tomboyish Jo March who dreams of being a playwright and a female novelist.
Jo is anything but the conventional country girl whose head is filled with dreams of finding her soulmate, falling in love, and starting a family. She has dreams, ambitions, and a burning desire to go out into the world, shoulder to shoulder with the men, and get her passions fulfilled.
When the boy next door, Laurie, befriends the March sisters and falls in love with Jo, her entire life flashes past her eyes, and she rejects him point blank. Meanwhile, Amy, the youngest sister leaves their home to go live with her aunt, who supposedly would leave her with a significant bequest, and Beth, the middle sister, gets afflicted with a terrible malady.
It’s a coming-of-age story in several ways that focuses on Jo and how she blooms into a spirited yet responsible older sibling from being the recklessly independent teenage girl with a passion for the pen.
29. The Nanny Diaries
Based on the best-selling novel The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, this movie stars Scarlett Johansson, Paul Giamatti, Laura Linney, and Chris Evans in an enjoyable narrative that not only makes you laugh but also think and feel.
Scarlett Johansson plays the role of a bright young NYU graduate who steps out into the job market and is constantly under the pressure of landing something good that might make her mother proud.
Divorced when her daughter was just three years old, Annie’s mother was a nurse by profession and wanted nothing more than for her daughter to be happy and have a lucrative career.
However, on the day of her interview at a law firm, Annie gets cold feet and instead wanders off into the Centennial park, where she meets Mrs. X. X is the quintessential posh American housewife who has little time for her son and spends every living minute worrying about her loveless marriage and her appearance.
She hires Annie to babysit her son Grayer, and Annie takes the job because she has bills to pay. This invites new problems into her already complicated life but also brings her close to the guy next door, Harvard Hottie.
Frances McDormand never fails to impress with her hard-hitting, realistic portrayal of women who are social rebellions, independent, and free-spirited with a mind of their own and a soul of their own. And she is equally brilliant in this offbeat and unconventional movie directed by Chloe Zao, which also happens to be loosely based on the 2017 nonfiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st century by Jessica Bruder.
Frances plays the role of Fern, a woman in her early 50s without any stagnant job, living in a trailer, and without a family. Her husband had passed away, and when the factory where she worked before Christmas shut down for the holidays, she decided to take off in her van.
She tries to adopt the vagabond or gypsy lifestyle where you don’t have to rely on a proper job to get you by, especially when the economy is rife with recessionary pressures and unplanned job cuts. She befriends other fellow nomads, who share a similar perspective towards life, and rediscovers herself in an attempt to survive in the wilderness.
This 2021 American sci-fi thriller drama starring Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, and Jason Momoa happened to be one of the biggest hits of Hollywood in the last year. Blade Runner director and Academy award winner Denis Villeneuve adapted the novel for the screens, keeping an eye out for the theatrics.
Timothee Chalamet plays the role of Paul Atreides of House Atreides, a noble and powerful faction whose Head and Paul’s father, Duke Leto, is set to ascend to the throne. Naturally, if that happens, then Paul would be the successor to the throne and protector of the Realm.
This seemingly jubilant occasion, however, casts a pall of gloom and anxiety when the evil Baron assigns Leto to assume stewardship of political strife and ruins Arrakis, another dangerous planet. When Paul and Leto arrive on the planet, little do they realize that this will unleash mysterious evil forces that might threaten their survival and everything they have control over.
32. The Great Gatsby
Based on the famous novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, this movie starring the cream of Hollywood like Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Tobey Maguire, brings to life a fantastical world full of life, vigor, frivolous lifestyle and a room full of dark secrets lurking quietly beneath all of it.
Set in Long Island, the Gatsby house is always filled with sounds of laughter and merriment, casual champagne, drinking sprees and light, and all other sorts of extravaganza.
When Nick Carraway, a budding novelist, and screenwriter from the Midwest, moves into the house next door, he gets lured by Gatsby’s world and the people in there. He makes an acquaintance of Daisy Buchanan, Gatsby’s cousin who also happens to be married, and the two seem to hit it off on platonic terms.
However, things get complicated when Nick learns of Gatsby’s failed romantic affair with Daisy and gets involved in their attempt to be with one another. Baz Luhrman is a cinematic genius to bring together three of these fine actors and throws them into a set that might seem effortlessly chic but betrays the tumultuous narrative, true to the original story.
33. Brokeback Mountain
Adapted from Annie Proulx’s LGBT-themed short story, this 2005 American drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath “Joker” Ledger can easily be hailed as one of the most tragic romances to be depicted onscreen. Directed by Ang Lee, the plot revolves around two shepherds, Jack and Ennis, who get acquainted with each other over a herd-grazing job along the pastures of Brokeback mountain.
The two hit it off almost immediately, being of slightly different dispositions and personalities. Jack is extroverted and fun-loving, whereas Ennis is more subdued and closeted. As the two men spend the night together after locking in the animals, their relationship transforms into an emotional and sexual one, which they fear might be socially unacceptable.
When Ennis rejects Jack’s advances further to spend the rest of his life with him fearlessly, the two part ways and, in turn, get married to their respective girlfriends. The story is extremely evocative and will give you a limp in your throat every time you think of it.
34. 12 Years a Slave
Directed by Steve McQueen and adapted from an 1825 autobiographical account by William Grimes, this movie narrates the story of a black man, Solomon Northrup, who gets abducted in New York and sold off as a slave. In the pre-American Civil War era, Solomon journeys through absolute hell as he deals with racial oppression and discrimination of the worst kind and rampant prejudice that almost denies him as a human.
However, he also experiences goodwill and acts of kindness on his journey as a slave. As he passes hands and has a change of masters, Solomon gradually becomes aware of what being a black man in a white community entails, and this continues for 12 years.
On the 12th year of being a slave, the drive to Abolition is pushed, and Solomon gets drawn into the movement to preserve his dignity and social standing as well as those of his fellowmen. Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender, this movie is a masterful depiction of black history in America.
35. Gone Girl
Penned by Gillian Flynn, this novel is a twisted, gritty, and thrilling narrative of a misfit couple who plans revenge against one another, but everything backfires with the media getting involved and threatening their privacy. Nick and Amy Dunne have forever been worshiped on TV and by the public as the perfect couple, and truth is told, they seem to have it all.
Amy is a successful fiction novelist who comes from money and is backed by her wealthy family, whereas Nick is a high school teacher of inferior birth. The two meet, fall in love, and get married, but on the morning of their 5th marriage anniversary, Nick notices Amy is nowhere to be found.
When word of her disappearance reaches her family, they launch a public verbal assault against Nick, blaming him for their daughter’s disappearance and possible murder.
However, Amy is not missing; she has been planning her kidnapping for days to get back at Nick, who has been secretly sleeping with his high school student. Starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, this movie directed by David Finch is an entertaining watch.
36. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Written and directed by Stephen Chbosky, this movie is an epistolary coming-of-age drama centering around Charlie, a socially introverted high school junior. Charlie is not your average 15-year-old; he has a hard time getting along with his friends and family and suffers from frequent bouts of depressive episodes, panic attacks, and helplessness.
All of it stems from some traumatic childhood experiences that he had to go through, which include the death of his favorite aunt and, later, his high school best friend who committed suicide. When Charlie joins the high school, he immediately gets taken under the wings of two charismatic brother-sister duos, Sam and Patrick, and learns to live, love, and laugh freely.
As the days pass, Charlie gets closer to Patrick and develops a deep bond, and he also starts having feelings for Sam, who, as he later finds out, has a college boyfriend. The movie is a heartfelt piece on friendship and compassion, love and tolerance, forgiveness and inclusivity, and very relevant for youngsters.
37. The Devil wears Prada
This 2006 cult American drama deserves a special mention if you want to dig your hooks into the best TV adaptations of novels. Miranda Priestly is the editor-in-chief at Runway, a hotshot fashion magazine that practically rules the fashion world all over America. Andie is a recent NYU graduate in law who wants to write and work in publishing.
So clearly, when she got an offer to be Miranda’s assistant, it was hardly the right fit for her. Among thousands of applicants who would gladly prance about in the latest spring collection and Jimmy Choos just to get their big break at Runway and serve Miranda coffee, Andie never thought she’d transform into one of them herself.
She was more of a suede boot, loose-fitting jeans gal with a condescending attitude towards glamor. However, as she starts working for the Dragon Lady, she gradually gets to know her a lot more intimately, and this changes her perception of Runway.
This 2022 musical comedy is based on a novel of the same name by Roald Dahl that focuses on a young girl with a thirst for knowledge and an incredible knack for reading. Matilda is an eccentric genius and an object of concern for her TV-hugging and money-minded family, the Wormwoods, and naturally gets isolated from social occasions.
In sharp contrast to her personality is her brother, who hardly reads, binge-watches cartoons and other irrelevant images on the television all day, and is quite aggressive and dumb. In an attempt to get rid of her, her family enrolls her in a private school where Matilda’s genius catches the attention of her math teacher, Ms. Honey.
Ms.Honey takes a special liking towards Matilda, but they both dread the terrible headmistress, Agatha Trunchbull. Trunchbull is a gigantic, intimidating, frightening entity whose wrath towards children knows no bounds. Matilda decides to take on Trunchbull and teach her a lesson, and this constructs the very fabric of the movie.
39. Wuthering Heights
Adapted from Charlotte Bronte’s novel of the same name, this 1939 movie on two star-crossed lovers, Cathy and Heathcliff, is perhaps one of the oldest and undoubtedly the better onscreen depictions of the plot. Starring Merle Oberon and Sir Laurence Olivier, the plot follows the story of a young Cathy and Heathcliff when they meet as kids.
Catherine’s father, Mr. Earnshaw, was a man of a lenient and generous disposition, and when he chanced upon Heathcliff, an orphan boy with nowhere to go, he brought him home to bring him up along with his children.
When Earnshaw passes away, Cathy’s older brother, getting aware of the budding romance between the two, turns Heathcliff out of their mansion and gets Cathy married to a more eligible and wealthy guy, Edward.
This makes Heathcliff resent the Earnshaws, but at the same time, he cannot bear to keep away from Cathy. Cathy, on the other hand, becomes afflicted by a terrible malady that only worsens, given her separation from Heathcliff.
Stephen King could always be counted upon to deliver psychologically thrilling novels that would leave you searching for clues and answers till the last possible minute. But if you aren’t into reading novels and prefer ones that might prove to be equally festive for your eyes, this movie surely will appeal to your tastes.
Paul Sheldon is a best-selling novelist who has earned millions of fans with his Misery series. One of them is middle-aged Annie Wilkes, who lives all by herself in a cottage up in the hills, away from the town’s residential area.
When Paul accidentally crashes his car into the snow one evening while driving and loses consciousness, he gets rescued by Annie. Paul is badly hurt and is almost knocked out of his senses and consciousness and regards Annie as some sort of divine intervention that happened to save his life.
But as he slowly recovers from the accident and wants to reconnect with his family, he quickly realizes that he’s being held hostage by a psychopath fan who wants to take revenge for killing off the Misery series.
41. The Green Mile
This is yet another adaptation of Stephen King’s novel that stars Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan in a horrifying and thrilling sequence. Tom Hanks plays the role of a prison head guard, Paul, who makes an acquaintance of a big strong black man, John, who has been accused of raping and murdering two women.
John has earned a bad reputation in prison and among the guards for often succumbing to violent fits and exchanging racially charged abuses with the other guards.
However, as John and Paul get to know each other more closely, Paul becomes aware of certain superpowers John possesses, which change the course of action forever. The movie received intense critical appreciation, although it is a tad too long, and received several Academy awards as well.
42. Normal People
This is an adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel of the same name that is available exclusively on Muni and Hulu. It is a short series, a romantic drama of sorts that revolves around two high school students, Marianne and Connell, who engage in a mild sexual affair. Connell is the popular guy in high school, the first person to get picked in gym classes, has a thriving social life, and has a beautiful blonde girlfriend.
However, he is of humble origins and has to work to make ends meet. Marianne, on the other hand, has had a rough childhood. With an abusive older brother, an absentee father, and a negligent mother, she has always felt unwanted, unloved, and a social recluse.
The two engage in a casual fling but soon discover feelings for each other that make their equation complicated. Starring Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar Jones, this series is hauntingly beautiful, romantic yet realistic, and one to watch out for.
43. Fight Club
Chuck Palahniuk’s psychological thriller novel found its modern-day rendition for TV in the expert hands of David Fincher, which went on to win several awards and nominations, including those for the Oscars. The story revolves around an insomniac, frustrated automobile recall specialist who wants to be rich but, at the same time, is exhausted by his professional demands.
He befriends Tyler Durden, a soap salesman who informs him of this secret Fight Club where guys like him get together every other Friday to fight it out. They fight with each other as a vent to their frustration and obsession with consumerism and materialistic well-being, dissatisfaction with what life has handed out to them and what they have been able to achieve with it.
He also befriends Marka Singer, an addict and impostor, and soon starts consorting her. This complicates the trio’s living situation all the more.
44. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Based on the novel series of the same name by Stieg Larson, the movie revolves around a scandalized journalist Michael who encounters a wealthy businessman. The latter wants Michael to pen a family memoir for him but later reveals his true motive to get him to solve the case of the mysterious disappearance of his niece.
Michael takes on the case rather unwillingly but hopes to get his name cleared in return. During his investigation, he tracks down Lisbeth Sanders, a brilliant hacker but socially introverted who has some traumatic past of her own that somehow gets intertwined with the investigation. Starring Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, and Stellan Skarsgard, this movie by David Fincher are perhaps one of his more significant directorial ventures.
45. No country for old men
This 2007 Neo-western crime drama has been adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel by the same name that revolves around a Texan hunter and welder, Llewellyn Moss, who chances upon a bounty worth 2 million dollars. Moss discovers the sack among the murdered remnants of several drug mafias, who supposedly have been fighting over the same money with each other and have ultimately lost their lives.
He decides to keep the money to himself and get away with it, which puts the ruthless, sinister, and psychopathic killer, Anton Chigurh, hot on his trail. Anton would stop at nowhere, and no one to get to the bounty and his quarry.
Meanwhile, the local police are hot on the trail of those responsible for the massacre and the looming number of crimes reported at their station, but the chief responsible for overseeing the investigation is pretty laid-back in his dealings with the criminals.
Directed by the Coen brothers, this movie stars Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, and Woody Harrelson and has won 4 Academy awards.
46. Requiem For A Dream
Hubert Selby Jr.’s highly controversial yet best-selling novel got adapted for the screen by Darren Aronofsky and starred Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Ellen Burstyn.
The movie is a thought-provoking insight into the perils of drug addiction and the toll it takes on everyone around. Burstyn plays the role of a widowed woman who spends her days binge-watching a self-help show, having no one else to talk to, or even having a social life.
She decides to go onto the show as a means to fill her dull, monotonous life with something more inspiring. On the other hand is Sara’s son, Harry, who’s a drug addict, and after meeting Marion, his girlfriend convinces her to join his group of junkies as well.
Marion has other career ambitions for herself, but once she gets embroiled in Harry’s world, she almost loses track of herself. Sara then develops an addiction of her own where she wants to lose weight obsessively and goes on a pill that takes a toll on her mental health.
47. Great Expectations
Adapted from Charles Dickens’s famous novel by the same name, this movie by Oscar-winning director, Alfonso Cuaron, could easily be hailed as one of the best onscreen renditions of the novel.
Ethan Hawke plays the role of protagonist Finn, a humble orphan boy who was brought up by his uncle. Finn was a quiet, shy guy with a knack for creativity and art and hoped to have his works displayed at the city art gallery someday.
He meets Estella and immediately gets entranced by her beguiling charm and beauty, but unfortunately, Estella belongs to the rich, socially elite class, whereas Finn belongs to a more modest section. Estella also happens to be the niece of a certain Miss Havisham, who is rumored to have gone a bit crazy after the love of her life ditched her at the altar.
Their teenage dalliance was short-lived but got reignited when an adult Finn moves to the city to realize his dreams, but now Estella is engaged. Starring Ethan Hawke, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Robert De Niro, this movie is a dramatic rendition of love and manipulation.
48. Silver Linings Playbook
Based on Matthew Quick’s novel by the same name, this 2012 American romantic comedy revolves around mental health awareness and how one may overcome the same. The movie is a quirky and funny take on the entire seriousness of mental health episodes and how they may affect the emotional and physical well-being of the people concerned.
Bradley Cooper plays the role of Pat, a high school teacher who viciously assaults his ex-wife, Nikki’s lover, and has been put into a court-ordered mental health facility for eight months.
There Pat is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but before his term for recovery is completely over, he is released from the hospital, courtesy of his mother, who happens to be an employee. Pat moves back into his parents’ place and is now determined to get his job back and win over Nikki.
He befriends Tiffany, a young divorcee who suffers from mental health issues herself. As the two strike a deal to help each other, Tiffany to help Pat get back Nikki and Pat to help Tiffany win a partnered dance competition, the two get closer and start feeling things anew.
Vladimir Nabokov’s highly controversial novel that focuses on pedophilia and lust and desire of the menial kind was adapted for the screen by Adrian Lyne. The movie is equally controversial as the novel, mostly because of the content and the narrative, and upon its release was already banned from select theaters and even in several countries.
The story follows a high school teacher, Humbert Humbert, who is attracted to girls’ preadolescence, essentially nymphets. On a chance encounter with Charlotte Haze, a single mother who’s both desperate and lonely, her thirteen-year-old daughter Lolita catches his attention and thus starts the illicit affair and mad obsession with Humbert.
In an attempt to stay close to Lolita, Humbert starts having an affair with her mother, but he cannot hide his desire and passion for her forever. Starring Jeremy Irons, Dominique Swain, and Melanie Griffith, this movie is certainly catered to a much adult audience and is quite a relevant piece of work even today.
50. The Life of Pi
Adapted for the screens from Yann Martel’s philosophical fiction novel, this movie by Oscar-winning director Ang Lee should go down in history as one of the best retellings of all time. With an essentially Indian cast, the movie is a coming-of-age story of Pi Patel, who grew up in a quintessential South Indian family where his father happened to be a zoo owner and his mother a homemaker.
When the city municipality refused to fund the local zoo anymore, their livelihoods got uprooted, and they had to move with the animals to Canada. However, after a turbulent storm and a scuffle with the locals on the ship, Pi loses his family and is left to fend for himself on a tiny boat.
Stranded on the ocean with not a single soul or help in sight, he discovers to his horror, that his sole companion is the zoo tiger, Richard Parker. The movie won 4 Oscars and several other awards and is a must-watch for all Ang Lee fans.
Marjane Satrapi’s groundbreaking feminist novel found justice in the onscreen adaptation by Vincent Paronnaud and Satrapi herself and, to date, remains one of the most significant women-centric movies to have ever been made. The movie is an animated one, shot scene by scene as if taken from a graphic novel with voiceovers done by Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Gena Rowlands, and Sean Penn.
With the 1970s Iranian revolution in the background, the film narrates the story of a young Marjane who witnesses firsthand how the Iranian government switches regimes from a peace-loving and tolerant nation to a den of religious fundamentalists and tyrannical rulers.
Marjane is a fiercely independent and spirited young girl who joins the revolution but fearing her safety, her parents send her away to Vienna for higher studies.
Even there, she has a hard time coping with a new culture and perspectives and is deeply troubled with the political situation back at home. The movie is a wonderful depiction of what it means to be a woman under an autocratic regime and that no matter where you go, you can never deny your roots or heritage.
This completes our list of the top 50 best-selling novels that have been adapted for the screen. It is hard to reenact 300-page or longer stories for the screen, keeping in mind that the essence of it is not entirely lost, but these movies have managed to preserve and even uplift the morals behind the novels.
If you are a true movie buff and often feel like you might be missing out because you lack a passion for reading, then this list has got you covered. And it might even inspire you to pick up the actual novel once you’re through with the movie.