15 Best Book-to-Movie Adaptations Every Bibliophile Needs to See

Settle in for a night of stellar literary entertainment.

Feature Image: Little Women (2019), directed by Greta Gerwig. Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

Adapting a book for the big screen is a tricky business. Not only do you have to please moviegoers who may be encountering the story for the first time, you also need to satisfy devotees of the source material. But when it works? It really works.

That’s why we rounded up the best book-to-movie adaptations that will delight bibliophiles and cinephiles alike. We know there are plenty of adaptations out there vying for your attention, including beloved films like The Wizard of Oz and franchises, such as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. We aimed to strike a fine balance with our list, skipping on the blockbusters in favor of our favorite stand-alone gems — plus adding in a few classics and award-winners that are always worth a rewatch.

By Brandon Miller

Room

By Emma Donoghue

Room, Emma Donoghue’s 2010 novel, is a gut-wrenching chronicle of the captivity, escape, and trauma of Joy Newsome, a woman who’s abducted as a teenager and then impregnated by her captor. The 2015 film version — which Donoghue also wrote — is just as intense. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, it boasts astonishing performances from Brie Larson, who won an Oscar for her role, and child actor Jacob Tremblay.

Gone Girl

By Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn is the reigning queen of the plot twist, so it comes as no surprise that all three of her novels have been adapted for the screen. But it’s 2014’s Gone Girl, based on Flynn’s 2012 bestseller, that made our list — mostly because of David Fincher’s masterful direction. We also have to give props to the amazing actors in the film, particularly Rosamund Pike, whose brilliant turn as Amy Elliott Dunne earned her a much-deserved Oscar nomination. While it’s not a film, we also recommend checking out HBO’s miniseries adaptation of Flynn’s debut thriller, Sharp Objects, starring Amy Adams.

To Kill a Mockingbird

By Harper Lee

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is a literary classic and a novel that most adults in the U.S. have read (thanks, high school English class!). So it’s no small feat that director Robert Mulligan successfully made the Pulitzer Prize–winning tale just as compelling on the big screen. Lee was reportedly a big fan of the adaptation and of Gregory Peck’s Oscar-winning turn as Atticus Finch, the principled lawyer who defends an African American man accused of raping a white girl in small-town Alabama. Sadly, the narrative’s themes of racism and injustice are just as relevant today as they were in 1962, when the film came out.

Little Women

By Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott’s 19th-century novel Little Women has been adapted for the stage and screen multiple times. And while the 1994 film adaptation received a number of award nominations, it’s Greta Gerwig’s 2019 version that we’re recommending. We were wowed by Gerwig’s fresh and lively reimagining of this classic coming-of-age tale...and so were the critics. The film received six Academy Award nominations, including one for Gerwig’s screenplay adaptation.

The Silence of the Lambs

By Thomas Harris

Everyone’s favorite cannibal/killer Hannibal Lecter can be traced back to a series of dark suspense novels by Thomas Harris. Lecter first appeared in Harris’s 1981 novel Red Dragon. But it’s Harris’s 1988 novel, The Silence of the Lambs, that inspired this 1991 gem of a film. Directed by Jonathan Demme, The Silence of the Lambs is widely regarded as one of the best psychological thrillers in cinematic history. It also contains Anthony Hopkins’s extraordinary performance as the suave and sadistic serial murderer. A glass of Chianti, anyone?

Call Me by Your Name

By André Aciman

Set in 1980s Italy, André Aciman’s novel Call Me by Your Name chronicles the summer love story of a 17-year-old American Italian young man and a visiting 24-year-old doctoral student. It’s a gorgeous coming-of-age narrative filled with sensuality, tenderness, and desire. Luca Guadagnino’s movie adaptation — which was nominated for four Oscars and won for Best Adapted Screenplay — builds upon the sun-kissed romance of the book. It boasts sweeping shots of the Italian countryside, a heartbreaking performance by Timothée Chalamet, and some of the sexiest queer love scenes ever filmed.

Crazy Rich Asians

By Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich Asians is proof that not all great film adaptations need to be psychological thrillers, period pieces, or crime dramas to strike a cultural nerve. The film version — directed by Jon M. Chu and released five years after the publication of Kevin Kwan’s novel of the same name — was a huge hit at the box office. Audiences reveled in the film’s depictions of wealth and luxury. Packed with both laughs (Awkwafina is hilarious in her supporting role) and heart, the film also introduced us to heartthrob Henry Golding. For that, we will always be thankful.

The Martian

By Andy Weir

Andy Weir published The Martian in 2011. Four short years later, Ridley Scott brought the science fiction story to the big screen. The filmmaker is no stranger to sci-fi, having directed such genre classics as Alien and Blade Runner. Scott’s The Martian stars Matt Damon as an astronaut marooned on Mars who must learn to survive while awaiting rescue by NASA. It received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actor.

If Beale Street Could Talk

By Barry Jenkins

Doubters may have wondered how director Barry Jenkins could possibly follow up a cinematic marvel like Moonlight, which was itself based upon an unpublished autobiography. Turns out, there was no need to worry. In 2018 Jenkins wrote and directed If Beale Street Could Talk, which he adapted from the 1974 James Baldwin novel of the same name. The film features stunning visuals and incredible performances from KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Colman Domingo, and more. And we live for Regina King’s scene-stealing, Oscar-winning performance as Sharon Rivers, the mother of one of the main characters.

Schindler’s List

By Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List was released in 1993, garnering international praise from critics and moviegoers alike. The film is based on Schindler’s Ark, a 1982 work of historical fiction by Australian author Thomas Keneally. Keneally’s novel tells the story of Oskar Schindler, a real-life German industrialist credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust. The author won the Booker Prize for his work. Spielberg’s harrowing black-and-white film received a dozen Academy Awards nominations. It won more than half of them, including Best Picture, and stands today as one of the best films of all time.

The Godfather

By Mario Puzo

Based upon Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel of the same name, The Godfather was nominated for a slew of awards, winning Best Picture at the Oscars and catapulting crime films to epic new heights. When we think of the Mafia on the silver screen, the Corleone family instantly springs to mind. That’s because of bravura performances from Al Pacino and Marlon Brando, as well as Puzo’s highly quotable dialogue. Our favorite: “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

Hidden Figures

By Margot Lee Shetterly

In 2016 Margot Lee Shetterly published Hidden Figures, a nonfiction book about Black female mathematicians who worked at NASA during the space race. Shetterly’s narrative examined both the contributions these women made to space study and the discrimination they faced based upon their sex and race. A film adaptation directed by Theodore Melfi was released the same year — a rarity for book-to-movie adaptations. The Oscar-nominated picture is excellent, with top-notch writing, beautiful cinematography, and an all-star cast that features Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae.

Children of Men

By P.D. James

While Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 dystopian thriller Children of Men is based on P.D. James’s 1992 novel of the same name, the filmmaker considered the book to be a springboard rather than a paint-by-numbers set of instructions. A recipe for silver screen disaster? Many times, yes. But don’t fret, book lovers: Cuarón’s book-to-movie adaptation is stellar, and James herself was reportedly pleased with the adaptation, despite the liberties that Cuarón took. Starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Michael Caine, Children of Men is a fantastic sci-fi thriller that earned three Oscar nominations, including a nod to Cuarón for his creatively adapted screenplay.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

By Ken Kesey

Sometimes authors disapprove of films based on their books, even when everyone else seems to love the adaptation. That’s the case with Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, and it’s the case here. Author Ken Kesey was not impressed by Miloš Forman’s film adaptation of his 1962 novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But Kesey may be a bit cuckoo himself — Forman’s 1975 silver screen adaptation won five Oscars, including Best Picture. The film also boasts a number of unforgettable performances, from Jack Nicholson’s anarchic portrayal of Randle Patrick McMurphy to Louise Fletcher’s iconic turn as Nurse Ratched.

The Accidental Billionaires

By Ben Mezrich

Written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher, The Social Network is a cinematic gem. It’s based on The Accidental Billionaires, a 2009 nonfiction book by Ben Mezrich that charts the rise of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. The film adaptation, which took home three Academy Awards, pops with Sorkin’s signature snappy dialogue. It’s beautifully directed by Fincher and is scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The film also features a fantastic performance by Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg and strong supporting turns from Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer, and — much to our surprise — Justin Timberlake.

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