Greta Gerwig’s Little Women hits theaters tomorrow, taking another stab at adapting the beloved novel for moviegoers nationwide. Taking a story from the pages of a book to either the big or small screen is hard to do, and even harder to do well — although many still try. In honor of this latest (and, tbh, promising) literary film offering, our staff waded through the seemingly endless sea of book-to-screen adaptations to highlight the few that get it right.
Marissa DiBartolo: The Green Mile (1999)
I am kween of criticizing movie versions of my favorite literary works. I’m the nightmare monster who leans into whoever I am sitting next to whispering, “that’s not in the book” throughout the entire film, and then I’m the person who complains about how much was left out as soon as the credits roll. But The Green Mile is so close to the book, and such a beautiful adaptation of an incredibly heart-wrenching story, that there’s just nothing to complain about. Is this a depressing choice? Maybe.
Ali Mierzejewski: Pretty Little Liars (2010-2017)
This show is utter nonsense, which is why it is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. Listen, I’ve watched this OVER and OVER again trying to figure out how any of it makes sense. It can’t, dear reader, be done. You don’t even technically meet the Big Bad until the final minutes of the very last episode of the very last season. That’s right: They introduce an entirely new character in the final episode. What kind of justice is that?!
I won’t sit here and tell you that this is a good show, but I will tell you if you start watching it, you will not be able to stop, and then it will haunt you for the rest of your life. Everything about it is stunningly unbelievable, right down to the fact that these girls wear stilettos to high school. Someone dates their teacher — and they’re the most beloved couple on the show?! HELP.
But god, is this show so bad it’s good. A cyberbully who loves a good scavenger hunt, a good murder, and — above all else — a good pun?! Sign me up every time, … then tell me how all of them always have a curling iron on hand, even in a dollhouse prison (a real thing on this show!).
I haven’t technically “read” the books in full (I have read all of their synopsis on Wikipedia in desperation for anything to make sense), but because this show becomes such a straight-up circus in the end, it’s not even close to an accurate adaptation once we hit season three. Most of its insanity comes from the TV show specifics: the wardrobe (Why is no one wearing a jacket in the winter in the Philadelphia suburbs?); the fully done hair and makeup (How? And who has the time?); the fact that they had to do a full five-year time jump because the actresses were like 30 and no time had passed since freshman year in six seasons.
I could truly write an essay on how much I love this show, but I’ll spare you (but def slide into my DMs if you want to talk about it in full and probably at a screaming volume).
James Zahn: War of the Worlds (1953) and TV sequel (1988-1990)
We’ve probably entered an era in which many people don’t even realize that H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds was a book — much less the inspiration for one of history’s greatest instances of unintended mass panic. Still, both Wells’ original tale and Orson Welles’ 1938 radio drama based upon it (which some listeners thought was an actual alien invasion) continue to inspire countless adaptations for each new generation.
The best, in my opinion, are the 1953 feature film directed by Byron Haskin and its direct sequel — a syndicated TV series created by Greg Strangis that aired from 1988-1990.
The 1953 film is the granddaddy of all alien invasion movies, setting the stage for every Independence Day, Cloverfield, and A Quiet Place to follow. Even the infamous “Battle of New York” in The Avengers owes much to the film, which was groundbreaking in its special effects and use of the cutting-edge technology of the time. It was both terrifying and stunning.
Then, 35 years later, the television series made genius use all previous source material — books/radio/film — in crafting rich lore that was truly ahead of its time. The aliens were truly scary in that they could take over a human host body and communicate with their homeworld using hacked Earth electronics like a sinister E.T. There was also a lot of metaphor going on with underlying social commentary that feels relevant again.
Maddie Michalik: Sherlock (2010-2017)
Listen, 221B Baker Street hasn’t been the same since Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat put their magic touch on the 19th-century works from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. There’s no other way to put it: Sherlock is a masterpiece. It’s one of the wittiest, best-produced shows I’ve ever seen and is a pioneer in its editing. In 2010, we were reading the Pretty Little Liars characters’ text messages from A on their cell phones, while Sherlock displayed text messages on screen while we watched the character reading the text — much like how shows do it today. Out of the many Sherlock adaptations, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have the best chemistry as the Sherlock/Watson duo, with their sharp banter and unlikely friendship. I have yet to find a show that makes you love and hate all of the characters — both heroes and villains alike — like Sherlock does. If you can’t believe that there are only 15 episodes since the show first premiered in 2010, then you’re severely underestimating the power of fandom. In the voice of Mona-Lisa Saperstein from Parks and Recreation, “Season five pleaseeeeee!” But I’ll compromise for the Doctor Strange sequel first.
(I’m not saying this was the second-best option because Harry Potter was already taken, and I’m also not saying that I wouldn’t have chosen this if Harry Potter wasn’t already taken. In the game of Staff Picks, you either get dibs or choose something else.)
WATCH IT NOW: Stream on Netflix
Jackie Cucco: Harry Potter Movies (2001-2011)
With seven books; eight films; and a wizarding world full of themed toys, clothing, coffee shops, video games, jewelry, amusement parks, and so much more, it goes without saying that Harry Potter is a magical universe unto itself. As many times as I’ve read the books and watched the movies, they never fail to hit me right in the feels. I laugh at all the same places every time and cry at pretty much any mention of Sirius Black, Hedwig, Dobby, Dumbledore, Fred, Lupin, and the rest of our dearly departed. Of course, some characters are way more developed in the books and don’t get the opportunity to shine as much in the movies (shout out to Hedwig, the sassiest bird of all time) but some characters are cast so well that they are even more likable on screen (*leads a rousing chorus of Weasley is our king*). There are some major plotlines of the books that are never mentioned in the films at all (justice for house elves, the Longbottoms, and Teddy Lupin) but there are also some completely new movie additions that became some of my favorite moments, such as Harry and Hermione dancing in the tent.
WATCH IT NOW: Rent or buy on Amazon
Madeleine Buckley (that’s me!): Big Little Lies Season 1 (2017)
I’m both a book lover and an avid movie/TV consumer, so I have been scorned by book-to-screen adaptations before (Looking at you, My Sister’s Keeper). However, the first season of Big Little Lies really impressed me. The casting for the main trio was spot-on, and making the adaptation a miniseries instead of a movie really allowed them to include most of the plot points from the novel (a rarity for adaptations). It also handled a lot of delicate subject matter in a powerful, yet careful way. The second season, which wasn’t based on the book at all, is a different story and something I am choosing to selectively ignore. But season one really got it right.
WATCH IT NOW: Stream on HBO
Miranda Siwak: The Fault in Our Stars (2014)
As an avid reader, I often get so wrapped up in how each character and plotline is portrayed in my own mind that it ends up clouding my judgment by the time I get around to seeing it on the big screen. While not many film adaptations have been on the same level as their literary counterparts, The Fault in Our Stars kept the integrity of the John Green book, its characters, and its iconic dialogue intact. And thank goodness for that, because the movie can make me cry just as much as I did reading the YA novel. Ansel Elgort plays Augustus “It’s a Metaphor” Waters while former teen-star-turned-acclaimed-actress Shailene Woodley takes on Hazel Grace Lancaster in perhaps the greatest YA casting duo. You’ll laugh, you’ll swoon, and, of course, you’ll cry — this flick has it all. Some friendly tips for watching: Do not wear makeup, and bring lots of tissues. (I will only make that mistake once.)
Sierra McCleary-Harris: Twilight (2008)
You know, this is a super-meh movie franchise based on a super-meh book trilogy. I’m not here to try and argue that this is *good* content. I’m really not. But what is “good” anyway? Both the books and the movies were wildly popular and made bank. And the movies, especially, have a kind of train-wreck quality to them. I wouldn’t say they deserve any critical acclaim, but do I watch and rewatch them on a quarterly basis? Why yes, yes I do. (Including this past weekend. What is my life? Send help.)
Ben Goren: The Disaster Artist (2017)
If you have any inkling of interest in so-bad-they’re-good B movies, then there’s no doubt you’re familiar with 2003’s The Room, a movie so incredibly ridiculous it’s downright spectacular. It’s like a car crash you can’t look away from, only that the car crash is off of a cliff, mid-air, during a hot air balloon race on the Fourth of July.
The Disaster Artist is the wonderful tell-all account of the making of The Room, as told by one of the struggling actors looking for a big break who stumbled his way into both the film and the life of its bizarre, mysterious, and long-haired writer/director/vampiric lead, Tommy Wiseau. The book is highly entertaining in its chronicle of the events and choices that lead to some of the wackiest scenes of The Room, with great insight into each sitcom-worthy character that makes up Wiseau’s wonderful, motley film crew.
The film adaptation is equally delightful, capturing that journey in all of its disastrous splendor. James Franco’s adaptation only heightens the book’s oddities and wistful characters, in part thanks to casting some of Hollywood’s fan-favorite actors into roles so ridiculous that it’s visibly obvious how much fun everyone is having (look for Josh Hutcherson as “Denny” and Zac Efron as scene-stealer “Chris R.”). It’s like rediscovering a home video of your elementary school play and casting Dave Franco to play you. Watch The Room, read The Disaster Artist (the book), watch The Disaster Artist (the movie), repeat.
Josephine Baran: Gone Girl (2014)
I’m a huge fan of psychological thrillers, so it’s only natural that I love Gone Girl, both the film and the novel. Gillian Flynn is an amazing author, so it’s no surprise that her New York Times No. 1 best-seller was adapted into a screenplay so well. (Flynn’s other two novels, Sharp Objects and Dark Places, have been adapted as well.) The film Gone Girl is set up for success solely based on the fact that it’s directed by David Fincher, whose directing portfolio includes Zodiac, Fight Club, and The Social Network. Although Ben Affleck has had some hit or miss moments in his acting career, he plays the character of Nick Dunne well alongside Rosamund Pike’s chilling and acclaimed performance as Amy. One of my favorite scenes (*major spoiler alert*) is when Amy murders Neil Patrick Harris’ character Desi — it has me shook every time.
Nicole Savas: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
One great sign of an adaptation is that it makes people forget that a book even existed. It’s easy to argue that some parts of the film should have been left in the ‘60s, but it is a classic in so many ways. So many people have grown up with Holly Golightly as their modern-woman icon, wishing that they could live in a brownstone in NYC — I was that person before I found out how much an apartment in the Upper West Side costs. Few films have taken hold of society in the way that Breakfast at Tiffany‘s has. Truman Capote created a character, but Audrey Hepburn brought her to life.
WATCH IT NOW: Stream on Starz |Rent or buy on Amazon