Book lovers often dread when their favorite novel is adapted to screen. While some stray far from the source material, others capture the book perfectly. Here is the most faithful book to movie adaptations.
The Hunger Games Series
Suzanne Collins conceptualized The Hunger Games novels by flicking between army news and children’s reality competitions, but the film series loyally brought her vision to life for millions of book fans.
The Tracker Jacker stinging scene and the death scenes of several main characters are remarkably accurate to the original source - but we’re not spoiling anything. Not only are the films faithful to Collins’ novels, but many fans believe the series (notably Catching Fire) improved some aspects of the books.
The Godfather: Part I and II
The Godfather series will not only go down in history as some of the best films of all time, but it is also surprisingly faithful to its original source. It certainly helped that the author of The Godfather, Mario Puzo, co-collaborated with Francis Ford Coppola on the screenplay. Let’s agree to not talk about Part III.
If Coppola had only created Part I, it wouldn’t be on our list. By splitting the novel into two parts for the film, audiences got almost every juicy detail in the books. While movie purists had to wait a few years before uncovering mafia legend Vito Corleone’s backstory, book readers already had the full scoop.
Gone With the Wind
With only minimal differences from strict laws on film censorship in the 1930s, Gone With the Wind and its almost four-hour runtime is almost entirely loyal to its 1037-page source. The film's legendary Hollywood figure and producer, David O. Selznick, was reportedly "obsessed" with respecting the novel, which certainly shows.
As one of the highest-grossing books of all time at its release in 1936, it wasn't too surprising that the film also became the most commercially successful box office film ever, a mantle it has maintained to this day (if adjusted for inflation). Almost as accurate to the novel was the film’s faithfulness to the period.
To Kill a Mockingbird
If you ever studied the book To Kill a Mockingbird in school and ran out of time to read it, so you resorted to the 1962 film, you were in luck. While your teacher may have told you they are ‘different,’ this time, she’s actually wrong. The film is almost entirely accurate to Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
The only real difference we can draw between the novel and film is the book focuses more on Scout’s perspective and coming-of-age story arc, while the film is more grounded in the high-intensity court drama and Atticus Finch’s fight for justice against racial discrimination.
For the first Stephen King novel to grace our list, his 1987 novel Misery was accurately adapted into a film starring Kathy Bates as the horrifying Annie Wilkies in 1990. However violent movie purists thought the film was, the book is far more graphic and gory. No one can top the twisted genius of King.
Other than minor insignificant differences, like the name of the town where the story is set, the most notable change in the movie is a lesser degree of violence. Rather than breaking Paul's ankles with a hammer in the film, Annie cuts off Paul's entire foot with an axe and his thumb, too. Yikes.
Perks of Being a Wallflower
Stephen Chbosky took five years to write and publish The Perks of Being a Wallflower. In saying that, it wasn’t inconceivable that he wanted to write and direct the 2012 film, too. With almost complete control over the creative process, Chbosky ensured his original stayed alive for the film.
Loosely based on Chbosky’s own experiences growing up, he couldn’t “let it go” and decided only he could tell the story for a film. In many ways, Chbosky improved upon his original novel and added some much-needed lightness to an incredibly dark story. We accept the love Chbosky believed we deserved.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
We’re talking exclusively about the first book and film in JK Rowling’s beloved series. Director Chris Colombus was perhaps too faithful to the original novel in many ways. By refusing to leave out minor details present in the book, the 2.5-hour runtime feels jam-packed with overpacked storylines and overwhelming information.
While the Philosopher’s Stone aced accuracy, the later films were less interested in accurately adapting their original source. With each movie’s release, faithfulness to the novels slowly waned. If you are a diehard book purist, sticking to the first few films might be better.
David Fincher’s 2014 adaptation of Gone Girl is critically acclaimed for its thrilling suspense and unexpected twists. Few are aware that the original novel’s author, Gillian Flynn, is also responsible for the screenplay. Fincher insisted Flynn remain on the project rather than employing a screenwriter to take over.
The film is wicked, tense, and even painful to watch, as a narcissistic couple obsessed with perfection slowly destroys one another. With only a few insignificant changes from the novel, Flynn’s tantalizing screenplay proves that no one can tell a story better than the original storyteller.
The Shawshank Redemption
For the next entry on behalf of Mr. Stephen King, Shawshank Redemption is remarkably similar to the author's original novel. Surprisingly, to avoid the stigma of a cheap horror name to cash in, the producers of Shawshank notoriously obscured the 'King of Horror's involvement with the material.
Wanting to appeal to an 'Oscars level' audience, many film purists don't even know King wrote the book. We're hoping King got a fat paycheck for the novel's rights because the filmmakers planted his novel page for page on screen. Yet again, King is inadvertently responsible for one of the all-time great films.
The Lord of the Rings Series
Peter Jackson made nerdiness cool with the release of the Lord of the Rings series between 2001 and 2003. Given the scope of J.R.R. Tolkien’s profound and complex story, how Jackson captured the multilayered themes and arcs on screen is astounding. Somehow, Jackson reproduces Middle Earth just as Tolkien described it.
While the film lacks some of the internal sufferings and free will present in Tolkien’s story in favor of action-packed battles between the creatures of Middle Earth, the core values, story, and characters remain entirely faithful to the original source. Jackson even retained the Elvish language that Tolkien created.
The Green Mile
You thought you had seen enough Stephen King entries on this list? Apologies, King has contributed so much to the literary, and consequently cinematic, world that it’s challenging to avoid constantly mentioning him. This time, King’s 1996 novel The Green Mile almost carbon copied onto our screens.
Even though King was “delighted” with The Green Mile film adaptation, he has admitted that he joked with director Frank Darabont that the film is “a little ‘soft’ in some ways.” After all these years of writing soulless psychopaths, King has lost his soft touch. As for us, we’re a pile of puddles when that scene takes place.
While we have seen many adaptations of Jane Austen’s beloved 1815 novel and the last she would see published in her lifetime, notably the re-contextualized high-school version Clueless, none have ever respected Austen’s work like the 2020 film has. Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, the filmmakers changed very little.
The 2020 film adds a bit of humor to Austen’s original material and utilizes the optical medium with a few visual gags. One change we’re not complaining about is making Mr. Knightley closer to Emma’s age, as opposed to 16 years her senior in the novel. Sometimes, adapting to modern sensibilities is a bit easier to swallow
For comic-book lovers, we know how tiring it is to see your favorite graphic novels adapted into stale movies with underwhelming modifications. However, you can rest assured Zack Snyder’s 2007 film 300 toned nothing down when adapting to the screen. If you love guts and gore, you won’t be disappointed.
Snyder recreated Frank Miller’s iconic graphic book almost entirely shot-for-shot and included many of the narrator’s original lines in the movie’s narration, too. Even though Miller’s book isn’t accurate to the actual Battle of Thermopylae and Spartan history, it’s so breathtaking we don’t even mind.
Dennis Lehane’s 2001 novel Mystic River was such a success it only took Clint Eastwood two years to acquire the rights, produce, and release the cinema version starring Sean Penn. A tragic tale of lost friendship, love, and hope, Lehane’s book was fresh in readers' minds, and Eastwood had a difficult task to complete.
Similarly to the book, the plot plays out gradually and slowly builds up into a climactic third act, and much of the dialogue in the film is replicated from the book. The film manages to retain the impressive detail present in the novel. However, the film suffers from a bad case of lacking internal explorations.
It: Parts 1 and 2
A tale of a children’s generational torment and their fight against a demonic shape-shifting clown that returns every 25 years sounds like a plot someone would jokingly create when acting like Stephen King. The King’s 1986 novel It is equally haunting and enjoyable and was previously considered unadaptable for the screen.
Besides the vital exclusion of a scene in the caves between Bev and the rest of the Loser’s Club, Andy Muschietti’s two-part adaptation is hilarious and creepy. It captures the dynamics of each Loser and their fears. While the first half is set 25 years later than King initially framed the story, it works within the context.
Marjane Satrapi’s 2000 biographical graphic novel Persepolis caused a worldwide stir for its childhood perspective on the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Naturally, when French distributors wanted to bring it to the screen in 2007, Satrapi was the obvious choice to creatively lead the project.
This may be cheating, but Persepolis replicates the animation created for the comic book and even provides the same visuals from the book with motion, so it works for the film. While the original graphic novel was published in black and white, the decision to give the film color makes a meaningful difference.
No Country for Old Men
Almost every scene and line of dialogue in the Coen brothers' Oscar-winning film No Country for Old Men is planted directly from Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel of the same name. Surprisingly, the tempo, beats, and story remain virtually the same, albeit with minor omissions like a narrator.
While one might assume that McCarthy played a role in ensuring the film's accuracy to the novel, he had very little involvement in the film's production. McCarthy admitted to the Wall Street Journal, "[The Coen brothers] didn't need any help from me to make a movie." If we can trust anyone, it's the Coens.
Silence of the Lambs
Give or take a few small characters, the 1991 film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs is almost entirely replicated from Thomas Harris’ 1988 book. Widely considered one of the most faithful book adaptations put to screen, Ted Tally’s screenplay honours the tension of the source material and brings horror to life.
Even though the story remains faithful to Harris’ plot, there are a few details that are modified to make the story more visually compelling. The cell Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster converse through is not transparent in the novel. And, Hopkins gives Hannibal more charm than the traditionally reprehensible character.
Romeo + Juliet
Hear us out for a second. Sure, Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 recontextualisation of William Shakespeare’s eternal story of star-crossed lovers completely differs from the text’s original setting. However, we must give Luhrmann some credit where credit is due because he did not change one line of dialogue.
Even set on the shores of a Floridian beach with cars, guns, and modern clothing, the dialogue and scenes flow precisely as Shakespeare wrote it. It can be likened more to filmed theatre than filmmaking. More than anything, Romeo + Juliet proves that Shakespeare’s story is as timeless as our English Literature teachers insist.
The Age of Innocence
Famed director Martin Scorcese’s decision to adapt Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel The Age of Innocence surprised 1990s book-lovers and movie purists alike. However, no one expected the film to be an almost carbon copy recreation of Wharton’s original text and lacking in any gangsters or mafia bosses.
With the inclusion of a narrator who virtually quotes paragraphs from the book, watching Scorcese’s 1993 film can feel like listening to an audiobook with nice pictures and Daniel Day-Lewis. At times, the dialogue and narration feel a little dated. But, hey, if you want a faithful adaptation, look no further.
Before David Fincher's 1999 film Fight Club became a cult sensation, the 1996 book it was adapted from had a mass following. Chuck Palahniuk's novel was shared with studios before it was released to the public. While Palahniuk's rights were bought for a mere $10k, the film became a big-budget cult film.
Having expressed interest in purchasing the film's rights himself, Fincher respected the novel to such a degree that he avoided any changes. While the script was mainly faithful, Fincher decisively altered the ending from Palahniuk's original text. Reportedly, Palahniuk preferred the 'countdown' ending even more than his own.
The Color Purple
Steven Spielberg’s 1985 adaptation stands out as an underrated adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. Although Walker was critical of Spielberg’s lacking portrayal of the romance between Celie and Shug, she has since told the press that she “loved the film.”
Naturally, some more minor story elements in The Color Purple had to be omitted due to the constraints of filmmaking that aren’t limited when writing novels. Other than a few character visual character changes from the book, Spielberg’s adaptation remains very faithful to the story.
Given Boris Pasternak's 1957 Nobel Peace Prize-winning novel had to be smuggled out of the Soviet Union, director David Lean had a mammoth task to accurately adapt the legendary story to screen. The film retains the book's main plot points and characters and remains one of the most monumental films ever.
The film's screenwriter, Robert Bolt, made some changes to the novel but remained faithful to the overall story and characters. For example, the movie compresses the book's timeline and omits some minor characters and subplots. However, the film retains the novel's central themes of love, loss, and the human spirit.
Stand By Me
We promise this is the last Stephen King adaptation on our list. Still, the 1986 film adaptation of Stand by Me is widely considered very faithful to the original novella, The Body, by Stephen King. The film follows the novella closely, both in terms of plot and dialogue.
There are a few minor changes, such as the addition of a scene where the boys encounter a train, but overall, director Rob Reiner retains the film’s spirit. The King of Horror himself was delighted with the film, and he has said that it is one of his favorite adaptations of his work.
Yet another film where the original author of the adapted novel was allowed to write a screenplay for the film, Emma Donoghue wrote the script for Room the same year her book was publicly released. Readers may even rejoice with a more definitive conclusion to Donoghue’s captivating book.
Even with plenty of offers to adapt the story on her behalf, Donoghue only accepted Lenny Abrahamson because he respected the original vision. With minimal changes to the novel, minute details from Ma and Jack’s captivity, and the age of Ma at the time of her kidnapping, the film respects Donoghue’s story.