Top 5 Greatest Films Adapted From Novels

Since the dawn of motion pictures, the most obvious and most used source material has been the novel and books adapted to the film. Everything from short stories to the Bible has been turned into some of the best and worst movies of all time. To see our most beloved stories come to life in the most vivid way has kept audiences reading and watching for years and will continue to be. The following list is some of the most well known and most revered movies and books of all time. Some of the criteria for this list is that the movie has to be one of a kind, meaning no remakes allowed i.e. Dracula, Frankenstein etc. There are too many versions to have a definitive version. Another minor criteria is that the book needs to be as loved as the movie. This will leave this list open to much interpretation and much debate but here it is none the less.

 5. Jaws

Peter Benchley’s terrifying novel that did with words what the movie did with image is one of the most loved thriller stories of all time. It not only has kept audiences from going in the water for more than 35 years but has continued to find new fans every year. While it took years to get the book published it likewise took, what felt like years to the cast and crew, to make the film. It is quite possibly still the film most identified with it’s director, Steven Spielberg, despite his many iconic and highly regarded films. It’s adaptation of the meat of the story is still the perfect blockbuster film.


4. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy

While the films and books were eventually split into a trilogy, it was originally one large novel by famed imagination icon J.R.R. Tolkien. Peter Jackson and his crew and writing staff could not have more perfectly portrayed what has been in the minds of readers for nearly 60 years. his creation of Tolkiens fantasy land, Middle Earth, is nearly perfect. With an instant mass following and a desire for more, Jackson produced a trilogy in the exact way a film fan wants it done, quickly. One can only wonder if The Hobbit will make this list after it’s release in December.


3. Silence Of The Lambs

Thomas Harris second novel based around his creation of the canabalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter proved to be the most intriguing story and most well thought out. Ted Tally’s screenplay adaptation was nearly written for him in Harris’ book. Tally used a majority of dialogue and 90 percent of the book makes it on the screen. With performances that are to this day unparalleled. In the hands of a director clearly out of his comfort zone, Silence Of The Lambs struck fear in the minds of all who saw it and yet left everyone wanting more of Sir Anthony Hopkins chilling portrayal of Lecter.


2. The Godfather

The film and novel have likely become American institutions not unlike my number one choice. Mario Puzzo’s brilliant look inside the mafia has been described as so perfectly accurate that since it’s release many actual members of the mob use it as reference and refer to it often. While the film is not the most perfect adaptation it is none the less a piece of film icon. With performances that set the bar for all acting in film, it is quite possibly the most perfect film ever made and one of the most read novel to film adaptations of all time except for maybe one, our final film/book.

 1. Gone With The Wind

Margaret Mitchell’s take on the American Civil War from the view of the rich southern plantation owner is quite possibly the greatest American novel ever written and it’s film version is the most successful movie of all time. Having sold more theater tickets by far than any other movie (including Star Wars after 2 releases) Gone With The Wind is what classic Hollywood is all about. With classic lines to unforgettable scenes. No special effects will ever compete with the distant views of Sherman’s march through Atlanta. Mitchell’s house and spot of death (A location on Atlanta’s famed Peachtree Street) are historical sites along with the rare opportunity to see the film in the famed Fox theater. No film and novel have ever combined to be so revered in the history of this great combination.

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27 thoughts on “Top 5 Greatest Films Adapted From Novels”

  1. Great list! It a personal weakness of mine that I must point out that TLOTR trilogy is heavily indebted to Wagner, who himself used Germanic and Norse mythology in the creation of his Ring. I do not buy any argument that they both originated autonomously from the same source material. Sorry. TLOTR is just not an original work at its core.

    1. Thanks for reading and for your thoughts. This list is based more on the adaptation of the book to screen not really the originality of the stories. Lots of Silence Of The Lambs is taken from real life serial killers lives therefore making Buffalo Bill an unoriginal character. I appreciate your thoughts tho 🙂

    1. The book is undoubtedly a classic but do to the fact there have been SO many film versions it is difficult to choose just one therefore I was forced to leave it off. Thanks so much for reading!!

  2. nice picks for another hard list to do given all the books that could fit. like wizard of oz. or steven king or even all the attemps at the original version of dracula

  3. Of the five you listed, Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” was far superior to Peter Benchley’s novel. This is one of the rare times that I prefered the movie to the book. Benchley had a back story on every one, including the postmistress. The character Richard Dreyfuss played in the movie was far more likeable and witty than in the novel.

  4. I think your list might depend on what age you are, but it’s a good one. I would have to agree with the above commenter, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest needs to be there, I would also add Dog Day Afternoon, and Sounder.

  5. I think with time No Country for Old Men will reveal itself as an American classic (and therefore potentially top 5 adaptation). We’re a little too close to it to appreciate, but it’s such a well-constructed and potentially iconic movie. Now I need to watch it again.

    Nice list!

    1. I think if u search for my extremely loud incredibly close review you will find my views differ but thanks so much for your comments n for reading!!!

  6. Great list. I would also add Ordinary People, but I don’t know what I would take off from your five 🙂 Clearly, you need to make a top ten.

  7. Some great choices. I would have added One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and A Clockwork Orange. Also, randomly, Die Hard, but I don’t think you could say the book is as loved as the film!

  8. It’s always interesting how so many great films are based off of great books. I don’t think we always realize just how much adaption is done in Hollywood.

  9. I’ve never seen Gone with the wind … I know … must rectify. What did you think about Harry Potter adaptations? I find they were very accurate in their adaptations especially the first movie, another great one recently was Life of Pi, which was really well done considering it was an impossible movie to do. Thanks for stoping by my website, I hope to see more of you. If you like books, I just started a book club too. Anyway, I look forward to reading more of your blog.

  10. I mirror @mouthfulofwords and his comments for Harry Potter. Incredible books and just as incredible movies! Although, totally understand the difficulty in picking just 5 when there are so many to choose from.

  11. Hey there! I really like the idea of making a list with a theme such as this one, but I do have one issue. From the list I have only read the Rings-trilogy, which was quite a while ago. At that time, I don’t think I was in such a mindset that would find an epic novel series very interesting, so I didn’t really enjoy it. I did love the movies though.
    So that’s tha thing. The book may be good. And the movie-adaptation may be good. But to me, this list just looks like a top 5 of movies that happen to be based on books (granted, there are a lot of those). How faithful are they to the tone of the book? To the character-descriptions?
    I’m not sure if all these ramblings make any sense, but I really just wanted to weigh in my two cents 🙂

  12. Great idea for a list. My favorite adaptation is The Diving Bell & The Butterfly. Memoir to film, reality to fiction, done beautifully.

    What did you think of part 1 of The Hobbit adaptation? I’m still skeptical of Jackson’s move to split one novel into three films, but admittedly I haven’t read the book. I also understand he’s taking some scenes from LOTR appendixes.

  13. The only one where I have read the book and seen the movie is GWTW. I do agree that it is a good adaptation of the book but I wonder if we would say that if say there had been different actors with the same storyline? I would also point out that Cider House Rules was a pretty good adaptation. They deleted a really powerful character from the book but the storyline and actors really gave a good feel for what I got from the book.

  14. Good post! I agree with this post, but I would personally put the Lord of the Rings Trilogy closer to the top. Peter Jackson just did a fantastic job with this and was able to retain much of the original work while at the same time adapting it to the big screen extremely well. Most of the items he omitted I would have omitted myself (For example: Tom Bombadill from book one). I guess this is a pretty tough topic to tackle.

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