Worst and Best Books-to-Film

Ahhh the holidays! For lots of us, a few days off means lazing in bed and catching up on some reading and movie-watching. You may be tempted to do a bit of both by renting or buying a film based on a book. Some are wonderful, some are…well… stinkers. Here are five films you should avoid at all costs and five in which to indulge.


Beowulf (2007) stars the lovely Angelina Jolie, but falls flat. Many critics agree with Fernando F. Croce of CinePassion who calls the fim, “The Old English poem ponderously, gracelessly expanded into an epic bore.” Do yourself a favor and read the epic in its original form.

Vanity Fair (2004) A happy ending for Vanity Fair? We all understand there is artistic license in translating a book to film, but really?  Read the original at eNotes here!

The Scarlet Letter (1995) stars Demi Moore as an improbable Hester Prynne, who wears revealing clothing and speaks in feminisms quite out of context and character for 1666. Not even the great Robert Duvall can rescue this one. Read the etext at eNotes here.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005). There may not be another film in recent memory that let fans of the book down more so than this adaptation of Douglas Adams’s classic work of science fiction.  If you type in “Reviews of Hitchhikers” into Google, you will find dozens of reviews that echo the sentiment of this one:  “(Hitchhikers) is bad.  Really bad. Vastly, staggeringly, jaw-droppingly bad…bad on a big scale because enormous swathes of the story have been dispensed with–most of the Guide entries, whole scenes–or changed beyond all recognition. And it is bad on a small scale because many, many wonderful lines have been cut or in some cases actually rewritten to make them less funny.”

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993) also raised hopes for readers, as Tom Robbins quirky, funny works have been favorites for decades. Many people were also hopeful because the film was directed by Gus Van Sant, who made a name for himself in such films as My Own Private Idaho and Drugstore Cowboy. But this film is a mess from start to finish. Robbins’s sense of absurdity and humor simply doesn’t translate.


Pride and Prejudice (1995) is a marvelously faithful adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic work and is perfectly cast. This BBC production is a mini-series, so you can spend many happy hours immersed in the world of Elizabeth and Darcy.

A Clockwork Orange (1971) captures the creepiness of Anthony Burgess’s disturbing novel about government control of society. Directed by the legendary Stanley Kubrick and stars Malcolm McDowell.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005). Beautifully rendered and true to the imagination of C.S. Lewis’s classic work of children’s literature, this film does not disappoint even its most ardent fans.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). First published in 1954, J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel of the travails of Middle Earth was a best-seller from the beginning. Peter Jackson’s superb movie brought an entire new generation of fans to the trilogy.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) is a faithful and touching interpretation that captures all the pain and love of Harper Lee’s novel. Gregory Peck stars as Atticus Finch. Both the movie and the novel have stood the test of time.