The 10 best novels adapted to film

The 10 best novels adapted to film

It is likely that many great readers and movie buffs have their own list…. but it is very likely -or at least we hope so, that it includes several of the titles that we propose here as the 10 best novels adapted to film.

There is something for everyone in the ranking, from movies rated for children to feature films that promise nightmares.

1. Crossed Lives

The plot takes place in the city of Los Angeles (USA), where different everyday stories mingle, revealing the human condition that emanates from the little things.

Crossed Lives is evidence that soul mates can find each other. No one more perfect than Robert Altman to bring Raymond Carver’s short stories to the stage. This film is many films at once.

The film has an all-star cast playing alcoholics, clowns, prostitutes, women with nudist delusions, cops, destructive husbands and lonely fathers. Some of the names that make up the cast are Tom Waitts, Anne Archer, Juliane Moore, Tim Robins, Peter Gallagher or Jack Lemmon.

2. Lord of the Flies

A group of children and teenagers are shipwrecked and isolated on a desert island. It is then when the essence of the primary and basic instincts of the human being comes out. Childish innocence is transformed into cruelty, evil and violence.

At first this film by Peter Brook seems to be a mere adventure story. Gradually, however, the plot becomes darker.

The simple language that William Golding used in the novel to show how man returns to his primitive, bestial and gregarious roots is brought to film with the same deceptive intensity: social order clashes with a tribal order that gradually imposes itself, giving rise to horrendous crimes.

3. Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

The best candy maker in the world decides to reward five children with a visit to his magical factory, but it’s just an excuse to find a noble-hearted heir to succeed him.

Roald Dahl’s novels and tales inhabit the Olympus of children’s stories along with the Brothers Grimm, Perrault and Andersen.

This disturbing story, starring Willy Wonka, shows, in its film adaptation, a great visual richness. Equally portentous is the film’s soundtrack as well as the configuration of each character…

4. Blade Runner

Year 2019. A group of outlaw androids walk the earth. They seek to find meaning in their lives. Meanwhile, he pursues them to eliminate them.

Inspired by Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, director Ridley Scott managed to recreate in his film the atmosphere of futuristic chaos and conflicts between man and machine that Philip K. Dick captured in his book.

Harrison Ford’s chase, in the role of Rick Deckar, is a descent into man-made hell and makes for a film full of symbols.

The film, initially a commercial failure, would only receive its deserved recognition ten years later (the film was released in 1983)… when the director’s version eliminated the happy ending demanded at the time by the studios.

As for Philip K. Dick, he only achieved success after his death. Then, his books began to sell like best sellers and as true pioneers of cyberpunk literature.

5. Silence of the Lambs

FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) enlists the help of psychopath Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) to find a serial killer who makes a woman’s costume out of the skin of his victims. The name Hannibal Lecter will forever be associated with the most sordid and elegant of horror films. 

The character of Hannibal Lecter, surely one of the most complex psychopaths in cinema and literature, was created by the writer Thomas Harris. Intelligent, shrewd, cunning, cold, insensitive and without compassion… he has everything to be a best-selling character.

Thomas Harris recognized in Lecter’s strength an opportunity to write several novels that trace his origins and his denouement, books that have been punctually turned into not so successful sequels.

6. Lolita

Professor Humbert has a torrid affair with a 14-year-old girl as he embarks on a journey through deepest America.

It is often said that the most American of all novels was written by a Russian (Nabokov). And the same can be said of the film version by Stanley Kubrick, a director with Romanian and Austro-Hungarian blood. 

Novel and film are a journey to where no man has ever gone before: to the frontiers that a man in his forties is capable of transgressing in order to satisfy his perverse obsession for a girl.

Kubrick’s Lolita was filmed in Great Britain. Although the film omits the most torrid scenes of the novel, it maintains the insinuating and sensual atmosphere of the book. This, in large part, happens thanks to the work of actress Sue Lyon, a malevolent Lolita who transcends her power of seduction beyond the screen.

7. The Shining

The Torrance family moves to live in a lonely and disturbing hotel haunted by ghostly apparitions. So much so that the madness breaks the head of the family’s judgment and turns him into a bloodthirsty emissary of evil.

Stephen King is acclaimed worldwide as the master of horror. Every novel he writes goes on to become a bestseller and movie hit. However, few adaptations of his work have achieved the success that the Kubrick/Nicholson pairing achieved in The Shining.

In the case of film adaptations of novels, it is commonplace to argue whether the film or the book is better. In the case of The Shining, it must be acknowledged that there is more Kubrick than Stephen King. 

Sequential shots at ground level, intelligent and sarcastic dialogues, a spectral photography that dilutes the emotional contours of the protagonists and a rhythm in crescendo that explodes in a terrifying epilogue. The sum of all these ingredients serves to write, with capital letters, Kubrick’s name in the history of cinema.

Two perfect strangers discover that they share a calamity from which they could extricate themselves by forging a crime and a perfect alibi. There is no such thing as a perfect crime, but Alfred Hitchcock tried to devise one in most of his films.

8. Strangers on a Train

Strangers on a Train is the first novel of what could be considered the mother of the crime genre and noir literature. 

The writer Patricia Highsmith traces in this story the path of two oppressed men: the tennis player Guy Haines cannot stand his hysterical wife and the eccentric Bruno Anthony, who cannot find peace because of his father’s omnipresent domination.

9. The Godfather I, II and III

This trilogy narrates the rise and fall of the Corleone clan. We are talking about something like the holy trinity of the Seventh Art. There is a reason why its protagonists are now movie legends.

The Godfather marked Marlon Brando’s return to the screen, Al Pacino’s leap to fame and the reaffirmation of Robert De Niro’s talent in the 1974 sequel. 

Vito Corleone (Brando) is the patriarch of the most powerful family in organized crime, dominated by a code of ethics under which honor and progeny can cost a man’s head – or a horse’s head, according to the famous scene.

Francis Ford Coppola turned Mario Puzo’s novel into a highly acclaimed choral work. The Oscar it won for Best Picture is well deserved (Brando turned his down).

10. Apocalypse Now

Captain Benjamin Willard is sent in search of Colonel Kurtz, a mission that involves going deep into the dark heart of war with no hope of coming out alive or whole. Brando and Coppola once again.

Apocalypse Now is one of the most ingenious and daring approaches to the Vietnam War in the history of cinema. 

Coppola and John Millus, the screenwriter in charge of adapting Joseph Conrad’s work, took Heart of Darkness and stripped it of all flesh, leaving only a skeleton of fibers, nerves and bones on which they built a masterpiece of madness, violence and absurdity.