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A list of the 50 greatest film adaptations

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2006

A list of the 50 greatest film adaptations of all time. No Lord of the Rings? Anything else missing?

Reader comments

JR McDanielApr 19, 2006 at 9:50AM

What, no Less Than Zero! I’m outraged! -smirk-

ReubenApr 19, 2006 at 9:59AM

Last of the Mohicans (1920) - dir. Maurice Tourner / Though there have been many adaptations of this novel, Tourner’s silent version in the 20s is the very best.

RyanApr 19, 2006 at 10:17AM

its interesting that alice in wonderland is on there. its decent enough as far as movies go but its a poor adaptation. most of the characters are totally bastardised (especially the cheshire cat) and most of the darkness and absurdity have been traded for out and out wakyness. it would be good to know what their criteria really was. Simply quality/popularity or if they really considered the source.

mareApr 19, 2006 at 10:27AM

I miss “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” and “The world according to Garp”. Both of them would be on my Top 50 list, since they both equal their written counterparts.

JohnApr 19, 2006 at 10:44AM

“Different Seasons” ought to get bonus points for being the source of two wonderful movies: “Shawshank Redemption” (which they mention) and “Stand By Me” (formerly “The Body”). It’s also the source for “Apt Pupil” which I’ve heard is only OK.

SamApr 19, 2006 at 11:00AM

No “Jackie Brown”? For shame!

Bubba GumpApr 19, 2006 at 11:16AM

I’m noticing a distinct lack of West Side Story on that list. For shame, for shame. Also wondering why they included, say, Alice in Wonderland, but left out the Wizard of Oz. Weirdness. Same goes for Silence of the Lambs, Planet of the Apes, and the Princess Bride.

AustinApr 19, 2006 at 11:20AM

No Adaptation, either.

ZachApr 19, 2006 at 11:23AM

2001: A Space Odyssey. The book was written by Arthur C Clarke and the film directed by Stanley Kubrik.

K welchApr 19, 2006 at 11:26AM

Hud. A great adaptation of a not-so-great Larry McMurtry novel

sadalitApr 19, 2006 at 11:38AM

High Fidelity is the only adaptation I have seen where I liked the movie as much as the book.

CurtisApr 19, 2006 at 11:38AM

Tin Drum I second the Wizard of OzWTF!, no The Hustler?

emilyApr 19, 2006 at 11:40AM

What about “Brokeback Mountain”? Like it or not, the film breathed life and beauty into a very short,
very spare story where not a word of dialogue or description was wasted.

On a less Oscarrific note, I have a soft spot for “Journey To The Center of the Earth” and “20,000 Leagues
Under the Sea” — they seem hokey by today’s f/x standards (hmm, could both be ripe for remake?) but they
capture that lusty, low-tech Jules Verne spirit. “Around the World in 80 Days,” not so much.

hilkerApr 19, 2006 at 12:14PM

Double Indemnity.

Dan GuyApr 19, 2006 at 12:30PM

Brokeback Mountain is in there, though the list is sorted by the name of the source material rather than the

2001: A Space Odyssey (the film) is based on a short story by Arthur C. Clarke, The Sentinel. Clarke wrote
the book while collaborating with Kubrick on the film.

Jake BoumaApr 19, 2006 at 12:30PM

No Chronicles of Narnia…

AugustApr 19, 2006 at 12:36PM

2001: A Space Odyssey isn’t technically an adaptation, because the film’s screenplay and the novel were written concurrently, with Clarke and Kubrik collaborating so that the novel’s release could coincide with the film’s.

I would put Alice in Wonderland on there more for Jan Svankmajer’s Alice than for the Disney adaptation.

This list does seem rather odd to me, but there’s a lot of popular films that I wouldn’t include, mostly because I didn’t consider either the films or their source material to be particularly compelling (Lord of the Rings would be left off my list for just that reason).

RyanApr 19, 2006 at 12:40PM

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

DrastyApr 19, 2006 at 1:57PM

About a Boy would have been nice to see on the list. But how tripe like Sin City and The Jungle Book beat out The Lord of the Rings is beyond me.

AugustApr 19, 2006 at 2:28PM

Simply quality/popularity or if they really considered the source.

The article indicated that they considered not only the quality of the film but the quality of its source material, among other things (to my mind that’s exactly why LOTR isn’t there. Dreadfully dull source material, and visually stunning but otherwise designed-to-make-money fims.)

Sin City was fairly clever, although it wouldn’t have made my list… and as much as I enjoy reading Nick Hornby’s books (they’re light and fun) they, and their filmic counterparts, are essentially Sleepless in Seattle marketed to men.

MartyApr 19, 2006 at 3:18PM

Slaughterhouse Five
East of Eden
Unbearable Lightness of Being
A Christmas Carol
Christmas Story
Smoke Signals
Accidental Tourist
A Passage to India
The Human Comedy
Quiet American

Jordan RaderApr 19, 2006 at 3:44PM

Fear and Loating in Las Vegas was probably the most true to the book adaptation I have ever seen put to film (and I have seen most of the movies on that list). Gilliam got the literal aspects as well as conveying the “feel” of the book. For shame Guardian!

CatherineApr 19, 2006 at 3:58PM

Quiet American is definitely missing from the list

Thad BrinkApr 19, 2006 at 4:00PM

In Cold Blood (1967) would have been nice to include.

JackApr 19, 2006 at 4:03PM

A second vote for the great book turned into pretty great movie High Fidelity. (it has a great soundtrack too)

SaccaApr 19, 2006 at 4:17PM

Another vote for High Fidelity. Also, I think the film A River Runs Through It was better than the book from which it was derived.

Scott M.Apr 19, 2006 at 4:46PM

The Lion in Winter

JR McDanielApr 19, 2006 at 4:53PM

“The Man Who Would be King” from the Kipling story should be in there.

Also, “Lonely Are the Brave” from the Edward Abbey novel “The Brave Cowboy”. Excelent movie, excelent book.

OverwormApr 19, 2006 at 4:56PM


But how could they leave THE CONSTANT GARDENER off the list. I understand that THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD probably eliminated TCG from consideration because they might not have wanted two books from the same author. However, THE CONSTANT GARDENER was a terrific book and a great movie.

Now that DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS has been recognized as a top adaptation, how long will we have to wait for more Walter Mosley adaptations? It’s way overdue.

jonkoppApr 19, 2006 at 5:38PM

There wasn’t, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe?


AndrewVApr 19, 2006 at 5:46PM

Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye.

DonnieApr 19, 2006 at 5:58PM

Not that I was a huge fan of the novels, but it seems that V for Vendetta and Sin City were good adaptations. Also, IMO the Great Expectations adaptation was marvelous. Obviously, it was a modernized adaptation and the director definitely put his own twist on the Dicken’s classic, but well done nonetheless.

DonnieApr 19, 2006 at 6:04PM

P.S. No doubt will A Scanner Darkly make this list one day.

snuhApr 19, 2006 at 6:31PM

the list could be clearer. for example, which is the nominated charlie and the chocolate factory adaptation?

BigAApr 19, 2006 at 7:44PM

How about ‘Rogue Male’. A Peter O’Toole gem.

jkottkeApr 19, 2006 at 10:21PM

Someone on another site mentioned Gone With the Wind, the exclusion of which seems pretty glaring.

jwApr 20, 2006 at 1:10AM

While explicitly mentioned in the article, I still think that Room with a View is a much, much better movie than it was a book.

And while not even coming remotely close to the breadth and scope of the books, Master and Commander was a fine film and a fun adaptation. I even liked it better than LoTR. And Narnia? Please. It should be on the list, along with Harry Potter, of “the 50 most notoriously shallow adaptations.”

ShaneApr 20, 2006 at 10:47AM

What about ANYTHING by Ian Fleming? I definitely agree with the people who said High Fidelity and About a Boy. Great realizations of great books.

undulatticeApr 20, 2006 at 10:48AM

Frederick Forsyth’s “The Day of the Jackal” directed by Fred Minnemann.

ShaneApr 20, 2006 at 10:50AM

Another one that without question should have made this list is Fletch by Gregory McDonald

undulatticeApr 20, 2006 at 10:50AM

Fred Zinnemann that is of course!

J.D. RothApr 20, 2006 at 10:57AM

There’s no Lord of the Rings on the list because the adaptation sucked. Give it time. Those films are not going to be highly regarded in the future, and people thirty years will scratch their heads as to why people liked them.

And I’ll agree with an earlier commenter: the Master and Commander film, while not a strict adaptation of any particular book in the series, did a remarkable job of distilling the essence of the books and portraying them on film. O, how I’d love to see a sequel.

ThetaFarmApr 20, 2006 at 11:56AM

Excluding The Grapes of Wrath from this list is a modern day American tragedy.

crazymonkApr 20, 2006 at 3:08PM

Requiem for a Dream
Being There
All the President’s Men
Dr. Strangelove (based on the book Red Alert)
Ghost World
Jesus Christ Superstar
Lawrence of Arabia (based on Seven Pillars of Wisdom by TS Lawrence)
The Shining

cooperApr 20, 2006 at 3:20PM

The Shining not being there is a crime.

The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind aren’t there either. They aren’t my bag, but they are important films.

CurtisApr 20, 2006 at 3:47PM

Naked Lunch

richardApr 20, 2006 at 4:05PM

For me, the very best adaption of a book into a movie is Jean-Luc Godard’s adaptation of Alberto Moravia’s Contempt.

EdApr 20, 2006 at 4:20PM

High Fidelity wouldv’e been better of shot in London where it actually took place, a part from that - a great movie.

ShaneApr 21, 2006 at 12:56PM

Even if High Fidelity wasn’t shot in London, it was a very good American-ized adaptation. It most definitely still felt the same as the book.

Aaron SuggsApr 21, 2006 at 4:15PM

IMHO, Hunt for Red October should be on the list.

StianApr 22, 2006 at 5:31PM

“Papillon” seems to be missing.

AnttiApr 23, 2006 at 5:16AM

IMHO, Narnia is a polished piece of shit, but LOTR should be definitely in the list.

JeffApr 23, 2006 at 12:52PM

Smilla’s Sense of Snow was an intense read and a wonderful movie.

BlytheApr 24, 2006 at 8:21AM

The Hours
A River Runs Through It
and, of course, Adaptation (though one could argue it plays fast and loose with the source material - The Orchid Thief - it’s just too perfect to omit it from a list like this)

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.

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