The Good, The Bad And The Ugly Of Book Adaptations

Actor Jonathan Crombie died last week from a brain haemorrhage aged just 48 years. This was devastating news to women of a certain age for whom Crombie was and always will be Gilbert Blythe from the screen adaptation of L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series.

I love those books (all the more special because I have my mother’s copies) and I found the first adaptation very faithful and the sequel faithful in a “take the best bits from a few books” way. I prefer to ignore the later The Continuing Story movie which was something of a tarnish on the whole series.

Even after the umpteenth viewing (just the other day), the film version can still make me laugh and cry in all the same places. (Matthew’s death leaves me sobbing every time.)

I mentioned Crombie’s death at the dinner table the other night and this led to a rather extensive and intense discussion about screen adaptations of books with our three boys.

The following is a summary of the Good, the Bad and the Plain Ugly of adaptations as decreed by the MOSY Offspring.

WARNINGWe are a very nerdy household and I make no apologies for the nerdy leanings of the following reviews. If you’re looking for opinions on the adaptations of The Shipping News or Wuthering Heights, I suggest you look elsewhere.

These are the views of three boys aged 18, 16 and 13 and are strictly the ones they wanted to talk about with no prompting from their parents.


Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Based on the books by J. R. R. Tolkien
Directed by Peter Jackson
Screenplays by Fran Walsh, Phillippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Stephen Sinclair (The Two Towers)

The View: Good adaptations and great movies in their own right.

Harry Potter

The Harry Potter Series (Eight movies)
Based on the seven book series by J. K. Rowling
Directed by Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuarón, Mike Newell, David Yates
Screenplays by Steve Kloves and Michael Goldenberg (Order of the Phoenix)

The View: Very faithful to the books. The movies did cut out a lot from the books but they kept the best bits.


Based on the book by Brian Selznick
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Screenplay by John Logan

The View: Great adaptation! This was a great movie adapted from a book that is mostly illustrations but done very successfully.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
First of the Chronicles of Narnia movie series
Based on the book by C. S. Lewis
Directed by Andrew Adamson
Screenplay by Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

The View: Movie was semi-faithful to the book. It was a good adaptation. There was a drop on the symbolism and it was more of an action movie.

Scott Pilgrim

Scott Pilgrim vs The World
Based on the comic books by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Directed by Edgar Wright
Screenplay by Michael Bacall and Edgar Wright

The View: Amazing comic book adaptation. Cut out a lot but still great. The movie even on its own is amazing.


Based on the book by Neil Gaiman
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn

The View: Loved the movie but too much from the book was changed. It lost a bit in translation.

Hunger Games

The Hunger Games (Four movies)
Based on the books by Suzanne Collins
Directed by Gary Ross (The Hunger Games) and Francis Lawrence (Catching Fire, Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2)
Screenplays by Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray (Hunger Games), Simon Beaufoy, Michael Arndt (Catching Fire), Peter Craig, Danny Strong (Mockingjay)

The View: Each movie’s merit is quite different. The first movie was good but not much energy in it. The adaptation was very close. “They made it their own.” (Direct quote from Middle Son.) The second movie was a much better adaptation and closer to the book. No opinion offered on the third and fourth movies (possibly not seen yet).


The Adventures of Tintin (Animation)
Based on the comics by Hergé
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish

The View: In terms of the original books on which the movie was based (The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rakham’s Treasure), they changed a lot but they made a beautiful movie. The method of animation was fantastic.


The Spiderwick Chronicles
Based on the books by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
Directed by Mark Waters
Screenplay by Karey Kirkpatrick, David Berenbaum and John Sayles

The View: The Youngest Son said he watched the movie before he read the books. He thought the movie was good but the books were better.

Hitchhikers Guide

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Based on the book by Douglas Adams
Made into a TV series (Directed by Alan J. W. Bell, Screenplay by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd)
and into a movie (Directed by Garth Jennings, Screenplay by Douglas Adams and Karey Kirkpatrick)

The View: The TV series was great. The movie was okay but it took liberties.


The Hobbit

The Hobbit (Three movies)
Based on the book by J. R. R. Tolkien
Directed by Peter Jackson
Screenplays by Fran Walsh, Phillippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro

The View: A terrible adaptation and a total over-indulgence on Jackson’s part. Could easily have been made as one movie.


Based on the book by Christopher Paolini
Directed by Stefan Fangmeier
Screenplay by Peter Buchman

The View: This caused some contention. The Eldest and Middle Sons thought it was a terrible movie. The Youngest Son liked the movie but then conceded that he hadn’t read the book when he saw it. He then admitted that having now read the book he could see that the movie was not a good adaptation. The advice from the Boys was “don’t read the book before watching the movie and you might enjoy it.”


Based on the book by Cornelia Funke
Directed by Iain Softley
Screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire

The View: The books are great. (Inkheart is the first in a trilogy.) The movie was okay as a movie but it was not a good adaptation.

Astro Boy

Astro Boy (Animation)
Based on the Japanese manga series by Osamu Tezuka
Directed by David Bowers
Screenplay by Timothy Harris and David Bowers

The View: Once again, this adaptation did not find consensus. The Eldest Son thought the movie was average and felt they had changed everything. The Middle Son thought the movie was okay if you ignored the source material. The Youngest Son thought the movie was pretty good.


Coraline (Animation)
Based on the book by Neil Gaiman
Directed by Henry Selick
Screenplay by Henry Selick

The View: This is a good movie as long as you haven’t read the book. If you’ve read the book, it’s a terrible adaptation. It did not do Neil Gaiman justice.


Dragonball Evolution

Dragonball Evolutions
Based on the Japanese manga series by Akira Toriyama
Directed by James Wong
Screenplay by Ben Ramsey

The View: Woeful. Absolute disgrace. Avoid at all costs.(Those are direct quotes.) Their advice, if you want an adaptation of this series, is to watch the animated television series.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
Based on the book series by Lemony Snicket
Directed by Brad Silberling
Screenplay by Robert Gordon

The View: TERRIBLE! BAD! SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN MADE! ABHORRENT MISHMASH! KLAUS DIDN’T EVEN HAVE GLASSES! (Yes, there was shouting.) And I would like to add my own appalled two-cents-worth. I adore this series of books and the movie was a complete travesty. Don’t bother with the movie. But do read the books.


There were a few more (it was a lengthy, enthusiastic discussion) but that’s probably filled your brain enough.

So, tell me, what’s your favourite book-to-screen adaptation? What’s your worst? Let me know in the comments. Shouting is permitted but keep the language nice.



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50 thoughts on “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly Of Book Adaptations

  1. Ha ha! Great collection 🙂
    The one that irks me the most is the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – it’s a great film, very watchable, but not true to the book at all! I can only assume that the sequel is complete fabrication…?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with you on The Hobbit: poor films when they could have been very good. Loved Hugo but haven’t read the book. Love the book of Coraline but haven’t seen the movie.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I was pulled right in when you mentioned Jonathan’s death last week. That was absolutely shattering, wasn’t it? He will always be our lovely Gilbert!

    I thought Harry Potter was very well done too. Actually I think alot of the adaptations where the author of the book is very involved in the film seem to be the ones that come across the best, but I’m not an avid movie watcher so no idea if that’s actually true across the board or just for the ones I’ve seen….

    Liked by 2 people

    • I had to sit down and watch the series again. Just made me cry all the more.

      And I agree, although I think they work best when it’s a collaborative effort between the author and filmmaker and there’s a mutual respect for the other’s work and vision. I’m not sure it’s as successful when the author dictates exactly how the movie is to be made.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Haven’t seen any of the above.

    One that comes to mind, which I thought was good, was The Da Vinci Code. I’d just finished reading the book, when the movie was released, so it was really fresh in my memory. I was not disappointed [which I expected to be].

    Liked by 2 people

  5. The only “Bad” I saw was Coroline and I loved it, but I never read the book. No, I’m a huge Tolkien nerd but I didn’t see any of the Hobbit movies. I loved the first LotR movie but thought the others were good movies in their own right but totally cut the heart out of the books in such a terrible way I refused to see the Hobbit.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Great list of reviews, thanks Heather and the Mosy gang! I shall look out for some of these for my grandsons. I was put off ‘Lord of the Rings’, as a movie, by the awful violence. In the book it didn’t affect me in the same way. Only watched half of the first movie, and walked out! Didn’t like the animated Hobbit, but if I hadn’t read the book it might have been better. I think you’re right in saying, see the movie first! We enjoyed ‘The Secret Garden’ and ‘A Little Princess’ as movies from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic books.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree about the violence. I found it a bit much too.
      We had a rule that the boys were not permitted to see a Harry Potter movie unless they’d read the book. My theory was that the dark and difficult bits are easier to process while reading than being confronted with it on screen for the first time. Particularly as they got darker as the series progressed. It also meant, particularly for the Youngest Son, by the time they managed to read the book, they were more likely to be at an age to cope with the movie.
      I wasn’t a big fan of those two movie versions but I still vividly remember the televised version of The Secret Garden from the 1970s. Loved it. Adored the books. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree with almost all your reviews, H (yes, I know I’m not supposed to be responding to your reviews – but still). I’m afraid didn’t agree on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (which I found very disappointing indeed — just special effects with the whole spirit of the book missing) but the following movies got worse and worse! Prince Caspian was just awful — and as for what they did with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader!! Thank goodness they haven’t gone any further (at least, I hope they haven’t) …

    I don’t mind having bits removed (books are usually so much more complex than movies can be that this is often a necessity); and I don’t mind material being re-arranged to make it more visually appealing or to clarify something which was handled in the book by a character’s inner thoughts, etc. What I really, really hate is when the spirit of the book is lost in translation — and The Hobbit is a classic example of that!

    For my two cents worth, I was terribly disappointed by the movie of One for the Money — I loved these books, because they’re just hilarious and very light, but the movie was dreadful 😦

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, I didn’t bother to mention the other Narnia movies for the reasons you’ve described. I thought they were ‘meh’ at best.

      Not familiar with One for the Money. I’ve heard of Janet Evanovich but haven’t read any of her books. It’s very dissatisfying when a book or book series is adapted badly. I’ve never been able to watch the adaptations of Terry Pratchett’s books. I’ve read them so often and know the characters so well, I couldn’t bear to watch someone else’s imaginings of them.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Our girls loved “Hogfather” and “Going Postal” adaptations, as did hubby and I who are both huge Terry Pratchett fans, hubby has read “Stardust” and disagrees with the casting of the movie, I’ve neither read nor seen it so can’t comment. Janet Evanovich’s books are great and the movie didn’t do justice to “One for the Money”, but knowing a number of women who have read them, getting any two to agree on who you would cast for any of the three main leads is challenging esp the two male leads (made worse by the eternal Morelli/Ranger who do you fancy more? conundrum)…. Heavens knows there are as many suggestions to who should be cast for Pratchett novels as there are stars in the sky….. I loved “The Princess Bride” in both it’s forms….as has Miss 11. “Dirk Gently” was so wrong it was almost right, in it’s own way and the tv series will always be my visual version of “Hitchhiker’s” although the movie isn’t bad, it’s not the tv show…. Some love the “Willy Wonker” movie version others the newer Tim Burton “Charlie” version of Roald Dahl classic. Having read a couple of the “Oz” books after seeing the movie, the slippers were silver, there was much darker content in the books left out of film….

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, the Willy Wonka vs Charlie and the Chocolate Factory debate came very early in the discussion because WW was actually on the television that evening.
      I did try to watch a Terry Pratchett adaptation. Made it through half of Going Postal. It was okay but I didn’t bother to watch the second half. Can’t watch The Colour of Magic. David Jason as Rincewind?? Really??? Everybody knows Rincewind is thin and weedy with a pathetic wisp of a beard. David Jason was none of those.
      Oh, we forgot about The Princess Bride – much loved here too. (I also have an audio book version read by Rob Reiner. 🙂 )


  9. I’d like to stick to your children’s book theme, so:
    The Good:
    Where the Lilies Bloom
    A shock to the system, because one forms one’s own images of such intimate characters and the film cannot match these, but it is really very faithful to the book, and a beautiful film.
    The Indian In the Cupboard
    Love the series, think the film did a good job of being faithful to the solemn respectful spirit of the book.
    The Mouse and the Motorcycle
    Who CARES if it’s anything like the book?! Run and see this movie! And the sequel. So cute. Cute, cute, cute, cute. Vroom-vroom!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, OB. 🙂 They’re pretty good, aren’t they? Not that I’m biased or anything.

      They loved this discussion. They kept saying, “This is so great.” And I think they would have kept going for quite some time if I hadn’t drawn the line after five pages of notes!


  10. I NEVER watch anything on the screen of a book I have loved. Never. Not ever.
    This is because, coincidentally, it’s the same number of times that I have enjoyed something on screen made of a book I have loved.
    If I haven’t enjoyed a book (we’re talking of when I used to read, of course), there’d be no point watching an on-screen version, right ?
    I honestly have no idea why producers are incapable of finding writers who can be faithful to a story – but they can’t, the useless bastards.
    So while I’ve loved “The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe” (and all the Narnia series), I haven’t watched it.
    I did once start to watch “The Fellowship of the Ring” and wa screaming in rage within 10 minutes, so stopped.
    I never watched any of the Harry Potter movies because I simply loved Stephen Fry’s reading of them as audiobooks.
    I have lived a sheltered life: when I was young, kids’ movies were things like “Lassie come home” …
    I think your offspring are wonderful.
    I also think the same of you.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Wow, Heather, would it surprise you to know that I have not seen a single one of the movies your family reviewed? I am so out of it. Favorite book to movie adaptation for me would be “To Kill A Mockingbird.” I loathed the book “The Help” which was made into a surprisingly good movie. That might be the only time I’ve preferred a movie to the book.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Like a lot of people To Kill a Mockingbird is favourite book-to-screen adaptation.
    I actually held of watching it for a long time for fear of disappointment, but it was wonderful to see Atticus Finch brought to life by Gregory Peck, the children were great too.
    My pick of many bad adaptations would be On the Road. I feared the worst and it was as bad as I expected.

    Liked by 2 people

    • To Kill A Mockingbird is just one of those classics, isn’t it? In both the book and the film version. I’m grateful it hasn’t been caught in the “remake” trend that seems to dominate movie-making these days. Hopefully filmmakers are thinking they’d never be able to cast someone to top Gregory Peck’s portrayal.

      I think it’s always risky to film a book that is so iconic like TKAM and On The Road. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they don’t, I guess.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Our older daughter, now a theatre director, must have watched all those episodes of Anne of Green Gables hundreds of times. I loved them too. We still have the videos of them! I’m afraid the only other one of the right vintage for us was the Narnia series. This involved the same daughter writing to the BBC and offering to be in the cast … they asked her to send her (non-existent) audition tapes. Later is was the film of Middlemarch that appealed most.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I still watch Anne of Green Gables at least once a year. I had to order the DVDs from the USA when I went hunting for them (my “recorded off the tv” video cassettes having got a bit worn out) but I think it’s now available in the shops here. I think it’s one of those ones that will endure for a long time.

      I love that story of your daughter offering to be in the cast. And it’s so lovely the BBC wrote back! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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