5 Good and 5 Terrible Book-to-Film Adaptations

Last night at the MTV Movie Awards, the trailer for the film adaptation of Stephen Chbosky‘s coming-of-age novel, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” premiered with stars Emma Watson, Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller in the house. Lizz declared the trailer “the best part of the night.”

The novel is a queer favorite, both because there are queer characters and because it so specifically explains what it’s like to be an outsider who thinks too much about everything and has too many feelings. It’s really important to us that this film is amazing. Our hearts are on the line here. It must make us feel infinite.

What do you think?

Thinking about this film got me thinking about other book-to-movie adaptations that either impressed me or stabbed me in the heart. This is what I came up with — share yours in the comments!

5 Book-to-Movie Adaptations I Loved:

Girl, Interrupted

Although Susanna Kaysen herself didn’t have a hand in this one, it still turned out remarkably faithful to the neurotic core of her bestelling memoir. I might even go so far as to say that I preferred the film’s interpretations of Kaysen’s characters to the original. Plus, it’s one of Winona Ryder‘s best performances ever and hello, Angelina Jolie won an Oscar for it.

The Virgin Suicides

the virgin suicides was dreamy

Air’s haunting soundtrack to this film, based on the Jeffery Eugenides novel by the same name, gave the story the eerie dream-like atmosphere so elegantly evoked in the novel’s sleepy prose. The casting was impeccable, including James Wood and Kathleen Turner as Mr. and Mrs. Libson, and a peak-of-her-career Kirsten Dunst as Lux.  I also appreciate that this novel about women written by a man was adapted for the screen and directed by a lady — the lovely Sofia Coppola. Also I just realized that the actress who played Mary, Andrea Cook, is JJ in Criminal Minds.

The Safety of Objects

One of my favorite books of all time transformed into one of my favorite movies of all time, starring so many of my favorite people of all time, what could go wrong? Plus, it was directed by Rose Troche, who is a lesbian whose name you may recognize The L Word, South of Nowhere and Go Fish. Adapting a short story book into a movie is no easy feat, but Troche did AM Holmes‘ book justice and gave Kristen Stewart her first big role, playing a tomboy who passes as male.

kristen stewart as “sam” in “the safety of objects” with charlotte arnold as “sally” (she later appeared in “Degrassi”)

The Ice Storm

The edition of “The Ice Storm” on my bookshelf includes an essay from Moody about making the movie. He liked the Ang Lee-directed adaptation, and said the biggest shock was as follows – “What I took away from the [meeting the cast at a luncheon] was how beautiful everybody in the movie was. Of course, this had nothing to do with the book. The characters in the book looked like real people. They had bad skin, multiple canker sores, glasses. They were puffy, they didn’t exercise enough. These actors, on the other hand, were beautiful. They were so beautiful that you couldn’t think of anything to say in their company, except You are incredibly beautiful!”  I imagine this probably happens to a lot of adapted directors. is probably happens to directors a lot.

Short Cuts

As a diehard Raymond Carver fan, I was nervous to see how his work fared in Robert Altman‘s adaptation, which weaved together narratives from different short stories into a three-hour movie — thank goddess it was well-done. But unlike the experiences I’ve had with other book-to-movie adaptations, the actors cast in the film never replaced the descriptions Carver wrote of them in my head. In general, the film was a different beast altogether, but a good & gentle beast.

Honorable mention: The Devil Wears Prada

This novel doesn’t rank as “a novel close to my heart,” because I hated every insufferable minute of that hack job from hell, but the movie was actually really fun and good! What’s funny about the book is the unconventional way in which it was picked up — though non-fiction books are usually picked up based on a book proposal, when it comes to novels, agents and editors generally want to see the entire manuscript before taking it on. The Devil Wears Prada, however, was bought based on the first half of the novel. This is readily apparent if you read the second half, which sucks.

5 Book-to-Movie Adaptations I Hated:

Prozac Nation

this is how the film adaptation of “prozac nation” made me feel

This adaptation of Elizabeth Wurtzel‘s groundbreaking memoir was so mediocre it never even got a wide theatrical release. The book was pretty polarizing — it either changed your life or you totally hated it — but more importantly, it wasn’t exactly a movie-ready story and the protagonist was a hard sell at times. I’m sure Wurtzel herself was underwhelmed to see the entirely unlikeable pathological narcissist movie-version of herself, played by Christina Ricci, onscreen. The film was bafflingly centered on her relationship with this guy played by Jason Biggs, whose character, while important, was hardly the core of the book.

Less Than Zero

This first novel by Brett Easton Ellis, who sidenote is objectively a total asshole, suffered a horrible page-to-screen adaptation. This seems to happen to Ellis a lot, with the exception of American Psycho. In fact, Less Than Zero was so wildly different from the book, which relied heavily on a specific narrative voice, that when I read the novel I didn’t make the connection between it and that terrible video we’d rented a few years prior and turned off after the first ten minutes.

Ramona and Beezus

Ramona Quimby was my best friend for most of childhood. I read all the books and I loved the Canadian TV adaptation, which starred a young, precocious Sarah Polley as Ramona:

sarah polley as ramona and lorrie chodos as beezus in the canadian tv series

When I heard it was getting a reboot starring Selena Fucking Gomez, I reconsidered whether or not I actually want to have children one day if this is the kind of world they’ll be born into. For starters, Beezus isn’t supposed to be perfect and pretty. Furthermore, in addition to re-focusing the attention away from my precocious pal onto Selena Fucking Gomez’s stupid relationship whatevers, the film compressed six years of book action into one year and took the movie out of the 1980s asthetic so crucial to its atmosphere.


A Home At The End of the World

You know when you’re totally in love with a book that you maybe heard about in a roundabout way — as in; you don’t have any friends to talk to about it, so most of your love and passion for the book stirs internally, desperate for affirmation — and then you discover OH MY GOD THERE’S A MOVIE! And then you rent that movie, and then that movie sucks and is boring? That’s what happened to me with Michael Cunningham‘s A Home At The End of the World. Bonus points to Angus the Manny from The L Word playing a gay guy, though.

Everything Is Illuminated

The best part of Jonathan Safran Foer‘s book is Alex’s voice, and without it, I found myself drifting away from the screen and towards doing laundry about midway through. LAUNDRY.

Honorable Mention: Fried Green Tomatoes

Here’s the thing — I liked this movie and I liked the book, but the movie left out all the gay parts in a really blatantly obvious fashion that I found super-offensive. Lesbian erasure left a giant hole in this otherwise fantastic story.

wouldn’t it have been cool if they’d made out


What are your favorite and least favorite book-to-movie adaptations? I’m sure you have a lot of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings feelings!


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Riese is the 35-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

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