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Modern movies that were adapted from great novels.

Updated on October 3, 2012

Many of us love to read. We love a great, engrossing novel. Many of us also love a fantastic film. We get lost in the big screen. At the end of the day, while these are two different mediums, they serve the same purpose. They are both a mediums that serve to tell a story. While they do so in different ways, one of the most interesting things to see is how one great story can be told and presented to its audience in more than one way. There are a lot of famous novels out there that were transferred to the big screen, where the results were less than stellar (I won't name any names - feel free to provide your own examples!). However, there have been plenty of examples where the result was a fantastic film, that presented a fantastic novel in a way that preserved the integrity and story of the book, while adapting it flawlessly to the film reel.

This is a subject that I find so interesting, and all you movie buffs will know some of the most famous examples:

  • Silence of the Lambs
  • Jurassic Park
  • To Kill a Mocking Bird
  • The Godfather!
  • The Big Sleep

While these are all fantastic books and great movies, I want to share with you some of the more recent films that were adapted from books. Some of these you may know were adapted from a novel, maybe some of them you won't. Either way, I highly recommend checking them out!

Gone Baby Gone - Dennis Lehane to Ben Affleck
Gone Baby Gone - Dennis Lehane to Ben Affleck

Gone Baby Gone

Gone Baby Gone - 2007

Written by: Dennis Lehane

Directed by: Ben Affleck

One of my favorite movies of all time, is also one of the finest books I've ever read. While I always argue that you should read the book first, this is a situation where it is a toss up, as both are so fantastic you want to go in with no knowledge. Ben Affleck's directorial debut was a stellar adaptation of Dennis Lehane's novel about two private investigators who agree to help a woman find her daughter who has gone missing from the streets of Boston. The book is actually the fourth in a six book series about "Kenzie and Genarro" the man and woman private eye partnership who deal with the gritty, crime filled Boston streets.

Lehane is one of the finest writers alive today, and has an unreal knack for crime novels with real emotion, grit and realism, all touching on moral grey areas and hard truths. He asks the reader questions and puts us in situations, making us questions our own actions and how they would stack up with his character's choices. Affleck was able to do such a flawless job with his adaptation that none of this is lost in the film version. The film is equally touching, disturbing, inspiring and upsetting all at the same time. Having read the book first I couldn't have suggested better stars to fill the roles than Casey Affleck, and Michelle Monaghan. There are some FANTASTIC supporting roles though, from Morgan Freeman, Amy Ryan and Ed Harris who in particular, really steals the show. If you are looking for a great watch and/or a great read I suggest you check this one out. On a side note though, if you opt to read the book please start from the beginning of the series! "A Drink Before the War" is the first book in that great set!

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - the dark, gritty version by David Fincher
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - the dark, gritty version by David Fincher

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Now here is an example of a book to film adaption you have probably heard of! Stieg Larsson, before his tragic death, wrote a trilogy of books, centering on journalism, criminal and financial corruption and of course a girl... with a dragon tattoo.

I was completely enthralled by all three of the books, no doubt about it. However, one of the biggest complains I heard about the novels was that they were overly dense and could have been much shorter without really harming the story. I would beg to differ, however I certainly can see the point they are making. This fact alone presented a perfect opportunity for filmmakers who wanted to take on the project, as they were working with fantastic material, and film is built to condense this kind of material just by the simple nature of a screenplay and it's structure.

Now, bear in mind the series was first released in Sweden as a fantastic trilogy which I highly recommend watching! However, recently, David Fincher, also known for some contemporary masterpieces such as Fight Club, Seven and The Social Network, decided to take on an American version of the project. The output was a brilliantly dark, unflinching, violent, smart and surprising thriller that really does both the book and the Swedish adaptation justice while even adding a little something extra. I would warn readers and viewers that the books and the films contain some subject material that is tough to swallow at times, so if you are squeamish or easily upset these might not be the ones for you!

Drive - the best movie of the year?
Drive - the best movie of the year?


I'll bet you didn't know that this one was based on a book did you? I certainly didn't when I saw it! One of my favorite films of last year, Drive came out of nowhere and really impressed critics and fans both. Ryan Gosling is probably my favorite young actor around currently, and I'm sure I won't be alone in expressing that sentiment. He has showcased his talents in such a variety of films and genres, with Drive he went in a direction that was a little different but he definitely nailed it.

Based on a book by John Sallis, the story revolves around a very mysterious man who is a stunt driver by day and a different kind of driver by night. We don't know much about him, but we certainly get to know a few things or at least we SEE a few things that suggest there is more to the man than we know. This is one of the adaptations where I have not actually read the book, but it certainly spawned a fantastic film. If you are a fan of originality, and a modern setting with an old school classic twist than this odd mixture of a movie is perfect for you!

Children of Men - an intense, realistic thrill ride.
Children of Men - an intense, realistic thrill ride.

Children of Men

Based on a novel by the name "The Children of Men" this is a film I saw quite by chance on a long plane ride across the Atlantic. I went in with no expectations whatsoever, but once they movie was over it was immediately one of my top movies of all time. The premise alone is fantastic, which we can thank P.D. James, the author of the original novel, for. His central idea is that all women in the country have become infertile and can no longer reproduce, and he develops the story based on how the population reacts to this. We center in on one man (played by Clive Owen) and his reluctant responsibility to get a woman, who seems to have bucked this new trend, to safety, where she can have her miracle of a child. However, as we watch their story unfold we see the true power of the premise around them as the nation descends into madness, war, corruption and dangerous factions form who have different agendas upon hearing the news of this pregnancy.

The film version takes a premise that is simple on the surface, but deep down very complex and it manages to transfer it to the screen in such a way that we really feel this gloomy, broken country where it seems like all hope is really lost. Never leaving our main character's side, the camera takes us on a ride that really makes us feel like WE are the only hope for the nation and the realism to some of the action scenes is so impressive at times that in my opinion it puts many films in the war genre to shame. There is a blue collar, low budget grit to this film that suits perfectly the subject matter it is based on and for that reason the result is a brilliant adaptation!

No Country for Old Men - 2008 Best Picture Winner
No Country for Old Men - 2008 Best Picture Winner

No Country For Old Men

Oscar Winner in 2008 and my favorite film of that year, No Country For Old Men takes one of the finest novels from Cormac McCarthy, one of our finest writers, and turns it into an unforgettable on screen experience. McCarthy has had a number of his books transferred to film (The Road, most recently) and for good reason! His novels are down to earth and real, and have a distinct sense of theme and mood. Nobody can express the grim, hopeless reality of many aspects of life as well as he can, and this clear feeling of emotion gives anyone who wants to make a film out of his work a great idea of where to start. A more perfect director, or pair of directors, that the Coen Brothers could not have been selected for the task!

No Country stars Tommy Lee Jones, John Brolin and Javier Bardem and all three are absolutely spectacular. One of the finest acting performances by three actors all at the same time in my opinion, it is almost flawless in every way. Every scene is powerful and resonates with a deeper meaning, despite the fact that it may seem irrelevant or even strange on the surface. Some of the dialogue, much of which is based very tightly on the novel, is beyond fantastic in every way, from the words to simply they way they are delivered.

Javier Bardem's villain is chilling and he portrays pure evil in its purest form, free of emotion, care or sense of anything other than his end goal. On the opposite side of the coin (this is a suitable reference if you've seen the film!) is Tommy Lee Jones, and his "Sheriff Tom Bell" who is as good of a man as one can find, but is reaching the point in his life where he is losing his motivation and his way in life. Then right in the middle we have Josh Brolin, simply a man in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

In my opinion, one of the purest adaptations out there (The Coen Brothers are known for keeping to the book, as shown by their recent True Grit, which followed it's original subject matter to the tee), both the film and the novel are perfect in every way.


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    • jmartin1344 profile image

      jmartin1344 5 years ago from Royal Oak, Michigan

      Thanks so much for reading vespawoolf!

      Don't be embarrassed, I write them in the hope that folks who haven't seen them will hear about them and get to check them out. I wish I was in your shoes, so I could be watching them all for the first time! I'm actually a bit jealous! Ha...

      Feel free to let me know your thoughts on them if you get a chance to see any! Thanks again for reading.

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 5 years ago from Peru, South America

      This is a really well-written group of movie reviews! Although I've seen all the bulleted examples you mention in the beginning, would you believe I've never seen any of the main movies you review? I'm embarrassed to admit that after the stellar reviews you gave them. Now I've added them to our list of movies to see. Thanks so much!

    • jmartin1344 profile image

      jmartin1344 5 years ago from Royal Oak, Michigan

      Thanks a lot for checking out the Hub Cogerson!

      Millions of people hated the ending - I won't go into details and spoil it for anyone obviously, but I actually loved Tommy Lee Jones dialogue... I do understand the displeasure though, but in my opinion, when you really look at it the ending matches the whole theme of the movie and I think it would ruin the integrity of the theme and story to end it differently.... just my opinion though! It certainly was hard to swallow! ha....

      Glad you enjoyed CoM also... brilliant movie.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • Cogerson profile image

      Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

      I watched all five of the movies you mentioned in the hub....but I have only read two of the books....No Country For Old Men and Children of Men. No Country For Old Men actually has the ability to have a crappy ending in the book and in the movie...I was hoping the Coen brothers would give the ending to the movie a different ending...but nope I guess they like the crappy ending of the As for Children of Men....the movie blew me away when I saw I read the book after the seeing the movie....they make a great companion piece...making both the book and the movie better.

      I really enjoyed reading your latest hub....voted up and interesting.