Book-to-Movie Adaptations: Tricky Waters to Navigate

May 02

The subject of book-to-movie adaptations has been much debated throughout the history of cinema, a notoriously difficult task wherein filmmakers must attempt to satisfy fans of the original writings while also remaining accessible and enjoyable to newcomers.


Regardless of potentially polarizing reactions, some of the greatest movies of all time have been based on or drawn influence from books – The Shawshank Redemption, The Lord of the Rings, Apocalypse Now, and The Shining to name a few. A who’s who of iconic filmmakers have rolled the dice and successfully adapted these winding narratives into condensed and satisfying cinematic experiences, often taking risky creative liberties to make the most impactful films possible.


This month on the IFD Podcast, two of our in-house bookworms, Aoife and Eimear, take a look at a few of their favourite book-to-movie adaptations, exploring the history of the titles and drawing comparisons between the different mediums.


Artwork © 1999 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. 


First up on Aoife’s list is David Fincher’s 1999 classic, Fight Club. Based on the novel of the same name, written by Chuck Palahniuk and released just 3 years prior to its visual counterpart, Fight Club has been labelled as a “coming of age film” by Fincher. The movie amassed a loyal cult following in the years after its release, featuring strong performances from Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter, and Edward Norton, along with one of the most memorable endings in recent memory. Aoife explains that while it took heavy influence from the source material, the movie arguably rescued the book from eventually fading into obscurity.


“his characters feel confined by societal norms” 

Aoife O'Neill Gormley


Aoife’s second choice was Spike Jonze’s adaptation of the iconic 1963 children’s picture book, Where The Wild Things Are. An unconventional movie with an atmosphere that can be difficult to define, it perfectly reflects the surreal nature of Maurice Sendak’s original illustrations while simultaneously managing to feel like its own entirely unique experience. Aoife discusses the challenges facing a director when handling such a treasured work.

Eimear decided to hone in on some classics from the high school teen movies of the 90s, taking 1995’s Clueless as her first point of discussion. Loosely based on Jane Austen’s 1815 novel Emma, Eimear discusses how the film reappropriates the setting, characters, and themes to resonate with a modern audience, but maintains strong parallels to the novel with regard to its narrative structure, and how Amy Heckerling’s clever reimagining of the material ushered in an entirely new sub-genre of classic texts framed through a contemporary lens.


TM & Copyright © 2019 by Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.


Next up on Eimear’s list was Gil Junger’s 1999 rom-com 10 Things I Hate About You. A loose modernization of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, the film abides by Eimear’s case for the 90s-era obsession with recontextualizing older writings to create compelling modern stories. It acted as a springboard to success for a number of young actors, providing breakthrough roles for Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Heath Ledger.


“the spirit of Emma’s character is carried over to a new audience”

Eimear O'Donoghue


Are you a book-purist that believes treasured material should be left untouched? Or do you welcome films based on your favourite books with open arms? We’d love to know what you consider to be some of the best adaptations we’ve seen to date, or what books you’d like to see on the big screen in the future!



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