Welcome to The Once Lost Wanderer. The name is derived from two poems: Amazing Grace by reformed slave trader John Newton, and All That is Gold Does Not Glitter by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Best and Worst film adaptations of Classic Novels

I'm very late with this post. This was supposed to be in October. I drafted it back when, and just forgot to post. You will receive a refund of your October subscription to The Once Lost Wanderer.

The good folks at The Classics Club posed this meme reboot from August 2014:  What are your thoughts on adaptions of classics? Say mini-series or movies? Or maybe modern approaches? Are there any good ones? Is it better to read the book first? Or maybe just compare the book and an adaptation?

Good question. After each classic I read, I try to watch a film version. Most often, the film is not nearly as good. That’s not surprising, since trying to condense even a short 400 page novel into a two hour movie, will almost certainly have to cut out many details and even portions of the plot or subplot. Mini-series are often better, but honestly, I don’t usually like to commit that much time to watching, when I could be reading.

Some of the worst film adaptations I’ve seen:
Animal Farm (any version)
Lord of the Flies (any version)
Frankenstein (IMO no one has done a faithful rendition yet.)
Dune (1984, maybe the worst of all of these. I’m told the 2000 mini-series is pretty good)

Some of the best film adaptations I’ve seen:

A few that have not yet been adapted to film that I’d like to see:
Catcher in the Rye (sorta hard to believe this hasn’t been done, huh?)

And a double adaptation: Heart of Darkness Adapted from print to the film Apocalypse Now, where the setting is adapted from late 19th Century British Imperial Africa to 1970s Southeast Asia/Vietnam War. This is one of those rare instances when the film is better than the book. This just hit me – this could be perceived as quite a testimony to Marlon Brando who also stars in perhaps the best example of the movie better than the book: The Godfather.


  1. Interesting list! I didn't realise Apocalypse now was based on Heart of Darkness. The book is on my Classics Club list so I must re-watch the film afterwards...

    1. It's obviously a very loose adaptation...but yeah. One of the rare better than the book IMO.

  2. A book of ideas is very difficult to convert into a movie, I guess. So many classics are classics not because of the stories themselves, but because of the ideologies, philosophies, beliefs they represent. Hence...I just prefer the books. Though, I must admit, I loved the Lord of the Rings movies almost as much as I do the book.

    1. I'm with you. The books are generally better, but LOTR was superb adaptation.

  3. @ Sara (majoringinliterature)...Oops! meant to reply, but I accidentaly deleted your comment. So sorry :( Nevertheless, I agree and thanks for the feedback.

  4. I haven't seen any of your worst film adaptations but all of your best, and I agree with the line up there. For worst, I would nominate the 1997 Woman in White because the film makers decided to change the characters to a degree that made them both unrecognizable and and unlikeable.

    1. I haven't read or seen Woman in White...but I've seen too many like that...where the screenwriter and/or director think they have a better idea than the author. Most often...NOT!


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