Books have been adapted into movies since 1899 with the adaptation of Cinderella by Georges Méliès. It was given its own Academy Award category in the 1920s. One of the best places to pull stellar movie ideas is from the library stacks, and over the last few years, that is happening more so that in any other era. The anticipation that comes from knowing a visual representation is in the works for a beloved book is something every reader experiences, but it comes with a sense of dread too.
There is nothing, and I do mean nothing, that breaks a reader’s heart like an adaptation that was not produced to the quality of the book. Most readers understand that it’s truly impossible to include the entirety of a book in the limited time allowed for a movie. But when you take a beloved book and make it vapid and remove the essence of what made it a bestseller, we’ve got problems. I’m talking about you, Vampire Academy, and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. I’ve only seen one movie that was better than the book, The Princess Bride, and it absolutely infuriates me that its genius was not recognized. But that’s not what this article is about. I’m here to talk about Oscar-nominated adaptations that we can stand proudly behind.
The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
Little can go wrong when the author of the book adapts their novel to a screenplay, and Blatty exemplifies that statement. One of the best horror films produced, with an outstanding cast, The Exorcist not only won their nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay but continues to be one of the most watched horror films. This movie was so well done it made history as the first horror movie to be nominated for an Academy Award.
Fried Green Tomatoes / Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
The screenplay kept true to the fragmentation of the novel, the essential personality traits of the characters, and the grit of the south settings eras. The emotions pulled from you by the book are brought to life on the silver screen as you watch the burgeoning friendship between a middle-aged depressed housewife and a vivacious old woman in a nursing home.
Forrest Gump by Winston Groom
What became a career-changing movie for comedian Tom Hanks was an incredibly well-adapted film about a man of low IQ and the incredible feats he performed over the course of three decades, incorporating major milestones of American history. While the movie smoothed out the rough edges of Forrest’s personality and left some scenes behind, overall it was well-received and deserved its nominations and wins. When things get rough, I can always hear Sally Field’s Alabama accent saying, “Life is like a box of chocolate; you never know what you’re going to get.”
The Green Mile by Stephen King
Nominated for four Academy Awards, including for Best Adapted Screenplay, The Green Mile is an emotionally gripping movie about an incredibly kind man with supernatural abilities who was falsely accused of murder and sentenced to death. Tom Hanks, Michael Clark Duncan, and the rest of the cast were well suited to their parts, convincingly portraying the novel’s robust characters. If John Coffey’s senseless death doesn’t gut you every time you see it, I’m not sure what will.
It’s the year of all years for book adaptations, and they were masterful! Let’s start with A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar. It won four of its eight nominations, including Best Screenplay nudging out the next three.
Ghost World by Daniel Clowes is a critically acclaimed cult film that got little box office love. Looking back today, the cast includes incredibly accomplished actors; the writing is well-executed; and the relationship between Enid and Rebecca is as relatable in the film as it was in the book.
Lord of the Rings Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien is one of the most beloved fantasy books of all time; it hasn’t dropped from the bestseller list since the 1960s. So, as you can imagine the anticipation and expectations were high with this one. The screenplay did not disappoint; in fact, I can say I appreciate that we didn’t spend whole scenes looking at the minute details of trees and hills – though let’s give the set directors some props for their excellent work!
Finally, a movie that will live in my middle school millennial heart, with an “All-Star” (haha) cast, and one of the best soundtracks, is none other than the grumpy ogre himself, Shrek. William Steig’s simple children’s book came to life in a magical way via Michael Myers and Eddie Murphy. You can deny your love for this film all you want, but the rest of us will continue singing at full blast with Murphy to “I Will Survive.”
Slumdog Millionaire / Q&A by Vikas Swarup
Winning eight of its ten nominations this critically acclaimed adaptation sparked conversation around the world. What one critic called “the film world’s first globalized masterpiece” is a movie/novel about the realities of life in the slums of Mumbai. Not only did the screenwriter, Simon Beaufoy adapt the novel well, but he made sure to research the locals of the novel’s setting in person and talk to those living in those communities. Taking their cues from Bollywood and Indian cultural life, Slumdog Millionaire‘s success is deserved.
The Martian by Andy Weir
A book that was strict on its scientific accuracy, the screenwriter took it to heart and kept that same level of accuracy. An A-list cast elevated this much-anticipated adaptation to heights rarely seen when converting a book into a movie. While it couldn’t fully encompass the emotions the book was able to describe, Damon’s deep portrayal of astronaut Mark Watney was one for the books.
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
A powerful adaptation about the black women behind some of American history’s greatest scientific achievements during the Civil Rights Movement. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae’s portrayals of NASA’s most brilliant minds were spectacular in their authenticity. While we sadly missed out on Christine Darden’s character in the movie, the essence of the novel was captured to perfection.
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