Top Ten Tuesday — Best & Worst Movie Adaptations

July 9, 2013 The Little White Horse, The Princess Bride, The Secret Garden, Top Ten Tuesday 26


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature/meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week’s topic is Top Ten Best/Worst Movie Adaptations.   

I wasn’t too particular about coming up with ten choices, because my first two choices add up to eleven movies all by themselves.  I did limit my choices to theatrical films, which eliminated tons of terrific BBC mysteries and period dramas: David Suchet’s Poirot, Joan Hickson’s Miss Marple, both the Lord Peter Wimsey series, Pride and Prejudice, the Brother Cadfael mysteries, and a whole lot more.  And I’m sure I’ve forgotten some very good (and very bad) movies.  But these are the ones that stand out in my mind right now:

Best Movie Adaptations:

    The Harry Potter series.  I’m including all of them; even the weakest of the bunch was pretty good.  I’ve seen all eight movies at least four times each, and I still think they’re terrific. True, the films had to leave out some of the subplots and some great scenes or moments (like Dudley telling Harry he’s not a waste of space, or the whole “Weasley is our King” song.)  But the screenwriters and filmmakers stayed extraordinarily true to the books for the most part — far more than many film adaptations do.  And the casting and the actors’ performances are amazing all the way around; they’re so good that now I often see their faces and hear their voices when I read the books.  (This is particularly true of Snape, McGonagall, and Luna as well as the three main characters.)

      The Lord of the Rings.  Another superb adaptation, despite one or two radical and several minor departures from the books.  Peter Jackson is brilliant, and he brought in brilliant people to work on the films.  Filming in New Zealand was a stroke of genius; the variety of landscapes creates the illusion of a much larger continent, and is an almost perfect match for my imagined Middle Earth.  The team made every effort to recreate the richness and depth of Tolkien’s world, creating a distinct look for each of the cultures. They were also faithful in making use of Tolkien’s invented languages, particularly Elvish and the tongue of Rohan. And the parts are well-cast, although Frodo is much too young (he’s supposed to be about 50 in the books.)  I absolutely love these films.

      Master and Commander: The Far Side of the WorldOkay, I have to admit that I haven’t actually read the books.  And I know that the film includes material taken from several books, not just one.  But it holds together splendidly as a film, and the realism and attention to historical detail were amazing (as far as I could tell, and I’m a bit of a history buff.)  Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany even learned to play the pieces they play on violin and cello, so their fingering and bowing would be accurate. (They didn’t include the vibrato, which you can clearly hear in the recorded score, but it’s an impressive feat nonetheless.)  I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, and think it belongs among the better movie adaptations despite the liberties it took with the text. 

      The Princess Bride.  It’s not a perfect adaptation, but it’s close — and it’s very nearly a perfect movie. It captures the spirit of the book beautifully, as well as many of the best scenes.  It doesn’t hurt that the screenplay was written by the author. 

      The Secret GardenThere have been a lot of adaptations of this book, some of them quite dreadful.  The version starring Kate Mabberly and the redoubtable Maggie Smith remains my favorite.  It doesn’t follow the book perfectly — for example, Mary’s parents die in an earthquake rather than a cholera epidemic, and the Christian overtones are left out — but it feels right.  Except for the scene where she finds the key, which always annoys me.  But Maggie Smith as the housekeeper and Andrew Knott as Dickon more than make up for that.

      Worst Movie Adapations:

        The Secret of Moonacre is an adaptation of one of my favorite children’s books, The Little White Horse, and the filmmakers butchered the story.  They turned a sympathetic character, Maria’s childhood friend Robin, into a bad-boy bandit with kohl around his eyes and a threatening attitude; they even changed his parentage, making him the son of the leading villain instead of a distant cousin of Maria.  They took out all the Christian references and added in a doomsday prophecy involving the moon (which gets so gigantic during the climax, I’m amazed it doesn’t just collide with the earth.)  While bits of the charming story I love were recognizable here and there, the movie as a whole left me spitting mad.

        The Black CauldronUm.  Sort of.  It’s a long time since I saw this animated film ostensibly based on Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, but as I recall, they took a lot of liberties, and not for the better.  I was singularly unimpressed.   I love the books, and I’d give a lot to see someone redo this series, but treat it as respectfully as Peter Jackson did LOTR. 

          There were a few other movies I considered putting in the “Worst” category, except that their fault is more in how much they diverged from the book than in the quality of the film as a film.  Ella Enchanted is a delightful movie, as long as I remember that the film and the book are essentially two different animals with only a superficial resemblance to each other.  Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief was a lot of fun, but its departures from the plot, particularly regarding both Luke and the prophecy, will mess things up for the sequels.  And the actor playing Percy is way too old.  He should have been twelve, not older than Percy is supposed to be in the fifth book.  (That also ruins the whole prophecy story arc.) 

            26 Responses to “Top Ten Tuesday — Best & Worst Movie Adaptations”

            1. Lianne @

              LOTR! <3 (was there any doubt I would’ve added it on my list? =P)

              I enjoyed Master & Commander, I’ve been meaning to re-watch it for ages now…I read the first novel and I enjoyed it, I think the movie used material from the first novel and from another installment in the series but it was wonderful nonetheless 🙂

              My TTT

            2. Maggie

              Great list! I adore the HP movies. Also, the “You’re not a waste of space” scene is included in the deleted scenes of the Deathly Hallows movie, though sadly it didn’t make it into the film.

              I didn’t do a TTT this week as I don’t watch many movies, but you’ve made me want to watch Master and Commander again.

            3. Becki @ The Flutterby Room

              LotR = <3
              I’m not really a fan of the HP films tbh, mainly because of the casting. But ignoring that, I think they’re quite good interpretations of the books.

              • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

                I agree with your LOTR <3! I’m curious though — which actors do you feel are miscast in the HP films? I rather like the casting for the most part, and as I said, some of the actors OWN those parts (in my head, anyway!) I will admit, though, that Bonnie Wright is a bit wooden as Ginny.

              • Becki @ The Flutterby Room

                To be honest, it wasn’t so much who was playing the parts as the fact that the casting director or whoever seemed perfectly happy to ignore the description of the character in a book if it suited their purpose. It kind of bugged me. Intellectually I know they had to balance that with finding people who could actually act the part, but my heart still can’t reconcile some of the choices.

            4. Brandy

              The Princess Bride is one of those cases where the movie improved the book imo. I just adore it.

              I remember The Black Cauldron being awful too, but only saw it once when it first came out. I was outraged then and never watched it again.

              My TTT

            5. TerriBruce

              OMG, how could I have forgotten the travesty that is The Black Cauldron?! Yes, that definitely goes on the worst list! 🙂 Which is too bad – I’d love to see a great adaptation of The Chronicles of Prydain!

              • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

                Oh, me too! Someone should totally do the whole series — properly this time, and live-action, not animated. (Well, OK, Taran Wanderer wouldn’t work too well as a whole movie on its own; probably best as a montage at the beginning of The High King.)

                Another movie I didn’t include in “worst” because I haven’t actually seen it is The Dark is Rising. My daughter, who adores the books, says the adaptation was pretty terrible.

              • TerriBruce

                LOL – okay, you and I are on the same page. Quick, let’s write the script and submit it to Hollywood! 🙂

            6. readerholicnotes

              I didn’t get a TTT done this week, but I’ve enjoyed your list. I haven’t seen Master and Commander. You’ve made me want to see it!

              I totally agree with your other best movies and The Black Cauldron was awful. My son and I were excited about it, because we had read all the Lloyd Alexander books and it was such a disappointment.

              • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

                The BBC usually does really, really well with adaptations. Which is why I was surprised and really annoyed with the more recent “Marple” adaptation of “The Body in the Library.” (Not the Joan Hickson series, the They changed the murderer, and for no very good reason that I could see except either to shock or to be more modern or PC. I was so annoyed, I refused to watch the rest of the series. I gather they continued taking liberties, even turning non-Miss Marple books into episodes featuring Miss Marple.

            7. Tilda

              Yes, Jackson’s LOTR was great! Peter Jackson’s Hobbit? So far, not as much. The Black Cauldron was like two different movies slapped together. I didn’t like the Earthsea mini-series. I loved The Last Unicorn 🙂

              • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

                The Hobbit (so far) was fun, but the whole section involving the dwarves fighting the goblins put my back up a bit… it was more like a comedy-action or Indiana Jones flick, and payed about as much attention to the laws of physics. Not that I don’t enjoy those sorts of movies, but it wasn’t what I expected, and it broke with the flavor of (most of) the rest of the film.

            8. Cheryl @ Tales of the Marvelous

              Completely with you on LOTR and Princess Bride. I CANNOT manage the separation for Ella Enchanted though, and spent the whole movie wincing (and hoping that Levine was paid VERY well for the horrible things they did to her book). One of my favorite movie adaptations is the Horatio Hornblower series, which contrives to have considerably more character depth than the books…unusual, that!

              • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

                I’ve heard the Hornblower TV movies are great; I didn’t include them because I haven’t seen them and I was leaving TV adaptations out (or I could have gone on for about ten TTT posts!) But I need to try them someday. Thanks for stopping by!