A friend of mine recently asked me what are some of my favorite book-to-movie adaptations and the first thing I thought was, oh wow that’s both a hard and loaded question! I love reading, obviously, and I love watching movies and often times, those overlap. It’s often that I end up watching a movie or a TV show with absolutely NO idea that it began as a book to begin with, especially and almost always when its a non-YA book.
I feel like I’m a little more lenient when it comes to adaptations. The fact is – you can’t make a perfect adaptation. It’s always going to be different than the book. You can’t tell the story the same way! A book, a movie, a tv show – they’re all different mediums to tell a story and they all do so in such different ways. There’s a reason that this is a tv show while that is a movie. They are just different! So I do tend to be a little more forgiving, especially when changes are done and they just make sense.
On the other hand, I do get frustrated at big changes made that really has nothing to do with the medium or trying to condense the story or whatnot. Sometimes it just seems as if the screenwriter barely read the book or maybe didn’t at all and just got it secondhand from someone else, like a game of Telephone because somewhere between the original work and whatever they put out, a lot was lost and I just don’t even recognize it anymore!
So today I wanted to talk a little about some of the adaptations that came to mind – good, bad and okay – when my friend posed me this question. Keep in mind that most of them are YA because that’s my passion and that’s what I read 98% of the time. I also don’t touch on everything because, my god, there are so many book to movie or tv show adaptations that I couldn’t begin to cover them all. There’s just no way. So let’s talk about some of the ones that I did think of!
Howl’s Moving Castle
I’m probably a little biased on this one because its my favorite movie of all time. That being said, its very different from the book and I’m okay with that. I think Hayao Miyazaki had a lot to say at the time – he was very antiwar and caused some…unhappiness in the US with this movie – and I think that the movie captures the spirit of what Diana Wynne Jones wrote. I will also say that I watched the movie and then read the book so that might be why I don’t mind the differences.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before Trilogy
I just watched the third movie a handful of days ago so its fresh in my mind right now. I think that Netflix did a truly excellent job with adapting these books. There are differences, of course, but everything is done to capture the excellent series that Jenny Han wrote and Lara Jean, Kitty, Margot, Peter K – they all are what I pictured in the book, honestly. These movies are sweet and funny and one of my favorite adaptations for sure.
I love the first Divergent book so much. I love it so much that I have a Divergent tattoo and I don’t regret it to this day and I got it seven years ago. I was so excited for this movie, was first in line at the Hollywood premiere and I loved the movie. I thought they did such an excellent job with the casting and the script and the adaptation as a whole. I know some people did not like Theo James as Four/Tobias because he was a lot older but I was 26 when this movie came out so he was absolutely perfect for me. I had such high hopes for this series as a whole but as we’ll discuss later, it didn’t quite pan out the way I had hoped…
The entirety of the Hunger Games trilogy (four movies) was done really, really well, in my opinion. It’s one of the few adaptations that got to finish its entire series. But I think most people will agree with me that not only is Catching Fire the best of the series but its genuinely one of the BEST book to movie adaptations I’ve ever seen in my life. They cast all the expanded characters so well and it followed the book almost to perfection and it captured the widening of the world that Suzanne Collins accomplishes. It sets up the final movie and the it sets up the stakes and I just absolutely love this adaptation.
While there are some minimal things about the movie that bother me – Leah’s storyline!! BI PRIDE – for the most part, this movie was just done so well. The friendships, the first love, the family – I can’t watch this movie without tearing up. I can’t. I’ve tried. I think it did a great job at adapting Becky’s book and I think that its so great that it was loved enough to have a spin off show, Love Victor, that literally has nothing to do with any of the books in the same universe lol. I was hoping for a Leah on the Offbeat movie but I did genuinely enjoy Love Victor’s first season – shame on Disney for dropping the ball on that, so shameful – and I just love that we can have these beautiful, fun, wholesome teen movies.
Before I Fall
This is an older YA book that still, to this day, remains one of my absolute favorites. The book was a hard read at first because my god, Samantha is so hard to like and it takes time to get to a point where you understand, oh, yeah, that’s the point. There’s also the fact that I absolutely love Zoey Deutch so I was already partial to the movie. But they did a wonderful job adapting the book, it was genuinely like the screenwriter READ the book and used it as an important tool in writing the script and I think a lot of the actors really captured the characters and captured the entire purpose of the book. It makes me emotional to watch but I do still love to watch it.
I LOVE THIS MOVIE and I LOVE THIS BOOK, its my absolute favorite of Neil’s books and literally as I’m typing this, I’m thinking, hmmm I’m way overdue for a reread of that. Neil is so fun and light and silly and fantastical and its captured in the movie so well. I think the two are very different but I’m okay with that, I think, because I just love both of them so much.
Little Woman – 2020
Guys, I’m going to do something that will probably break some people’s hearts. I don’t like the book Little Women. I’ve read it at many different points in my life, as a child and a preteen and a teenager and recently as an adult and I can’t get into it, I don’t get it and I don’t know that I ever will. That being said, I love the cast in the 2020 version so my fiancé and I decided to go see it and I loved it so much. I thought they took the story that was definitely already there and just made it that much better. I hated that Jo and Laurie don’t end up together in the book, it makes me furious, but they make Amy so much more likable in the movie, that I loved it. The cast was phenomenal, all of them, and I loved the movie. It was also the last movie I saw in theaters before…everything, so that also might have something to do with it.
I watched Bridgerton about a week after it hit Netflix because I couldn’t stand not being a part of the hype and its up my alley anyhow and now I’ve watched it three times through. I read all 9 books in a matter of a week. I became a fan FAST lol. I thought they did an absolutely phenomenal job of adapting that first book while hinting at what is to come in the next books. Its funny and sexy and lighthearted and fantastic and I love that family is the center of it all with the million Bridgerton children. I think the books are fun and a little repetitive and predictable but exactly what I’ve been needing and I hope they continue with all of the stories because the characters only get better and better. And they better fix Eloise’s story because she is my favorite in the show and her book was my least favorite, easily, and it made me sad haha.
Gretchen is a dear friend of mine and I decided to reread the books before the show came out so it was fresh in my mind. I think Gretchen deserves all the attention and love and success and all of that so I wanted this show to be good and to do well and it was AWESOME. They followed the book so well, the characters felt like they’d walked out of the pages and it was SO fun, just like the books. It genuinely felt like John Hughes with murder, which is exactly how Gretchen describes it. I didn’t mind that they moved the story to the UK at all, and even the small details really didn’t derail from the story that I liked in the books so much. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be the same killer as the book and the show did a great job at making you question it too! I don’t know where they’d go from here since they wrapped up both books but…I’d be down for more.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
Percy Jackson is, at this point, infamous for how terrible the two adaptations it produced. There was just so much wrong with it. I didn’t mind the aging up of the characters as much as others but it did feel weird considering this was during the height of Harry Potter and they kept the ages there and it did well. I think Logan Lerman was a great choice and others…not so much. It felt like, in both movies, they were just overloading the movie with big names and the script just fell on the wayside. They didn’t capture what was so wonderful about these books, books that are meant for children, not YA, children, that I read as an early 20s adult and absolutely loved. I have high hopes for the Disney show, as Rick is super super involved, but these movies were just utterly disappointing and just the worst.
Oh here we are. Now look, part of this might be the fact that I went into this movie thinking…can they possibly improve on a book that I didn’t like very much? Can they take material that isn’t very good and make something out of it? To me, they couldn’t and it didn’t seem like a total unpopular opinion because this was supposed to be the first of a two-parter, like all YA adaptations at the time, and the second part literally never was made. Allegiant the book was a mess that honestly should have been two books and the movie did what it could with what it had but I remember walking out of the theater and thinking, what on earth did I just watch?
I love this book – my seventh grade homeroom teacher read it to us during our SSR period after lunch and for years, I wanted to name my kid, Asher, if it was a boy. You know, before it became popular lol. I don’t like that they aged up the characters, I hated that they basically tried to make it a Hunger Games or a Divergent. It was a terrible adaptation and it wasn’t that the people in it were bad – there are some heavy hitters in that movie – but they took this slow burn, emotional book and tried to make it the next big dystopian movie and it was awful. It makes me angry just thinking about it.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones AND Shadowhunters
This is easily one of my favorite series in the entire world – I have not one, but TWO rune tattoos and even in my worst slumps, I still devour a new Shadowhunters book. I was insanely excited for the movie – I must have met the movie cast like 4 or 5 times at cons and mall tour stops and the actual movie premiere and all of that. I met the TV show cast as well because I had hoped it would be better. Both were just a total disappointment. I thought the casting of both the movie and the tv show was really well done and I think everyone gave it their best but… no. The movie script was INSANELY weak, just horrible, and they made the dumbest changes – Bach was a Shadowhunter, really?! – and as sweet and lovely as the screenwriter was, she was insanely inexperienced and it showed. The TV show was better writing but the amount of changes was insane; it felt like they didn’t even READ the book, maybe just the back cover. Both were super disappointing and I will never get over it to this day.
How to Deal
I love Sarah Dessen. She’s one of my favorite authors and she’s one of the first YA authors I really fell in love with back when I was 12 or 13 years old and the first book I read was Someone Like You, which is just…*chefs kiss*. How to Deal adapts both that book and That Summer, which always felt kind of weird to me. It was already a bad idea to adapt two books into one movie that aren’t even in the same series – though they all do take place in the same general universe. But it was just…god I hate this movie so much. I loathe it lol. I think Mandy Moore is an absolute gem but I just hate this movie. I just feel like it misses all the emotion that a Sarah Dessen book conveys and it falls flat and just seems like another flat teen movie. None of her other books have ever been adapted again which is both sad but maybe also a blessing in disguise.
Meg Cabot is on this list again later but this one is filed under bad because they just changed everything and I hated it. For one thing, both Will and Ellie (not freaking Allie) are brunettes and I love that because, seriously, aren’t there enough blondes in movies? Also, legit her name is Ellie, short for Elaine because she was named for Elaine of Astolat, which causes the belief that is who she is reincarnated as. UGH. Already irritated. Then…okay look I’m all for feminism, obviously, but Will IS the reincarnation of King Arthur, not Ellie/Allie and I was so irritated that the movie changed that. I can’t remember a lot of the other details because I only watched it once, when it came out, but I swear, I was so mad that I’ve never had a desire to watch it ever again.
Harry Potter series
I love the Harry Potter movies but I love them in that I absolutely have to separate them from the books. There are SO many changes and if I start to think about all the things they changed and all the things they CUT, I just start to get frustrated. Don’t even get me started on Goblet of Fire, my favorite book and my least favorite movie. But so much of the casting was done SO well and the music is brilliant and so much came from those movies, including the theme parks, and I do love watching them. I think they do still capture a lot of what is so great about these books and so they fall into the…not my favorite, but not bad category.
I think both the books and the movies are not very good but that doesn’t stop me from loving them both. I love the books and the movies are absolutely my go-to when it comes to sick days. If I’m curled up on the couch, feeling like poo, this is what I watch. The reason that they fall under okay is this – I think that the movies take the things about the books that are good and makes them better but it takes the things about the books that are not so good and makes them worse. I think the movies improve as each one is released and they’re so fun and so cheesy but at the end of the day, they’re not great but, well, they didn’t have the best starting point so maybe it works.
The Maze Runner Trilogy
I think the first movie is brilliant and follows the first book really well – in fact, I actually enjoyed the first movie a lot more than I liked the first book. I liked the book a lot but I had so much trouble visualizing it – I just couldn’t seem to do it and then I watched the movie and it just made so much more sense to me. Maze Runner is so visual and the movie was able to capture it so well. Then the next two movies just got…messy. The third movie was delayed by Dylan O’Brien getting super hurt during filming – shit happens, no one’s fault – but I think that didn’t help. I didn’t hate it when it eventually came out but I do remember it fell flat compared to the first movie. I think the first one is great, the second one is good and the third one is okay so on a whole, an okay movie trilogy.
The Princess Diaries
I will get so much flak for this but I don’t care. This movie is great, its made well, the cast is great, and its insanely popular all these years later. Its deemed OKAY and not BAD because on a basic level, its definitely NOT a bad movie.
But I am just like NO. I don’t like it and I don’t like the second movie. I am a HARDCORE Meg Cabot fan. Princess Diaries was one of the FIRST YA novels I picked up at 12 years old, way back in 2000. I waited until 2018, at 30 years old, to finally see Mia Thermopolis and Michael Moscovitz get their happily ever after. 18 years! And the second movie just ERASED him. They erased the ridiculousness of Grandmere and made her until sweet and lovely Julie Andrews. Everything that is wonderful about the books is just STRIPPED from the books. Mia’s dad isn’t dead! He had cancer and couldn’t have more babies – though we learn later that he did have another daughter, prior to all of the cancer. I love this series and I think they just absolutely trash it in the movies and so, as a Meg stan, I just can’t support it. As a Michael Moscovitz shipper – he was easily my first book boyfriend – I just…no. Absolutely not.
This is another series that means the world to me. I have a molnija mark tattooed on my collarbone and I’ve read the books a million times. I personally like the movie and it could be a little biased by the fact that it has my girl, Zoey Deutch, as one of my favorite fictional characters of ALL TIME, Rose Hathaway. It might also be biased based on the fact that I met the cast at a mall tour stop, an after party and the red carpet premiere and they were all SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO nice. I think that the movie captures Rose really well, her humor, her dedication, her ridiculousness but I think that it takes the humor and immaturity of book one and only focuses on that and forgets how honestly dark these books get! They are more than just your average teen vampire novel, which is why I love them and why my friend was able to get me to read them during a time where I was like, please god, no vampires. The people who made this movie made Mean Girls and I think they were just trying to create that but with vampires and it just didn’t work. It’s entertaining but not a great book adaptation.