With British mystery thriller Before I Go To Sleep, based on the novel by S. J. Watson, making its arrival in UK cinemas this week, we decided to check out five great novel to screen film adaptations…
5. Adaptation (Jonze, 2002)
We begin with what happens when a novel is almost impossible to adapt for the movies as Hollywood’s undisputed king of quirk Charlie Kaufmann turns Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief into a story of self-meditation. Spike Jonze’s appropriately named 2002 film Adaptation is typical of the writer’s unconventional approach as he places himself in the story, adds an imaginary twin brother and tells the book’s events in parallel to his struggles to make sense of it all. It’s a unique novel-to-screen experience that’s unlike anything else in our top 5.
4. Forrest Gump (Zemeckis, 1994)
At four is Robert Zemeckis’ fun comedy-drama Forrest Gump which was adapted from Winston Groom’s novel of the same name. This tale of a mild-mannered simpleton from a small town in Alabama whose lifelong adventures put him in the middle of some of 20th century America’s key historical events was an instant crowd-pleaser on its release. Director Zemeckis rightly streamlines Forrest’s adventures as he transfers them from page to screen and with Tom Hanks in the starring role they create a more sympathetic character whose courageous journey, along with life’s ups and downs, is one we really warm to.
3. Planet of the Apes (Shaffner, 1968)
To say our third placed novel inspired an original franchise featuring five movies, two 1970s television series, a 2001 remake and 2011 reboot with sequel of its own, French author Pierre Boulle’s La Planète des Singes, better known as Planet of the Apes, had to be on this list somewhere. The original 1968 film starring Charlton Heston remains a classic of science-fiction as a bunch of astronauts end up stranded on a planet where apes are the dominant species and humans are reduced to animal-like status. The film takes liberties with the source text, not least in its famous ending that features one of the great twists in modern cinema, but this is otherwise a faithful and terrifically made film adaptation.
2. The Shining (Kubrick, 1980)
At number two we have Stanley Kubrick’s icy adaptation of Stephen King’s ghost story The Shining. Jack Nicholson is brilliant as the winter caretaker of the grand but imposing Overlook Hotel. After inviting his wife and young son Danny to stay with him, the isolated family begin to experience just why the haunted retreat has such a blood-soaked past. Nicholson’s downward spiral of self-destruction is just one part of the film’s legacy as Danny’s ability to see beyond our world maybe the only way this family is going to survive the winter. Kubrick rightly stripped the book’s version of events of much of its baggage to give us not only one of the best novel-to-screen adaptations but one of cinema’s most frightening ghost stories.
1. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (Forman, 1975)
At number one, Nicholson is back again in the starring role, this time in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. To capture novelist Ken Kesey’s study of life inside a 1960s psychiatric hospital, film director Milos Forman wisely chose the Hollywood livewire to portray rebellious innate R.P. McMurphy. A loving indication of the human condition as much a stark reminder of the catastrophic consequences of our actions, the film both delights in warming our hearts and crushingly devours by breaking them. But it is without surprise this classic endures the test of time, and despite an underlying sadness, its celebration of the human spirit is something that should be returned to time and time again.