“The book was better than the movie” is a phrase said too often. Fans pour over these books, picturing these elaborate worlds that authors describe so vividly… only for everything to fall flat when Hollywood gets its hands on it. From poor casting choices (looking at you, Percy Jackson movies) to tangling the plot into something unrecognizable (what happened in City Of Bones anyway?), book adaptations are usually approached with extremely cautious optimism and more often than not end up as inevitable disappointments.
Movies and TV shows that both stay true to the books while expanding on the worlds themselves are few and far between, but they do exist. It takes several brilliant minds to create a faithful yet exciting adaptation, and these six adaptations are proof that it is possible. Beware, possible spoilers ahead for all entries.
1. The Witcher
Starting with Netflix‘s recent smash hit, The Witcher is an adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s series of novels and short stories. In The Witcher, we follow the intertwining stories of Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavil), a mutated monster hunter with a distrust for politics, Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra), a powerful sorceress with her own share of regrets, and Princess Cirilla (Freya Allan), the heir to the kingdom of Cintra with an ancient power hidden deep within. The first season of the show is short, a mere eight episodes, but book fans will recognize beloved scenes from Sapkowski’s novels like Geralt’s entanglement with a djinn from the short story The Last Wish. If the Netflix adaptation is your first foray into the franchise (which includes the original books and a series of games using the same source material), you might be confused by the multiple timelines present in the show, but the show makes sure to throw enough material into each episode so that even first-time viewers will be able to make the connections.
2. Love, Simon
Love, Simon adapts Becky Albertalli’s acclaimed YA novel Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. Both the movie and the book tell the story of closeted gay teen Simon Spier as he tries to navigate high school while communicating via email with another gay boy at his school who goes by the alias “Blue”. In the movie, Simon is played by Nick Robinson, who does a fantastic job of bringing Simon’s loveable yet awkward personality to life. The best part about Love, Simon is that it is the extremely heart-warming rom-com that gay people have been asking for. Even though he’s closeted for a majority of the movie, having a main character that is gay in mainstream media is a huge step forward. And besides, how can your heart not melt at the Ferris wheel kiss between Simon and Bram (Keiynan Lonsdale), who is revealed to be Blue. Like the book, the movie features interludes of Simon and Blue’s charming emails between the turmoil that Simon faces.
3. The Handmaid’s Tale
Keep your head down, eyes low, and remember your place. Both the original book by Margaret Atwood and the 2017 Hulu adaptation easily express the fear of that statement. In a world where the United States as we know it has been overthrown by the totalitarian and theocratic regime known as the Republic of Gilead, Offred is a Handmaid, a sect of women forced to birth heirs to their male superiors known as Commanders. Elisabeth Moss, who plays Offred in the adaptation, was made for this role. She manages to portray both Offred’s fear and her resilience in a way that will encapture all audiences. The horror that Atwood conveyed in the original 1985 book is wholeheartedly there, and possibly even more relevant than ever.
4. Little Women
Louisa May Alcott’s critical success of a book has been adapted many times over in every form of media, though the 2019 version directed by Greta Gerwig might be one of the best. Gerwig’s Little Women reimagines Alcott’s classic story by making Jo (Saoirse Ronan) the author of Little Women in the world of the movie. Flipping flawlessly between the present day and the past of the March sisters, Gerwing does a fantastic job of adapting this story and yet still making it feel fresh. Even if you’ve read the book and seen every other adaptation to exist, you will still be moved to tears at Beth’s (Eliza Scanlen) death. With other big names like Emma Watson as Meg, Florence Pugh as Amy, Timothée Chalamet as Laurie, and Meryl Streep as Aunt March, Little Women is a star-studded adaptation that still feels genuine to Alcott’s original story.
5. Good Omens
What happens when Hell’s most angelic demon and Heaven’s most demonic angel have to team up to stop Armaggedon? A lot of hilarity in Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s original book from 1990 that is showcased just as well in Amazon Prime Video’s adaptation. The 2019 series stars David Tennant as Crowley, a demon with an extreme sense of humor and a Queen-loving car, and Michael Sheen as Aziraphale, an angel with a taste for the finer delicacies on Earth. Both Tennant and Sheen do a marvelous job of bringing Crowley and Aziraphale’s larger-than-life personalities to the screen. The show has all of the comedic yet heartwarming bits of the books, and the costume design for every character is spot on.
6. Crazy Rich Asians
Anyone who has had a crazy family will relate to both the book and the 2018 movie all too well. While the original book written by Kevin Kwan tells the story through five different character perspectives, the movie focuses on the lens of Rachel Chu (Constance Wong), yet still manages to tell a coherent story. The movie stays true to its roots within the book and also captivates audiences with its scenes of Singapore’s high-society splendor. Similar to Love, Simon, Crazy Rich Asians was groundbreaking in Hollywood for the reason of its majority-Asian cast, something not commonly seen in romcoms. Wong plays Rachel fantastically, feeling relatable for all audience members who have had to deal with high expectations, and even newcomer Henry Golding does a knockout job as Rachel’s boyfriend, Nick Young.