The Notebook (2004)
The reason that the film adaptation of The Notebook eclipses the bestselling Nicholas Sparks book is simple: It’s impossible to capture the sizzling chemistry between Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling. The Canadian duo – and former couple – star in the popular romantic drama as Allie and Noah, a young couple who fall in love in 1940s South Carolina. Meanwhile, in the modern day, an elderly man reads their story from a notebook to a woman in a nursing home. Chances are, you already know how this moving story ends, which means you also know that its tear-jerking ending hits harder on-screen than it ever could on the page.
The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Meryl Streep may not have won an Oscar for her role as intimidating fashion magazine editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada – but she should have. While Lauren Weisberger’s 2003 novel is reportedly inspired by her experiences working as Anna Wintour’s assistant at Vogue, Streep portrays the role with much more nuance than she’s presented with in the book. Anne Hathaway also shines as Andy Sachs, a fashion industry-averse journalism grad who nevertheless hopes to jumpstart her career as Priestly’s assistant. Plus, it’s more fun to see Devil’s countless elegant outfits – from Chanel to Fendi – on-screen.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
It’s a credit to Stephen King’s talents that this ‘90s classic remains beloved today. King, of course, is mostly known for his horror writing, but this Oscar-nominated drama – about a man (Tim Robbins) who, despite his professed innocence, is sentenced to life in prison for killing his wife and her lover, and his friendship with a fellow prisoner (Morgan Freeman) – closely follows the material from his novella, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. But the film also takes the opportunity to expand on the story, telling it in such a rich, compelling way that sticks with viewers long after the credits roll.
We all know the story of Jaws: a string of shark attacks at a summer resort town leads a police chief, marine biologist and shark hunter to go off in search of the great white responsible for the havoc. But we know the story because of Steven Spielberg’s renowned blockbuster, especially thanks to the filmmaker’s instinct to focus on the shark hunt and introduce new material that wasn’t in the novel. There’s also John Williams’s unforgettable score and the ingenious decision to suggest the shark’s presence, rather than show it on-screen, to build tension.
Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Kevin Kwan’s 2013 bestseller is a fun, dizzying multi-generational novel that revolves around the wedding event of the year in Singapore, told from five different perspectives. The plot of Jon M. Chu’s rom-com centres on the same event but zeroes in on the sweet love story between Rachel (Constance Wu) – an economics professor raised by a single mother – and Nick (Henry Golding), who is secretly a member of one of Singapore’s richest families. Viewers get to spend more time with the main couple and become more invested in their relationship, set against a lavish, visually stunning backdrop.
Mean Girls (2004)
Did you know that Mean Girls was based on a 2002 self-help book called Queen Bees and Wannabes? Luckily, Tina Fey switched up the genre – and incorporated her own high school experiences – for her screenplay. The result is an endlessly rewatchable, incredibly quotable movie about cliques and bullying that also includes one of the all-time great teen movie casts, thanks to fantastic performances from Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried, Lizzy Caplan and more.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001–2003)
Fans of The Lord of the Rings may consider its inclusion on this list somewhat controversial – J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic high-fantasy novel is beloved by many, after all. But with a length of 1200 pages and a handful of slower-paced sections, it can also be hard to get through. Though Peter Jackson’s influential film trilogy – The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King – is also quite long, it does a great job of condensing Tolkien’s dense and detailed mythology, making for a vivid, immersive and immense moviegoing experience.
The Godfather (1972)
This one is pretty obvious. Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather is widely considered one of the best films ever made, with everyone involved – from Coppola to cinematographer Gordon Willis and stars Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan and Robert Duvall – delivering career-best work. Author Mario Puzo’s source material, on the other hand, with its pulpy prose and out-of-place subplots, never reaches the same operatic heights.
Before there was Big Little Lies’ Madeline Martha Mackenzie, there was Tracy Flick. This fantastic early Reese Witherspoon role saw the star playing a super intense, Type A high school overachiever set on winning a class election. Tom Perrotta’s black comedy novel of the same name – which finds Tracy going toe-to-toe with a jealous teacher (Matthew Broderick in the film) who wants to sabotage her campaign – is an interesting read, but on the shorter side. The novel’s satire is drawn out better on-screen, making each drama-filled scene that much juicier.
Jackie Brown (1997)
Jackie Brown is the only Quentin Tarantino film based on a book – and it’s also one of his best. Adapted from prolific crime writer Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch, Jackie Brown takes the opportunity to get creative with its source material. Case in point: the titular flight attendant-turned-smuggler (Pam Grier, in a critically acclaimed performance) was a white woman in the novel. The result is a slick, lively homage to the ‘70s Blaxploitation films that Grier helped make famous.
A Simple Favor (2018)
Author Darcey Bell’s debut novel, A Simple Favor, is written as a tense, Gone Girl-esque thriller that’s more of a pale pastiche of the genre than a gripping page-turner. For the film adaptation, director Paul Feig reinvented the story, and instead made the tale – about a small-town vlogger searching for her missing, enigmatic friend – a sharp and twisty black comedy. Stars Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively are dynamite and deliver on the laughs. And we can’t forget the many covetable suits Lively dons on screen that sparked a thousand memes!
Legally Blonde (2001)
Elle Woods (another iconic Reese Witherspoon role) is a perfect protagonist. She’s smart, funny, ambitious and surprising on her quest to battle stereotypes and conquer Harvard Law School. On the other hand, the novel is inspired by writer Amanda Brown’s own pretty negative experiences at law school, making it…kind of a drag. It’s more mean-spirited and, frankly, less empowering than the film to the point where it feels like everything you love about the charming movie is missing from the page. Thankfully, the movie took a different approach, which we can all be grateful for the next time we re-watch the “bend and snap” scene.
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Source: RD Canada