Books-To-Film #3: The Winners (and Losers)

Thanks to everyone who voted in the first ever Upstart Crow Poll(s) of Mass Importance. In case you missed it, last week, in anticipation of the Where the Wild Things Are film, I polled readers here on the blog and on Twitter to decide which films ranked as the best and worst adaptations of books, both for children and for adults.

The polls yielded lots of surprises. For example, two films, Jumanji and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, earned votes for both the best and worst adaptations of kid’s books. The first Narnia film also incurred the wrath of bestselling author Michael Grant, who complained that if Santa Claus were to show up with weapons, he should have just given the children some better firepower, claiming they, “Wouldn’t have even needed the magic Jesus lion if Santa had just turned the kids onto a tank.” A valid point, Michael.

DaVinciCodeThere were a few bumps in the road, too. On the adult side, I decided to limit the choices to films that had been released in the last 20 years to, in my mind, make things a little easier. Probably a bad decision, since I received votes for Apocalypse Now (1979), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), and The Princess Bride, which came out 22 years ago (I know, I know … inconceivable!).

In the end, though, we had to have winners and losers. So without further adieu, I present to you the Best and Worst Adaptations of Films as Chosen by You, The Readers!

Worst Adult Film Adaptation: The Da Vinci Code

It seemed like such a simple formula, really: take the book that turned readers out of seemingly everyone, mix in one of our generation’s most beloved actors in Tom Hanks, attach an Academy Award winning director in Ron Howard and, just to make Chris Richman happy, add in Audrey Tautou (whose performance in Amelie makes me want to jump into the screen and date her each time I watch it), and you’re going to have a successful film, right? Um, wrong. Even though the film grossed over $200 million domestically, many found the greatest mystery to be why the movie stunk so much. Maybe it was because the book itself was already so cinematic that the film was almost pointless? We’ll never know.

Best Adult Film Adaptation: The Lord of the Rings

lotrDespite a strong showing from fans of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption, and a near-upset by Bridget Jones’s Diary, Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the classic fantasy series won out in the end. This is a tough one to argue with: if we’re basing the success of this film on Academy Awards and box office numbers alone, it goes down as one of the most successful film franchises in history. More telling to me, however, is how a series that was typically regarded as one of the cornerstones of nerdiness was able to transcend the dark basements of pimply-faced people everywhere to become a shared experience for the masses. This selection is especially touching to me, a boy who played Dungeons and Dragons as a half-elven ranger named Legosis (culled from Legolas and Aragorn, as well as other nerdy pursuits). Take that, cheerleaders!

Worst Children’s Book Adaptation: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

storyPoor Ron Howard. Not only did his boyish appeal from Happy Days not last long enough to propel him toward success as an adult actor, but now he also has the dubious distinction of directing both selections for worst adaptations of books. Maybe Ron should avoid libraries altogether, huh? Or maybe it’s a Dr. Suess thing, since the Mike Myers atrocity that was The Cat in the Hat came in second in the voting. Whatever the case, it seems that every who down in who-ville liked this film a lot, but the readers, who living just north of who-ville, did NOT!

Best Children’s Book Adaptation: Babe

babeThe best children’s book adaptation was the most hotly contested. Holes, Black Stallion, Anne of Green Gables, and several Harry Potter films received multiple votes, but none of them could topple this adorable little piggy. What set this film apart? Was it the hopefulness of the story? The wonderful supporting cast? How the pig had FREAKING ADORABLE HAIR? Likely, it was a combination of things that led you all to proclaim, “That’ll do, pig.”

Thanks to everyone who read and voted!

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Chris Richman and Laura Renegar, Upstart Crow. Upstart Crow said: Now on the Upstart Crow blog: Books-To-Film #3: The Winners (and Losers) ( […]


  2. Great poll, Chris. Thanks for instigating good book discussion. And fyi- The Santa scene that Micheal Grant dislikes was not a movie adaption- that scene is exactly how I remember it from the book.


  3. Susan: I didn’t mean to imply the appearance of Father Christmas was added for the film. I thought the film was an adequate adaptation, myself.


  4. Great results. I agree with the DaVinci Code. It could have been so much better. I really enjoy a movie if it comes right from the book. I like to see my imagination come alive on screen. I don’t know why Hollywood feels the need to change things.


  5. Huzzah for Babe!! I so wanted to vote multiple times for it. Ah, there is justice in the world.


  6. Even though Santa was in the book, watching him appear on screen was a bit ludicrous. I felt it.


  7. Ack! I was one who voted FOR Narnia – just loved the beauty of it. But my favorite aspect of this post was your reference to Princess Bride: ‘inconceivable!’ That’s one of my favorite movies. Thanks for the fun!


  8. Found your blog too late to vote, but I must say I was incensed over the adaptation of Ursula LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea–an incredibly complex little book which was turned into something vapid and cliche. It’s sort of what happened with The Dark is Rising, which others mentioned, as though some filmmakers think formula trumps originality. I’m afraid I disagreed with another comment that the film version of Howl’s Moving Castle was better than Diana Wynne Jones’ book. What I love about that story is the humor and pluck of Sophie, which was lost in adaptation. I think the reason Peter Jackson got it right was he followed Tolkien’s intention, as well as his plot.


  9. Thank you for this survey, Chris.

    My husband hated Jumanji (he doesn’t like fantasy unless it is in music) but I love that movie (and book) for so many reasons. I figure if you can watch a movie over and over again, and still sigh and shiver then it is a great movie. And I love CvB’s books (even if they may be esoteric..perhaps some are too advanced for the pb audience ) because they tell real, original stories with integrity, beauty and flair. No message, no issue…just brave stories.


  10. I can’t believe I haven’t seen any of these movies! And now, instead of working on my manuscript, I’ll probably go and rent them all–even the dogs, so I can judge for myself if they’re really THAT bad. I ask you, is this the kind of behavior a literary agency should be inspiring? 🙂


  11. I think Babe won because of the singing (I had students walking around singing like Babe for weeks after the film first came out). And I think you might be right about Da Vinci Code — I tend to prefer movie-adaptations to either offer something the book can’t or to express visually something I’m dying to see (which, I must admit, was the case when the older Pevensies finally came out of the wardrobe — I almost cried when I saw that in the theater and it was exactly as I’d imagined).


  12. It’s too bad there was the 20 year limit. To Kill a Mockingbird would have received my vote. Beautiful book, and a beautiful film that stayed true to the book.


  13. ‘Adaptation’ is the right word to use for Peter Jackson’s masterpiece. While I truly loved the film, for an old Tolkien loremaster like me, it ‘deviated’ in a few places.

    If it hadn’t been over the age limit I’m sure the old Ralph Bakshi version of LOTR would have taken the honors! 😉


  14. Sorry I missed this poll. The best ever movie adaptation of a ‘coming of age’ book for me was ‘Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress’. This may be because the book was written by Dai Sijie and the movie was directed by him as well.
    It’s about two teenage boys who are sent to be re-educated by the Mao Communist state. They are captivated by and fall in love with the daughter of the local tailor, the Little Seamstress. The boys convince Four-Eyes, a fellow ‘re-educatee’ to loan them a books by Balzac amongst others. They use the books to educate the Little Seamstress, with surprising results


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