8 of the Best Book-to-Film Adaptations of the Past 8 Years

by Britton Perelman - updated on September 8, 2020

Sometimes it seems as though every Hollywood movie is based on a book — and honestly, that’s not far from the truth. Even movies that aren’t adapted from best-selling novels often come from some kind of written source material. 

Adaptations are favorites of the entertainment industry, though some are obviously better than others. These eight book-to-film adaptations from the past eight years are the best of the best, movies that have risen to the top of the heap for one reason or another.

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1. The Big Short (2015)

The adaptation of this book manages to pull off the same feat Michael Lewis’ book does — making the housing market crash of 2008 not only understandable, but interesting. The Big Short features celebrity cameos to explain the complicated terms and financial intricacies and uses its stacked cast to create compelling characters. Ryan Gosling’s Jared Vennett, Christian Bale’s Michael Burry, Steve Carell’s Mark Baum, and Brad Pitt’s Ben Rickert all find themselves caught up in the housing crisis in one way or another, leading to an ending that makes audience members squirm.

2. Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Set in northern Italy in the 1980s, Call Me By Your Name is the story of Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer), two young men who fall in love over the course of a summer. James Ivory’s Oscar-winning, delicate screenplay succeeds because it can be enjoyed without having read the book, but acts as a companion piece for those who have read it. Ivory lifted details and lines of dialogue straight from the book, and the performances and filmmaking bring the gorgeous world of André Aciman’s story to life.

3. The Glass Castle (2017)

Jeannette Walls’ affecting memoir told of an unconventional, wonderful, complicated childhood — it managed to be beautiful and heartbreaking on the same page. Though not quite as intricate as the book, the 2017 adaptation captures the same emotional complexity. Brie Larson, as usual, is fantastic as the protagonist, but Woody Harrelson, as the family’s patriarch, carries the show. Just like in Walls’ memoir, viewers come to love and hate Harrelson’s Rex, and the real footage shown as the credits roll proves to be one of the most impactful parts of the film.

4. Gone Girl (2014)

Fans of the Gillian Flynn novel were skeptical, to say the least, when it was announced that Ben Affleck was going to play Nick, the story’s male protagonist. The twisty-turny, dark book is told from two points of view — Nick’s, and his wife Amy’s — in a way that goes deep into the complexity of the Dunne’s marriage and individual psyches. While not quite as detailed, Flynn’s adaptation of her own book manages to create the same deceptive, mysterious air found in the pages of the novel. Rosamund Pike’s Amy is cunning and elusive, while Affleck’s portrayal of Nick manages to be right on the money.

5. The Great Gatsby (2013)

Though Baz Luhrmann's cinematic version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most well-known book was hotly debated upon its release, the adaptation is actually impeccably true to the novel. Aside from the inclusion of modern hip-hop and rap music to draw in the younger crowds (which is what diehard fans took offense to), The Great Gatsby is full of the same symbolism, themes, and beautiful prose that made Fitzgerald’s novel so wonderful in the first place. Add gorgeous cinematography and Leonardo DiCaprio to the mix and there’s no way this movie wasn’t going to be great.

6. The Help (2011)

Kathryn Stockett’s profoundly moving, gut-busting and hilarious book was perfect fodder for an adaptation. A lot of the intricacy and detail in the novel may have been lost in the adaptation process, but the movie version kept the heart of the story in a way that made it just as good as the book. Not to mention that Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Emma Stone were the perfect combo for the story’s leading ladies.

7. Room (2015)

A five-year-old protagonist and a single room setting for the first half of the story may not seem like a great idea for a movie, but Room was a beautiful film and equally incredible adaptation. Emma Donoghue adapted her own novel and Lenny Abrahamson brought it to life with skillful direction, but it was Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay as Ma and Jack that made it such a success. The scene when they’re reunited? You’d have to be made of stone to not be impacted by that.

8. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

This quirky novel was a great read but an even better film. Changes both big and small may have been made in the process of adaptation, but the screenwriters were able to retain the most important element of Matthew Quick’s novel: the relentless optimism of the main character, Pat (played by Bradley Cooper). Incredible acting on all accounts, plus a good sense of what to keep the same and what to change, makes this adaptation top of the game.

Britton Perelman is a writer and storyteller based in Los Angeles, California. When not buried in a book or failing spectacularly at cooking herself a meal, she’s probably talking someone’s ear off about the last thing she watched. She loves vintage typewriters, the Cincinnati Reds, and her dog, Indy. Find more of her work on her website, or follow her on Instagram.

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