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The 10 Best (and Worst) Book to Movie Adaptations of 2019

Sometimes, the movie can be as good as the book.

We saw a lot of great and a lot of not-so-great movies this year, and many of them were based on books. Some of these films used novels and nonfiction books as a jumping off point to make films that blew us away, but some...didn’t. (Who could have predicted that CGI cat fur and whiskers would be off-putting to audiences?)

Below, the best and worst book to movie adaptations of 2019. If you disagree with any of our opinions, feel free to let us know in the comments!

Related: The 12 Best Movies Based on Books

The Good

Little Women

little women book to movie adaptation 2019
  • Photo Credit: Film still courtesy of Columbia Pictures

As we suspected it would be, the eighth adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic coming of age book is a hit. We’re hardly surprised, what with Greta Gerwig directing and casting incredible young actresses (Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen) in the roles of the March sisters, not to mention it-boy Timothée Chalamet as Laurie, Meryl Streep as Aunt March and Laura Dern as Marmee March—to say this cast is stacked is quite an understatement. 

Gerwig wisely chose to jump back and forth between the girls’ adult lives and childhood, as opposed to strictly sticking with the original book’s narrative. It’s a choice that may ruffle the feathers of some purists, but allows the movie to explore the characters in its own way. What’s more, it works—according to Helen O’Hara (Empire), the film is “Warm but never wishy-washy, cosy without being cutesy, … a superb adaptation of the source and further evidence that Gerwig is the real deal.”

Related: 13 Books for Fans of Little Women

The Irishman

If you like mob movies, it’s pretty safe to say you’ll like Martin Scorsese’s latest 3 ½ hour masterpiece, The Irishman. Based on the nonfiction book I Heard You Paint Houses (a reference to the blood spatter that resulted when hitman Frank Sheeran carried out his duties); the film answers the question of what happened to Teamster Jimmy Hoffa, who disappeared in 1975.

Some have questioned whether the book and film’s explanation of events is truthful—but whether or not it happened, it’s compellingly acted, beautifully shot “cinematic tour de force in form and substance, representing late-career high-points for director Scorsese and his lead actors Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci” (Peter Howell, Toronto Star).

Related: 15 Book to Movie Adaptations Streaming on Netflix Now

Jojo Rabbit

jojo rabbit book to movie adaptation 2019
  • Photo Credit: Film still courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Based on the book Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, Jojo Rabbit is unlike most holocaust stories you’ve heard before. In the satirical film, Johannes “Jojo” Betzler is a Hitler youth who learns that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic. Jojo digests this information with the help of his imaginary fried (who happens to be an idiotic version of Hitler himself).

Injecting humor into the Holocaust isn’t for everyone, of course, but many critics felt that director Taika Waititi “manages to walk the fine line between fantasy and drama, humor and wartime horror without losing his balance” (Cary Darling, Houston Chronicle).

Related: 15 Holocaust Books You Have Never Read Before

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

This thriller is pretty kid-friendly, but then again, so was its source material. Anyone who grew up giving themselves nightmares from the book of the same name by Alvin Schwartz will be charmed, if not particularly frightened, by this introduction-to-horror for tweens. 

The movies works in the original variety of scary stories by turning them into a book found by teenagers in the small town of Mill Valley. Unfortunately for those teens, each story they read begins to play out in real time. All together, it makes for a fun movie that is “proof, once again, that a creaky floorboard, judiciously used, is worth more than any expensive digital trickery” (Larushka Ivan-Zadeh, Times UK). 

Related: 10 Books That Look Like Your Childhood

The Bad

The Art of Racing in the Rain

the art of racing in the rain book to movie adaptation 2019
  • Photo Credit: Film still courtesy of 20th Century Fox

If you need proof that books let your imagination take over in ways that movies simply can’t, look no further than The Art of Racing in the Rain. The best-selling novel has an unusual narrator: it’s told from a dog’s point of view. While this is charming and heartfelt in the book, it’s a little harder to accept when you’re hearing Kevin Costner’s voice and looking at a golden retriever.  

As Roger Ebert explained, “Anyone who cherishes a dog will be drawn into this story, and even the most hard-hearted will be moved by the dog's devotion and the grief of the humans around him. But the narration that might feel poetic as we read can seem gratingly pretentious when spoken aloud while it is acted out.”

Related: 13 Books About Dogs That Will Warm Your Heart

It Chapter Two

While the 2017 It featured a group of extremely talented young actors and reignited our love for Stephen King’s classic horror book, the second chapter of the story left us a bit disappointed. The sequel fast forwards to the characters' adult years, and loses a bit of the horror it harnessed so well in the first film. 

According to NPR critic Scott Tobias, “The first It brought a robust blockbuster maximalism to the horror genre, and the sequel, like many blockbuster franchises, starts to list from all the baggage.” 

Related: 6 Genre-Bending Books by Stephen King

The Goldfinch

the goldfinch book to movie adaptation 2019
  • Photo Credit: Film still courtesy of Warner Bros.

Though The Goldfinch was beautiful to look at, the film itself fell flat, especially in comparison to Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel. The book is especially long—784 pages—and complex, exploring the gritty, pulpy and suspenseful events that follow the trauma of 13-year-old Theo surviving the accident that killed his mother. 

Like most intricate plots, The Goldfinch was not easy to translate into film. Pet Bradshaw of The Guardian might have been correct when he suggested that perhaps the story “would have worked better as an eight-part TV drama.”

Related: Art in Fiction: 10 Novels That Take You Beyond The Goldfinch

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

We were bummed that this movie didn’t quite live up to the hype, or the magic of the book it was based on. Former architect Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) suddenly up and vanishes, leaving her family to figure out where she went. Unfortunately, the playful comedy of the book didn’t quite translate in the film. 

In a particularly harsh review from the New York Post, Johnny Oleksinski wrote that the film “mangles Maria Semple’s popular, funny, satirical novel into common family schmaltz.” Ouch.

Related: 9 Engaging Books Like Where’d You Go, Bernadette

The Ugly

Zeroville

This James Franco passion project doesn’t do justice to the Steve Erickson novel it was based on. Vikar (Franco) has broken into the film world as a designer and film editor, and soon begins a dreamlike journey into the darker side of Hollywood. 

Unfortunately, the ambitious fever dream of a novel doesn’t shine through in the film, which garnered reviews such as “A compelling reminder to spend more time reading” (David Ehrlich, Indiewire) and “This filth grates all the more because the film is so unbearably smug” (Lillian Crawford, Little White Lies). 

Cats

cats book to movie adaptation 2019
  • Photo Credit: Film still courtesy of Universal Pictures

If you’re at all familiar with the play Cats, or the poems from “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” the T.S. Eliot collection the show was based on, you already know this story is meant for the more bizarre among us. But what has somehow persevered on stage is an absolute failure when translated into film—human-cat hybrids are not easy to pull off, and this film makes its home in the uncanny valley

Aside from the sheer spectacle of watching a cat version of Idris Elba prance about, the film is just...not very good. Of course, some people will probably love it. After all, as Allison Wilmore (New York Magazine/ Vulture) pointed out, “There is something magical about the simple fact that this movie exists, in all its obscene, absurd wonder, its terrible filmmaking choices and bursts of jaw-dropping talent.” Still, we’d much rather listen to Jennifer Hudson singing "Memories" than have visions of Jason Derulo as Rum Tum Tugger dancing in our heads.

Related: 11 Poetry Books That Even Non-Poetry Readers Will Enjoy

Published on 27 Dec 2019

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