The best movies adapted from books

Harry Potter 2

Jessica Taylor Yates

Posted August 10, 2022

With the release of big-budget book-to-film adaptations including Bullet Train and Where The Crawdads Sing, here’s our pick of the best adaptations that brought our favourite characters to life.

It can be truly wonderful to see the books we love brought to life on the big screen. Many book to film adaptations have become classics unto themselves, rivalling the original source material for the best way to tell a story.

Books that already had a large fan base, such as the Hunger Games and Twilight franchises, have proved to be the most financially successful, while the young adult book market has had wild success in this field for titles such as The Fault in Our Stars or the Divergent series.  

Certain directors also have a penchant for adaptations – Steven Spielberg’s filmography counts 24 movies that came from books, such as Jurassic Park, Catch Me If You Can and The Color Purple, while Ron Howard has also directed many book-to-film adaptations including The Da Vinci Code and Apollo 13.

In fact, a study found that movies adapted from books grossed 53 per cent more than original screenplays, while the release of Fifty Shades of Grey saw book sales rise by 738 per cent the week before the film opened.

Some films have such a large fan base that people may not even realise they were based on novels to begin with – think Die Hard, Fight Club, Gone with the Wind, The Godfather, and The Wizard of Oz.

RACV Members save on movie tickets, with up to 60 per cent off for the latest releases at a range of cinemas around the country.

So, while there are those that have been the most successful based on fan base, budget, and revenue, here’s our pick of the best film adaptions that brought the books to life.

The best book-to-movie adaptations

To Kill a Mockingbird

The classic novel by Harper Lee is renowned as one of the most important literary sensations of all time. It won a Pulitzer Prize, was translated into over 40 languages, and has been studied in schools worldwide since its release in 1960.

The film also became as revered as the book itself, nabbing an Academy Award for Gregory Peck’s gracious depiction of Alabama lawyer Atticus Finch, with the character named as the greatest movie hero of the 20th century by the American Film Institute.

Lord of the Rings trilogy

As well as being some of the highest grossing films of all time (at almost $US3 billion and counting), the book to film adaptations of J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings fantasy trilogy have spanning multiple films, a series, a New Zealand tour, and 17 Academy Awards including Best Picture for The Return of the King.

Harry Potter series

Although die-hard book fans believe this would have Cedric Diggory turning in his grave, there’s no denying the cultural impact the Harry Potter film franchise has had on the entertainment scene.

Grossing over $US7 billion worldwide, the Potterverse has spawned theme parks, merchandise, rides, movie studios, and award-winning stage musical Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Book sales were markedly improved around each of the film franchise’s eight releases, while the films were presented with an award for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema at the 64th British Academy Film Awards in 2011.

James Bond series

Selling over 100 million copies, Ian Fleming’s 007 British spy series of novels are arguably one of the most successful book-to-film franchise adaptions to date.

Derived from 12 novels that began in 1953, the films have gone on to have a life of their own, from their impressive car collections to Bond theme songs and search for the next Bond superstar. 


Gregory Peck's depiction of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird scored him an Academy Award. Pictured with author Harper Lee. Image: ALAMY.
Adapted from J.R.R Tolkien's fantasy novels, The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy have made $US2.9 billion and counting. Image: ALAMY.
The Harry Potter films suspended the then-unknown child cast into worldwide stardom. Image: Getty.
The James Bond books have become just as well known for their films and fast cars - here's Roger Moore’s Lotus Esprit in The Spy Who Loved Me. Image: Alamy.

Agatha Christie novels

As the best-selling female fiction writer of all time, Agatha Christie’s rise to the top is certainly no mystery. Her books truly have taken on a life of their own, from screen adaptations in movies and television to plays, video games, radio and graphic novels.

From the dealings of Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express to Miss Marple in Murder Most Foul, avid murder-mystery fans have delighted in the ongoing adaptations of some of their favourite characters that have been appearing in media for over 100 years.

The Talented Mr Ripley

The 1955 novel by Patricia Highsmith has been adapted for stage, sound, and screen, but it is Matt Damon’s portrayal in the 1999 film of the same name that has been the most successful.

While all films differ slightly to their source material, the plot of the movie follows the book fairly closely, with leading actors Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow giving some of the most lauded performances of their careers in the slow burn thriller.


The action-packed gangster masterpiece from legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese is based on the memoir Wiseguy from the real-life version of the movie’s Henry Hill, Nicholas Pileggi, who also co-wrote the film version, Goodfellas.

It was then nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and is regularly featured on lists for the greatest films of all time, and as one of Scorsese’s finest.

The Bourne Identity

While the first novel has been lauded as one of the best spy novels of all time, the Jason Bourne film series have become arguably more well-known than the books. Starring Matt Damon in the titular role as a man with amnesia who finds many people want him dead, the film adaptation made over $US200 million on its release in 2002.


One of the more modern iterations of Hercule Poirot featured Kenneth Branagh in the new adaptation of Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile. Image: ALAMY.
The Bourne franchise currently comprises of many novels, five films and a spin off television series. Image: ALAMY.


One of the most charming adaptations of the late 90s, author Roald Dahl could even have his own category for the number of book-to-film adaptations that got it right, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to The BFG.

Bringing Matilda’s magical powers to life with a fun-loving cast including Danny DeVito, Rhea Pearlman and Mara Wilson, Matilda remains a firm family favourite in both story and screen form.

Eat Pray Love

The non-fiction memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert became a monster hit after it was given the seal of approval by Oprah’s Book Club back in 2006, topping The New York Times Best Seller list for months and going on to become a blockbuster film starring Julia Roberts.

Looking for Alibrandi

The loveable 1992 Australian novel by Melinda Marchetta was turned into a film in 2000, launching the careers of actors like Pia Miranda and Kick Gurry.

Continuing the themes of second-generation migrants, belonging, mental health and family during the senior year of high school, Looking for Alibrandi was a hit in novel, film, and more recently, play form. 

The Notebook

Author Nicholas Sparks’ most successful adaptation follows the love story of Allie and Noah, based on a real-life couple and played with electric chemistry by Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling

Counted as one of the best love stories of the 21st century, some may have forgotten that the beloved film was indeed based on a book – by the same author who had adaptations such as Dear John, The Last Song and A Walk to Remember.


There are almost 20 film adaptations of Roald Dahl's literary works - and 1996's Matilda remains one of the most beloved. Image: ALAMY.
The film adaptation of Eat Pray Love made over $US200 million at the box office. Image: ALAMY.
Looking for Alibrandi won the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Film in 2000. Image: Alamy.
The on and off-screen romance between leads Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams magnetised fans from the very start of The Notebook. Image: Alamy.

Stephen King novels

From Stand by Me to Misery, Carrie, IT and The Shining, there's no doubting the influence King's words have had on the big screen. With over 200 published works, over 60 have been transferred to film, including the critically acclaimed The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. 

Collectively, they've made over $US2 billion at the box office, making his works some of the most successful book-to-film adaptations of all time. 

Forrest Gump

The story of the loveable Forrest Gump, who tells his life story and longing for first love Jenny during important historical milestones, is one of the most revered books and films of all time, winning six Academy Awards including Best Actor for Tom Hanks and Best Picture for the adapted film.

Bridget Jones’ Diary

Beginning firstly as a British newspaper column and then a novel by Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones’ Diary is a modern twist on Jane Austen’s Price and Prejudice that went on to spawn three films, a musical and a hit soundtrack.

The novel won the 1998 British Book of the Year prize, and pressure was on American Renee Zellweger to play the loveable and unlucky-in-life-and-love Bridget. However, the film version proved to be an absolute delight, becoming one of Zellweger’s most famous roles to date.


An incredible 60 works of author Stephen King's have been turned into films, such as the IT franchise, above. Image: ALAMY.
Life is like a box of chocolates... Image: ALAMY.
The Bridget Jones film series has three films and counting. Image: Alamy.
The stunning cinematography in the film adaptation of Life of Pi was Oscar worthy. Image: Alamy.

Life of Pi

The philosophical adventure novel by Yann Martel focuses on an Indian boy trapped at sea with a Bengal tiger for 227 days. The novel won the Man Booker Prize in 2002 and was published in over 30 languages.

Luckily, Ang Lee’s stunningly cinematic film adaptation delivered, with a range of stunning 3D effects that made the big screen retelling an artistic and visual masterpiece of modern film nominated for 11 Academy Awards and winning four.


Honourable mentions: Dune, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, About a Boy, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Crazy Rich Asians, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, The Color Purple, The Girl on the Train, Wild, The Social Network, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the GalaxyLittle Women, Pride and Prejudice, Girl, Interrupted and A Clockwork Orange.


Ready for the latest screen adaptation?
RACV Members save on movie tickets year-round →