Book-to-movie/TV adaptations get a bad rap, with many considering them watered-down versions of their favorite novels. This mentality can be explained by three key words: Expectancy Violations Theory (EVT). EVT states that we all enter interactions with expectations as to how that interaction is going to play out based on societal normalities. When those expectations are subverted, we immediately decide whether this is a positive or negative violation and that choice subsequently affects our perspective on the conversation as a whole. Because adaptations are based off of previously existing material, you start watching or reading their content with more expectations than you normally would from a simple movie trailer or book synopsis. This provides more opportunities for your expectations to be violated in a negative way.
However, positive violations of EVT result in greater enjoyment than if the subject matter had been completely original. The following movies and TV shows managed to not only match the quality of the original books, but might even be considered better. I’ve only included adaptations that I’ve seen both versions of, so amazing shows like The Queen’s Gambit and movies like The Imitation Game will not be included. With all that being said, here, in alphabetical order, are 8 adaptations that were just as good, or better than, the original:
- Hidden Figures (2016)
When you have a main cast that includes Janelle Monae, Octavia Spencer, and Taraji P. Henson, you know it’s going to be a good movie. The original book, written by Margot Lee Shetterly, contains true stories about the first African American women to work for NASA. This film did a really good job of taking all of the information in the book and condensing all of the women’s accounts into the three main leads. The book has a lot of technical information that, while interesting, can often make the book a bit hard to read, but the film really focused on the characters and made me root for these women and their successes.
- If I Stay (2014)
A rather underrated adaptation of a YA novel by Gayle Forman, If I Stay featured Chloe Grace Moretz as Mia, a cello prodigy who is in a coma after a tragic car accident. Trapped between life and death, she has to decide whether to awaken or join her family in the afterlife. The story is very music-centered, and the movie really delivered with the soundtrack. Moretz and Jamie Blackley, who plays Mia’s love interest Adam, both deliver solid emotional performances that made me really invest in their characters and Mia’s ultimate choice. I wish they could have also made a movie for Where She Went, the often forgotten and equally heartbreaking sequel, but I’m glad they at least brought this book to life.
- Inkheart (2008)
Inkheart is one of the few adaptations that I would say is way better than its source material. Starring Brendan Fraser and Eliza Bennett, the film follows the father-daughter duo who have the ability to bring literary characters into the real world by reading aloud. Written by Cornelia Funke, the book trilogy of the same name is geared towards a younger audience and is one of the few books I have never finished. Admittedly, I watched the movie first, but the film makes the characters more likable and thus easier to root for, whereas I couldn’t connect with their book counterparts.
- Little Women (2019)
Say what you want about the 1994 film with Wynona Ryder being better, but this film fixed something that had always driven me crazy about the book and previous film iterations: Amy’s unlikability. Due to the story mainly being told from Jo’s perspective, Amy, as the polar opposite sister, receives a lot more criticism. But this adaptation gave an almost equal amount of screen time to each sister and justified all of their outlooks on life, and I love this film for that.
- Looking For Alaska (2019)
Based on the John Green novel of the same name, this miniseries was originally viewed with skepticism when its cast was first revealed. However, outstanding performances from the cast, which included Charlie Plummer as Pudge and Kristine Froseth as the titular Alaska, assured audiences that the show was top notch. Looking For Alaska is one of my favorite books, and the miniseries delivered all of the fun-loving and heartbreaking moments that made me fall in love with the book.
- The Book Thief (2013)
Where do I even begin to describe the visceral experience that is this movie? The film brings every equally heartfelt and heartbreaking scene penned by Markus Zusak to life with gorgeous cinematography. Roger Allam was perfectly cast as the silky-smooth voice of Death, who narrates our journey through Nazi Germany. Both the book and the movie are brilliantly made and break my heart while making me thank them for doing so.
- The Chronicles of Narnia (2005-2010)
Disney’s take on the book series by C.S. Lewis had the perfect cast, and I’m still mad that they never covered all seven books. Early performances by William Moseley (The Royals), Anna Popplewell (Reign), Georgie Henley (The Sisterhood of Night), Skandar Keynes, and Ben Barnes (Shadow and Bone) really captured the spirit of the characters. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe recreated the book scene by scene, while Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader took more creative liberties. The first film was every reader’s dream, with each scene meticulously shot to fulfill the book’s descriptions. While Prince Caspian was easily the least impressive of the three, Voyage of the Dawn Treader was given a lot of unnecessary backlash for rearranging the book’s plot. The latter’s book plot was a little scattered, and the movie gave it the structure it desperately needed to shine on screen. The cast had a lot of chemistry and bonded both on and off-screen, which makes me even more disappointed that the films were cut off at number three.
- The Shack (2017)
Based on the novel by William P. Young, this film tackles death, grief, and religion in visually stunning ways. Since the book covers a lot of theological thought, it can get quite heavy and isn’t something to be finished in one sitting. But the movie breaks these concepts down in ways that are incredibly easy to understand. Sam Worthington and Octavia Spencer’s scenes together explode with chemistry. Alice Braga, who you may recognize from The New Mutants, also makes a very memorable appearance. This film is just a beautiful way to depict tragedy, recovery, and understanding.