Films are not always worse than the novels they are based on, as we often hear. There are cases – and this is confirmed by the ranking of the 20 best films taken from books that you can read below – in which the director’s creative flair and his authorship manage to give new life to a text that has been abused too often in the cinema (think to the classics of Jane Austen, or Lev Tolsotj) leaving a mark so deep in the collective imagination that it obscures the novel from which they originate.

When the director accepts the arduous challenge of translating some literary best-seller to the big screen. Committed to finding the right balance between adherence to the source text and personal interpretation, he positions his own camera consciously that will hardly be able to match the version of the story created mentally by the reader. Between disillusioned spectator expectations and creative divergences, here comes the much feared judgment: “yes, the film is nice, but in the end the book was better”. But there are exceptions that almost everyone agrees: here are the best films taken from books, with a small clarification: the films are listed by year of release, from the oldest to the most recent.

1. The window on the courtyard (1954)

James Stewart with his camera in The Courtyard Window

From Psyco to Suspicion, Alfred Hitchcock has repeatedly shown his natural talent for breathing new life into the novels from which he drew inspiration for his films. His innate ability to personalize – sometimes even improving it – the source text, so much so that his viewers forget that what they are watching is actually a film based on a book. This is the case with La Finestra sul Cortile , inspired by the detective story written in 1942 by Cornell Woolrich. Playing on “double-screens” and on continuous stolen glances, Alfred Hitchcock’s film facilitates spectatorial identification much more than what the author accomplished in his story, thus emphasizing the sense of suspense and terror through the use of a simple photographic lens.

2. The darkness beyond the hedge (1962)

The darkness beyond the hedge: Gregory Peck

Released in cinemas in 1962, The darkness beyond the hedgeby Robert Mulligan is a faithful transposition in the soul and intentions of Harper Lee’s debut novel (1960). Winner of three Oscars, the film follows the anti-racist theme in a historical period in which the question was (and unfortunately still remains) heard. At the center of the work is a magnetic Gregory Peck in the role of Atticus Finch, a progressive lawyer in the deep south of the United States who defends and proves in vain the innocence of Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a young black man accused of raping a white girl. Both Robert Mulligan’s film and Lee’s novel are more current than ever, combining the theme of racial intolerance with childhood nightmares with skillful sensitivity. A courageous story capable of fighting the wear and tear of the years, as evidenced by the

3. The Leopard (1963)

Alain Delon and Claudia cardinale in The Leopard

For pleasure, or for scholastic purposes, the novel by Giuseppe Tomasi da Lampedusa is one of those texts to be read at least once in a lifetime. Published posthumously by Feltrinelli in 1958 and winner of the Strega Prize in 1959, Il Gattopardo boasts an undying success, also favored by the release in 1963 of its film adaptation by Luchino Visconti.

To give life to his masterpiece, the director was also inspired by the vision of a television documentary by Ugo Gregoretti, La Sicilia del Gattopardo (1960). Bringing historical memory back into the context of the present, the director visually translates the refinement of a decadent aristocratic environment placed within a political discourse to dress it up to date. The result is a timeless film, majestic yet steeped in death and decadence; one of the masterpieces of Italian and world cinema.

4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

A scene from the film 2001: a space odyssey

Stanley Kubrick’s absolute masterpiece based on the 1948 science fiction novel The Sentinel by Arthur C. Clarke, who agreed to collaborate on the screenplay of the film. From the dawn of man (four million years ago) to the first flight to Jupiter, what Clarke assigns to narrative descriptions, Kubrick transforms it into a whirlwind of suggestions launched in a synaesthetic carousel. Played on a minimal visual system, but of enormous emotional impact, the director loads the silences of his characters with amazement and disquiet, generated above all by the maniacal adherence to the life of astronauts in space. 2001: A Space Odysseyis a treatise with apocalyptic aspects between man and the increasingly advanced artificial intelligence (Hal 9000), where fear and feelings dance like astronauts in zero gravity on the notes of the blue Danube . The special effects, thanks to which the film wins its only Academy Award out of four nominations , are also impressive in the eyes of today’s viewer .

5. The Conformist (1970)

Stefania Sandrelli in Bertolucci's Il conformista

Based on the novel of the same name by Alberto Moravia, Bernardo Bertolucci’s film contains all those essential features that have made the Parma director’s style a unique and recognizable approach to the medium of cinema. Body and political commitment, eros and thanatos, homosexuality and remorse; a dichotomous game that of Il Conformista englobed in an existential crisis expressed in the streets of Paris by Plato’s allegory of the caves. With references to Freud’s psychoanalysis, the film – also thanks to the majestic interpretation of Jean-Louis Trintignant – has nothing to envy to its original text, establishing the first great masterpiece in Bernardo Bertolucci’s career.

6. The Godfather (1972)

The Godfather: Marlon Brando in a sequence from the film

Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 film with Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and Diane Keaton has become so fossilized in our culture that we forget the existence of the text from which it draws its origins: Mario Puzo’s novel of the same name.

Acclaimed around the world, The Godfather grossed $ 135 million upon its release in the United States , shattering the record for Gone with the Wind. The result was a mass phenomenon capable of making the character of Vito Corleone so immortal as to make him rise – alas – to a synonym for underworld in Italian sauce. At the same time, however, the film has become the dispenser of unforgettable quotes that have made it a masterpiece that “cannot be refused”.

7. Shining (1980)

Philip Stone and Jack Nicholson in a scene from The Shining

“SK”: Stanley Kubrick and Stephen King. The future union of two brilliant minds, able to go into every genre to overturn it and make it their own, they had inscribed in their initials. And so to the “S” of Stanley and Stephen, in 1980 another one will be added: that of The Shining . Far from the slavish cinematographic translation, with his film based on Stephen King Kubrick he replicates what has been achieved with his previous films: tearing the heart of the source text, analyzing it, dissecting it and infusing it with a new spirit, born within his own artistic vision.

Similar, yet different, novels and films run along the track of disquiet and then take divergent detours. The topos of the haunted house in the hands of the director unravels in a claustrophobic labyrinth in which the viewer loves to get lost guided by a magnificent Jack Nicholson. The one taken by Stanley Kubrick with The Shining is a journey on the train of surrealism mixed with horror that leads straight to one of the most sublimely attractive nightmares in cinematic format ever.

8. Blade Runner (1982)

A scene from BLADE RUNNER, 1982

Although it received no positive reviews from critics at its release, Blade Runner is now THE science fiction film par excellence. Released in 1982, the Ridley Scott-directed film starring Harrison Ford is loosely based on the 1968 science fiction novel The Android Hunterby Philip K. Dick. Set in Los Angeles in 2019, seven versions of the film were distributed, each different according to the choices of the various distributors. Only in 2007, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the release of the film, was the “Final Cut” version released, the only one on which Scott had total artistic freedom. The beauty of the film is all to be found in that narrative with philosophical-existentialist traits, capable of questioning the unbeatability of a hero that is far from perfect. In 2018 Denis Villeneuve signs a sequel that matches his previous one (as we told you in our review of Blade Runner 2049).

9. What remains of the day (1993)

Remains of the day: Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in a scene from the film

What remains of the day is a striking example of how a simple and at first sight banal story, like that of a butler serving for thirty years an English family involved in a business deal with the Nazis, if born from a pen as fine as that of Kazuo Ishiguro can give life to a masterpiece of world filmography.

Directed by James Ivory, the film with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson is a time machine capable of transporting us to an elegant, sophisticated, seductive environment. Historical snapshot of a snobbish, detached and naive English society, What Remains of the Day is supported by a solid dialogic structure in which honesty of emotions and a sense of duty dance in time to the notes of a past ready to fade, but imprinted forever on the film of memories.

10. The wings of freedom (1994)

Tim Robbins in a scene from The Wings of Freedom, taken from a story by Stephen King that is part of the story of Different Seasons

Another film based on a Stephen King novel appears in our ranking. And what a movie! Frank Darabont (re) writes and directs for the screen the story of the bank executive Andy Dufresne, wrongly sentenced to life in Shawshank Prison for the murder of his wife and his lover.

A struggle for survival and human warmth, in which one learns to savor the beauty of a natural right such as freedom only after having experienced the oppression of bars, the dust of the cells, the violence of imprisonment. The wings of freedom is a moving treatise on the human being and the importance of friendship not to be missed.

11. Reason and Sentiment (1995)

Reason and sentiment: a close-up of young Kate Winslet

Jane Austen is perhaps one of the most cinematographic authors of her time. Sharp, funny, sarcastic, her writing enjoys an unparalleled visual impact. It is therefore not surprising that almost all of her works have been transposed onto the large and small screen. Among these, one of the most successful of her is surely Reason and Sentiment .

Based on Jane Austen’s 1811 novel, the film directed by Ang Lee in 1995 and scripted by Emma Thompson captures every single aspect that made the English writer’s production unique. Between the rain-soaked countryside, London ballrooms and social conventions, the film transports the viewer directly to those years, translating the spirit of the time into moving images. The real highlight is the cast, led by Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet as the two sisters Elinor and Mariam.

12. The Lord of the Rings (2001)

The lovers in Rivendell

The one accomplished by Peter Jackson is one of the most ambitious projects in the history of cinema. A colossal trilogy that of The Lord of the Rings , a challenge won on all fronts, as demonstrated by the 17 Oscars brought home and the emotional, almost devout attachment of the public towards him.

Saga inaugurated with The Fellowship of the Ring, the film based on the fantasy novel by JRR Tolkien, set in middle earth during the third era, has delivered characters such as the hobbits Frodo, Pippin, Sam and Merry, the elf to the history of cinema. Legolas, the man Aragorn, the dwarf Gimli, Gollum and the magician Gandalf. Accurate transposition and majestic visual operation, the trilogy stages epic battles and adventures of a lifetime. ” I amar prestar aen , the world has changed”, but the love for this trilogy has remained unchanged.

13. Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal on the set of Brokeback Mountain

Repressed love, which tears apart, destroys and then explodes in all its violent passion is the one narrated with poignant transport by Annie Proulx in her 1997 story People of Wyoming and brought to the screen in 2005 by And Leeeback with The Secrets of Brok Mountain. .

Oscar nominations for Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger and a statuette for best director for Ang Lee, the film about the passion between the two cowboys Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist against the backdrop of 1960s Wyoming is one of the love stories among most moving ever brought to the screen. Undressed in the mask of manly John Wayne cowboys, Ennis and Jack become symbols of a fight against prejudices in the name of that true love too often hidden from the eyes of a society dominated by anachronistic and unjust ideals.

14. Children of Men (2006)

Clive Owen and Julianne Moore are the protagonists of Children of Men

So big and so distressing, Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian film starring Clive Owen and Michael Caine actually rests its solid narrative foundation on PD James’s novel of the same name. Making good use of the utopian and futuristic references of the novel from which it is based, in The Children of Men Cuarón draws from the pages of James above all the gray, oppressive, colorless world, devoid of colored dreams and the full screams of life of children to give life to a ghostly, almost post-atomic universe, a cinematic memento of an increasingly possible future and which in 2006 (and even earlier in 1993) seemed unlikely and far away, while now too close.

15. Atonement (2007)

James McAvoy in a scene from the 2007 film Atonement

Difficult for those who decide to transpose the novels of Ian McEwan to the big screen. Since 1975 (the date of his literary debut with First love, last rites ) the author has created a micro-universe made up of temporal planes that are intertwined in a tangle that is difficult to unravel. With Atonement Joe Wright is, to date, the only one who has been able to recreate the atmospheres and complex psychologies of the characters who live among the pages of the English author.

Work on the strength of the imagination and the creative, but also destructive power of words, Atonement is perhaps McEwan’s most complex novel, brilliantly translated by Joe Wright, thanks to a lively and engaging screenplay by Christopher Hampton and an Oscar-winning soundtrack. by the Pisan Dario Marianelli.

16. The Oil Tanker (2007)

Daniel Day-Lewis in a sequence from the movie The Oilman

Did you know that one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s most acclaimed films, The Oilman , is actually inspired by the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair? Published between 1926-27, the book is a social satire on the years just following the Teapot Dome scandal. Anderson takes the first 150 pages of this book and makes an essay on blinding human greed. His film is a gallery of bodies joined to the earth and ready to get dirty with that black gold that they obsessively seek and for which they are willing to do anything, even to break, break and corrode. Blinded by the desire for wealth, or God-fearing, Anderson’s characters bring to the stage one of the best films of the past decade, backed by a masterful performance by Daniel Day-Lewis.

17. Don’t Leave Me (2010)

Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan in a suggestive image from Never Let Me Go

Inspired by the novel of the same name by Kazuo Ishiguro, Alex Garland’s screenplay for the film directed by Mark Romanek faithfully follows what is narrated by his literary source. The likelihood and the distance from the narrated reality compared to the one we know deceive the reader that what is told is a possible future; a future in which the fate of its protagonists is already marked by the mutilation of their surnames. For surname Kathy, Ruth and Tommy have only one letter, that’s enough for boys whose birth enslaves the physical depravity of organs destined for those who have a surname. The three (masterfully played by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield) are clones, mere bargaining chips.

Appropriating the intrinsic meaning of Ishiguro’s novel, with Don’t Leave Me Garland and Romanek show how much man, in order to defeat death, comes to lose his humanity by showing himself in its unspeakable monstrosity. And this is how the clone becomes more human than the human itself.

18. We are infinite (2012)

We are infinite: Ezra Miller and Emma Watson in an image from the film

There is a bit of John Hughes in the story of Charlie Kelmeckis, a taciturn 14-year-old with a sad look, eyes full of pain and a smile that hides a desire to open up to the world that is not always achievable. With Us we are infiniteStephen Chbosky translates his 1999 cult novel into a sincere love letter to being a teenager, amidst repressed memories, never feeling up to par and a soundtrack fired into the speakers to get rid of anxieties and fears. With subdued delicacy, Chbosky describes Charlie’s crises while keeping the gaps of a traumatized memory intact. Fragile and brave, the protagonists are brought to the screen by three of the most charismatic actors of their generation (Emma Watson, Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller) skilled at embodying their characters’ idiosyncrasies, weaknesses and strengths making them even more real.

19. Liar Love – Gone Girl (2014)

Lying Love - Gone Girl: Ben Affleck in the first image of the film

Among the great directors capable of carefully handling a precious jewel like a literary work without distorting it but rather infusing it with their own authorial vision, there is certainly David Fincher. After the cult Fight Club and the remake of Millenium: Men Who Hate Women, in 2014 the director transformed an excellent thriller like Liar Love – Gone Girl into one of his most iconic and successful films, thanks to the performance of an icy Rosamund Pike as Amy and a great Ben Affleck as Nick. The game of appearances, suspicions and family conventions that strangle us, kill us and then resurrect us, caged in ink marks by Flynn, find in Fincher their new, perfect, storyteller.

20. Call Me by Your Name (2017)

Call Me by Your Name: Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet in an image from the film

We conclude our ranking of the best films based on books and novels with Call me by your name by Luca Guadagnino: a game of glances. Even before leading to a passionate relationship, the bond between Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) is made up of eyes that scrutinize and admire an idealized beauty, beauty that can be found everywhere, from the countryside to the village square. Italian, to the remains of ancient statues or an American guest sleeping in your house.

Luca Guadagnino’s film (here our review of Call me by your name) follows as a model and with delicate elegance the novel of the same name by André Aciman, while finding its cinematographic origin in the work of Bernardo Bertolucci.

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