Everyone knows that the book is almost always better than the movie, but it is still compelling to see how the original is brought to life on the screen! Whether you prefer literary or classic fiction, young adult or horror, detective stories or thrillers, there is something for everyone in this list of movie adaptations from the last year or two. To read or to watch first? It’s up to you.
People who love heartwarming dog stories will enjoy Garth Stein’s 2008 bestselling novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain. Canine Enzo narrates the ups and downs in the life of his favorite human, Denny, an aspiring race car driver. Much of the story is told in flashbacks from the perspective of an aging Enzo, who believes he will be reincarnated as a man (and hopefully a race car driver) once he dies. The well-received 2019 film stars Milo Ventigliamo and features Kevin Costner as the voice of Enzo.
The long-awaited follow up to Stephen King’s The Shining (1977), Doctor Sleep picks up many years later with an adult Danny Torrance, who has struggled with alcoholism in the wake of the traumatic events of his childhood at the Overlook Hotel. Now a hospice worker, he meets with a teen who shares his paranormal gifts. The two unite to fight a cult who would exploit their gift in order to achieve immortality. The 2019 film was directed by Mike Flanagan (creator of The Haunting of Hill House) and stars Ewan MacGregor.
A perennial favorite, Jane Austen’s 1815 novel Emma has made the journey from page to screen before, perhaps most memorably in 1995’s Clueless. The story of a rich, clever young woman who tries to act the matchmaker with her less fortunate friend, it combines witty social commentary with romantic tension and a comedy of manners. The 2020 version, directed by Autumn de Wilde, depicts a world of unconscious privilege for a select few that seems oddly contemporary, despite the Georgian England setting.
Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2013 novel The Goldfinch tells the story of Theo Decker, who loses his mother in a museum bombing at the tender age of thirteen. During the chaos of the event, he steals a painting (the titular Goldfinch), which he keeps as a physical reminder of his loss. The bestselling novel was adapted for the big screen and released in 2019. If you haven’t read the book yet, you may want to do so before watching the movie, as many who did not found the plot confusing.
In the engrossing thriller The Good Liar, a career con artist gets more than he expected when he attempts to swindle a wealthy widow. Nicholas Searle’s 2016 debut novel generated buzz when it was published in 2016. It was released as a motion picture in 2019, starring veteran actors Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen.
In Just Mercy, lawyer Bryan Stevenson recounts his real life experiences representing clients, most of whom are black and poor. His bestselling 2014 book exposed the injustices of the system, bringing much needed attention to the issues of systemic racial bias, mass incarceration, children being convicted as adults, and more. The 2019 movie (starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx) focuses on the wrongful conviction of Walter McMillan, who spent six years on death row for a crime he did not commit.
Another beloved classic that recently found its way to the screen once again, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women tells the story of the four March girls in the years following the Civil War. The appeal of the book has always been the strength of the book’s central female characters. Although they choose different paths, they are not relegated to the sidelines. The critically acclaimed 2019 film, adapted and directed by Greta Gerwig, emphasizes the message of female empowerment. Nominated for six Academy Awards (including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay); won for Best Costume Design.
In Jonathan Lethem’s atmospheric detective story Motherless Brooklyn, private detective with Tourette’s Syndrome investigates the murder of his mentor/boss, a small time mobster. The book was adapted for screen by Edward Norton, who also directed, produced, and starred in the 2019 motion picture. Set in 1950s New York, it’s a modern day film noir reminiscent of L.A. Confidential.
In Postcard Killers, NYPD detective Jack Kanon is on a tour of Europe’s most captivating cities, but he’s not just any tourist. Kanon is hunting his daughter’s killer, who has left a string of corpses through Europe. Bestselling authors James Patterson & Lisa Marklund teamed up for the 2010 novel, later adapted for screen as The Postcard Killings, starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Famke Janssen.
The 1981 book Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz is a collection of terrifying tales retold from American folklore. Illustrated with macabre drawings by Stephen Gammell, it served as a gateway to horror for generations of children and spawned two sequels. The 2019 movie, directed by Guillermo del Toro, brings to life six interwoven tales inspired from the original book collection. Bonus watch: Aficionados of Schwartz’s books will enjoy the documentary Scary Stories, which focuses on the history and impact of Schwartz’s books.
Natasha, a pragmatist whose family is in imminent danger of being deported to Jamaica, meets Daniel, son of immigrant parents, in The Sun is Also a Star. Is their meeting fate or coincidence, and which of the infinite possibilities that follow will come true? For fans of thoughtful romance. The 2016 bestselling young adult novel by Nicola Yoon was followed by the screen adaptation in 2019.
Bee’s mother has disappeared, and she is determined to find her. Maria Semple’s popular novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette?highlights the tension between women’s opposing roles in life, and shows the lengths one women will go to rediscover herself. The 2019 film was directed by Richard Linklater, and stars Cate Blanchett in the title role.