Best book-to-movie adaptations ever – and where to watch them

We round up the best book-to-movie adaptations ever, ranging from psychological thrillers to heart-warming period dramas

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(Image credit: Mima88 via Getty Images)

Some of the best book-to-movie adaptations have been released in the last decade and thanks to the rise of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, there are more book on the way this year.

With so many films taking their inspiration, characters and plots from some of the most successful books, it’s no surprise that some make the transition to the silver screen better than others.

Whether it’s period dramas, a family film or even a thriller, when it’s done right, there is nothing better than seeing your favourite book brought to life on screen. The best book-to-movie adaptations introduce new readers to novels they may have read before, because after watching adaptations, some viewers are then inspired to delve into the original material.

So be inspired to lose yourself in these transporting storylines, however you prefer to enjoy them. Keep reading for our pick of the best book-to-movie adaptations ever, including new ones to look forward to in 2021.

W&H's pick of the best book to movie adaptations 

Book to movie adaptations coming in 2021

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney


Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People was a huge hit and the TV adaptation that came out this year was spectacular, so the expectations for this adaptation of Rooney’s novel Conversations with Friends are high. Set in Dublin, the plot follows best friends and poets Francis and Bobbi who enter a tangled relationship with an older married couple.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty 


Starring Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy, Luke Evans in main roles, this adaptation on Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers will be adapted into a miniseries for Hulu. From the writer of Big Little Lies, the plot of this series follows nine strangers who meet at a luxury wellness resort that hides a dark secret agenda.

The Dig by John Preston


Starring Carey Mulligan (The Great Gatsby), Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel), and Lily James (Mamma Mia: Here we go again) this film is an adaptation of John Preston’s The Dig. The plot focuses on the excavation of the Sutton Hoo ship from the dark ages.

The White Tiger By Aravind Adiga


Starring Priyanka Chopra and Rajkummar Rao, this adaptation is based on the book of the same name that won the man booker prize in 200. This story follows the narrator's turbulent life path, growing up in impoverished rural India and ultimately becoming a successful businessman and entrepreneur.

Cherry by Nico Walker


Starring Tom Holland, this film adaptation of Walker’s novel Cherry focuses on an army medic whose drug addiction leads to a life of crime. The film is directed by the Russo brothers who were celebrated for their directing of Avengers: Endgame and Avengers: Infinity War.

Cruella, based on The 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith


Starring Emma Thompson (Love, Actually) and Emma Stone (La La Land), this film adaptation of Dodie Smith’s novel focuses on the attempted puppy killer villain of the story: Cruella De Vil. This adaptation focuses on her early life, with Emma Stone playing the eponymous character Cruella. 

  • The 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith, $20.85 at Amazon (UK £7.94 at Amazon) | Watch the Disney trailer

Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham


Starring Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born) and Cate Blanchett (Ocean’s 8) this film directed by Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water) is an adaptation of the American psychological thriller, Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham. 

According to IMDD, 'An ambitious young carny with a talent for manipulating people with a few well-chosen words hooks up with a female psychiatrist who is even more dangerous than he is.'

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift


Olivia Coleman (The Favourite), Colin Firth (Briget Jones’ Baby) and Josh O’Connor (The Crown) star in this film adaptation of Swift’s period drama. This film, set during WW1 focuses on a forbidden love story between an orphan maid Jane and her secret lover, a wealthy man engaged to another woman.

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford


Starring Andrew Scott (Fleabag) and Lily James (Rebecca) this TV adaptation - The Pursuit of Love - is based on the love story between Lord Merin (Scott) and Linda Radlett (James). The show was commissioned by the BBC and set to air at some point in 2021, the filming has yet to finish due to the COVID-19 outbreak interrupting filming. 

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens 


This adaptation of Delia Owen’s Where the Crawdads Sing stars Normal People’s Daisy Edgar Jones in the lead role as Kya Clark. This mystery romance was picked up by Reece Witherspoon’s production company Hello Sunshine. 

In light of the success of Witherspoon’s last adaptation Little Fires Everywhere, expectations are set high for this feature film. 

Book to movie adaptations you can watch (and read!) now

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng


Set in Shaker Heights, a predictable but successful Cleveland suburb, we meet Elena Richardson (Reese Witherspoon), who plays by the rules, and newbie to the neighbourhood Mia Warren (Kerry Washington), a single mother who doesn't play by the rules.

Normal People by Sally Rooney


The author of the aforementioned Conversations With Friends, Sally's smash-hit novel follows the story of Connell and Marianne, who meet as kids in the same small town in Northern Ireland. As the pair grow up, they begin to realise just how much one person can change another's life.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens


This Victorian classic by Charles Dickens is being given a modern reboot for 2020, in the form of "The Personal History of David Copperfield", which has been reworked as a comedy/drama starring Dev Patel, Hugh Laurie and Tilda Swinton.

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells 


This 2020 film is based on an 1897 science fiction novel by H.G Wells, centred around a scientist, Griffin, who accidently performs an experiment on himself, rendering him essentially invisible.

The film is a horror reworking of the original novel, and stars Elisabeth Moss, who plays Offred in The Handmaid's Tale. It's not exactly matched to the original book, with a more sinister plot, but is certainly worth seeing - if you're brave enough!

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett


The 1993 classic was made into a movie last year, starring Colin Firth, Judie Walters and Dixie Egerickx. It was the whimsical novel we all loved as kids – when little Mary Lennox went to explore the secrets of her uncles Yorkshire garden after being orphaned. 

Emma by Jane Austen


Autumn de Wilde’s adaptation of this regency classic has all the elements that made the novel so beloved. Telling the story of matchmaking Emma Woodhouse, Anya Taylor-Joy perfectly embodies the lead role.

She is supported by the wonderful Bill Nighy as her father and Miranda Hart as the comedic Miss Bates. Together with the sumptuous costumes and settings, this adaptation is a compelling version of the age-old tale.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins


As with many adaptations, the setting in this 2016 film was changed from the UK to US, though Emily Blunt’s masterful portrayal of alcoholic divorcee Rachel is no less captivating and she went on to receive a BAFTA nomination.

Though the novel holds back the crucial twists and turns from its readers for longer than the film, the dramatic conclusion and pacing is sure to draw you in.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott


With Oscar nominations and praise galore, Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel is a wonderful blend of the original tale with elements of the author’s second volume, Good Wives. Gerwig also helps viewers to really become immersed in the story, by reimagining it with fan-favourite Jo March as the author of the novel Little Women.

This explores her journey to creative success in more detail and also gives the film an updated feel and a sense of breaking new territory, whilst retaining the essence of Alcott’s characters and story. A charming adaptation, perfect for family viewing.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn


Sinister and psychological, Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel made for dramatic on-screen material. With Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck taking the lead roles, this chilling plot is in good hands. Flynn herself took a huge role in adapting her novel for the silver screen and the unreliable narration, suspense and dramatic reveals that made it so successful similarly work in the film released two years later.

After Nick Dunne is accused of being involved in his wife's disappearance, he is determined to discover what happened to her. But is he really ready for the truth?

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum


The source material has undergone several reprints since it was first published, though the beloved 1939 adaptation stays generally faithful. Dorothy’s signature footwear is perhaps the most iconic difference, changing from silver shoes to the ruby slippers we all know and love.

The film brings to life an already imaginative story of farm girl Dorothy’s journey through Oz in a colourful, song-filled film enjoyed by adults and children the world over. The level of detail in the set and costumes is delightful and playful, keeping audiences intrigued and capturing the essence of the book.

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult


Just as tear-jerking as the book, the 2009 adaptation of Jodi Picoult’s novel brilliantly encapsulates one family's unfathomable struggle. Despite shifting the focus for film audiences and the ending being a big departure from the book, the spirit of it remains.

Lead actress Abigail Breslin brings great maturity to her role as 13-year-old Anna, raised as a saviour sibling for her sick sister Kate. This story is powerful and thought-provoking, however you choose to enjoy it.

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger


Known for giving us one of the most fashionable villains, Lauren Weisberger’s book reaches even greater heights in the 2006 adaptation. Meryl Streep's performance as demanding fashion magazine editor Miranda Priestly earned her an Oscar nomination.

The relationship between Miranda and her new assistant played by Anne Hathaway is spell-binding. Though the film’s ending is a departure from the book, the resolution it provides is utterly enjoyable to watch. This is a feel-good film with scene-stealing costumes as far as the eye can see.

Consider your reading and watching material stocks replenished!

Emma Shacklock

Emma is a Royal Editor with eight years experience working in publishing. Her specialist areas include the British Royal Family, ranging from protocol to outfits. Alongside putting her royal knowledge to good use, Emma knows all there is to know about the latest TV shows on the BBC, ITV and more. When she’s not writing about the next unmissable show to add to your to-watch list or delving into royal protocol, Emma enjoys cooking, long walks and watching yet more crime dramas!