Adapting bestselling books into major movies is nothing new. Moviemakers have been doing this since the turn of the century. At this point, thousands of films have been released that were adapted by books. The first that come to mind include Gone With The Wind, To Kill A Mockingbird, the entire Harry Potter series…honestly, too many to list here.
Adapting a book, and turning it into a profitable film, can be a tricky task.
Casting directors must carefully consider how the authors describe characters in books. Avid readers often have a picture in their head of what each character looks like.
Sometimes, the author gets involved in every step of the process. Other times, they hand it off to the screenwriters who freely interpret the book to best suit the big screen. Scriptwriters have to make difficult decisions about which plot points to cut or change. Some change things entirely, freely interpreting the phrase “based on the book” to suit their creative vision.
When it comes down to it, you’re not going to please everyone when you release a film adaptation of a book.
In honor of National Author’s Day earlier this week, we’re running through 6 books turned into movies in 2020. Our list includes movies released earlier this year, movies in theaters now, and some coming soon to theaters.
The Rhythm Section
Released back in January of this year, The Rhythm Section is a revenge thriller starring Blake Lively and Jude Law. The film is based on the book of the same name by Mark Burnell who also wrote the screenplay.
It follows Lively’s character, Stephanie, after her family is killed in a plane crash that may not have been an accident. The Rhythm Section has all the big names of a major blockbuster hit. The film was directed by Reed Morano (known for The Handmaid’s Tale) and produced by the team behind the James Bond series.
When writing the screenplay, Burnell made several changes compared to the book. He changed several major plot elements and further developed some characters. Fans of spoilers can read about the major differences between the book and the movie.
It seems as if the suspense that builds up in the book didn’t quite make it to the big screen, based on film reviews. Both critics and box-office sales are in agreement that the film was a flop. The Rolling Stone calls out the script itself as one of the problems behind the film.
If you haven’t seen the movie nor read the book, feel free to be the judge of it yourself. We don’t blame you if you decide to skip this one and check out what movies are out now instead.
Emma was released in February this year based on the classic novel by Jane Austen.
The 2020 movie is not the first time someone has adapted the classic book. The 1995 film Clueless was loosely based on the classic Austen novel. The following year, Gwyneth Paltrow starred in another adaption of the film as well.
The 2020 film stars Anya Taylor-Joy who plays Emma. Other notable cast members include Bill Nighy playing Mr. Woodhouse, (as seen in Love Actually) and Gemma Whelan (as seen in several episodes of Game of Thrones and Killing Eve).
Metacritic rated the 2020 film 71 out of 100, citing generally favorable reviews. Critics touched on the fact that past adaptations may have more consistently captured the classic novel. With so many past adaptations, perhaps a fresh take was needed.
The reception of Emma goes to show that sometimes, a film becoming a replica of a book isn’t always what works.
The War With Grandpa
The War With Grandpa is a new movie in theaters now based on a book with the same title by author Robert Kimmel Smith. The book was originally published in 1984 for children and young adults. The movie centers around Peter (played by Oakes Fegley, known for his starring role in Pete’s Dragon) who is forced to live in the creepy attic after his Grandpa (played by none other than Robert De Niro) moves in with the family. With the help of his pals, Peter concocts elaborate plans to make his Grandpa surrender his room.
The film version is all thanks to a 15-year-old. Tre Peart is the son of executive producers Marvin and Rosa Peart and loved the book when he read it back in 3rd grade. When Tre found out that a movie version didn’t exist, he encouraged his parents to produce the movie and cast Robert De Niro as the grandpa. The rest is history.
The movie rings quite true to the book, although some pranks were reworked to be more relatable in 2020. Although Smith died in April after suffering from Alzheimer’s, he was able to see the movie before its release. The producers kept in touch with Smith but he wasn’t directly involved in the movie’s creation. Smith’s son is said that both he and his father felt the film had been faithful to the core of the story, despite the modern twist.
If you’re looking for an escape from everything else this year, you might enjoy the silly nature of this film. As we write this, the movie is still out now in theaters. We won’t tell anyone if you go see it without reading the book. Check here to see if the movie is in theaters near you.
The Empty Man
The Empty Man is another 2020 movie in theaters, released towards the end of October.
The suspenseful thriller centers around an ex-cop (played by James Badge Dale) on his search for a missing girl. The ex-cop ends up coming across a secret cult-like group attempting to summon a supernatural entity. The film is an adaptation of a 2014 graphic novel of the same title authored by Cullen Bunn.
This film is the only movie on this list based off of a graphic novel, illustrated by artist Vensa R. Del Rey. This means that fans of the original graphic novel already have specific visuals in their head.
Bunn himself admitted that the film diverges from his original comic book series. He was not involved in the film’s production, either.
Although critiques have been limited so far, it has grossed $1.3M at the box office ticket sales. This may come as a surprise considering it’s much longer than some would prefer, clocking in at well over two hours.
Death on the Nile
Death on the Nile is a mystery thriller coming to movie theaters in mid-December. Based on the 1937 novel by bestselling mystery author Agatha Christie, the film follows Hercule Poirot, played by Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot. Gadot’s character investigates the murder of a young heiress while on vacation cruising the Nile River.
The movie was slated to be released in October, but like many others this year, the release date was pushed back a bit. Given the delay, we’re sure that Agatha Christie fans will be rushing to the movie theaters to see this film.
Like most film adaptations of bestsellers, you don’t have to read the book to enjoy this flick. The romance of the desert mixed with the puzzling plot will be sure to hook anyone who loves a murder mystery (or anyone who loves Gal Gadot).
Not many reviews are out yet for this film, but we’re all curious to hear what Agatha Christie fans will think of this adaptation. With a star-studded cast directed by Kenneth Branagh, it could be a major hit at a time when we could all use a bit of an escape from reality.
Fun fact: this 2020 movie release follows the 1978 release of another adaptation of the same book.
News of the World
News of the World is a new movie slated to be released in theaters on Christmas this year. The action-filled drama starring Tom Hanks is adapted from the historical fiction novel by Paulette Jiles, a National Book Award Finalist. Jiles does appear to have a writing credit for the film, according to IMDb.
The movie is set in post-Civil War times. Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, an ex-military Captain, who goes from town to town to deliver non-fiction news in a time when news had to be told from person to person, especially in remote towns.
On his journey across the country, he comes across a young girl (played by Helene Zengel) who doesn’t speak any English. He discovers she was taken by a tribe of Kiowa people as a toddler when her parents’ caravan was attacked. Hanks’ character agrees to take her two her biological aunt, and the film follows their challenging journey together.
The movie synopsis matches the book summary quite closely. We’ll have to wait until the movie comes to theaters to see how they differ.
Hopefully, a seasoned Oscar winner like Hanks can live up to the high standards set by the bestseller. It’s predicted that Hanks is aiming for another Oscar with the release of this film.
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