In a sea of book-to-movie adaptations streaming right now, it can be hard to know which ones are worth your time.
The old adage, “There is nothing new under the sun,” reminds us that even our favorite stories are often drawn from other works, and sometimes from unexpected origins. Take Shakespeare. We find references to his work all over, such as in titles like “Something Wicked This Way Comes” or “The Sound and the Fury.”
We even see Shakespeare’s plays retold entirely, with a modern twist. Look at “10 Things I Hate About You” (“The Taming of the Shrew”) and “West Side Story” (“Romeo and Juliet”). But did you know that “Romeo and Juliet” (1595-7) itself is based on William Painter’s “Palace of Pleasure” (1567)? Five years earlier, Arthur Brooke wrote “The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet.” This work can be traced to Matteo Bandello, who alone has inspired at least three other works by Shakespeare. Originality is in part a matter of reshaping, and its complex course runs like the string of a web.
Storytelling is grounded in repetition; thousands of years ago, stories were held in an oral tradition, learned by memorization, and shared by duplication. There can be no surprise, then, that today’s most celebrated movies are often pulled from preexisting works.
That’s why we have compiled five of the best book-to-movie adaptations streaming right now. Watch them today, or check out the books first. Either way, you’re guaranteed an enjoyable escape from the world of self-quarantine.
1. “The Crying Game”
For an adrenaline rush, you’ll want to check out “The Crying Game.” This 1992 crime thriller is about so much more than what first meets the eye, as the story covers issues of nationality, gender identity, and war ethics during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. What most people don’t realize, however, is this film is an expansion of the short story, “Guests of the Nation” by Frank O’Connor. Published in 1931, this classic work depicts the wartime hardships placed on soldiers who must carry out even the most horrendous duties.
Although O’Connor died in 1966, his work lived on to inspire works like a 1934 silent film and a 1958 award-winning one-act play. “The Crying Game” is most famous of all, and it recreated the plot of O’Connor’s story by adding some much-need updating to appeal to modern audiences and converse with current social developments.
Directed by Neil Jordan (“Interview with a Vampire,” “Byzantium”) and starring Forest Whitaker, Stephen Rea, Jaye Davidson, and Miranda Richardson; the film was met with critical acclaim and continues today as a useful step toward transgender inclusion in mainstream filmmaking, even if the cracks of age are already starting to show.
You can decide for yourself by streaming “The Crying Game” on Netflix.
If you’re looking for stellar acting, you can’t go wrong with “Goodfellas.” This Scorsese hit turns 30 this year but still ranks among the best mafia films of all time. The exciting news is that you can dive deeper into this underground world by checking out Nicholas Pileggi’s non-fiction book “Wiseguy,” published in 1985 and detailing the life of New York mobster Henry Hill.
“Wiseguy” may have spent 13 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list, but Hill’s rise to notoriety is best remembered for Ray Liotta’s performance. Joe Pesci and Lorraine Bracco garnered Oscar buzz for their supporting roles, with Pesci taking home the gold. And who can forget Robert De Niro’s iconic Jimmy Conway? The film received critical acclaim, including four other Oscar nominations, and most promising of all was its horde of adapted screenplay nominations, from the Golden Globes to the Writers Guild of America.
See that screenplay—and Pileggi’s book—brought to life by streaming “Goodfellas” on Hulu.
3. “Julie and Julia”
“Julie and Julia” splits the narrative for its pair of heroines—New York blogger-turned-memoirist Julie Powell and cherished TV personality Julia Child, also known for her seminal cookbook, “The Art of French Cooking” (1961). The comedy was released in 2009 to favorable reviews, particularly toward the respective stars, Amy Adams and Meryl Streep. Half the story follows Child’s culinary and authorial evolution in Paris alongside diplomat husband Paul, with whom she was rumored to be a WWII spy. The other half sees Powell’s yearlong series of trials and triumphs with cooking her way through Child’s cookbook.
So it makes sense that director Nora Ephron took inspiration from a pairing of source materials. One is Julie Powell’s 2005 memoir of the same name and subtitled “365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen,” which was later changed to “My Year of Cooking Dangerously.” The other source is Child’s autobiography, “My Life in Paris,” which she published with her grandnephew-in-law Alex Prud’homme in 2006 at the age of 94. While fans largely agree that one side of the twin narrative is far more appealing than the other, “Julie and Julia” is a heartwarming, mouth-watering feast for the eyes and soul.
Dig into “Julie and Julia” on Netflix, streaming now.
4. “The Parent Trap”
Although “The Parent Trap” has become an iconic addition to the Disney canon since its release in 1998, some are surprised to find the film is not only a remake of the 1961 Disney comedy but an adaptation of the German children’s novel, “Lisa and Lottie,” by Erich Kästner. The book has spawned dozens of films around the world since its publication in 1949, including the upcoming UK musical “Identical,” which is facing delayed production as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The gist of Kästner’s book is what you’d expect; twin sisters raised separately are reunited at summer camp. Something you wouldn’t expect: the story changed over time before its final form due to Nazi censorship. Kästner was a notable satirist, poet, and screenwriter in his time and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature four times over without ever winning.
The 90s “Parent Trap” was directed by Nancy Meyers and stars Dennis Quaid, Natasha Richardson, and Lindsay Lohan in the dual-role of Annie and Hallie Parker. The ‘60s version led to three made-for-television sequels, while yet another Disney remake could be seen in the coming year. On top of it all, there’s a documentary titled “The Legacy of The Parent Trap” in development.
Both the 1998 and 1961 adaptations of “The Parent Trap” can be streamed on Disney+.
“Burning,” fitting for its slow-burn narrative, may have evaded your streaming scrolling, but one look at its incredible critical reaction will have you Add-to-List-ing this mystery in no time. Though the South Korean film came out in 2018, it’s based on “Barn Burning,” a short story in the 1993 collection “The Elephant Vanishes” by Haruki Murakami (“Norwegian Wood,” “1Q84”). Lee Chang-dong directs with Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, Jeon Jong-seo on the acting front.
Praised for its tense atmosphere and use of narrative ambiguity, the film won the FIPRESCI International Critics’ Prize and went up for the Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. The story explores themes of class inequities and social anxieties, which cannot surprise those familiar with Murakami’s groundbreaking work. In fact, “The Elephant Vanishes” comprises 17 short stories written and published independently over the course of 11 years.
Uncover the secrets of “Burning” on Netflix, streaming now.
About the Author/s
Tom Garback is currently pursuing a BA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College, where he is a Staff Writer, Blogger, Copy Editor, and Reader at various on-campus magazines. His fiction, poems, and essays have been featured in Thin Air, Blind Corner, Teen Ink, Oddball, The Magazine, Generic, Polaris, Gauge, and Sonder, among others.
Great list. I like “No Country for Old Men” as honorable mention — especially since the film was a great adaptation of the source material.
I love this, I’m so intrigued to know something about “The Parent Trap” that I never knew before. Now I want to see all of these.