The 14 Best Book-To-Screen Character Adaptations

I love me some books, and as yesterday – March 5 – was World Book Day, I celebrated as best as one can: I read and compiled a book-themed list, looking to movies for inspiration. Somewhere around the start of the millennium, it seems like Hollywood and television studios also used literature as their muse. Or maybe that’s when I started paying more attention to movies. Either way, a hell of a lot of movies nowadays come from books. This year alone, at least 40 movies being released are based off of books, and let’s not forget GoT and “Pretty Little Liars” both have foundations in literature.

Because of this, I’ve put together a list of the best book-to-movies and TV character adaptations. I’ve taken into consideration not just how the actors portrayed the character—although that is the hunk of it—but if the actor fits the character by looks, and while evaluating how the director, writers, and costume department chose to represent the character. Keira Knightley is awesome as Elizabeth Bennet, except no one in their right mind could think the drop-dead-gorgeous Keira being the second prettiest daughter in a family. Maggie Smith is missing from my list as McGonagall, partly for costuming and writing decisions. Obviously I am a huge Harry Potter fan given the number of characters I picked from J.K. Rowling’s universe, but honestly those movies were very well done. In random order, here are the fourteen best screen adaptations of book characters.

1. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Jack and Heath Ledger’s Ennis from “Brokeback Mountain”


I know that this is really two characters, but you can’t really separate them, can you? While the author of “Brokeback Mountain,” Annie Proulx, now says she regrets writing the short story, there is no denying that Gyllenhaal and the late Ledger embodied the grit and few words of the cowboys. And just like in the short story, the characters in the film managed to convey care—and love—for one another by more than just words. This movie wouldn’t be as powerful if the actors weren’t able to shoulder the life stories of America’s favorite homosexual cowboys.

2. Maisie Williams’ Arya Stark from “Game of Thrones”


“Swift as a deer. Quiet as a shadow. Fear cuts deeper than swords. Quick as a snake. Calm as still water.” The Arya in the book is a determined, stubborn, brave and fiery tomboy. Maisie Williams captures this character like no other actor in the series. She has us rooting for her and fearing for her, but most importantly, she carries the strength of Arya like no one’s business.

3. Evanna Lynch’s Luna Lovegood from “Harry Potter”

This girl is totes Loony Luna. I have to admit, I pictured her a bit differently when reading the books, but Evanna embraces Luna’s unique persona. In fact, she IS Luna. Don’t believe me? Then take a gander at her speech at Western Washington University, where Lynch tells the audience it’s her dream to become a cat. Or else take it from J.K. Rowling herself, who has said that Evanna Lynch is the only actor that she has thought of while writing, and declares that Evanna was “perfectly cast.” Nuff said. 

4. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes from “Sherlock Holmes”

This may be more of my inner fangirl talking, but Cumberbatch is the perfect modern Sherlock Holmes. He’s sarcastic, inquisitive, and fruitless in his investigations. Most importantly, however, Cumberbatch has managed to bring the deductive mind of the famous detective to life. When Sherlock studies and judges a person out loud, not only is it fascinating to watch, but he is highlighting the skill that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave to Mr. Holmes.

5. Winnie the Pooh voiced by Sterling Holloway from “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh”

I know, I know, how hard can it be for an animation to capture a book character? Take a look at “The Fox and The Hound” adaptation, and you can see where characters jumping from book to animated picture can go awry. Larry Clemmons and voice actor Sterling Holloway captured A.A. Milne’s silly, optimistic little Pooh perfectly. The 2011 movie was good, but nothing can beat the Pooh from the 1977 “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.”

7. Dominic Cooper’s Willoughby from “Sense and Sensibility”

I know there is a lot to choose from when it comes to Jane Austen books-to-movies, but as a pretty strict Austen lover, I absolutely love Cooper as the dickhead Willoughby, from the 2008 BBC’s adaptation of “Sense and Sensibility.” He made Willoughby lovable and gallant when we first met him, but then when it was discovered that he was actually a deceitful bastard, his somewhat snobbish face made us all wonder how we could have ever believe goodness from him. Like Willoughby in the books, Cooper was able to make every women just a little bit suspicious about a dashing, poetry-talking, money-inheriting lad.

7. Julie Andrews’ Mary Poppins from “Mary Poppins”

 

While the Julie Andrews portrayal of one of the most famous nanny arounds is a bit more on the nice side than the Poppins in the books, she still holds the heart of Mary. She is perfectly vain, perfectly strict, and magical. What makes her practically perfect in every way is that just as in the books, movie Mary Poppins knows how to make everything right with the help of some adventure.

8. Rosamund Pike’s Amy Dunne from “Gone Girl”


I watched this movie just for this list, y’all. I read “Gone Girl” and honestly, it’s not the type of story that tickles my fancy. But I heard that Rosamund Pike was crazy good as Amy Dunne, so I sat down and watched it. She wasn’t crazy good, but rather crazy perfect. Pike becomes the twistedly enchanting Amy so well that it makes me wonder if she is a little crazy as well.

9. Winona Ryder’s Jo March from “Little Women”

“Little Women” is like Christmas morning: familiar, comforting, and sweet. Winona Ryder as Jo is absolutely beautiful. Jo has a passion for writing, is hard-working, a bit of a tomboy, and is yet devoted to her family. Ryder’s clever face and her thoughtful tone make a very believable Jo March. But what makes Ryder a lovely Jo is that the emotion of love—for family, for writing, for life—transcends through the film directly into the heart of the viewer.

10. Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid from “Harry Potter”


OK, let’s move on from the fact that the make-up and costume department made Robbie Coltrane into perhaps the greatest possible portrayal of Rubeus Hagrid. Coltrane was able to create an approachable and friendly mentor in the shape of a very large person, and was actually the first person to be cast in the Harry Potter movies. The man became Hagrid. Coltrane doesn’t make Hagrid into a blundering fool, or a menacing figure, but he instead dances in the footsteps of Rowling’s writing by making it clear that he is a gentle (half) giant. Movie-Hagrid may be alarming to look at, but just like book-Hagrid, his husky voice and kind eyes acts like a warm hug.

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