American Psycho (2000, directed by Mary Harron, screenplay by Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner):
Bret Easton Ellis’ controversial novel is about greed and superficiality in the 1980s, as seen through the eyes of serial killer and Wall Street investment banker Patrick Bateman. Bateman’s cold, malevolent narration and loathsome acts of violence, coupled with his dubious grasp on reality, would seem impossible to effectively convey onscreen, but under Harron’s crisp direction, Christian Bale has never been better.
Apocalypse Now (1979, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, screenplay by Coppola and John Milius):
Joseph Conrad’s novella about colonization and the duality of mankind, Heart of Darkness, is brilliantly updated and distorted in Coppola’s epic Vietnam film. The story strays broadly from the source material, but the troubling theme—that man is capable of tremendous and devastating cruelty—is formidably represented.
Dangerous Liaisons (1988, directed by Stephen Frears, screenplay by Christopher Hampton):
The 1782 French novel by Choderlos de Laclos is a tawdry story of revenge, debauchery and seduction between members of the aristocracy. Frears’ adaptation stars Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer and Uma Thurman, all of whom are at the top of their game. Oh yeah—and Keanu Reeves (sigh). The film is hot and scandalous with stunning costumes, cinematography and set design.
Fight Club (1999, directed by David Fincher, screenplay by Jim Uhls):
Chuck Palahniuk’s macho, chaotic first novel is all adrenaline and ass-kicking. This twisty, po-mo, existential book seems like it would make a terrible film, yet between Fincher, Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter, the cult flick succeeds and then some.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003, directed by Peter Jackson, screenplays by Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens):
J. R. R. Tolkien’s series is one of the greatest and most significant fantasy works in any language. The story’s astronomic scope and fully-realized universe are gorgeously portrayed in Jackson’s cinematic trilogy. Many of the characters and details are changed for the films, but the spirit of this vast epic is pure Tolkien.
No Country for Old Men (2007, directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, screenplay by the Coens):
The 2005 novel by Cormac McCarthy is stark and sinister, detailing a badly executed drug deal in South Texas in the early 80s. The Coens’ film perfectly captures the bleak landscape of McCarthy’s heavy novel, with stunning performances turned in by Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem and Woody Harrelson.
The Princess Bride (1987, directed by Rob Reiner, screenplay by William Goldman):
Goldman adapted his own 1973 fantasy adventure novel into a bright, charming screenplay that outshines his denser original work. Dropping all of the tedious commentary he adds to the fictional S. Morgenstern’s “earlier version,” the film is hilarious, an absolutely darling romp with a flawless ensemble cast. Arguably the most quotable film on this list.
Sense and Sensibility(1995, directed by Ang Lee, screenplay by Emma Thompson):
This rich adaptation of Jane Austen’s elegant and ironic novel about the two wildly different Dashwood sisters is beautifully executed. Thompson’s witty screenplay is surpassed only by her impeccable performance as the restrained Elinor, and Kate Winslet is a triumph as passionate Marianne. Michael Coulter’s cinematography of the lush English countryside is breathtaking.
The Shining (1980, directed by Stanley Kubrick, screenplay by Kubrick and Diane Johnson):
Stephen King has said that he hates the adaptation by Kubrick because it extensively deviates from his 1977 novel. I love the novel, but King is simply wrong. Kubrick’s film is chilling and hypnotic, and Nicholson’s performance as Jack Torrance is deservedly iconic. King’s own literal adaptation of the novel, in a 1997 mini-series, seriously blows.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991, directed by Jonathan Demme, screenplay by Ted Tally):
Thomas Harris’s severe crime novel is brought to terrifying life through Demme’s tight direction and Tally’s masterful screenplay. But the most effective aspect of the production is the spellbinding rapport between Jodie Foster as FBI trainee Clarice Starling and Anthony Hopkins as genius serial killer Hannibal Lecter.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962, directed by Robert Mulligan, screenplay by Horton Foote):
Gregory Peck’s warm and enduring portrayal of compassionate, courageous hero Atticus Finch makes this adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic 1960 novel a success. The tender, triumphant novel details racial injustice and the pain of growing up, and Mulligan’s film captures its essence remarkably.
Trainspotting (1996, directed by Danny Boyle, screenplay by John Hodge):
Irvine Welsh’s Scottish novel about heroine addicts in the 1980s is written in a stream-of-consciousness format with alternating character narration and no linear plot. In other words: a total nightmare to adapt to the screen. Yet Boyle’s film grasps the manic nature of the book while still presenting an actual story. Ewan McGregor totally nails protagonist Renton, and the film is now as much a cult sensation as the book ever was.
So…what’d I miss? Give me your picks in the comments.
You can read more from Meredith at www.dannyisnthere.com.