Thursday, February 14, 2013

Adapting Books to Film

For as long as there have been movies, filmmakers have been turning books into films. From The Iliad and The Odyssey to the plays of Shakespeare, Hollywood has always been ready to bring a successful (and even an unsuccessful) book or play to the big screen. They do this in part because people are more likely to see a film that is based on something they are already familiar with. This is why sequels, though typically inferior to the original, still get made in large numbers. This built-in audience makes films made from books less of a financial risk, and Hollywood is more about money than art.

Given that books are a ready source of material for the movies, are there certain authors Hollywood is particularly partial to? Beyond the obvious classics (the Bible, Homer, Shakespeare, and Dickens), which authors have had the greatest number of their works turned into films? Following is a list of the 20th Century authors with the most book-to-film numbers (note: these do not include television shows, only motion pictures):

1. Stephen King. With 86 films made from his novels and short stories, he may indeed be The King of print-to-film success. Beginning with Carrie in 1976, film adaptations of his works have been huge commercial hits, including The Shining (1980), Misery (1990), and The Shawshank Redemption (1994). While never as frightening as his books, the films made from Stephen King novels continue to scare the hell out of us to this day.

2. W. Somerset Maugham. This name will surprise many today, especially those who have never heard of him, but in the first half of the 20th Century, Maugham was the most commercially successful author alive. The 64 films made from his works also span the longest period of novel to film success: his novel The Explorer was made into a film in 1915, and most recently The Painted Veil was released in 2006. Maugham also likely holds the distinction of most books filmed multiple times: The Painted Veil (1934, 2006); Of Human Bondage (1934, 1946, 1964); The Razor's Edge (1946, 1984); Theater (1962, 2004); and Miss Thompson (1928, 1932, 1953).

3. Ernest Hemingway. At 29 films, he falls well back of the previous two authors on this list, but he is, after all, Hemingway. From A Farewell to Arms in 1932 through Night Express in 2006, Hemingway has been a fixture both in print and film for over 75 years.

4. John Grisham. With 10 books made into films in the span of 11 years, Grisham has one of the best ratios of any author. The Firm (1993) remains both a great book and a really good film, which is rare in itself.

5. J.K. Rowling. The list would not be complete with Rowling, perhaps the only author to have all but one of her novels turned into a film (no word yet on whether The Casual Vacancy will hit the big screen). Her Harry Potter novels have set sales records that will never be broken, and the films may ultimately be the most successful series in history.

There will always be arguments about whether the film versions are better than the books from which they came (The Godfather comes immediately to mind as an example of this), but the debate is part of the fun, as long as you both read the book and see the movie.

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