From Epic Novel to Epic Film

Literary works have been a source of inspiration for filmmakers almost since the inception of cinema as a medium. The recent spate of literary adaptations is ample evidence that the trend continues even in today’s cinema. Science fiction and fantasy books have been a particularly fruitful and rich resource for filmmakers, particularly in the latter part of the 20th century and into the 21st. The following film series have been based in part on books and manage to capture the essence of the novels on which they were based.

The Harry Potter Series

Certainly one of the most famous book-to-movie adaptations has been the enormously successful Harry Potter films, which have made tremendous amounts of money for Warner Bros. and author J.K. Rowling. Although the films grow less faithful to the novels as they progress, they do manage to capture the spirit and immense emotional power that are such a part of the novels’ phenomenal success. Truly this film series made clear from the beginning that even adaptations of novels can be very financially profitable.

“The Lord of the Rings”

When the first part of this epic trilogy was released, a firestorm erupted among Tolkien fans about whether Peter Jackson had kept true to the spirit of the novels; that debate continues to rage today. Although the films do take some very notable liberties with the source material, they do manage to bring to visual life the world that Tolkien envisioned, even if the plots of some of the novels are changed for dramatic purposes. What’s more, the films have also been financially and critically successful, with the last installment, “The Return of the King,” winning more Oscars than almost any other film in history. Clearly, Peter Jackson was doing something right.

“Planet of the Apes”

Although many people enjoy this classic science fiction film from the 1960s, few of them know it was actually based on a novel written by French author Pierre Boulle. Other than the basic premise of a planet ruled by apes, there are few similarities between the movie and the book. Nevertheless, due in no small part to both the incredible makeup and the extraordinary talent of the cast, the film has become one of the most successful and well-known science-fiction films ever made. In fact, it has been so successful that the premise has been reimagined several times, most recently in the August blockbuster “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”

“The Chronicles of Narnia”

Finally, we come to the fantasy epic films based on the classic books by C.S. Lewis. Unlike the other major fantasy franchises, this one has been rather hit or miss financially, with decreasing profits with each release. However, they have also remained largely faithful to the spirit of the books, if not to the exact letter. What these particular adaptations reveal is the popularity of the film depends in large part on the loyalty of the fan base, so the filmmakers have a vested interest in making sure the fans of the books remain happy. As “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” makes clear, that does not always happen.

As these films make clear, part of making sure a film franchise is successful is basing it on a popular series of books. As long as epic fantasy series continue to be written, those of us who enjoy fantasy films can rest assured that Hollywood will, eventually, make a film out of our beloved books.

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