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5 Highest Grossing Book-to-Film Adaptations

11 January 2013 | Features, Guest Posts, Other Lists | by David Zou

The last few months have seen film goers spoilt for choice when it comes to big budgets adaptations and reimagining’s of successful books, with The Hobbit, Anna Karenina, Cloud Atlas and The Life of Pi to name but a few.

This is of course nothing particularly new, as some of the greatest masterpieces of celluloid history have originated as books. What state would the great and lauded cinematic canon be in without such dizzying peaks as The Godfather, Gone With the Wind, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and the seemingly endless adaptations of Bronte and Dickens?

As we know however, there is a huge difference between the best book to film adaptations and the ones that have made the most money, so let’s leave our own opinions which adaptation is the best aside for the moment and take a look at what the numbers tell us.

And perhaps unsurprisingly, our list of the highest grossing book to film adaptations begins with a plucky young wizard…


1. Harry Potter

The film versions of JK Rowling’s series of books about the somewhat unique educational experiences of a British boy wizard and his plucky companions have, since the release of the first instalment in 2001, gone on to become the highest grossing film series of all time.

As of 2012, the Harry Potter films have made close to $8 billion worth of profits, catapulted its young stars to the highest echelons of fame and achieved the mind bogglingly consistent feat of having all 8 instalments appear in the list of the 50 highest grossing films ever released.

It is quite possible that this series of films is going to remain in the top position for a long, long time to come and that splitting the final book into two different films goes down as one the smartest business decisions of recent history (as opposed to Peter Jackson’s splitting of the Hobbit into 3 films?).


harry potter movies


2. The Lord of the Rings

One of the largest and most expensive book adaptations ever attempted, Peter Jackson’s epic retelling of Tolkien’s Middle Earth saga cantering around the quest of one Mr Frodo Baggins has been lauded as film making on its grandest scale.

Each individual film of the trilogy is in the top 30 highest grossing films ever to grace our screens and gave a huge boost to the tourist industry of New Zealand, whose sweeping vistas lend the film much of its grandeur and beauty. The films also launched the career of Viggo Mortensen while arguably consigning Elijah Wood to be the Mark Hamill of our age.

the lord of the rings books



3. The Twilight Saga

The five films that make up the Twilight Saga are based on the highly successful series of teenage fiction books written by Stephanie Meyer. The story centres around the life of tenneager Bella Swan and her rocky (some would even say abusive) relationship with a vampire.

Within the context of this list, these adaptations are fairly unique in the fact that the films have been widely panned by critics and other commentators, yet have still been wildly successful.




4. Jurassic Park

It is at this point that we start getting to singular films rather than entire series. Steven Spielberg’s ubiquitous visualisation of the novel by Michael Crichton is an undisputed modern classic of suspense, awe inspiring visuals and Jeff Goldblum’s bizarrely stilted way of talking.




5. The Da Vinci Code

The fact that this film and the book that spawned it are on this list at all is a travesty and a damning reflection on the state of humanity in the 21st century. Pure and simple.

the da vinci code



Special mention: the unstoppable hit machine that is Stephen King

As long as we are talking about successful book to film adaptations, it would be wrong of us not to tip our hats to the undisputed master. It is perhaps unsurprising really that Stephen King has had the number of films made out of his books that he has, considering that he has basically released a book a year since 1974 as well as a huge amount of short stories and other pieces of writing.

Such a prodigious output and a willingness to sell the rights to his books to Hollywood film makers means that Mr King has amassed a large number of adaptations. Ad what a list of adaptations they are, with It, Carrie, The Shawshank Redemption, The Shining and Stand By Me only scratching the surface. Whatever you happen to think of these films or of Mr King’s literary achievements on their own that is one hell of a strike rate. It at least deserves the phrase “one of the most popular living writers” being inserted into all future captions of pictures of him right?


Stephan King Movies


Well there you go friends, are you surprised in anyway by the list? Or did you think I was unduly harsh on the Da Vinci Code?

Guest post by Susannah Perez from the Softel Group




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  • Chip Lary

    I don’t think comparing book series to individual books is a level playing field. I wouldn’t have included the series unless individual films within them were in the Top 5.

    And if you want the real all-time champion that is Gone with the Wind. When you adjust for inflation in ticket prices it did something like 1.3 billion dollars in the U.S. alone.

    Too harsh on The Davinci Code? Yes on the book; no on the movie.