When movies get adapt other media, reactions are either ecstatic or cynical, with more leaning to the latter. And that’s fine. Lots of adaptations never work; just look at all the horrific video game adaptations or the countless young adult films we’ve getting lately.
But when they do work, these films complement the source material while offering something more. The films below are among those that have matched—or even surpassed—their source material. And they are all from this century.
20. Brokeback Mountain
It might not be as controversial today as when it first came out, thanks to an increasing number of films and TV series with LGBT romances. But back in 2005, this was the movie that made conservatives take out their pitchforks.
The film tells the story of Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar, a rodeo cowboy and a ranch hand who meet while herding sheep. After a few days, they get drunk, have sex and try to forget it ever happened. But they carry on seeing each other for a long time, even when they get married and have families. This is a movie more about forbidden love than it is about “gay cowboys”.
Brokeback Mountain is based on the award-winning short story of the same name by Annie Proulx.
19. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009/2011)
Mikael Blomkvist, a discredited journalist, and Lisbeth Sander, a troubled but brilliant computer hacker, are hired to solve a 40-year-old murder. The man who hires them, Henrik Vanger, believes that the killer is a member of his own family.
Stieg Larsson’s posthumous first entry into his Millenium Series was an incredible success, becoming an international bestseller and inspiring two equally brilliant film adaptations. They are both graphically violent, similar in length and have incredible performances from the main actress.
18. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
J.R.R. Tolkien’s magnum opus is also Peter Jackson’s. The LOTR novels were a revolution, and Jackson made them just as acclaimed and even more successful when he adapted them.
The Return of the King, especially, is the best part of the movie trilogy. It wraps up the story of Frodo’s journey to destroy the Ring of Power, and has one of the most epic battles ever seen in a fantasy movie.
What would you do if someone kills your four-year-old daughter and you suspect who they were, but you can’t get them arrested because they are underage and the law protects them? This is the predicament high school teacher Yuko Moriguchi finds herself in. Her solution is to get psychological revenge. She toys with the minds of the students she believes to be her child’s killer and things escalate from there.
Confessions is based on Kanae Minato’s debut bestselling novel.
16. Million Dollar Baby
Aspiring boxer Maggie Fitzgerald arrives at the Hit Pit gym to learn from Frankie Dunn. He initially refuses because she might be too old to start a career as a boxer. But with some nudging from his former student, Scrap, he soon relents. What follows is a powerful, moving film with a twist you never see coming and an unforgettable ending. This is one of Clint’s Eastwood’s best films as both director and actor, and it rightly deserved its Best Picture Oscar.
Million Dollar Baby is based on Rope Burns: Stories from the Corner a short story collection by Jerry Boyd, a fight manager who went by the pen name “F.X. Toole”.
Therese is a department store clerk who meets the beautiful older Carol. Carol’s marriage is anything but ideal, so she starts a romantic involvement with Therese. Carol soon leaves her husband, and he begins to suspect her. Carol and Therese’s romance blossoms, but there are obstacles at every corner.
Carol is adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel, The Price of Salt, and it’s every bit as powerful. Like Brokeback Mountain, it tells of a passionate romance in a time when such a thing was still taboo.
14. A History of Violence
Tom Stall is the likeable owner of a small-town diner. Everything changes when two crooks try to rob the place but he stops them with unusual ease. This turns him into a hero, and his face is plastered all over the papers. The publicity draws some threatening people to the town, and we learn that Stall is not who he seems.
The movie is based on John Wagner and Vince Locke’s graphic novel. It focuses more on the family than the mob, unlike the book. But director David Cronenberg and screenwriter Josh Olson made the best film they possibly could, and A History of Violence has achieved cult status.
The Driver is a Hollywood stuntman by day and a getaway driver for armed heists by night. He is falling for his neighbor, Irene, a vulnerable mother with a likable son. Her husband comes back from prison and gets Driver to help him in a major heist. However, the heist goes horribly wrong, and Driver now has to protect Irene and her son from deadly criminals.
The film is based on James Sallis’ novel of the same name, but director Nicolas Winding Refn takes some liberties with it. However, the essence of the story is still the same and so are a lot of the characters. The end-result is a stylish action film that you can watch over and over again.
12. Old Boy
Oh Dae-Su is a drunken businessman who is abducted and imprisoned in a hotel room for 15 years. During that time, he learns that his was murdered and he’s the chief suspect. He is suddenly released, and vows to take revenge on the persons responsible.
Old Boy is based on the Japanese manga by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi. There were a few changes over the source material and some inclusions, with the most significant being the iconic hammer scene.
11. There Will Be Blood
Set during California’s oil boom in the late 19th century, the film tells the story of silver miner, Daniel Plainview, who takes his adopted son on a quest to exploit an oil deposit. They strike it rich, but Daniel starts to get paranoid, ruthless and unstable as his wealth grows.
The film is based on Oil!, the 1927 novel by Upton Sinclair. But it’s a loose adaptation; director Paul Thomas Anderson admitted that he had only followed the first 150 pages of the novel. After that, his film followed a different tangent.