Written by Megan Barlog
2020 might not be the best year for films with the coronavirus pandemic canceling releases right and left, but that didn’t stop the first half of the year from providing us with some spectacular book-to-film adaptations. Here’s a dozen of our favorites if you’re looking for films or books to add to your quarantine entertainment list.
1. Dolittle (Jan. 17, 2020)
This latest film about the doctor who can talk to animals is based on The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting, the second book in the Doctor Dolittle series. In the film, Dr. John Dolittle (played by Robert Downey Jr.) hides away from the rest of the world after his wife’s death, with only his animals for company. However, when Queen Victoria falls ill, he and his young apprentice (and the animals) must go on an epic journey to a mythical island in search of a cure. The film tells a slightly different story from the novel, since the novel has the good doctor searching for a missing colleague, but much of the events from the journey remain.
2. The Turning (Jan. 24, 2020)
This horror film is a modern take on Henry James’s 1898 gothic ghost story novella The Turn of the Screw. In the film, a young woman quits her teaching job and his hired by a man to be a private tutor or governess for his wealthy niece and nephew after their parents’ tragic death. However, as the young woman spends more time with the children, strange things start to happen, and she begins to suspect there is more to this family’s story.
3. The Rhythm Section (Jan. 31, 2020)
Based on the first book in Mark Burnell’s Stephanie Patrick Thriller series, this film adaptation stars Blake Lively as Stephanie Patrick. Stephanie is an ordinary woman out for revenge after her family is tragically killed in a plane crash. When Stephanie discovers the plane crash was not an accident, she’s recruited by a covert intelligence organization and enters the complex world of espionage to go undercover as both “Petra,” a mercenary based out of Germany, and “Marina,” an international businesswoman in London. But as the stakes are raised, she begins to question everything she’s been told about the plane crash, and whether avenging her family is worth her life.
4. Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made (Feb. 7, 2020)
Based on the first book in the Timmy Failure series by Pearls Before Swine creator Stephan Pastis, this film follows 11-year-old Timmy Failure who believes he’s the best detective in town, perhaps even the nation. Together with his best friend Total, an imaginary polar bear, he runs the detective agency Total Failure, Inc. While the children’s book series is illustrated with Stephen Pastis’s signature comic style, the film is a live-action retelling with all the humor of the book.
5. To All the Boys P.S. I Still Love You (Feb. 12, 2020)
Fans of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (both the book and the Netflix original) celebrated the release of this film, based on the second book in Jenny Han’s young adult series, P.S. I Still Love You. In the previous film, Lara Jean pretended to be in a relationship with Peter—but then real feelings developed. Now Lara and Peter are officially official, but when another recipient of one of Lara’s old love letters enters the picture, things get complicated. Who does she really love?
6. The Call of the Wild (Feb. 21, 2020)
This latest film adaptation of Jack London’s 1903 novel tells the story of a domesticated dog named Buck who is stolen from his California ranch home and sold into service as a sled dog in Alaska. In Alaska’s harsh environment, Buck meets John Thornton (played by Harrison Ford). Buck soon learns to shed his domesticated self and reconnect with his wild instincts, responding to “the call of the wild” in order to survive and become his own master.
7. All the Bright Places (Feb. 28, 2020)
This emotional love story adapted from the novel by Jennifer Niven tells how two teens, Violet (played by Elle Fanning) and Theodore (played by Justice Smith), find each other while standing on the edge and change each other’s lives forever. Theodore is searching for reasons to keep on living. Violet is counting the days until graduation so she can escape her small town. As they struggle with the scars of their past, they find that even the small moments can mean something.
8. The Invisible Man (Feb. 28, 2020)
This inventive modern reimagining of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man turns science fiction into horror. While the novel focuses on the scientist, Griffin, who discovers how to turn himself invisible yet fails to undo it, the film makes Griffin the abusive ex-boyfriend antagonist who fakes his death and uses his invisibility to torment his ex-girlfriend Cecilia (played by Elisabeth Moss, whom you may recognize from Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”). The film shows everything from Cecilia’s perspective as she begins to suspect her ex’s death was a hoax and comes to realize he’s invisible—and trying to kill her. Those who enjoy horror/thriller genres, definitely watch the film. If you prefer the original sci-fi story, though, perhaps stick with the book for now.
9. Emma (Mar. 6, 2020)
If anyone questions whether or not Jane Austen’s novels are still relevant today, simply point them to the sheer number of film adaptations. This latest adaptation of her novel, Emma, reimagines the classic story where the well-meaning but selfish Emma plays matchmaker to her friends in 1800s England—with comedic and sometimes disastrous results. Is this latest adaptation the best of the bunch? That is still up for debate.
10. Stargirl (Mar. 13, 2020)
Jerry Spinelli’s beloved young adult novel, Stargirl, finally gets a film adaptation! This Disney+ movie retells the story of ordinary high-schooler Leo who falls for the extraordinarily unconventional Stargirl. While Stargirl first charms the school with her eccentricities, the students soon turn on her, causing Leo to beg her to be the very thing that can destroy her: normal. The film, just like the novel, celebrates nonconformity in this tale about the pitfalls of popularity and the joys of first love.
11. Wendy (Apr. 17, 2020)
Anyone who’s ever watched Disney’s Peter Pan several times might have noticed that it’s not really about Peter—it’s actually about Wendy as she struggles with the realities of growing up. This wild reimagining of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan rightfully puts the focus back on Wendy. Lost on a mysterious island where aging and time have come unglued, Wendy must fight to save her family, her freedom, and the joyous spirit of youth from the deadly peril of growing up.
12. Artemis Fowl (June 12, 2020)
Fans of Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series have long awaited a film adaptation, and now it’s coming to Disney+! Based on the first book in the series, this film introduces 12-year-old Artemis Fowl, a young criminal prodigy. On the search for his missing father, Artemis discovers a secret society of dangerous and extremely high-tech fairies. He kidnaps one of them, Holly Short, and holds her for ransom in an effort to restore his family’s fortune. But he may have underestimated the fairies’ powers, and could be setting off an interspecies war.
What have been your favorite book-to-film adaptations this year? Tell us in the comments below!
Megan Barlog loves great stories, be they books, movies, TV shows, or anything in between! She has studied both creative writing and screenwriting, and worked for both a library and a major NYC publisher. When she’s not writing a novel or screenplay, she’s probably out for a run or binge-watching something on Netflix.
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