Our Favorite Lesser Known Book-To-Movie Adaptations

Posted by Danielle Mohlman

Tobey Maguire and Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys

Hipster bookworms crawl out of the woodwork when an adaptation makes its way to the silver screen. “Oh, you’re seeing “The Hunger Games” this weekend? I read those books before anyone knew about them.”

Here are some book-to-movie adaptations that are “really obscure.” I mean, you’ve probably never heard of them.

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (2008): Based on the Michael Chabon novel of the same name, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh explores the complexities looming in the mind of just-out-of-college Art Bechstein. In order to make the novel more cinematic, writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber merged best friend Cleveland Arning with the novel’s homosexual love interest Arthur Lecomte. Cleveland’s girlfriend Jane was given a much larger role in the adaptation, turning what was in the novel a periphery character into a central one.

The choice to “simplify” Art’s experience by creating a love triangle rather than letting the characters live in this complex experience where not everyone knows everyone else would be enough to turn a Chabon purists away. But the pure fact that there is a commercial version of this coming-of-age novel gives those same Chabon purists hope.

Wonder Boys (2000): Another movie based on a Michael Chabon novel, The Wonder Boys was a box office flop. So much so, that after the initial February release director Curtis Hanson and producer Scott Rudin lobbied to have the movie re-released in November 2000. The ad campaign was redesigned to emphasize the ensemble feel of the film — a sharp contrast to the original poster, which featured a sole headshot of Michael Douglas accompanied with the tagline “Undependable. Unpredictable. Unforgettable.”

While the poster and trailer were arguably more accurate the second time around — capturing the essence of this potential one-book wonder author as he navigates relationships with his colleagues, lovers, and students — the re-release was also a financial disappointment. This adaptation, however, left all the major players in tact, trusting its audience to find the beauty in complexities.

Wuthering Heights (2011): In the Emily Bronte novel of the same name, Heathcliff is referred to as a “dark-skinned gypsy,” which, after auditioning actors from the UK’s Romani and Middle Eastern communities, led director Andrea Arnold to cast James Howson in the role. This adaptation marks the first time a black actor has portrayed the Heathcliff on film.

This film also boasts an age-appropriate Catherine, 20-year-old Kaya Scodelario. And have you seen this trailer? The simplicity and balance of feigned innocence and intentional heartbreak are a capture the spirit of this classic novel. I for one am looking forward to the US release later this year.

Remains of the Day (1993): This film, adapted by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala from the novel by Kazou Ishiguro, follows the story of housekeeper Sally Kenton (portrayed by Emma Thompson) and her unrequited love for head butler James Stevens (protrayed by Anthony Hopkins). Set in England in the years prior to World War II, perspectives on race and religion come into play when two German-Jewish maids are dismissed from employment.

The adaptation stays true to the novel, garnering eight Academy Award nominations. World War II was a popular theme in film that year; The Remains of the Day lost five of its Oscar nominations to Schindler’s List.