In an ideal world, film adaptations would satisfy everyone. The author’s vision would be realized exactly as they wanted it to be, the casting would be flawless, and the producers would somehow manage to cram every nuance and detail into two hours. The world, however, is far from ideal, and it’s almost a gut reaction to claim that the book is always better.
But sometimes, there are certain scenes in a book adaptation that are pitch-perfect interpretations of the source material. Here are our top ten movie moments that perfectly capture their book counterparts:
Author's Note: We've decided to focus on stand-alone novels for this list, meaning no Harry Potter, no Lord of the Rings, and no Hunger Games. But feel free to chime in on Twitter if you'd like to see more!
Alice In Wonderland (2010)
Best Page-To-Screen Scene: The Table and the Key
While much of the film is far from a direct interpretation of the book, certain scenes stay very close to the original. When Alice lands at the bottom of the rabbit hole with a thump, she finds herself in a small room surrounded by doors, with a tiny golden key on a glass table. Not only is it iconic, along with the classic “Drink Me” bottle, but her travel from the room to the garden is the moment where the audience begins to understand the twist that Burton added to the film. Without the sea of her own tears, she lands in a classically Burton-esque gothic garden, and the viewer discovers that this isn’t her first trip to Wonderland…
Julie and Julia
Best Page-To-Screen Scene: Aspic
A favorite scene in the film focuses on Julie’s attempt to make aspic – that delicious combination of gelatin and meat stock that nobody makes anymore (with good reason!). The scene isn’t just wonderful for its humor as her aspic fails miserably and becomes a disgusting, gelatinous mess, but for her reaction to it. The Julie/Julia Project takes it’s toll on both her and her husband, and this scene is so important in making sure that the film finds the same balance as the book/blog when it comes to humor, stress, and some very interesting experiments in cooking.
The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald (2013)
Best Page-To-Screen Scene: Gatsby’s Party
If there is one thing that Baz Lurhman excels at, it is overwhelming the viewer with incredibly rich scenes – a talent put to incredible use to show the opulence and extravagance of parties at Jay Gatsby’s mansion. Bright lights, champagne, shots that whirl past and through crowds of revelers, this scene transports the audience into the madness of a house party like no other, giving them the same wide-eyed delight as Nick Carraway experienced.
The Last King of Scotland
Best Page-To-Screen Scene: Beer and Aspirin
While dismissed by some as simply a crude joke, this scene is a microcosm of Idi Amin’s character, and of his relationship with Nicholas. Despite his power, when Amin mixes medication and alcohol that leave him with extremely painful gas, he becomes terrified and violent, lashing out madly at everything in sight. Nicholas is able to calm him and essentially burp him (although in the film, the scene features farting). Nicholas’ fear of the dictator is revealed, even though they were partying together moments before, and his confusion at the brutality in Amin’s reaction are themes that run throughout the book and the novel. The grotesque and ignorant nature of Amin are also captured here, along with his mood swings and appearance as something of an overgrown child in a position of power.
Best Page-To-Screen Scene: The Shirt (**Spoilers**)
This final, heartbreaking moment shows Ennis in Jack’s home, mourning his loss and discovering that he had kept a shirt of his, along with a single photo of the mountain where they were happy together. Ennis breathes in the smell of another shirt left on the bed, a poignant gesture recognizable by any mourning love.
Best Page-To-Screen Scene: The Letter
As Robbie struggles to articulate his feelings in a letter to Celia, he types draft after draft. At one point, he gives up on his manners, and tells her in no uncertain terms what he would love to do to her. This version ends up being the one accidentally handed to Briony to deliver, a major part of her confusion over later events. Not only is this scene vital to the plot, it’s beautifully translated to the screen. The clacking of his typewriter keys build in speed and suspense, along with his frustration and the audience anticipation of his mistake. The final moment as his mistake is realized, the sound of those keys reaches fever pitch, crashing to a close as he screams her name across the fields – desperate to undo his error, but unable as the sounds of his voice is cut off by her slamming the front door into the next scene.
Pride and Prejudice (2005)
Best Page-To-Screen Scene: Charlotte’s confession
A small scene in the midst of a larger film, the moment that Elizabeth learns of her friend’s decision to marry Mr. Collins is a personal favorite. Despite the fact that Charlotte’s story is a minor one, it remains one of the saddest; the revelation that settling is the best a woman in her situation can hope for. However, it also shows Elizabeth’s warmth and caring, and the film version captures this beautifully.
Best Page-To-Screen Scene: Never Sleep Again (**Spoilers**)
While some of the third act of Gone Girl differs from the novel, the key point remains; that Nick makes the horrifying decision to stay with Amy, despite all that she has done. While they don’t do a TV interview in the book, nor does he write (and then delete) a tell-all in the movie, the film still manages to convey the unique combination of resignation and terror that he feels. “I know I’ll never sleep again. I can’t close my eyes when I’m next to her.”
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Best Page To Screen Scene: Lisbeth’s Revenge
One of the most intense scenes in the film (which is no mean feat), Lisbeth returns to her abusive guardian’s home. In a word-for-word retelling of the book’s passage, she ties him down, reveals that she filmed her last visit, and exacts brutal vengeance. The film perfectly captures not just this absolutely gut-wrenching moment, but Rooney Mara’s brilliant take on Lisbeth: cold, almost emotionless, and incredibly determined.
Best Page To Screen Scene: Kind, Smart, Important
So much of this adaptation was lifted from the book word-for-word that finding a single scene that stands out above the rest is almost impossible. From Octavia Spencer’s ability to somehow verbally capitalize “the Terrible Awful”, to Viola Davis’ now-iconic scene as Aibleen, reminding her young charge that she is kind, she is smart, and she is important. It’s the tiny things, like Minny using a vacuum cleaner on a stuffed bear (because how else are you supposed to clean it?) or Emma Stone’s famous delivery of the line “were you dropped on your head as an infant?”. While there are many moments missing from the film adaptation, the ones that remain are as perfect as any Kathryn Stockett fan could wish them to be.