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Your Netflix reading list: the best films based on books

Don't lose your evening to the endless scroll. Find something worth watching – and reading – with our edit of the best films based on books.

With so many streaming services out there, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by choice, and with lots of pressures on our time, we want to know we're going to watch something great. A book-to-film adaptation can be a good bet, as the characters and plot have already been proven to work. Of course, some books translate to screen better than others, and adaptations often divide opinion (to put it mildly). But a well-done version can bring new colour and focus to a book we already know, or encourage us to try one that we don't. 

Here's our edit of the best book-to-film adaptations that we think live up to their source material, and the books that are more than good enough to read even if you already love the films that inspired them.

What's new on Netflix?

Luckiest Girl Alive

Or is she? Mila Kunis returns to her Black Swan dark side to star in this Netflix film about a woman forced to confront a dangerous truth which threatens to unravel her meticulously crafted life. 

Luckiest Girl Alive

by Jessica Knoll

Book cover for Luckiest Girl Alive

As addictive as Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, Luckiest Girl Alive tells the story of Ani FaNelli – successful, glamorous and hoping to prove it through a documentary showing how well she has survived the traumatic events of her high school years. But can Ani maintain her shiny exterior? Or will her past come back to haunt her?

Coming soon. . .

The Wonder

Now a Netflix Original historical drama starring Florence Pugh and Ciarán Hinds, this novel by the bestselling author of Room, is a compulsive, psychologically complex read.

The Wonder

by Emma Donoghue

Book cover for The Wonder

In 1850s Ireland, rumour spreads of an eleven-year-old girl, Anna, who has lived for months without food. A nurse, sent to see if Anna is a fraud, collides with a journalist on the hunt for a story. Together, they could be experiencing a miracle. Or they could be watching a child being murdered in slow motion in front of their eyes.

You can read more about the real cases that inspired the book in this piece by its author, Emma Donoghue. 

Not only on Netflix: other movies based on books

Already up-to-date on everything new? Take a look at our pick of previous releases available to watch on Netflix and beyond.

Little Women

If a novel has been made into a film several times and they're all great, and all somehow tell a different story while telling the same one, then you know that the book is probably worth a read. Greta Gerwig's 2019 Little Women, starring Saoirse Ronan as Jo, is terrific: clever, warm and satisfying, but we'd happily watch Katherine Hepburn, June Allyson or Winona Ryder in the part.

Little Women

by Louisa May Alcott

Book cover for Little Women

Thousands of teenagers around the world have fallen in love with Marmee and her four daughters: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. This semi-autobiographical novel charts the highs and lows of the four sisters as they navigate their way from childhood to adulthood during the American Civil War.

The Silver Linings Playbook

Jennifer Lawrence won an Oscar for her role in David O. Russell's sweet and eccentric film adaptation of Matthew Quick’s story about mental illness and life not going to plan.

The Silver Linings Playbook

by Matthew Quick

Book cover for The Silver Linings Playbook

The off-beat, gentle story of Pat – just home from psychiatric hospital, trying to be positive and hoping to reconcile with his wife. Pat moves in with his parents, who have been doing their best to protect him, but the secrets they've been keeping start to come out when he meets the mysterious Tiffany. 

David Copperfield

Directed by Armando Iannucci, this comedic adaptation of Dickens’ classic novel, starring Dev Patel, makes Victorian London feel surprisingly modern. 

David Copperfield

by Charles Dickens

Book cover for David Copperfield

Partly modelled on Dickens’s own experiences, David Copperfield follows the eponymous hero from childhood struggles to a successful career as a novelist. This is one of Dickens’s most energetic and enjoyable novels, and the one he called his ‘favourite child’.

The Call of the Wild

Michael Green, writer of Blade Runner 2049 and Logan, brings this classic story to a fresh audience in his film adaptation starring Harrison Ford.

The Call of the Wild

by Jack London

Book cover for The Call of the Wild

A heart-wrenching adventure novel that follows Buck, a powerful St. Bernard-Scotch Shepherd dog, from his happy life in the Canadian valleys to becoming a sled dog in Alaska. Extraordinary both for the vividness of its descriptions and the success with which it imagines life from a non-human perspective, this classic of children’s literature is one of greatest and most popular animal stories ever written. 

Rocketman

This musical biopic is based on the incredible life and career of Elton John, from his childhood in a London suburb to superstardom, with Taron Egerton in the starring role. A must-see for Elton fans, Rocketman brings to life the extraordinary story told in Elton’s biography, Me.

Me

by Elton John

Book cover for Me

The only official autobiography of the enduringly successful singer/songwriter, Me is just as funny, scandalous, dramatic and packed with rock ‘n’ roll anecdotes as you would hope. A gloriously candid and powerfully moving memoir by a living legend, it documents his childhood in Pinner and struggles to find success, to the years selling out stadiums as a chart-topping superstar while his drug addiction spiraled out of control. 

IT

Based on Stephen King's terrifying novel of the same name, IT was initially made into a miniseries in 1990. Twenty-seven years later (fans of the book may find this timing not-so-coincidental) Pennywise the clown returned to terrorize a new generation, this time in cinemas, in this critical and commercial hit, and its 2019 sequel.

IT

by Stephen King

Book cover for IT

If you find clowns unsettling, then this novel may well be why. Its terrifying central force – horror harlequin, Pennywise – has become so embedded in our collective psyches you don't need to have actually read the book to be frightened of him. This novel, in two parts, tells of the fear and devastation he brings to the young residents of a Maine town. The real horror, though, lies in the adult population's strange almost-acquiescence to the harm being done to their children.

Arrival

Short story Arrival was adapted into the blockbuster film directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. It was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. 

Arrival

by Ted Chiang

Book cover for Arrival

Previously published as Stories of Your Life and Others, the story collection that includes Arrival was, incredibly, Ted Chiang's first. From a soaring Babylonian tower that connects a flat Earth with the heavens above, to a world where angelic visitations are a wondrous and terrifying part of everyday life; from a neural modification that eliminates the appeal of physical beauty, to an alien language that challenges our very perception of time and reality, Chiang's exhilarating science-fiction is moving and evocative.  

Room

Brie Larson's Oscar-winning performance as Ma in this highly faithful film adaptation of Emma Donoghue's bestselling novel is astonishing. Watching five-year-old Jack and his mother escape from captivity is emotionally taxing, but it’s an ultimately uplifting story which will stay with you for a very long time.

Room

by Emma Donoghue

Book cover for Room

For five-year-old Jack, there’s TV and there’s ‘in real’, and ‘in real’ begins and ends with Room, the ten foot by ten foot space where he lives alone with his Ma. It is hard not to experience a visceral, even physical, response to the events of Room, a profoundly upsetting and somehow also wonderful story of maternal love and survival. Featuring one of the most distinctive narrative voices you’ll ever read and one of the most amazing mothers ever written, this is sure to be a literary fixture for future generations.

American Psycho

Christian Bale brilliantly and terrifyingly brings Bret Easton Ellis’ charismatic Wall Street psychopath to life in this black comedy about a wealthy New Yorker leading a double life as a serial killer.

American Psycho

by Bret Easton Ellis

Book cover for American Psycho

On the surface, Patrick Bateman is living the dream: a job as a stockbroker, dinner dates every night at the latest restaurant in town, a string of admirers – aided by his charm and good looks. But behind the pristine façade lurks a psychopath. A man addicted to his superficial life, Bateman pulls us into a dark underworld where the American Dream turns to nightmare. One of the most controversial novels of all time, American Psycho is a disturbingly brilliant black satire about the darkest side of human nature.

Rust and Bone

Loosely based on Craig Davidson’s short story collection, Jacques Audiard’s beautiful but brutal film exists in the same savage world, where it explores violence, masculinity and life on the most extreme of margins. 

Rust and Bone

by Craig Davidson

Book cover for Rust and Bone

This collection of stories conjures a world of prizefighters, gamblers and sex addicts; dogs fighting to the death and bare-knuckled men fighting for survival. But it's tempered by gentleness, the quiet understanding in the most intimate relationships. Where human vulnerability is so close to the surface, the humanity of these characters heralds redemption and hope.

The Road

A post-apocalyptic tale of a man and his son trying to survive by any means possible. One of the most terrifyingly believable visions of the world's end ever put on screen.

The Road

by Cormac McCarthy

Book cover for The Road

A startling depiction of a future without hope. In a burned-out America, a father and his young son walk to the coast. They have no idea what, if anything, awaits them there. The landscape is destroyed, nothing moves save the ash on the wind and cruel, lawless men stalk the roadside, lying in wait. Attempting to survive in this brave new world, the young boy and his protector have nothing but a pistol to defend themselves. They must keep walking.

The Men Who Stare at Goats

This satirical black comedy stars George Clooney, Ewan McGregor and Jeff Bridges in a fictionalised version of the real events covered in Jon Ronson's book. 

The Men Who Stare At Goats

by Jon Ronson

Book cover for The Men Who Stare At Goats

The true story of a secret unit established in 1979 by the most gifted minds within the US Army. Defying all known military practice – and indeed the laws of physics – they believed that a soldier could adopt a cloak of invisibility, pass cleanly through walls, and, perhaps most chillingly, kill goats just by staring at them. Jon Ronson went to meet them.  

Bridget Jones's Diary

Renée Zellweger received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress as Bridget and charmed even those critics who approached the film expecting to be unimpressed. 

Bridget Jones's Diary

by Helen Fielding

Book cover for Bridget Jones's Diary

Pages, 336. Loud snorts done on public transport while in company of book, lost count.

Take the plot of Pride and Prejudice, transfer it to nineties London and have it narrated by a regularly-drunk, chain-smoking Elizabeth Bennett called Bridget and you have this hilarious, often-copied but never-bettered bestseller. 

Brooklyn

Colm Tóibín’s Costa Award-Winning novel is brought to life by Saoirse Ronan as Eilis, a young woman who moves from the Irish town of Enniscorthy to New York in the 1950s for the promise of a better life. This is a beautiful, slow-burning gem of a film, which is perhaps more generous and sympathetic to its characters than the novel. Reader, whisper it, but we may even prefer it.

Brooklyn

by Colm Tóibín

Book cover for Brooklyn

It is Ireland in the early 1950s and for Eilis Lacey, as for so many young Irish girls, opportunities are scarce. So when her sister arranges for her to emigrate to New York, Eilis knows she must go. Arriving in a crowded lodging house in Brooklyn, Eilis can only be reminded of what she has sacrificed. And just as she takes tentative steps towards friendship, and perhaps something more, Eilis receives news which sends her back to Ireland. There she will be confronted by a terrible dilemma, a devastating choice between duty and one great love.

Jaws

Spielberg’s 1975 adaptation of Peter Benchley’s novel of the same name has endured as a classic thriller. Telling the story of a giant man-eating white shark attacking beachgoers in a fictional U.S. town Jaws inspired a worldwide sea-fearing epidemic. 

Jaws

by Peter Benchley

Book cover for Jaws

It's never safe to go back in the water.

It was just another day in the life of a small Atlantic resort until the terror from the deep came to prey on unwary holiday makers. The first sign of trouble – a warning of what was to come – took the form of a young woman's body, or what was left of it, washed up on the long, white stretch of beach. . .

Drive

Ryan Gosling captured cinema goers' attention in the lead role of this adaptation (also starring Carey Mulligan) in an unforgettable gold satin jacket complete with embroidered scorpion appliqué.

Drive

by James Sallis

Book cover for Drive

Set mostly in Arizona and L.A., Drive is, according to author James Sallis, "about a guy who does stunt driving for movies by day and drives for criminals at night. In classic noir fashion, he is double-crossed and, though before he has never participated in the violence ('I drive. That's all.'), he goes after the ones who double-crossed and tried to kill him."

No Country for Old Men

The Coen Brothers’ adaptation of this Cormac McCarthy novel won four Oscars including the Best Supporting Actor statue for Javier Bardem’s portrayal of the ruthless and relentless hit man Anton Chigurh.

No Country for Old Men

by Cormac McCarthy

Book cover for No Country for Old Men

Hunting for antelope near the Rio Grande, Llewelyn Moss comes across a transaction that has gone badly wrong. Discovering bodies ridden with bullets, kilos of hard drugs and a stash of cash, Llewelyn faces a difficult choice – should he leave the scene as is, or take the money and run? The decision he makes will change his life for ever.

Silence

The film adaptation of Shusaku Endo's story of an idealistic Jesuit priest's journey to Japan, and into the hands of those who would crush his faith, had been a passion project for Martin Scorsese for years. 

Silence

by Shusaku Endo

Book cover for Silence

Father Rodrigues sets sail for Japan on a determined mission to help the brutally oppressed Japanese Christians and to discover the truth behind unthinkable rumours that his famous teacher Ferreira has renounced his faith. Once faced with the realities of religious persecution Rodrigues himself is forced to make an impossible choice: whether to abandon his flock or his God.

Hidden Figures

The film adaptation of Margot Lee Shetterly's bestselling book stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, and was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture. 

Hidden Figures

by Margot Lee Shetterly

Book cover for Hidden Figures

Before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as 'Human Computers', calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts, these women used pencil and paper to write the equations that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space. This is their story. 

Lion

Based on Saroo Brierley's heartbreaking true story of the lost little boy who found his way home twenty-five years later, Lion, starring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara, was nominated for six Academy Awards.

Lion

by Saroo Brierley

Book cover for Lion

Five-year-old Saroo lived in a poor village in India, in a one-room hut with his mother and three siblings. until the day he boarded a train alone and got lost. For twenty-five years. This is the story of what happened to him. How he ended up on the streets of Calcutta. And survived. How he then ended up in Tasmania, living the life of an upper-middle-class Aussie. And how, at thirty years old, with some dogged determination, a heap of good luck and the power of Google Earth, he found his way back home.