During the last decades, literary adaptations have become a constant source of cinematographic inspiration with the most varied results. From reinventions of classic characters, to new tours of the most beloved stories from readers around the world.
Bringing stories to the cinema that are part of the collective memory seems to be a round maneuver to ensure interest and audience, which can undoubtedly be a way of understanding the value of literature for audiences that also attend movie theaters.
We leave you a brief review of the most adapted books and stories in history and their impact on the world of the seventh art:
The divine word
If we stick to the Guinness Book of World Records, the most adapted book in the world of cinema is The Bible, which has provided plot, characters and context to more than 200 feature films. The holy book of several of the world’s major monotheistic religions has been the origin of stories ranging from dissimilar perceptions of religion – such as Martin Scorsese’s controversial The Last Temptation of Christ – to directly biblical accounts such as The Ten Commandments of 1956 directed by Cecil B. DeMille and with Charlton Heston as Moses.
But the tour does not stop there and the list of productions with themes that touch, deepen or show different points of view of the sacred writings reach more than 200 feature films. That, of course, not counting the variety of films set in the most important biblical moments and also, the mocking parodies in the style Monty Python’s Life of Brian, released in 1979.
Once upon a time…
The tales of the Brothers Grimm have also been the subject of hundreds of reinventions and versions in film mecca, ranging from macabre revisions, action adventure films, accounts with a terrifying take on traditional tales, such as the underrated Snow White. : A Tale of Terror (1997) by Michael Cohn and the terrifying Hansel and Gretel by Oz Perkins, released in January this year.
Hans Christian Andersen stories also have an important representation in adaptations of fairy tales on screen, which include local versions such as the saga of the Snow Queen of Russian factory (with more than five films in the saga) and all kinds of reinventions of classic characters like The Little Mermaid, the ugly duckling, the red slippers and endless stories, which are part of the essence of much of children’s cinema in recent decades.
Jane Austen, for posterity
In October, the umpteenth version of Jane Austen’s novel Emma, this time starring Queen’s Gambit star Anya Taylor-Joy and directed by Autumn de Wilde, was released in select theaters and later on VOD. It is the fourth adaptation in the last quarter of a century, which means that the immortal character of the English writer has had at least one face for three different generations.
If we go back twenty years on the calendar, we will stumble upon its more modern version in ’96: Amy Heckerling’s film Clueless, starring then-trendy girl Alicia Silverstone, was a success and became the quintessential teenage film when made the smart decision to bring the classic history of our time.
In the same year, director Douglas McGrath also brought the classic history of English literature, this time starring Gwyneth Paltrow, to the screen, sparking a mild and uneasy controversy about the age of the actress as opposed to the character imagined by Austen.
Another of the most successful adaptations of Austen’s novel came in 2010 and from the most unexpected place: Rajshree Ojha’s film Aisha became an instant Bollywood hit and made its protagonist Sonam Kapoor one of the most popular actresses. from the country. In the same way as Clueless, the story unfolds in our time and Aisha is the embodiment of clumsy good intentions, becoming in matchmaker of many of her friends although without having the intention of getting married sooner or later.
Another of the most adapted works of the English writer is Pride and Prejudice with at least 17 literal adaptations of the original work and forty based, directly or indirectly, on her central drama.
Elemental, dear viewer
Always according to the Guinness Book of World Records, Sherlock Holmes is the character with the most cinematographic reinventions in the history of cinema.
A decade ago he had a measurable sum of 254 incarnations in both film and television, which includes not only parts of the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but also brief appearances in entirely different stories. like the recent inclusion of the character in the plot of Enola Holmes, Netflix’s summer hit.
The figure also includes his appearance on television series such as CBS Elementary and the BBC hit Sherlock, produced by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat.
The most recent appearance of the world’s most famous detective includes a duology starring actor Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, both directed by Guy Ritchie and which will become a trilogy at some point in 2021.
A very large fangs story
Closely following in the footsteps of the British detective is Dracula, who has been brought to the screen in no less than 272 terrifying presences, including from films that directly adapt Bram Stoker’s novel, The Life of Vlad Tepes II of Wallachia. until the most recent reinvention, released this year of a miniseries of three chapters produced for Netflix by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat.
The presence of Dracula is also included in minor stories in local shorts of European cinema and also, in feature films of local origin, which narrate the historical perception of the character.
From England to the world
Shakespeare is also one of the most adapted authors in the history of cinema. The Romeo and Juliet tragedy has reached the silver screen more than 40 times and is the basis for all kinds of adaptations – including animated ones – that raise the number of tale of the tragic lovers almost 200 times, to which we should also add chapters in various series in which the tragic fate of the lovers of Verona is analyzed from different angles.
They also enter the list with the largest number of adaptations of Hamlet with some thirty versions in the cinema, plus about twenty on television in addition to 70 more or less directly related to the dilemma of the Prince of Denmark.
Very close to the Bard, is Charles Dickens: the Christmas Carol has been adapted fifty times directly, in addition to more than 100 indirectly including a curious version with Bill Murray directed by Richard Donner and premiered at the ‘ 88.
Alice in Wonderland and its sequel Alice, Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Caroll surpasses fifty adaptations, which include from versions directly dedicated to the world of children, to others much more adult and disturbing. And even a good collection of reviews in the world of adult cinema, a rarity that makes the idea about the visitor to Wonderland more twisted.
For its part, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley has 40 film versions, which increase to almost 100 if we take into account television series, animated versions and reinterpretations of the myth of the scientist who transgresses all limits in search of creating life.
With its harsh criticism of human nature, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo has been adapted more than 50 times, including a good collection of versions of the story in silent films and about 30 on television, directly or with immediate references to the novel.
The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas also occupy a special place in the cinema with its 29 films, a few ahead of Count Monte Cristo – with 24 versions – and which also has all kinds of reinterpretations including some very strange versions in Bollywood.
The immortal work of Miguel de Cervantes has 20 direct adaptations and is the inspiration for nearly 200 more, which also include reviews of their main characters separately, and also an analysis of the story in context completely different from the original.
From Maine to the world
And of course, the so-called Master of Terror could not be missing from the list: Stephen King.
The author is about to exceed one hundred adaptations of his stories and stories, not counting those that are tangentially related to his most well-known stories or characters.