Hollywood loves to try and adapt and re-adapt everything into movies, whether it be true stories, old TV shows, or even newspaper articles. One of the most popular genres to be constantly adapted into movies are novels, which often offer in-depth and colorful stories to be told on the big screen. While some have succeeded, including Forrest Gump and Gone Girl, others have seen dismal results, such as Inferno and Divergent.
The most intriguing genre out of them all, however, is the adaptation of children's novels, which are seemingly easy to adapt, but can still be slightly challenging. Let's go back and take a look at the best adaptations of children's books for the big screen.
The Adventures of Huck Finn
- Release Year: 1993
- Stars: Elijah Wood, Courtney B. Vance, Robbie Coltrane, Jason Robards
- Box Office: $24.1 million
- Rotten Tomatoes: 69% from Critics, 49% from Audiences
Adapted from the classic Mark Twain novel, the 1993 Disney film did a great job of adapting the story for the big screen. Telling the story of a young troublemaker who decides to fake his death and run away with a slave seeking freedom, the source novel is considered to be one of the Great American Novels thanks to its sharp satire of the 1800s American South and its racist culture.
Though the film toned much of the novel's language down to appeal to more modern youth audiences, as a whole the film did such a great job of remaining faithful to the book's themes and story, as well as perfectly casting the lead characters with a young Elijah Wood and Courtney B. Vance.
Alice in Wonderland
- Release Year: 1951
- Stars: Kathryn Beaumont, Ed Wynn, Jerry Colonna, Richard Haydn
- Box Office: $5.2 million
- Rotten Tomatoes: 79% from Critics, 78% from Audiences
Arguably one of the most popular 20th-century Disney cartoons, as well as one of the most adapted children's novels ever, the 1951 iteration of Alice in Wonderland is easily the best adaptation of the book. The story follows Alice, a young girl who follows a white rabbit dressed in a suit with a pocketwatch into an underground world known as Wonderland, in which she meets an array of bizarre characters and must try to find her way home before the evil Queen of Hearts can execute her.
In addition to remaining most faithful to the source material in terms of story, the animation team did a phenomenal job of capturing the very surreal world that is Wonderland, ranging from the creepy yet soothing Cheshire cat to the strange yet genius hookah-smoking Caterpillar. While there have been other good adaptations of the novel, including Tim Burton's live-action version in 2010, the first Disney cartoon will always be the best version.
The Brave Little Toaster
- Release Year: 1987
- Stars: Deanna Oliver, Timothy E. Day, Tim Stack, Jon Lovitz
- Box Office: $2.3 million
- Rotten Tomatoes: 75% from Critics, 81% from Audiences
Both one of Disney's most underrated animated movies and one of the best children's adaptations, The Brave Little Toaster is easily one of the sweetest and most warm-hearted movies on this list. Based on a 1980s children's book of the same name, the story follows a group of household appliances as they journey from their cottage home in search of their owner, Rob, who hasn't returned in a long time. The film did water some of the original book's darker elements, as well as changed the ending, but as a whole, it captured the book perfectly. It's a charming and adventurous story with plenty of humor, colorful animation and fast pace that make this a fun and entertaining adaptation for kids and adults alike.
Bridge to Terabithia
- Release Year: 2007
- Stars: Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Rob, Robert Patrick, Zooey Deschanel
- Box Office: $137.6 million ($82.3 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 85% "Certified Fresh" from Critics, 70% from Audiences
This is not only one of the most successful adaptations of a children's novel on this list, but it's also one of my personal favorites. Adapted from the 1977 novel of the same name, the film follows Jesse Aarons as he befriends his new neighbor, Leslie Burke, and the two use their creative minds to invent the fantasy world of Terabithia in the forest near their homes, spending all their free time in an abandoned tree house. This film is easily one of the most faithful adaptations of a children's novel, never toning down the book's themes or events, as well as staying true to the tone and dialogue. In addition to the faithfulness of the script, the casting for the characters could not have been more perfect, the young Hutcherson and Robb both perfectly encompassing their roles.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
- Release Year: 2005
- Stars: Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, AnnaSophia Robb, David Kelly
- Box Office: $475 million ($206.5 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 83% "Certified Fresh" from Critics, 51% from Audiences
Now this is a super unpopular opinion here, but the 2005 Tim Burton adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl novel is far more superior than the 1971 adaptation. Though both iterations of the novel feature differences from the source material, this version does a much better job at remaining faithful to the novel, both in the plot and the tone. Depicting the story with a more gothic tone that Burton is well-known for, the novel comes to life brilliantly on the big screen with wonderful visual effects, stylish direction and a phenomenal performance from frequent Burton star, Johnny Depp.
- Release Year: 2006
- Stars: Dakota Fanning, Dominic Scott Kay, Beau Bridges, Julia Roberts
- Box Office: $144.9 million ($83 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 78% "Certified Fresh" from Critics, 62% from Critics
Easily one of the more forgotten children's novels on this list, the E.B. White book is considered a classic in children's literature, and though the animated adaptation was a fun film, the live-action adaptation is easily the better iteration of the novel. Telling the story of a young pig named Wilbur as he befriends a barn spider who writes special messages in her web to keep him from being slaughtered by the farmer. The story is such a heartwarming adventure, and the film does a wonderful job to tell the story in a contained and humble manner that it's hard not to find enjoyment if one's a fan of the novel. The film also does a great job in casting each role, Fanning bringing plenty of warmth and care to the role of Fern, as well as the voice actors all perfectly capturing their characters, especially Roberts as the wise and loving Charlotte.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
- Release Year: 2005
- Stars: William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Liam Neeson, James McAvoy
- Box Office: $745 million ($291.7 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 76% "Certified Fresh" from Critics, 61% from Audiences
The fantasy series of a mystical land filled with intrigue and danger is considered one of the greatest in the genre, featuring seven novels and eight adaptations over the course of the past 50 years. But the best adaptation of them all was the first live-action film in 2005, adapting the first novel in which the Pevensie discover the land of Narnia and meet the wonderful creatures there, including Mr. Tumnus and Aslan, as well as the evil White Witch. Both remaining true to the source material and featuring stellar visual effects, the adaptation of the fantasy classic truly brought Narnia to life with warmth and conviction.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
- Release Year: 2009
- Stars: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Mr. T
- Box Office: $243 million ($124.9 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 87% "Certified Fresh" from Critics, 71% from Audiences
Though the film was only a loose adaptation of the novel it's based upon, the animated adaptation of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs embraced its deviations with the same quirky energy and zany humor that can be found in the original book. The film follows Flint Lockwood, a wanna-be scientist who has a machine go berzerk and makes food fall from the sky, bringing the town out of poverty until the machine breaks and begins making extra large sizes of the food. The decision to make this story into an animated film paid off brilliantly, as the film featured beautiful and colorful animation and had a stellar voice cast to portray the characters.
- Release Year: 2009
- Stars: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Keith David, Ian McShane
- Box Office: $124.6 million ($75.3 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 90% "Certified Fresh" from Critics, 73% from Audiences
In addition to landing on this list of great adaptations, it's also on my personal list of my favorite children's movies as a whole. Based on the novel of the same name from master of the modern macabre, Neil Gaiman, the story follows young Coraline Jones as she moves into a new house and discovers a mysterious door that leads to a world almost like hers, but with one deadly difference.In taking very little liberation with the plot, the film remains very faithful to the events and characters from the novel, adding a couple of characters that help Coraline in her character development while still getting nearly everything else down to a tee.
The film also was the major launching point for Laika, the stop-motion animation company that worked on ParaNorman and Kubo and the Two Strings, and they proved with this film their talents with stunning stop-motion animation, and the cast could not have been more perfectly chosen for their roles, especially Keith David as the mysterious and seemingly all-knowing cat.
- Release Year: 2006
- Stars: Will Ferrell, Drew Barrymore, Dick Van Dyke, David Cross
- Box Office: $69.8 million ($58.4 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 69% from Critics, 69% from Audiences
In one of the rare occasions where audiences and critics hold the exact same positive opinion for a movie, Curious George charmed its way into everyone's hearts in the 2006 adaptation of the popular children's book series. The film loosely adapts the stories from the series, fleshing out The Man in the Yellow Hat character by giving him an actual name and better motivation for taking care of George, while also giving George a chance to explore the world of New York City without being confined to the zoo as in the first book.
The film did a phenomenal job of capturing the innocent nature of George from the book, even in his dealings with the humans of the story, while also making a smart choice in using traditional animation that was vibrant and colorful. The film was also supported by a wonderful musical score and a great soundtrack featuring songs by Jack Johnson and some of his "Friends," the music all capturing the adventurous, yet quietly sweet nature of the film.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
- Release Year: 2010
- Stars: Zachary Gordon, Devon Bostick, Robert Capron, Chloe Grace Moretz
- Box Office: $75.7 million ($64 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 53% from Critics, 49% from Audiences
Still widely popular amongst middle school and early high school readers, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series has proven to be one of the best-selling book franchises within the decade, having released its eleventh book last year. Three years after the first book was released, the rights were bought by 20th Century Fox to adapt the books for the big screen, and the first adaptation still proves to be the best of them all. Following Greg Heffley as he and his friends attempt to navigate the chaotic world that is middle school, the story is one that everyone who hated those years of their life can relate to. The film does a phenomenal job of bringing the book and its drawings to life, whether it's using the live-action actors or even the animated sequences themselves, and the casting choices were all spot-on for their roles, Gordon providing a wonderful narration that captures all of the book's satirical wit and tone.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
- Release Year: 2009
- Stars: George Clooney, Bill Murray, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman
- Box Office: $46.4 million ($21 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 92% "Certified Fresh" from Critics, 84% from Audiences
Often one of Roald Dahl's more overlooked children's novels, Fantastic Mr. Fox was a story that featured a very unique and quirky look at what could happen if a fox and his family could walk and talk and were thieves. This vision that Dahl laid out in the novel could only be portrayed on screen through the eyes of Wes Anderson, the king of quirk, and his vision remains true to the source material, giving more depth to the characters that both adult and children audiences can enjoy, as well as featuring some brilliant stop-motion animation.
Horton Hears a Who!
- Release Year: 2008
- Stars: Jim Carrey, Steve Carrell, Will Arnett, Seth Rogen
- Box Office: $297.1 million ($154.5 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 79% "Certified Fresh" from Critics, 73% from Audiences
Arguably Dr. Seuss' third most famous and greatest children's book in his extensive bibliography, Horton Hears a Who! taught children the important message of equality in its story of an elephant who offers to protect a miniature village and get them to the safest place in the jungle so that they may survive. The film not only portrays everything in the story faithfully, but it gets the tone down perfectly, delivering a warmhearted adventure that really emphasizes the source's messages in a touching and whimsical way. The film is supported by some vibrant animation and a voice cast that captures all of the characters perfectly, especially Jim Carrey, who is no stranger to bringing Dr. Seuss characters to life.
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas
- Release Year: 2000
- Stars: Jim Carrey, Jeffrey Tambor, Taylor Momsen, Christine Baranski
- Box Office: $345.1 million ($260 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 53% from Critics, 55% from Audiences
Before the prior movie on this list was released, Jim Carrey starred in the first live-action AND first theatrical adaptation of a Dr. Seuss story with the 2000 comedy, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Telling the infamous story of the grouchy creature who decides to try and bring the happy town of Whoville's Christmas celebration to a halt by stealing all the decorations, the live-action adaptation certainly fared well financially upon release, however it received a very mixed reception critically, many finding the tone too dark and dismal for the story. Though the tone is certainly a departure from the story, everything else in the film remains true to its source material, featuring plenty of zany and whimsical comedy, phenomenal visual effects, a better look at the depth of the titular character with a perfect lead performance from Carrey, cementing its spot on this list.
How to Train Your Dragon
- Release Year: 2010
- Stars: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Gerard Butler, TJ Miller
- Box Office: $494.9 million ($217.6 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 98% "Certified Fresh" from Critics, 91% from Audiences
Though the book series is not nearly as popular with American audiences as it has British readers, the film series has soared since its first entry, and for good reason. Loosely based on the source material, the film of a young teenage Viking who seeks to break his village's tradition of slaying dragons and instead train them to work and live together in peace. While featuring a more lighthearted story than the first book, the film was still able to take a lot of its source's messages and heart and properly portray it on the big screen, resulting in a wonderfully animated picture with a lot of dramatic heft to it and featuring an excellent ensemble voice cast.
- Release Year: 1996
- Stars: Jeff Daniels, Glenn Close, Joely Richardson, Hugh Laurie
- Box Office: $320.6 million ($136.2 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 38% from Critics, 40% from Audiences
Another super unpopular opinion here (as evidenced by the Rotten Tomatoes scores), but I actually find that the live-action adaptation of the classic 1956 novel. The film tells the story of two adult dalmatians who give birth to a litter of 15 puppies that are kidnapped by the evil fashion designer, Cruella de Vil, who plans to use them and 84 other stole dalmatians for fur coats, and the efforts of the adult dalmatians and their owners, Anita and Roger Dearly, as they try to rescue the pups.
While the film did add more slapstick not previously featured in the novel, it still had all of the proper elements from the source material, especially star Glenn Close's most groundbreaking performance in her career as the villainous Cruella de Vil, earning her sixth nomination for a Golden Globe and still delivering a spine-chilling memory every time her image of the character appears on screen.
Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey
- Release Year: 1993
- Stars: Michael J. Fox, Sally Field, Don Ameche, Robert Hays
- Box Office: $41.8 million
- Rotten Tomatoes: 88% from Critics, 71% from Audiences
Both a faithful adaptation of a classic children's novel and the rare instance of a remake being just as good, if not better, than the original, the 1993 iteration of the family adventure still offers plenty of charm and thrills for both adult and kid viewers. The film follows three pets as they make a perilous journey through the wilderness of the Sierra Nevadas to return to their owners in San Francisco. The film does well to stay true to both the plot and the tone of the novel, delivering a funny, charming journey that still pulls at our heart strings and delivers one of the most heartwarming and tearjerker endings on this list.
The Indian in the Cupboard
- Release Year: 1995
- Stars: Hal Scardino, Lifefoot, David Keith, Lindsay Crouse
- Box Office: $35.7 million
- Rotten Tomatoes: 70% from Critics, 39% from Audiences
Upon initial release, this adaptation proved to be a disappointment for the two studios that distributed the film, failing to recoup its budget at the box office and finding only positive reviews from critics. However, as time has gone on, The Indian in the Cupboard has developed a cult following amongst audiences that grew up in the '90s, and for good reason. Though some of the book's really serious moments and characterizations were tamed up for the movie, the film featured such a unique story thanks to its source material, and captures the wonder of the book with sweet storytelling and solid visual effects.
The Iron Giant
- Release Year: 1999
- Stars: Eli Marienthal, Christopher MacDonald, Harry Connick, Jr., Jennifer Aniston
- Box Office: $31.3 million ($23.2 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 96% "Certified Fresh" from Critics, 89 % from Audiences
Easily one of the films that still ends in tears for anyone who grew up watching the film (or has a heart), The Iron Giant is one of the most enduring and most popular children's novel adaptations, even if many audiences don't realize it's an adaptation. Taking the basis for its story from the 1968 British novel of the same name, the film is a very loose adaptation of its source material, focusing exclusively on the relationship between the title character and the lead protagonist, Hogarth, as they work together to help recover his memory and hide him from the paranoid '50s American government. The film featured some incredible animation from the still-growing Warner Bros. Animation department and director Brad Bird (The Incredibles), a heartwarming and unique story and a stellar ensemble voice cast.
James and the Giant Peach
- Release Year: 1996
- Stars: Paul Terry, Simon Callow, Richard Dreyfuss, Susan Sarandon
- Box Office: $28.9 million
- Rotten Tomatoes: 93% "Certified Fresh" from Critics, 65% from Audiences
Landing on the list for the third time, Roald Dahl's classic fantasy novel of a young boy and his intercontinental adventure in a giant peach with anthropomorphic insects is one of the best children's novels adaptations. The film takes some liberation with the story and sequence of events, including the survival of the title character's evil aunts during the escape of the peach, but it still remains true to its source, resulting in a beautiful blend of live-action and stop-motion storytelling that captures the novel's sense of imagination and adventure.
- Release Year: 1995
- Stars: Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst, Bradley Pierce, Bonnie Hunt
- Box Office: $262.8 million ($100.5 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 48% from Critics, 62% from Audiences
I'm gonna preface this by saying if you're not a fan of this film, we are not going to be friends. The family action-adventure of a board game that comes to life and terrorizes a small New Hampshire town has been a fan-favorite since its release, considered one of Robin Williams' best and most fun films in his career. Having been adapted from the children's novel of the same name, the source material was only 32 pages long, and the screenwriters did a great job of expanding the story for the big screen featuring some great humor, suspenseful visual effects and good performances, especially Williams and Bonnie Hunt.
The Jungle Book
- Release Year: 1967
- Stars: Bruce Reitherman, Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, George Sanders
- Box Office: $205.8 million ($73.7 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 86% from Critics, 82% from Audiences
Another of the most frequently adapted children's stories, The Jungle Book is a timeless classic of a young boy named Mowgli and his adventures in the jungle with various anthropomorphic animals, including Baloo the bear and Shere Khan the tiger. The best adaptation out of them all is certainly the classic 1967 animated Disney adaptation, which did such a phenomenal job of capturing the source material's colorful world and deep messages of equality and adventure. Though many might argue that the superior adaptation is the recent live-action adaptation from Jon Favreau, which is indeed a phenomenal picture, it's no match for the original animated feature.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
- Release Year: 1949
- Stars: Bing Crosby, Basil Rathbone, Leslie Dennison
- Box Office: N/A
- Rotten Tomatoes: 93% from Critics, 71% from Audiences
The everlasting fable of the quiet New York town, Sleepy Hollow, and its dealing with the Headless Horseman is one of my personal favorite stories, as the source material certainly held a lot of mystery and fright to it, and has given to many wonderful adaptations with different interpretations, including Tim Burton's 1999 Sleepy Hollow and the current Fox supernatural crime drama, Sleepy Hollow. But the best, and most faithful, adaptation of all is the 1949 Disney cartoon, which was released as a combination film in The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad.
While most adaptations take to establishing the Headless Horseman as a legitimate supernatural spirit, the cartoon stayed true to the source material in implying that it was lead character Ichabod Crane's rival imitating the "spirit" to get him out of the way to marry the young Katrina van Tassel. The animated feature also featured some wonderful animation and a wonderful lead voice from Bing Crosby that truly makes this the best adaptation of the horror short story.
The Parent Trap
- Release Year: 1998
- Stars: Lindsay Lohan, Dennis Quaid, Natasha Richardson, Elaine Hendrix
- Box Office: $83.9 million ($66.3 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 86% "Certified Fresh" from Critics, 70% from Audiences
Acting as both a remake and an adaptation of the 1949 German novel, "Lottie and Lisa," the 1998 iteration of The Parent Trap is easily the best version of the story of two identical twins who discover each other's existence at summer camp and swap lives in order to learn about their parent they didn't know and reunite their divorced parents. Though it took nearly all of the same steps from the original 1961 film, this one featured such a better sense of warmth and care for the characters and their personalities than its predecessor, and it featured even stronger performances from each role than the previous film, especially from debuting Lindsay Lohan in the dual lead role.
- Release Year: 1993
- Stars: Robin Williams, Sally Field, Pierce Brosnan, Harvey Fierstein
- Box Office: $441.3 million ($219.2 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 71% from Critics, 77% from Audiences
Another film widely regarded as one of Robin Williams' greatest films in his career, what many might not realize is that Mrs. Doubtfire is in fact an adaptation of the 1987 children's novel, "Madame Doubtfire." The story of a divorced father who uses his acting skills and the help of his makeup artist brother to disguise himself as a nanny to spend more time with his children remained true in its journey to the big screen, the film capturing the novel's theme of love and devotion to the father's children, no matter the circumstances. In addition to the faithful storytelling, the film is elevated even further thanks to Williams' zany and heartwarming performance, resulting in one of his best performances in his career.
- Release Year: 1964
- Stars: Julie Andrews, Dick van Dyke, David Tomlinson, Glynis Johns
- Box Office: $102.3 million ($31 million initial domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 100% "Certified Fresh" from Critics, 86% from Audiences
Both the highest-rated film on this list and one of the most popular Disney films of all-time, Mary Poppins has earned all of its praise thanks to many different facets. While only acting as a loose adaptation of the classic book series written by P.L. Travers, the film captured all of the novels' core themes and concepts that it still remains one of the most faithful adaptations out there. The film did well to tell the heartbreaking and heartwarming story of the Banks' children and their interactions with the titular nanny and how she helped change their lives for the better with every lesson taught. The behind-the-scenes story of the film was also dramatized into a phenomenal drama film, Saving Mr. Banks, in 2013.
- Release Year: 2007
- Stars: Emma Roberts, Max Theriot, Rachel Leigh Cook, Josh Flitter
- Box Office: $30.7 million ($25.6 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 50% from Critics, 59% from Audiences
The teen sleuth has had her fair share of adventures in nearly 200 novels over the course of 73 years, but has only seen time on the big and small screens less than 10 times. Of the screen adaptations, however, the best one of them all is the 2007 big-screen version. Rather than adapting one of its MANY different novels, the film chose to tell an original story based on the series, and while its story certainly would've been a bland mystery elsewhere, the inclusion of the titular teen detective, played charmingly by Emma Roberts, certainly made this an enjoyable adaptation of the character.
Night at the Museum
- Release Year: 2006
- Stars: Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Dick van Dyke, Carla Gugino
- Box Office: $574.5 million ($250.9 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 43% from Critics, 67% from Audiences
Though the film took inspiration from the children's novel of the same name rather than act as a straight adaptation, the Night at the Museum film franchise has been an exceedingly fun, fast-paced and hilarious adventure in which the first was the best adaptation of the source material. Following Larry Daley (Stiller) as he discovers that every night in the Museum of Natural History in New York, the exhibits come to life, and Larry is tasked with ensuring they stay in the museum. While the source material only had the dinosaurs coming to life, the idea to have all of the exhibits come to life was unique and thrilling, and the visual effects to support this were phenomenal, as well as great performances from each of the performers, especially Stiller and Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt.
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
- Release Year: 2010
- Stars: Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandria Daddario, Pierce Brosnan
- Box Office: $226.5 million ($88.8 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 49% from Critics, 53% from Audiences
While diehard fans of the book series might disagree with this listing, the first film in the Percy Jackson film franchise was actually a very good adaptation of the first novel. The film follows the title character as he discovers he is the son of the Greek god, Poseidon, and must quest for Zeus' stolen lightning bolt before an all-out war breaks out between the gods. The film does take a few liberties with the story, but as a whole remains faithful to the characters and events from the source, and does a wonderful job at casting the young characters, especially Logan Lerman as the title role, and they are supported by stellar action and visual effects.
- Release Year: 2003
- Stars: Jeremy Sumpter, Jason Isaacs, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Richard Briers
- Box Office: $122 million ($48.5 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 77% "Certified Fresh" from Critics, 74% from Audiences
Though it is one of the bigger box office bombs on this list, only making $122 million at the worldwide box office in comparison to the $130 million production budget, the 2003 adaptation of the classic J.M. Barrie fantasy tale of a boy who never ages in the mystical world of Neverland is still the superior iteration of the character. Prior to 2003's Peter Pan, the story has been adapted multiple times on both the big and small screens, including 1953's animated iteration from Disney and 1991's sequel story Hook. However, this version marks the first authorized and faithful adaptation of the classic tale, which is evidenced by its blend of light storytelling and darker thematic elements, while also featuring some vibrant special effects and two brilliant performances from Sumpter, who is the first boy to portray Pan in live-action, and Isaacs.
The Polar Express
- Release Year: 2004
- Stars: Tom Hanks, Daryl Sabara, Michael Jeter, Nona Gaye
- Box Office: $309.8 million ($185.7 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 55% from Critics, 63% from Audiences
Appearing for the second of three times, Chirs Van Allsburg's novel The Polar Express has been regarded by many as one of the greatest children's novels and picture books of all time, and the film adaptation does great honor to its source material. Telling the story of a young boy as he journeys to the North Pole the night of Christmas Eve on the mythical Polar Express, the film does a phenomenal job at expanding the 32-page book without losing any of its heart or simplicity. The film delves into its characters with great emotional complexity while also helping kids to connect to the characters, and they're lifted by a wonderful voice cast and beautiful animation that capture all of the warmth and excitement from its source material.
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
- Release Year: 2017
- Stars: Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes
- Box Office: N/A
- Rotten Tomatoes: 94% "Certified Fresh" from Critics, 81% from Audiences
After a mildly successful film adaptation of the popular gothic children's novel franchise inn 2004, the Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events series seemed dead in the water, with a sequel staying in developmental hell all the way until 2014, when the idea was completely scrapped and Netflix decided to adapt the book series into an eight-part television series. This would prove to be the best idea, as the TV series would prove to be the best adaptation of the novel series, wonderfully blending the quirky nature of the books and the dry humor with its darker themes.
The show, which follows the unfortunate events of the orphaned Baudelaire children as they are passed from guardian to guardian after their parents perish in a fire, takes two episodes to adapt each novel in the series, which gives the series time not only to live with audiences, but to also attend to its source material's details and remain faithful. The true nature is also supported by magnificent performances from its cast, especially Harris, who plays the multiple-character role even better than Jim Carrey did in the film adaptation, and Warburton, who plays a constrained yet outlandishly hilarious narrator nonetheless.
- Release Year: 2001
- Stars: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow
- Box Office: $484.4 million ($267.7 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 88% "Certified Fresh" from Critics, 90% from Audiences
Though it's source material was a much more traditional story than the final film, Shrek is still one of the most thrilling adaptations of a children's novel made. While still utilizing much of the original's important messages and lead character, the movie also does well to subvert conventional genre cliches and parody many classic fables, including Gingerbread Man, Robin Hood and Big Bad Wolf. The voice cast do a phenomenal job of bringing these characters to life, especially Myers as the title ogre, and the animation is superb, winning the first ever Oscar for Best Animated Feature over Monsters, Inc. and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.
- Release Year: 1998
- Stars: Michael J. Fox, Jonathan Lipnicki, Hugh Laurie, Geena Davis
- Box Office: $300.1 million ($140 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 66% from Critics, 41% from Audiences
E.B. White's first foray into the children's novel genre is considered by many to be one of the greatest entries into the literary genre, and while the film adaptations both saw mixed reviews, the first with reviews and the second at the box office, the first Stuart Little film is still the best adaptation of the book. The film follows Stuart, an anthropomorphic mouse who is adopted by a human family and struggles to adapt to his new life amongst those larger than him and a house pet with plans to kill him. The film certainly only adapts about half the novel on screen, but it is handled so effectively and charmingly it's forgivable, as the messages still resonate in the movie and are supported by wonderful special effects on Stuart and a great vocal performance from Fox.
- Release Year: 2003
- Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, Patricia Arquette
- Box Office: $71.4 million ($67.4 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 77% "Certified Fresh" from Critics, 76% from Audiences
Acting as both one of the most faithful adaptations on this list and one of the most entertaining, Holes resonated with many audiences upon its release in 2003 and still remains fresh in the minds of those who grew up watching the film and for good reason. Telling the story of young Stanley Yelnats IV, the film/book follow the young boy as he's wrongly convicted for stealing a pair of sneakers donated to a homeless shelter by a famous baseball player and is sent to a camp in the middle of a desert to dig holes along with other juvenile delinquents. The story translated so well on to the big screen and its themes were all captured beautifully thanks to its writing and wonderful performances from its large cast, especially a still up-and-coming Shia LaBeouf and the veteran performers Sigourney Weaver and Jon Voight.
Winnie the Pooh
- Release Year: 2011
- Stars: Jim Cummings, Travis Oates, Bud Luckey, John Cleese
- Box Office: $50.1 million ($26.7 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 90% "Certified Fresh" from Critics, 80% from Audiences
He's lived on in young readers' hearts for over 90 years, and he and his friends have enjoyed 40 years of success on both the big and small screens. His name is Winnie the Pooh, and the little yellow bear with a hunger for honey and a sense of adventure has lived through three different generations of audiences and continues to entertain them all, even as adults, and the best film in the series is easily the 2011 big-screen adaptation. While not directly adapting any one story, but rather taking inspiration from three different stories, the film captured all of the source's heartwarming characters, hilarious and sweet dialogue and brought to life with beautiful animation and exquisite writing that deliver a sense of nostalgia for those who have watched Pooh in the past.
- Release Year: 2006
- Stars: Jonah Bobo, Josh Hutcherson, Dax Sheppard, Kristen Stewart
- Box Office: $64.3 million ($29.3 million domestic)
- Rotten Tomatoes: 75% "Certified Fresh" from Critics, 51% from Audiences
While the literary source material directly acknowledges the shared universe between similar book/game "Jumanji," the film based on the children's novel from Chris Van Allsburg (who appears on this list for the third time) took to a more separated approach, only acknowledging in marketing the similarities between the previous film and the current film. However, Zathura still proved to be a very faithful adaptation of the children's novel, only having to expand on the source material a little bit for its characters while still taking the time to focus on the exhilarating and sweeping special effects that bring the world of Zathura to life. Though the film was a box office disappointment, the film earned very positive reviews from critics, and was well-deserved thanks to its stylish direction, fast-paced action and great performances from the young Hutcherson and Bobo.
What are some of your favorite childhood adaptations? Any missing from this list? Let us know in the comments below!