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The 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ has been adapted to screen six times, the most famous being the 1959 version with Charlton Heston that won 11 Academy Awards and one of the grandest movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood. A remake from Kazakh director Timur Bekmambetov with the Boardwalk Empire star Jack Huston playing the title character is out this weekend.
The novel has been called ‘the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century’ and seeing that it has been adapted so many times we at Entertainment Fuse have decided to look at the most adapted novels and novel series.
Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus is Mary Shelley’s most famous novel and one of the greatest pieces of gothic horror fiction. This obviously means the novel and the characters have appeared in numerous film adaptations.
Published in 1818 Frankenstein follows Victor Frankenstein, a German noble and a doctor who plays god by discovering he can bring flesh back to life with electricity. Dr. Frankenstein uses his knowledge to make a new life-form, made from various body parts, but rejects his creation when he sees it as an abomination, leading to the monster seeking revenge against his creator.
There have been two successful series based on the novel, the Universal series starring Boris Karloff in the 1930s (the version that is considered the most iconic) and the Hammer Films series starring Peter Cushing. However most film adaptations play fast and loose with the novel – the most famous image of the monster is that he has a green skin and bolts in his neck while in the novel he is described as 8 feet tall, with yellow eyes and skin that barely covers his body. Many people mistake Frankenstein for being the monster and not the scientist. One of the most loyal adaptations was Kenneth Branagh’s version in 1994 and even that took liberties from the novel.
More recent versions has seen Tim Burton doing an animated homage with Frankenweenie, Kevin James voicing the monster Frankenstein in the Hotel Transylvania series, Aaron Eckhart starred in a graphic novel adaptation I, Frankenstein and Max Landis had a crack at a prequel with Victor Frankenstein, starring James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is one of the most iconic horror novels ever written and the character has appeared in more than 200 movies. The cinematic version of the character has varied over the years, from the refined foreign gentleman in the Universal series in the 1930s, a creepy, disgusting monster in Nosferatu, modernized versions and even a blaxploitation version.
Many actors have played Dracula, from Max Schreck, Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee’s iconic performance in the Hammer Horror series to Gary Oldman. Recent versions of the characters include Luke Evans starring in an action-prequel and Adam Sandler voicing the character in the Hotel Transylvania movies.
Because the character is in the public domain he has appeared in numerous franchises and TV shows. In 2004 three versions of Dracula appeared on film, Dominic Purcell played ‘Drake’, the first vampire in Blade Trinity, Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale did battle against Dracula and various other Universal Monsters in Van Helsing and there was a sci-fi version in the form of Dracula 3000.
On TV, Dracula has appeared in many forms, including in the BBC’s miniseries in 2006 and was the main antagonist in Penny Dreadful‘s third season; in The Simpsons he is a senior member of the Springfield Republican Party.
One of the most famous adaptations of the novel was the silent German film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror which was a blatant piece of copyright infringement and that’s what made it more famous. Ironically it is one of the more faithful adaptations.
8. Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes is one of the most enduring characters in fiction, appearing in four novels and 56 short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and is the Guinness World Record holder for most portrayed character on screen, with over 70 actors playing him. Currently there have been four versions of the character on screen, the BBC’s modernization Sherlock, the Guy Ritchie film series starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, the American TV series Elementary. Also Sir Ian McKellen played an older version of the character in Mr. Holmes.
Adaptations of the character have varied over the years. There have been straight adaptations of the novels and short stories (The Hound of the Baskervilles is particularly favorite for filmmakers), some are original stories while others use story elements, for example Sherlock and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows has the Reichenbach Falls incident as a climax.
There have been various film and TV series over the years: Raymond Massey started in five film series from 1931 to 1937, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce started in a famous 14 movie series from 1939 to 1946 and the 80s saw two live action TV series. Other movies have dared to take a different approach to the Sherlock character, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution looked at Sherlock overcoming his cocaine addiction, Mr. Holmes looked at an aging Sherlock battle the onset of Alzheimer’s and the Warner Brothers series is a more action-orientated version of the character.
Ironically Doyle hated his own creation and even tried to kill Sherlock off but was forced to bring the character back because of popular demand.
7. Pride and Prejudice
The romantic novel Pride and Prejudice is Jane Austen’s most famous novel, being declared Britain’s second favorite BBC Big Read in 2003 and the one that has been adapted the most. The story follows Elizabeth Bennet, the second daughter of a landed gentleman and her social climbing mother sets out to find her five daughters a suitable match. The three contenders for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage are the proud Mr. Darcy, the heir to one of the wealthiest estates in England, the charming army officer George Wickham and her cousin and heir to the Bennet’s estate William Collins.
Pride and Prejudice is sometimes considered the first rom-com and it has been adapted three times on film and seven times on TV. The most famous and critically acclaimed adaptation is the 1995 BBC mini-series which starred Jennifer Ehle and launched Colin Firth into stardom – making him a heartthrob. Ehle won the BAFTA for best actress, Firth won the Best Actor Award at the Broadcasting Press Guild and the series won an Emmy for its Costume Design. The miniseries was an influence on Helen Fielding when writing Bridget Jones’ Diary which was also adapted into a film starring Colin Firth.
The 2005 film version was also critically acclaimed, having an ensemble cast that featured Keira Knightley, Donald Sutherland, Tom Hollander, Rosamund Pike and Judi Dench. This version served as Joe Wright‘s feature film debut and won him the Most Promising Newcomer award at the BAFTA and the movie earned four Oscar nominations. Pride and Prejudice also received the Bollywood treatment with Bend Like Beckham‘s Gurinder Chandha turning the text into an all singing dancing affair while in 2016 we saw the Bennet family battle zombies in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
6. The Three Musketeers
Alexandre Dumas’ series of historical novels The Three Musketeers has been the basis for fun swashbuckling adventure films and many actors have appeared in version adaptations, from Douglas Fairbanks in the 1922 silent film to Logan Lerman leading the 2011 version.
One of the most famous adaptations was in the 1970s where actors like Michael York, Charlton Heston, Raquel Welch and Oliver Reed appeared in a series of two movies, The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers. The 1990s also saw a Disney version that starred Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Chris O’Donnell and Oliver Platt as the Musketeers and Tim Curry playing Cardinal Richelieu. While not the most well received version, the Disney version a nostalgic feel for people who grew up in the early 90s.
The most recent Western adaptation (a term being used very loosely) was the 2011’s The Three Musketeers that starred Lerman, Orlando Bloom, Christoph Waltz and Mads Mikkelsen and took the novel down a more steampunk route.
The Musketeers have also appeared on TV. The most recent TV version was the BBC series The Musketeers this was a big hit in the UK, lasting three seasons. It has finished broadcasting in the UK in August 2016.
5. Oliver Twist
Oliver Twist is the first of two novels by Charles Dickens to make it on this list. The story is well known, following a young orphan who goes to London and is tricked into becoming a pickpocket for the nefarious Fagin. Famous directors David Lean and Roman Polanski have put the story onto film in two of the most famous adaptations, even if they had to remove major story elements. There has also been three British miniseries, the 1999 version featured Keira Knightley, while the 2007 version had Timothy Spall, Tom Hardy and Sophie Okonedo. The TV versions have been more faithful to the novel.
As well as the straight-forward adaptation the 1968 musical version, Oliver!, won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director while the Disney animated movie Oliver & Company is considered a loose adaptation of the novel.
4. War and Peace
Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel War and Peace is one of the longest novels ever written and is often the benchmark when comparing any form of text that has a great length. Published in a serialized form in The Russian Messenger between1865 to 1867 War and Peace came out as a novel in 1869, spanning 1,225 pages. The first translation into English was in 1899.
War and Peace is set between 1805 to 1812 during the height of the Napoleonic Wars and the French invasion of Russia, following five aristocratic families during this period. Because of the stress length of the novel there have been few film adaptations. The most famous was a four part film series by the famous Soviet director and actor Seregi Bondarchuk, released in 1966 and 1967. This version was the most expensive movie in the Soviet Union’s history at the time and a huge hit in its homeland. It won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and had a running time of 431 minutes. King Vidor also made an American version that lasted 208 minutes and starred Henry Fonda and Audrey Hephurn. But this version is not so fondly remembered.
War and Peace has had more adaptations on TV. The BBC has adapted the novel twice, once in 1972, starring Anthony Hopkins. The more recent version was broadcast earlier this year and it had an ensemble cast featuring Lily James, Paul Dano and Jim Broadbent. 2007 saw a French-Italian mini-series that was made in English and Russian and had cast members like Clémence Poésy (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and Malcolm McDowell.
3. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-Glass is the quasi-essential example of literary nonsense, a fantasy series following a young girl in the strange world of wonderland and meeting its strange creatures. The most famous adaptation was the 1951 Disney animated version which itself spawned the Tim Burton live-action version which he saw as a sequel to the novel.
Although Disney’s version of Alice in Wonderland is the most famous version it is far from the only version. Other versions include the 1988 Czechoslovakian version Alice by Jan Švankmajer who wanted to make an even darker, more surreal take on the novel and the 1999 TV film which had Miranda Richardson, Martin Short, Whoopi Goldberg and Ben Kingsley in some of the famous roles.
As well as straight adaptations other movies have used elements from the novels, like Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky, featuring the dragon in Through the Looking-Glass, while others like Malice in Wonderland changed the setting using the criminal underworld of London. Even The Matrix has made references to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Lewis Carroll’s character has also been adapted into video games, the most well known being the American McGee series that turned Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland into a something dark and disturbing.
2. Les Misérables
Les Misérables (translated as The Wretched in English) is a long novel by the famous French writer Victor Hugo. Along with The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Les Misérables is Hugo’s most well-known novel.
Les Misérables is set between 1815 to 1832, a turbulent time of French history and follows Jean Valjean’s journey from being a convict, to a mayor, to fostering a young girl while avoiding the police inspector who has a vendetta against him – Javert. It is a story of religious redemption and political revolution.
The novel has been adapted numerous times onto film and TV in various nations. One of the most well regarded is the 1934 French version from director Raymond Bernard and has a running time of 280 minutes. This version is often considered the most faithful adaptation.
Other adaptations include the 1935 American version that was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture – an ensemble movie that had the likes of Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush and Uma Thurman in 1998 and a six hour long French miniseries starring Gérard Depardieu, John Malkovich and Charlotte Gainsbourg was broadcast in 2000. Recently the BBC have commissioned a miniseries based on novel for Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice -1995, War and Peace – 2016) to adapt.
Les Misérables also had a popular musical adaptation and the 2012 film adaptation pleased fans of this iteration.
1. A Christmas Carol
Published in 1843, the novella A Christmas Carol is one of Charles Dickens’ most famous works and is the most adapted novel for screen – being adapted to film 24 times and countless times on TV. We all know the story, Ebenezer Scrooge is a greedy miser who is forced to change after he is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve.
The adaptations have varied over the years, there have been straight adaptations like the TV films starring George C. Scott and Patrick Stewart, modernizations – the most famous being the Bill Murray led Scrooged, a musical starring Albert Finney and various animated versions, one of the most recent being Robert Zemeckis motion capture version in 2009. Even famous characters have starred in their own versions, including Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, The Flintstones and The Muppets.
There have been other films that have used the basic setup for their own stories of redemption, including the Matthew McConaughey rom-com Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and the conservative piece of propaganda An American Carol where the figures of conservatism makes a left-wing caricature repent his wicked ways.
There are also been parodies of the novel, including the Blackadder version in 1988 that is delightfully funny.