Welcome to the SheReads Bookish Entertainment column! Each week, enjoy a new article by Garrett Billings— Bookstagrammer, blogger, book-to-screen junkie—on all things Reading + Hollywood. Stars’ book club picks and trailer reveals, book-to-screen news and book pop culture, and of course, Gare’s specialty, choosing his ideal Hollywood casts for book adaptations—Bookish Entertainment has you covered.
It’s no mystery that a lot of work goes into a television or movie adaptation, as it transforms from a worn out paperback to the big (or small) screen. Between cinematography, casting, screenplays, etc. — there’s so many small details that make the perfect book into a perfect movie. If you’re a thriller and suspense junkie, it’s especially hard with those genres as you want those twists and turns to be as shocking on screen as they were when you were up past your bedtime devouring the final pages. Luckily, you now have a list of the best movie and television adaptations of some of the most talked-about thriller and suspense novels on your bookshelf.
Kiss the Girls (1997)
Kiss the Girls by James Patterson is one of my favorite adaptations just based on the cast, the way the director adapted some terrifying key scenes, and the cinematography alone. Alex Cross is about to face one of his most complex cases yet. A reporter in Los Angeles who is investigating a bunch of murders is killed, while a medical intern suddenly vanishes in North Carolina. Alex comes to realize that two inventive killers are not only collaborating but competing as well.
In a story by Stephen King that isn’t supernatural or horror, Misery is still one of his scariest stories yet. Kathy Bates and James Caan shine in their roles in this adaptation. Paul Sheldon is a famous author of a series of Victorian romances featuring the character Misery Chastain, but Paul is ready to let go of Misery and focus on other stories. When traveling with his manuscript for what he thinks will be the final in the series, Paul gets into an accident. When Paul awakes, he finds himself being taken care of by Annie, his number one fan.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Based on the bestselling series by Stieg Larsson, David Fincher captured the atmosphere and the cast of this novel with perfection. Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist is hired by a wealthy Swedish man to solve the forty-year old murder of his niece, Harriet, as he believes a member of his own family had killed her. Lisbeth Salander, a genius investigator and hacker joins Mikael in his investigation.
To Die For (1995)
To Die For, based on the novel by Joyce Maynard and inspired by a true story, is a movie that became a cult classic and highlighted the acting talents of Nicole Kidman, Joaquin Phoenix, and Matt Dillon. Kidman plays an aspiring television journalist, Suzanne, who films a documentary on teenagers with an ulterior motive in this satire film that focuses on America’s obsession with celebrity and television.
No Exit (2022)
When I first read No Exit by Taylor Adams, I immediately dreamed this would be a movie one day. This is the perfect modernized way of having a harrowing thriller that is atmospheric but also plays wonderfully on the locked-room mystery trope. Darby is trying to get to Utah to see her sick mother when she is stranded at a highway rest stop in a blizzard. Joining a handful of other stranded travelers, Darby finds herself in a terrifying situation when one of the vehicles in the parking lot has a kidnapped child in it. But who is responsible for the child’s abduction?
Gone Girl (2014)
Let’s start out with one of the most popular adaptations: Gone Girl, which you can watch on Hulu. When I read this book, it was the epitome of feeling captivated by a book and all of my responsibilities went out the window. Gillian Flynn became a household name with this book’s release, and when Reese Witherspoon adapted the story into a movie, I knew it would be a hit. Gone Girl is a dual-timeline and perspective story about a man and a woman approaching their anniversary. The present timeline is him coming home to realize she has gone missing, and the past timeline are her diary entries leading up to her disappearance. Things get really messy when the cops become involved and Nick looks like the prime suspect in Amy’s disappearance. Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay and really brought this story to life, David Fincher did a fantastic job creating a moody setting for this novel, and the entire cast completely knocked it out of the park.
The Girl on the Train (2016)
When I read The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, I found this one to be so engrossing and cinematic, I knew it had to be a movie. I even pictured Emily Blunt as Rachel, an alcoholic who is having a hard time with the fact that her ex-husband has moved on to a new wife. As Rachel rides the train in and out of work everyday, she begins to notice this couple that she becomes obsessed with and what appears to be their perfect life. All of that changes when Rachel sees something horrifying and goes to the police to file a report. This was the first book I had read that had such an unreliable narrator, and I was fixated on all of the twists and the cast of characters. When the movie came out, it was exactly how I pictured it when I read it! Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett and Allison Janney were perfect casting choices that carried these characters brilliantly. You can watch The Girl on the Train in all its thrilling glory on Netflix.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
My relationship with The Silence of the Lambs is the opposite of everything else you would see on this list. I loved this movie so much and have watched it over and over again; I can honestly say this is what started my true love of crime fiction. This movie has such an intricate plot and a blazing group of characters. It is unsettling, disturbing and shocking. It’s a story that weaves the police procedural aspect involving a serial killer in brilliantly with a psychological thriller. Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster shine as Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling. Clarice Starling is an FBI trainee who is given a huge task investigating a serial killer named Buffalo Bill. The task? She must interview and work with Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a former psychiatrist who is a cannibal in a hospital for the criminally insane. Dr. Lecter is terrifyingly smart and able to give Clarice more of an understanding of who Buffalo Bill really is and how to catch him. I read this book years after I watched the movie, but The Silence of the Lambs is the OG of movie adaptations and we have the privilege of being able to watch it on Amazon Prime. You know how they say that the book is always better? I found them to be equal. If someone is interested in this story and more of a reader, the book would be just as satisfying to them as the movie would for someone who isn’t much of a reader. This is the movie that all crime junkies must devour at least once in their life.
Nocturnal Animals (2016)
Nocturnal Animals is the movie adaptation of Tony & Susan by Austin Wright. This is harrowing book and movie about a woman named Susan who has been divorced from her first husband for years and hasn’t had much communication with him since. One day, she gets a package containing the manuscript for a novel he’s written, asking her to read it. The story is about a name named Tony whose life goes from mundane to terrifying after a violent event. As Susan reads the manuscript, she is drawn into this fictional story and also reminisces about her relationship with her ex-husband, Edward. The movie adaptation to Tony & Susan is stylish, sexy and terrifying. Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal do a fantastic job as Susan and Tony, and Tom Ford’s screenplay and directorial debut were beautifully effective. The film really shines through on the fictional story of Tony and the character of Susan between the cinematography and the cast.
Big Little Lies (2017-2019)
If you’re an avid reader, I’m sure you remember when Liane Moriarty released her best-selling novel, Big Little Lies. This was a popular women’s fiction novel that centered around a group of women and a scandal involving the prestigious school their children go to that ends in murder. The three main women are Madeline, the sassy Queen B of the parents, Celeste, the beautiful woman with the perfect family, and Jane, a young newcomer who is taken under the wings of Madeline and Celeste. All of the women—as well as the supporting characters—have secrets, and the novel takes place between the time adding up to the murder sprinkled with interrogation scenes as the detectives try to figure out what happened that night. This novel was riveting and powerful; I loved all of these characters and sympathized with them. I was fearful for what character ended up dead as the list of people I wanted it to be was becoming quite high. It’s no surprise that Reese Witherspoon herself turned this into a series, especially since she’s the perfect Madeline. The casting was spot-on to the book and every single ounce of talent was put into this series, making it the ultimate binge-worthy Hulu TV show that had everyone talking.
The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
I’ve heard amazing things about The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and I saw the 1999 film based on the book that was questionably entertaining, but more adventurous and comparable to Twister with ghosts instead of tornados. When Netflix released their version in a miniseries based on the book, I had to read this gothic classic. Shirley Jackson’s novel is an eerie story about a doctor who is looking for evidence of hauntings. He invites a group of people to stay at the house and the story goes from atmospheric and spooky to downright spine-tingling. This book was the perfect Halloween haunted house story. The show is loosely based on the novel and still keeps some aspects from is more modern and creepier. It’s about a family who had lived in the house and alternates between when they moved in, to what the house turned their family into, as we also see the children as adults in present time. This is one of the best shows I have ever watched. It is moving, scary and twisty. Don’t worry if you haven’t read the book as the story is completely revamped but, it also has special little “Easter eggs” that fans of the novel can enjoy.
Sharp Objects (2018)
It’s only fair to end this list with the same way it started: Gillian Flynn. While Gone Girl was a propulsive thriller perfect for the big screen, Flynn’s novel Sharp Objects was meant to be a miniseries. Sharp Objects is a gritty and disturbing story about a woman named Camille who returns to her hometown to investigate the murders of two preteen girls. Between battling her own demons and revisiting the small town she vowed never to return to, Camille must come to terms with not only what she has been running from, but what she’s terrified to confront. There are so many layers to Camille and this story that is a prime example as to why some books where meant to be a miniseries. Amy Adams nailed the role of Camille and was the perfect casting choice, as well as Patricia Clarkson as her mother. With each episode unlocking more of the plot as well as Camille’s journey, this is one of the best adaptations that I have seen in a while and HBO perfectly executed every single aspect of this book.
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