1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Based On: JRR Tolkien’s 1955 book of the same name
Reason it is Great: First of all, the source material is fantastic. Tolkien’s trilogy is a masterpiece of fantasy writing. Thankfully the book translated incredibly well on screen. The Return of the King is, in my opinion, the best movie of the three. It is also the first and only fantasy film to ever win the Oscar for Best Picture. Fantasy films are generally viewed less favorably than other genres. So it is refreshing to have a few high quality fantasy films out there.
2. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Based On: Harper Lee’s 1960 novel of the same name
Reason it is Great: Gregory Peck gave the greatest performance of his career; he will always be Atticus Finch. To Kill a Mockingbird is an excellent fictional representation of doing what is right in the face of extreme societal pressure. Finch represents everything that American stands for: justice for everyone, regardless of race or creed. In terms of adaptations, the movie is just as powerful as the book.
3. 101 Dalmatians (1961)
Based On: Dodie Smith’s 1956 novel of the same name
Reason it is Great: I love the animated Disney film. It is cute, heartwarming, and about dogs. What is not to like? Also, the animated Cruella Deville is great, but nothing compared to the character in the novel. The movie follows the basic narrative but leaves out a lot of the subplots and character development. For instance, Cruella Deville has a husband and is fond of putting pepper on salads. A fact you would only know from reading the book. Smith has become a forgotten author, her written work eclipsed by the movie adaptations. But both the movie and the book are worth reading/watching.
4. Gone With the Wind (1939)
Based On: Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel of the same name
Reason it is Great: I have already done a detailed review here. Basically, this novel is a great highly romanticized southern historical fiction novel. Mitchell wrote this novel while recuperating from a broken leg. It was her only novel. Though I doubt Mitchell could have topped the genius of her debut. The movie was an excellent adaptation and even tried to make Scarlett O’Hara come across as slightly likable. She really is a tragic heroine.
5. Schindler’s List (1993)
Based On: Thomas Keneally’s novel Schindler’s Ark, now published as Schindler’s List
Reason it is Great: This is one of Steven Spielberg’s most gripping dramatic films. Liam Neeson plays the titular character. Schindler’s List is a great film about courage in the face of extreme evil and terror. Shot completely in black and white, the film’s most powerful moment is the one shot of color. If you have read the book, then you know the color is red. Spielberg masterfully uses a muted color palate to his advantage. I would highly recommend both the book and the movie.