1. Watership Down
I still can’t explain how Richard Adams illustrated the human condition so well using nothing but bunnies. Adorable fluffy bunnies who imprison each other and rip each other’s little bunny throats out. It should never have worked as a film, but the 1978 animated classic is every bit as haunting and harrowing as the book.
2. Henry V
Henry V is not nearly as pithy a Shakespeare play as Hamlet or Macbeth, but Kenneth Branaugh managed to make it into an engaging and unforgettable epic. You’ll want to shout along with its famous lines: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends!” and I dare you not to cry at the aftermath of the Battle of Agincourt.
3. The Tin Drum
I have never seen a book so eerily well-depicted on film as this German classic. It was like the filmmakers used psychic imaging to put the author’s thoughts directly onto celluloid. The casting, the settings, the overall mood—it will drill this already deeply moving book into your subconscious forever.
4. The Hobbit
No, not the sprawling Peter Jackson version foremost in all of our minds; I’m talking about the humble animated film from several decades ago. Some argue that it made the Hobbit too “light,” but I think it captured the book’s adventurous and quirky spirit perfectly. It’s also wonderfully animated and superbly voice-acted.
5. Apocalypse Now
It’s amazing how many people don’t know that this famous film is an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The names are different, the setting is different, but the disturbing journey into both unknown geography and the darkest recesses of the human mind is utterly authentic. It’s another one of those ideas that shouldn’t have worked—and if you watch Hearts of Darkness, the documentary about the film’s production, you’ll see that it almost didn’t. Film and book fans alike should be grateful that it ultimately did.