What's New NetflixNews10 Best Book-to-Movie Adaptations from the '90s (2023)

10 Best Book-to-Movie Adaptations from the ’90s (2023)

10 Best Book-to-Movie Adaptations from the '90s (2023)

Books have always sparked the imagination of filmmakers, especially during the electrifying ’90s when adaptations were all the rage. Some of these film adaptations shamelessly rode the coattails of popular books, like the ill-fated 1990 film The Bonfire of the Vanities. However, amidst the frenzy, there were also extraordinary movies that became mesmerizing storytelling experiences in their own right. Think The Silence of the Lambs and The Remains of the Day.

But wait, not all hidden gems received the attention they deserved. Tucked away amidst the tidal wave of John Grisham adaptations and movies based on thrilling serial killer novels, there exist forgotten treasures that were overshadowed. These overlooked adaptations range from heart-pounding legal dramas to spine-chilling thrillers masterfully directed by Martin Scorsese. So, if you’re yearning to unearth these hidden cinematic wonders, join us on this exhilarating journey. Who knows, you might even discover a forgotten favorite that deserves a triumphant cultural resurrection.

1. Kiss the Girls

Kiss the Girls
In the ’90s, Hollywood had a fascination with serial killers. Kiss the Girls, based on a novel by James Patterson, was a part of this trend along with successful films like The Silence of the Lambs, Seven, and The Bone Collector. Although it may have faded from view over the years, this thriller is still deserving of recognition.

The movie stars Morgan Freeman as Detective Alex Cross, a forensics expert, who teams up with Kate (played by Ashley Judd), one of the killer’s surviving targets, to track down a serial killer known as “Casanova.” Set against a backdrop of Southern Gothic influences and an engrossing mystery, Kiss the Girls manages to stand out despite the multitude of options available in the ’90s.

Critics at the time criticized the film for its lurid and highly sexualized violence towards women, deeming it exploitative and trashy. However, Freeman and Judd deliver powerful performances that elevate the movie beyond its pulpy nature. Judd, in particular, brings a ferocious intelligence to her character, giving a voice to the victims who are otherwise silenced. Freeman’s personal connection to the saga adds emotional depth to his portrayal of Detective Cross.

For fans of the thriller genre, Kiss the Girls is a must-watch film. It offers a familiar formula but presents it through a stylishly harsh lens.

2. James and the Giant Peach

James and the Giant Peach
Roald Dahl’s dark and fanciful stories have always seemed like a perfect fit for Tim Burton. However, their most high-profile collaboration, the 2005 film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, left fans with mixed feelings. But let’s not forget about Burton and director Henry Selick’s 1996 reimagining of Dahl’s 1961 children’s novel James and the Giant Peach, which deserves a revisit.

Hot on the heels of their success with The Nightmare Before Christmas, Selick and Burton brought their signature darkness and twistedness to James and the Giant Peach. This stop-motion animation and live-action hybrid follows the story of young orphan James Henry Trotter, who escapes his cruel aunts Spiker and Sponge when he accidentally turns a regular peach into a massive adventure vessel. Along the way, he befriends a group of human-sized bugs, including a spider voiced by Susan Sarandon, and embarks on a journey to New York inside the gigantic fruit.

Like all successful adaptations of Dahl’s work, James and the Giant Peach manages to infuse creepiness into its upbeat adventurousness and quirky characters. The stop-motion figures, with their hauntingly glassy eyes and angular bodies reminiscent of The Nightmare Before Christmas, are both mesmerizing and unsettling. The monstrous aunts, mechanical shark, and thunderous, fire-eyed rhino add a genuine sense of terror to the story.

When the movie was released, The Washington Post compared it to the likes of Toy Story and Babe, calling for more imaginative and creative films from studios. Even though it may have slipped into relative obscurity over the years, James and the Giant Peach should still be considered a classic on par with Toy Story, Babe, and the best Roald Dahl adaptations that came before and after it.

3. The Ice Storm

The Ice Storm
Ang Lee’s suburban drama The Ice Storm boasts an impressive cast, even more so in retrospect. Released in 1997, the film features Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Christina Ricci, Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood, Katie Holmes, and Allison Janney, many of whom were not yet considered A-listers. It is based on Rick Moody’s 1994 novel and is set during the Thanksgiving weekend of 1973, focusing on a wealthy family in the Connecticut suburbs as their lives slowly unravel.

While Richard Nixon is defending Watergate and the Vietnam War continues, Ben (played by Kevin Kline) engages in an affair with a married neighbor, while his wife (Joan Allen) tries to reignite the spark in their marriage. Meanwhile, their children (Christina Ricci and Tobey Maguire) drift away from the family as they pursue their own interests. The arrival of an ice storm brings the neighborhood together in unexpected and tragic ways.

Ang Lee, known for his ability to depict social isolation and longing, has tackled various settings in his films, such as Sense and Sensibility and Brokeback Mountain. The Ice Storm follows suit, delivering a restrained and moving portrayal without succumbing to overwrought melodrama. Critics of the time praised the film for its nuanced depiction of a period in recent history filled with suppressed turmoil. Its faithfulness to the source material and its restraint were also lauded. Despite often being overlooked, it remains one of the standout films of the 1990s.

4. The Bone Collector

The Bone Collector
The 1999 thriller film, The Bone Collector, stars Denzel Washington as Lincoln Rhyme, a brilliant forensic specialist who has to come to terms with being paralyzed from the neck down due to an accident. Rhyme’s life takes a new turn when a serial killer starts leaving intricate clues all over the city, leading to his next horrifying crimes. Filled with a renewed sense of purpose, Rhyme enlists the help of a young officer, played by Angelina Jolie, to enter crime scenes and gather evidence on his behalf. Together, they delve into the darkest tunnels of Manhattan as they pursue a psychopathic killer who inflicts unimaginable torture on his victims.

Based on the novel by Jeffery Deaver, The Bone Collector offers a twisted mystery that is both repulsive and captivating. While the movie performed well at the box office, earning $151 million worldwide, it hasn’t maintained the same level of popularity as other thrillers from the same decade. Critics found it to be formulaic and unremarkable, but Denzel Washington delivers a standout performance as a Sherlock Holmes-like character grappling with immense personal suffering. Angelina Jolie also shines as his reluctant sidekick, bringing intensity and vulnerability to her role.

In the 1990s, there was no shortage of movies centered around serial killers, but The Bone Collector manages to stand the test of time as an underrated and thrilling addition to the genre.

5. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Clint Eastwood, renowned director of the ’90s, helmed eight high-profile feature films during that decade. Among them was the critically acclaimed Unforgiven, which won an Oscar. With such a track record, it was expected that Eastwood’s adaptation of John Berendt’s best-selling nonfiction book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, would be a smashing success. The book delves into the captivating murder trials of an antiques collector in Savannah, GA, accused of killing a male sex worker he was involved with. It captures the essence of Southern eccentricity, boasts colorful characters, and employs inventive storytelling, much like the cult-favorite documentary Grey Gardens from 1975. Given the book’s immense popularity and cultural impact, anticipation for a film adaptation was palpable.

Eastwood assembled an impressive cast for the project, including Kevin Spacey as the antiques collector, Jude Law as the victim, and John Cusack as John Kelso, a character representing the author. The film also features real-life Savannah residents who were involved in the events, such as the transgender performer known as the Lady of Chablis, and Emma Kelly, renowned as the “Lady of 6,000 Songs.” Despite the book’s gripping narrative, it failed to attract audiences to the theaters, possibly due to its lengthy two-and-a-half-hour runtime. The unconventional and mesmerizing larger-than-life characters blur the lines of the murder investigation genre, which may have contributed to the disappointing box office performance. However, this is precisely what distinguishes it from the formulaic courtroom dramas of that era. It stands out as an anomaly in Eastwood’s filmography and is all the more intriguing because of it.

6. The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden
Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 novel, The Secret Garden, is a timeless classic that holds a special place in children’s literature. Similar to other beloved books like Heidi, The Railway Children, and Anne of Green Gables, it continues to captivate readers of all ages. The story revolves around Mary, a 10-year-old orphan who moves to her uncle’s grand estate in England. There, she stumbles upon a key that unlocks a hidden garden once belonging to her late aunt. What sets this novel apart is its complex and emotionally damaged characters, which contribute to its enduring appeal.

Mary, initially withdrawn and haughty due to her cold upbringing, gradually learns to open up through her friendships with a lonely boy at the manor and her invalid cousin, who is confined to the house. Together, these three children support and help each other grow, much like the plants in the garden. The novel beautifully depicts their journey of self-discovery and connection.

By the 1990s, there had already been a couple of film adaptations of this beloved novel. However, Agnieszka Holland’s 1993 version stands out as a hidden gem of the decade. It deserves to be recognized alongside other classic live-action children’s movies such as Mary Poppins and Matilda. While wholesome family films often become overly sentimental and simplistic, Holland skillfully avoids this pitfall. She incorporates the children’s hardships into the narrative, using them to drive the story forward.

The Secret Garden’s magical garden remains firmly grounded in the beauty and wonder of nature, steering clear of flashy special effects or fantastical creatures. Produced by Francis Ford Coppola and shot by the legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, known for his work on Blade Runner 2049 and the Coen Brothers’ films, this film is visually stunning and lavish. Its sophistication matches the richness of the story itself, making it a cinematic highlight of the decade that both children and adults can appreciate.

7. Presumed Innocent

Presumed Innocent
Presumed Innocent was undeniably a success, no matter how you look at it. Based on Scott Turow’s bestselling novel, directed by the highly acclaimed Alan J. Pakula, and starring one of the biggest actors of the time, it received glowing reviews from critics and performed exceptionally well at the box office. However, as time went on, it became overshadowed by other legal thrillers that came later, including notable films like A Few Good Men, Primal Fear, and A Time to Kill, not to mention Harrison Ford’s own string of crime thrillers in the ’80s and ’90s, such as Witness, Patriot Games, and The Fugitive. Nevertheless, Presumed Innocent stands out as one of the finest in its genre, boasting a captivating lead performance, an engrossing screenplay, and skillful direction.

Ford portrays a prosecutor who finds himself entangled in controversy and suspicion after his colleague is murdered and their affair comes to light. Despite its lengthy runtime and extensive courtroom scenes, the film maintains a gripping tension throughout, with enough unexpected twists to keep viewers on the edge of their seats without feeling incredulous. Beyond Ford’s outstanding performance and Pakula’s expert direction, the film exhibits layers of excellence. From John Williams’s exceptional score to the cinematography by Gordon Willis, known for his work on The Godfather, and a screenplay penned by Frank Pierson, the talented writer behind Cool Hand Luke and Dog Day Afternoon, Presumed Innocent exudes class on every level.

8. Angela’s Ashes

Angela's Ashes
Frank McCourt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, Angela’s Ashes, took the literary world by storm in 1996. This powerful book recounts McCourt’s difficult upbringing in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. After the death of his baby sister, his family returned to the poverty-stricken neighborhood. With an alcoholic father struggling to find work and a determined mother trying to keep the family afloat, McCourt’s childhood was far from easy. Yet, despite the bleakness, the memoir is infused with playfulness, compassion, and vivid details that captivated readers and critics alike.

Bringing this extraordinary story to the big screen was no easy task. Director Alan Parker, known for his work on films like Mississippi Burning and Midnight Express, took on the challenge. Parker recognized the daunting nature of adapting a beloved and highly acclaimed book, but he stayed true to McCourt’s vision while adding his own stylized touch.

To portray McCourt and his family’s struggles, Parker chose a cast of talented young actors. The film revolves around the perspective of Frank, played by various young actors, and Emily Watson takes on the role of Angela, his mother. While the movie lacks the poetic prose of McCourt’s writing, it captures the innocence and vulnerability of its young protagonist. Eight-year-old Joe Breen, with his soulful eyes, delivers a performance that speaks volumes.

Some critics pointed out the absence of grime and squalor in the film’s depiction of the gritty setting. However, the film’s gentle sheen aligns with the spirit of McCourt’s memoir, which has faced accusations of exaggeration and fabrication. Parker’s adaptation feels like a memory unfolding before our eyes, rather than a real-time retelling of events. This subjective and poetic approach mirrors the essence of McCourt’s writing, allowing viewers to experience the story in a deeply personal way.

9. Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men
John Steinbeck, an acclaimed American author, is often regarded as one of the greatest of all time. His works have been transformed into enduring classics that have stood the test of time. Some notable adaptations include Elia Kazan’s East of Eden, featuring James Dean, and John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath, starring Henry Fonda. These films were highly praised upon their release and are still recognized as some of the finest movies from the old studio era. Surprisingly, one adaptation that has been unjustly overlooked, despite receiving rave reviews and staying faithful to the source material, is 1992’s Of Mice and Men.

Steinbeck’s 1937 novella is set in Depression-era California and revolves around two itinerant ranch hands who share a dream of owning their own land. The story focuses on Lennie, a gentle yet towering man with a mental disability, and George, an intelligent, small, and protective companion. When they find employment on a farm operated by a sadistic man with a flirtatious wife, Lennie’s vulnerability becomes apparent, and tragedy looms.

Directed by Gary Sinise, the 1992 film features John Malkovich as Lennie and Sinise himself as George. Rather than solely emphasizing the story’s tragic ending, the movie delves into the profound friendship and humanity at its core. Sinise and screenwriter Horton Foote successfully capture the essence of Steinbeck’s prose, crafting a cinematic experience that is both poignant and subtly captivating. Malkovich, known for his eccentricity that often overshadows his roles, delivers a complex and heartfelt performance that avoids becoming a mere caricature. Although it garnered positive reviews from critics, the film unfortunately failed to attract a wide audience, becoming a box office disappointment.

In a year dominated by blockbuster hits like Batman Returns, Lethal Weapon 3, and Sister Act, the film’s slow-paced period drama exploring themes of friendship and the unwavering power of hope struggled to find an audience.

10. The Rainmaker

The Rainmaker
Francis Ford Coppola, known for his works like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the quirky comedy Jack, took a different direction with The Rainmaker, and it turned out to be a classic. Based on John Grisham’s novel, this legal drama follows a young lawyer, played by Matt Damon, and his disillusioned partner, portrayed by Danny DeVito, as they take on a powerful insurance company that denied life-saving treatment to a dying patient.

Unlike other Grisham adaptations focused on suspense and a protagonist fighting for survival, The Rainmaker presents a heartwarming underdog story reminiscent of the best sports movies. Damon flawlessly embodies the youthful idealism of his character, just as he did in Good Will Hunting that same year. DeVito, on the other hand, is a perfect fit as the rough-around-the-edges associate who never passed the bar exam. The supporting cast, including Claire Danes, Mickey Rourke, and Jon Voight, is equally well-matched, adding depth to the film.

The tragic storyline at the core of the legal battle adds poignancy to the rivalry between Damon’s character and the opposing law firm. Although it shares similarities with Good Will Hunting and the financially successful Grisham adaptation The Firm, The Rainmaker stands out as a compelling and emotionally moving legal drama.

Emma Isabella
Emma Isabella
Emma is a regular contributor to WhatsNewNetflix. She likes delving into the world of Netflix TV shows as well as studying films, especially comedies.


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