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11 Best Book to Movie Adaptations of 2021
Quick, give us an answer: should you read the book before you see the movie, or should you see the movie and then dive into the book? It’s a heated debate as old as time—and one with no right answer—but luckily, 2021 comes bearing plenty of cinematic offerings on which we can all test out best practices.
We’ve taken the liberty of rounding up the year’s best and brightest book to movie adaptations, from cozy period pieces to black comedies and horror thrillers. Some of these films are already out, meaning that you can stream them now and tackle that whole book part later, if that’s your thing. Others will surface later this year, so while you eagerly await their release dates, you may as well dive into the books for a sneak preview.
Half the fun of book to movie adaptations is losing yourself in the rabbit hole of their fictive worlds. Take Dune, upcoming this October, for example. After you fall in love with the film, maybe you’ll fall in love with the novel, then get hooked on the series, then become a sci-fi convert. One little movie could be the key to a whole new passion—so don’t waste any time. Start reading and streaming pronto.
In this WWII-era true story based on John Preston’s same-titled novel, Carey Mulligan stars as Edith Pretty, a wealthy widow who hires Basil Brown, an autodidact archaeologist (Ralph Fiennes), to investigate the strange mounds of land on her property in Suffolk. Brown strikes gold when he digs up a massive Anglo-Saxon burial ship, filled with perfectly preserved artifacts that today reside in the British Museum. With war looming on the horizon, throngs of archaeologists descend on Suffolk, tangling with Edith and Basil in a thoughtful story about ancestry, legacy, and who our collective history belongs to.
The White Tiger
Based on the Booker Prize-winning novel by Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger is the darkly funny story of Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav), whose rags-to-riches rise through India’s brutal caste system foregrounds the chasm separating the haves from the have-nots. When Balram becomes the chauffeur to a wealthy man (Rajkummar Rao) and his wife (Priyanka Chopra Jonas), he soon becomes ensnared in their web of lies and corruption, leading him to commit a shocking crime in order to escape poverty once and for all.
Jessica Bruder’s nonfiction book of the same name serves as the inspiration for this year’s Best Picture frontrunner. Starring Frances McDormand as a nomadic woman named Fern, the film may have conceived Fern as a star role for a Hollywood actress but the roles of Linda May, Charlene Swankie, and Bob Wells are played by their real life counterparts, whose lives are detailed in Bruder’s book. Charming, thoughtful, and a touch poignant, Chloé Zhao’s adaptation of Bruder’s work is one of the most enlightening films of the year.
Adapted from Patrick DeWitt’s same-titled novel, French Exit stars Michelle Pfeiffer as Frances Price, a penniless Manhattan heiress who cashes out the last of her late husband’s assets, then decamps to Paris with her son (Lucas Hedges). Also along for the transatlantic ride is her cat, Small Frank, who may or may not be her reincarnated husband. Pfeiffer is divine in this feast of a role, clearly savoring the story of a socialite with nothing left to lose.
To All The Boys: Always and Forever
The third and final film in Netflix’s mega-popular To All the Boys franchise, based on the books by Jenny Han, sees Lara Jean and her boyfriend Peter Kavinsky at a crossroads. Newly returned from a life-changing trip to Korea and staring down her senior year, Lara Jean considers her college plans, with and without her beau. Fans of the series will be deeply satisfied by this winning, winsome conclusion.
Based on the popular autofictional novel by Nico Walker (which appeared in Esquire first), Cherry is the high octane story of an Army medic who returns home from the Iraq War, develops a heroin addiction to cope with undiagnosed PTSD, and starts robbing banks to fund his drug habit. Braiding the opioid crisis with a sensitive look at how the United States discards veterans after their service has ended, Cherry is a bracing and unforgettable story based on a real tale of crime, punishment, and tragedy.
Daisy Ridley and Esquire cover star Tom Holland star in this dystopian film about a distant planet colonized by humans, where all the women have died or disappeared, and all the men are afflicted by “The Noise,” a mysterious malady by which everyone can hear one another’s thoughts. When Viola (Ridley) crash lands on the planet, Todd (Holland) is astonished to encounter the first woman he’s ever met, as well as the first person not afflicted by The Noise. Based on a popular trilogy by Patrick Ness, beginning with The Knife of Letting Go, Chaos Walking promises a riveting story featuring two of Hollywood’s brightest young stars.
Things Heard and Seen
Amanda Seyfried and James Norton lead this adaptation of Elizabeth Brundage’s All Things Cease to Appear, a literary thriller about a couple who discover that their new small-town home is haunted. As the couple investigate the brutal family tragedy that transpired on their property, cracks begin to appear in their own marriage. This gritty ghost story promises to make a fine horror film.
You likely associate Cruella de Vil with Disney’s 101 Dalmatians franchise, but first, she was a character in Dodie Smith’s The Hundred and One Dalmatians, and then in Smith’s sequel, The Starlight Barking. In Disney’s latest villainess origin story, Emma Stone will star as Estella de Vil, a young fashion designer obsessed with dogs’ skins and furs, who reinvents herself as a vicious criminal following conflict with her uncaring boss (Emma Thompson).
Director Antoine Fuqua returns with a big-screen adaptation of D. Eric Maikranz’s The Reincarnationist Papers, starring Mark Wahlberg and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Wahlberg plays Evan McCauley, a troubled man who discovers that his hallucinations are actually memories from his past lives. Evan believes himself to be alone in his plight, until he encounters a secret society of fellow Reincarnationists, who will admit him to their ranks—if he can prove that he qualifies.
After getting bumped from the theatrical slate in 2020, Denis Villeneuve’s long-awaited Dune will debut on HBO Max in October. Based on Frank Herbert’s seminal science fiction novel, Dune is set far into the future in an intergalactic feudal society where powerful noble houses fight for control over resources, armies, and planetary power. Timothee Chalamet stars as Paul Atreides, the scion of a powerful house ordered to take control of Arrakis, a barren desert planet with a brutal climate, and the only known home to Melange—a natural resource that produces a drug called Spice, which allows humanity to unlock their minds to perform highly complex tasks. When Paul is targeted as a potential messiah to lead the planet and galaxy toward a new era, an epic story of war, betrayal, and mysticism unfolds.
Adrienne Westenfeld is a writer and editor at Esquire, where she covers books and culture.
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