Top 10 Movies Based on Kids' Books

Film adaptations of much-loved children's books often divide audiences. Some claim that nothing could ever beat the book, while others may actually prefer the film - though they may not admit it! Check out some of the film adaptations below, ordered by release date, to see what you think and take a look at our range of children's film books if your little ones are interested in the film industry. 

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1. How the Grinch Stole Christmas

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Dr Seuss | Film release: 2000

This Dr. Seuss adaptation from director Ron Howard stars Jim Carrey as the mean, green Grinch, whose traumatic past has led him to become bitter, spiteful and - more than anything - a committed Christmas-hater! Can the compassion of young Cindy Lou help him to change his ways, or is he doomed to be alone and despised forever?

This film was released to rather average critical reception, with an approval rating of 53% on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 46/100 on Metacritic. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times described it as a dank, eerie, weird movie about a sour creature', concluding that it's 'just not much fun'. However, many reviewers praised Jim Carrey for his animated, maniacal portrayal of the Grinch. But should film-makers have left Dr. Seuss's wacky and wonderful book alone?

 

2. Shrek

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William Steig | Film release: 2001

This hugely popular film is actually based on a 1990 picture book, Shrek! by William Steig. The book features a monstrously ugly ogre who leaves his muddy hovel to see (and scare!) the world, and ends up rescuing a princess (who is also horribly ugly) after meeting a witch, a donkey and a knight.

The film adaptation, which has a rather different tone and style from the book, nonetheless received immediate critical acclaim. 88% of critics gave it a positive review on Rotten Tomatoes, and it has a rating of 84% on Metacritic. Roger Ebert praised the film with 4/4 stars, describing it as 'jolly and wicked, filled with sly in-jokes and yet somehow possessing a heart'. Many critics particularly enjoyed the lively performance of Eddie Murphy as Donkey. William Steig himself loved it, as did his family.

However, it did receive some negative criticism. Anthony Lane of The New Yorker commented that 'there's still something flat and charmless in the digital look'. What did you think of it?

 

3. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

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J. K. Rowling | Film release: 2001

The Harry Potter book series by J. K. Rowling has enjoyed worldwide fame, with millions of children (and adults!) revelling in the magical world Harry shares with much-loved characters like Ron, Hermione, Hagrid and Dumbledore. The series features a deprived little boy who discovers he's a wizard and heads off to learn magic at the magnificent Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Danger awaits him, however, in the form of multiple nemeses, perilous adventures and the most terrifying, malevolent wizard there is: Lord Voldemort.

The film series has seen huge popularity, too. The first Harry Potter film broke the single day record of the time at the box office, and broke its own record again on day two! It gained an 80% 'Fresh' rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and 'generally favourable reviews' on Metacritic with a score of 64/100. It was commended for being extremely faithful to the book, but was also criticised on this ground; the Rotten Tomatoes consensus claims that there was 'little room for surprises or discoveries'. Do you agree? 


4. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

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C. S. Lewis | Film release: 2005

Fans of C. S. Lewis's spellbinding literary adventures may have been delighted or daunted by the prospect of a film adaptation. Could it ever live up to the magic of the book? This particular film, the first of three Narnia films so far, is based on the second book in the Chronicles of Narnia series, in which four unsuspecting children discover the entrance to an enchanting, snow-covered land at the back of a wardrobe. But can they escape the evil White Witch, who is plotting to kill them?

Generally, the film was positively received. It gained 76% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 6.9/10. On Metacritic, it received a similar rating of 75/100. Roger Ebert gave the film 3/4 stars, and Leonard Maltin called it 'an impressive and worthwhile family film'. However, John Anderson of Newsday said of the film: 'there's a deliberateness, a fastidiousness and a lack of daring and vision that marks the entire operation.'

 

5. Bridge to Terabithia

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Katherine Paterson | Film release: 2007

Get the tissues out - you'll need them for this one! Based on Katherine Paterson's 1977 novel, the film adaptation of Bridge to Terabithia features a baby-faced Josh Hutcherson as the young, frustrated Jesse Aarons. He discovers that the new girl at school, Leslie, is a faster runner than him - and he's not happy! But it's not long before the two realise they have more in common than they first thought, and develop a profound friendship. They use a rope swing to cross a river into the woods and conjure up all sorts of magical adventures there, in an imaginary land they call Terabithia. But Jesse will have to cope when tragedy strikes whilst he's away.

While we're still emotionally scarred all these years later, what did critics think? Again, this film was generally well-received. It garnered a score of 85% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 157 reviews, with an average score of 7.2/10. Metacritic gave it a rating of 74% based on 25 reviews. Whilst most reviews were positive, there were some negative observations, with Joe Morgenstern accusing it of containing 'brief spasms of overproduced fantasy'. Is this true?

 

6. Fantastic Mr. Fox

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Roald Dahl | Film release: 2009

This stop-motion animated comedy is based on Roald Dahl's much-loved book of 1970, Fantastic Mr Fox, in which a fox leaves his thieving days behind at the request of his long-suffering wife, Felicity. But one day, he can't quite resist, and loses his tail in the process - and things can only get worse when the farmers block the foxes' exit, intending to wait for them to emerge before they kill them! Will the animals of the underground be able to work together to outsmart the farmers and get Mr Fox's tail back?

The film adaptation received excellent reviews. On Metacritic, it currently has an average review score of 83 based on 34 critics' reviews, and a rating of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes; the consensus states that the film is 'a delightfully funny feast for the eyes'. It became the second-highest-rated animated film of 2009, right behind Up. There has been relatively little criticism, but Ryan Gilbey does comment that '[b]eneath those tactile textures, there's nothing you could strictly call fantastic'. Should Roald Dahl's wondrous books be left alone?

 

7. Where the Wild Things Are

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Maurice Sendak | Film release: 2009

Where the Wild Things Are is a 1963 children's picture book by Maurice Sendak, which features a little boy named Max. After being sent to bed without dinner, Max's bedroom turns into a moonlit forest, and he sails in a boat to an island inhabited by big, shaggy, wild creatures. However, he's not scared, and they crown him as their leader. The creatures stomp about and cause a ruckus for days, and when Max finally grows fed up, he sends them to bed without dinner. He then decides to return home, having realised what his mother goes through with him!

The film adaptation has been relatively well-received. It holds a 73% 'Fresh' rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has a score of 71/100 on Metacritic. Lisa Schwarzbaum declared it 'one of the year's best [films]', and Roger Ebert gave it 3/4 stars. However, some critics have deemed it too dark and solemn. Stephanie Zacharek states that it 'starts to seem depressive and shaggy and tired' after a while, the plot 'loaded with adult ideas about childhood', instead of things that might actually engage a child. Should it have been more tailored for a young audience?

 

8. Alice in Wonderland

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Lewis Carroll | Film release: 2010

Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland is a classic story, but its 2010 film adaptation is a rather unique portrayal of this timeless tale. From the renowned imagination of Tim Burton, the film features Alice Kingsleigh, who falls down a rabbit hole and ends up in a bizarre world. There, she must try to take down the foul-tempered Red Queen, slay the almighty Jabberwocky, and restore the White Queen to power. She meets various crazy characters along the way, including the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, Tweedledum and Tweedledee and the Bandersnatch.

The film has had a mixed reaction. 52% of reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes gave it a positive review, and it has a score of 53/100 on Metacritic. Roger Ebert, giving the film 3/4 stars, commented that: 'Alice plays better as an adult hallucination, which is how Burton rather brilliantly interprets it until a pointless third act flies off the rails.' Was this film just a little too bizarre in the end, or did it strike the balance between adventure and fantasy just right?

 

9. How to Train Your Dragon

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Cressida Cowell | Film release: 2010

Cressida Cowell's exciting How to Train Your Dragon book series follows Hiccup, a young Viking, on his journey to Become a Hero the Hard Way. In the film, he must try to capture a dragon, and he takes down a very rare and dangerous Night Fury. However, he can't bring himself to kill it, and instead ends up taming the dragon, calling it 'Toothless'. Hiccup's father, the village chieftain, consequently disowns him, and heads off to fight the most dangerous dragon of all, the Red Death. Can Hiccup and his friends save the day?

The film received critical acclaim upon release, with 98% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and a score of 74 on Metacritic. It has been criticised by multiple reviewers, however, for focusing too much on action and clever cinematography, rather than character and story development. Roger Ebert (giving it 3/4 stars) sums up the general consensus: 'It devotes a great deal of time to aerial battles between tamed dragons and evil ones, and not much to character or story development. But it's bright, good-looking, and has high energy.' Do you agree with this?


10. The Hobbit

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J. R. R. Tolkien | Film release: 2012, 2013, 2014

A trilogy of blockbusting films portrays Tolkien's world-famous children's story, a captivating tale filled with fantastical creatures, including hobbits, dwarves, elves, goblins, wizards and more. Bilbo is employed as a 'burglar' for a band of dwarves who are determined to retake the Lonely Mountain from the savage dragon, Smaug, but it certainly won't be easy for the homely hobbit who's used to a peaceful life in the Shire!

The second film, The Desolation of Smaug, was most popular with critics, with 74% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 66 on Metacritic. The final film, The Battle of the Five Armies, was least popular, with 59% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 59 on Metacritic. The first film, An Unexpected Journey, gained a 64% 'Fresh' rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but was the least popular film of the trilogy on Metacritic, with a rating of 58. Mick LaSalle commented that Martin Freeman as Bilbo is 'the one thing that has made this trilogy bearable'. Should the book have been adapted into three lengthy films - and could it have survived without its charismatic lead?