Every time you read a new fantasy book and get transported to its world, you wonder, what if I can see this in real life? What if these characters did not only exist in my imagination? The closest humanity got to making your dream come true is movie and TV show adaptations.
Now let’s be honest, sometimes these dreams turn to nightmares, and you see your favourite book on the screen represented so severely, you wish they never knew it excited. However, other times, magic happens. The story movies from page to screen so seamlessly that you feel like someone reached into your head and pulled these characters out, this is rare, and when it happens, it changes everything!
Hollywood figured out that books were a mine of gold hundreds of years ago. They adapted story after story, sometimes successfully and, other times, missed the point entirely. But lucky for us viewers, some of the best fantasy books ever written have had the great luck of being adapted into some of the best movies and TV shows ever made! These adaptations were so good that many preferred them to the original material. That is the highest praise a book adaptation can ever get!
The Best Fantasy Adaptations
Fantasy is hard to adapt to the screen. It costs a lot of money, requires a lot of imagination and visualisation of things that do not exist in our world, and can either be great or a flop. There is no in-between. We looked around, read some books, and watched some adaptions to bring you, our dear reader, the best fantasy adaptions ever made. These movies and TV shows hit the mark. They left their fingerprint in cinema and television for generations to come.
Here are some of the most successful and, frankly, best fantasy books adaptation that has graced our screen and is now considered the blueprint of how to adapt fantasy.
Harry Potter Franchise
Without mentioning Harry Potter, you cannot say fantasy and adaption in the same sentence. J. K. Rowling’s highly successful book series changed the game of fantasy. Every time a new Harry Potter was released, fans camped in front of bookstores for hours to try and get their hands on the latest book. The books sold millions of copies worldwide and were translated into many languages. Moviemakers saw the opportunity to make a great movie franchise, and they took it!
In 2001, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was adapted into a film. The movie was the highest-grossing film in 2001 and the second-highest-grossing film of all time! If that is not the ultimate success, we don’t know what is! The second book, Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets was adapted a year later. In ten years, all seven Harry Potter books were adapted into eight highly successful movies (the last book was divided into two films). All eight movies together made around 7.7 billion dollars worldwide!
To this day, Harry Potter has one of the most dedicated fan bases. The books and the movies feed off each other’s success bringing new fans to both daily. And Hollywood still needs to finish Harry Potter. In 2023, HBO announced its plans to adapt the series again as a TV series. They plan to dive more into aspects of the story the movies didn’t get to discuss and introduce the wizarding world to a new generation of fans.
The Lord of the Rings Franchise
The great J. R. R. Tolkien did not only get one successful adaption for his books but three different ones: Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Hobbit Trilogy and the most recent The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power series by Amazon.
The first volume of The Lord of the Rings books was first published in 1954 under the title: The Fellowship of the Ring. Tolkien published three volumes, each volume containing two books. Those books were so excellent and popular since their first release that they are now referenced as the reason fantasy became as big as it is nowadays! J. R. R. Tolkien is the father of fantasy, fantastic worlds, and adventures.
The first Lord of the Rings movie dropped the same year as the first Harry Potter movie (Fantasy Feast!). In 2002, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers dropped and in 2003, the final film Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was released. The three movies made around 3 billion dollars at the box office, and royalties are still being gained today.
With the great success and popularity of the first trilogy, director Peter Jackson returned in 2012 with another adaption of a Tolkien story, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. LOTR fans everywhere were ecstatic that they would witness another great adaptation, and they were right! The Hobbit made one billion dollars at the box office, and two more sequels were released in 2013 and 2014.
Success after success, Tolkien’s world proved that it owned fantasy adaptions and that fans will always come back for more, no matter how many different stories are told. So in 2017, Amazon acquired the rights to develop a Lord of the Rings series for $250 million. Lots of money? Yes, but they knew it was a winning deal for them. Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power released its first season in 2022. It’s hard to say that it was as successful as the movie adaptions, but being a new original story was enough to attract many fans eagerly waiting for the second season.
The Hunger Games Franchise
“Welcome to The Hunger Games!” are not words you want to hear in real life but ones you want to read and see in movies. The Hunger Games series by Suzzane Collins are a dystopian fantasy series about a girl, Katniss Everdeen, who lives in a much less-than-perfect world. This book leads to one of the fantasies’ best phases, dystopia.
The first Hunger Games book was released in 2008. We are not saying that The Hunger Games were the first-ever dystopian novel! However, it has yet to get success or popularity as big. The trilogy of books was directed at young adults, painting them excitingly and quickly to understand how the world can go so wrong in the future.
After the success of the books came their successful adaptions starring the one and only Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. The Hunger Games was adapted into four movies, one movie for each of the first two books and two films for the last one. The four movies made almost 3 billion dollars at the box office and launched the career of Oscar Winner Jennifer Lawrence.
This year a new Hunger Games adaption is coming to theatres worldwide. The Ballad of Song Birds and Snakes was released as a book in 2020 and immediately chosen for adaptation. It’s a prequel to the rise of President Snow and how the beginning of The Hunger Games way before Katniss was born. The Ballad of Song Birds and Snakes will be gracing our cinemas on 17 November 2023; we cannot wait to see it!
The Chronicles of Narnia Franchise
What would you do if you entered inside your wardrobe and when you got out, you found yourself in a whole new world? Welcome to The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. Even before Tolkien’s world was introduced, we were welcomed into Narnia. A world of adventure and fantastical creatures and kings and vindictive queens created by C. S. Lewis.
The Chronicles of Narnia books were published between 1950 and 1956. Like most fantasy stories back then, they were directed at children as children’s books. Man, did children love them! The books tell the story of four siblings, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, who, through an ancient wardrobe, find themselves in the Kingdom of Narnia and go on an adventure to save it for the evil queen that rules it. The books sold more than 120 million copies worldwide.
An adaption was eminent with such success and an intriguing story for children. In 2005, more than fifty years after the publication of the books, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe was released into cinemas. Three years later, another book was adapted and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian was released, with the third film being released in 2010 under the same title as the third book, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The three movies collectively made around 1.5 billion dollars and are still hugely popular among children.
There are still four more books in the trilogy that were never adapted, so maybe we can keep our fingers crossed for a studio to pick them up and take us back to Narnia!
Shadow and Bone
Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone Trilogy is the latest young adult fantasy series to be adapted to the screen. The first book, Shadow and Bone, was released in 2012. It follows the story of Alina Starkov, an orphan who discovers she is not only part of the elite order of Grisha but is the Sun Summoner, the prophecised saviour of Ravka.
The original trilogy: Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising were released between 2012 and 2014. They were very successful and garnered a solid fan base. In 2015, Leigh Bardugo published another story in the same world titled Six of Crows. SoC follows a new group of characters in the city of Ketterdam. SoC was followed by a sequel, Crooked Kingdom, and for many fans, this duology is considered even better than Shadow and Bone!
In 2019, Netflix announced it would adapt the Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows books into a TV series. The first season featured the story of the first book, plus a new prequel story for the Six of Crows characters was released in April 2021. Fans (us included) loved the Netflix adaptation! The series was renewed for a second season that dropped in March 2023.
So far, Netflix has not renewed the series for a third season. However, Shadow and Bone‘s fans have been lobbying online to demand that Netflix renews the series for a third season that focuses on the plot of Six of Crows books (fingers crossed!).
Fair warning, the following books and adaptions are not suitable for minors.
The Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale is an award-winning dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood. The book tells the story of Offred, a woman (a handmaid) who lives in the Republic of Gilead. A dystopian, patriarchal, white supremacist society that is not in place of the United States of America. Offred is a handmaid, a group of women who are forced to bear children for the commanders of Gilead. The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985 and won the Booker Prize, the Nebula Award and many other literary awards.
Hulu adapted The Handmaid’s Tale into a four-season series from 2017 to 2021. The series garnered critical acclaim and positive reviews for its daring portrayal of the dystopian world of man. It won various awards throughout its run, inducing eight Emmy Awards only for its first season! Elizabeth Moss, who played Offred, also won a Primetime Emmy Award and a Golden Globe for her role.
The Handmaid’s Tale is a shocking story of a patriarchal, white supremacist society that shows no regard or respect for anyone but the white man. Whether you read the book or watch Hulu’s excellent adaption, you will be left with goosebumps all over your body. It is easily one of the best adaptions and stories ever told.
From chilling dystopia to romance, Outlander is every hopeless romantic’s dream. The 1991 book series by Diana Gabaldon is a historical fantasy. Outlander is the story of Claire, a British nurse in the 1900s who accidentally travels in time to 18th-century Scotland. Claire meets a handsome Scottish warrior named Jamie Fraser and falls in love. The highly successful book has sold over 50 million copies worldwide.
In 2014, an adaption of Outlander was released on Straz. It starred Caitríona Balfe as Claire and Sam Heughan as the dashing Jamie Fraser. Through six highly successful seasons, we follow Claire and Jamie as they get entangled in the Jacobite Rising. The show has won multiple awards, such as Critics Choice Award and People’s Choice Award. It has also been nominated for numerous Golden Globes and Emmys.
The show is considered one of the best period dramas out there. It deals with many historical events that happened in that period and portrays a timeless love story that you will not help but get super in love with. Outlander is a romantic adventure for the ones who believe that love knows no boundaries of time or space.
Game of Thrones
Our last but not least book-turned-series is the only Game of Thrones. To say that Game of Thrones had a chokehold on people is only fair. When Game of Thrones was on air, no one dared to speak about anything else! This HBO series ruled fantasy adaptions for eight years and had no contenders.
The Game of Thrones series is based on the book series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. Martin published five books in the series from 1991 to 2011. The story takes place in the fictional continent of Westeros, where many families and characters are fighting a dirty particle war for the Iron Throne.
George R. R. Martin wrote five of seven planned books in the series. The books sold around 40 million copies and were translated into 47 languages. However, to be honest, the books were never as successful as the series, and George R. R. Martin himself would take years between books which made it hard to stay interested (for him and his fans).
The adaptation of Game of Thrones premiered on HBO in 2011. The high fantasy world of kings, queens, dragons and ambitious orphans has captured the world’s interest for years to come. At some point, the series creators had to write their own story since Martin never finished the books. This creative decision was met with mixed reactions from fans. Some could tell that the quality of the writing has dipped after the seventh season, with was based on the fifth book.
However, Game of Thrones was still a huge success to this day and a prequel to the story called House of the Dragon was released by HBO in 2022. If you’re looking for a fantasy world (for adults!) to lode yourself in, then Game of Thrones is what you’re looking for.
No matter how old or young you are, fantasy is a genre for everybody. To be transported into another world ruled by rules other than your own is a freeing experience that we all look for at some point in our lives. These adaptions and others have done an excellent service of bringing those worlds to our screens so we can visit them and get immersed in their beauty any time we want.