Movies gobble books up and spew them out at an alarming rate. Already this year audiences have seen screen versions of Zoë Heller's Notes on a Scandal, Giles Foden's The Last King of Scotland, Jon Spence's Becoming Jane Austen, Dito Montiel's superb memoir A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints and Joseph Kanon's The Good German. Later in the year comes a film version of Ian McEwan's Atonement, while book-based franchises from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to The Bourne Ultimatum will be joined by the first part of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, The Golden Compass.
Books provide filmmakers with ready-made plots on which to base screenplays (useful when plagiarism claims start to fly), and a proven audience. But unless they are global mega-sellers like Dan Brown, J K Rowling or Michael Crichton, the actual authors are lower on the food chain than the screenwriter, and if you think they are respected, watch Sunset Boulevard or The Player.
Appended to the end of the article: lists of the five best adaptations and five turkeys.
1. The Bonfire of the Vanities:
Tom Wolfe's sprawling satire on 1980s America became an unwatchable dogs' dinner in Brian De Palma's hands.
Whoever thought the unsubtle Nicolas Cage would be a good choice for lead role needs to up their medication.
3. War of the Worlds:
Tom Cruise brings new meaning to the phrase 'disaster movie'.
4. The Black Dahlia:
Brian De Palma proves once more that great books can make terrible films... or is it just him?
5. Bram Stoker's Dracula:
So bad it's good. Memorable for Gary Oldman's bad hair day and Keanu Reeves' hilarious English accent. laughing. As revenge goes, it beats the naughty step.