Ten Fantastic Films Based on Children’s Books

Looking for a movie that the whole family can enjoy? Here are ten of my favorite films based on children’s books.


spiderwickThe Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)           

When Jared Grace, his twin brother, Simon, and older sister, Mallory, move with their mother to the dilapidated Spiderwick Estate, Jared discovers an old book titled, “Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You.” Upon reading it, Jared becomes privy to a world of faeries, hobgoblins, and other “fantastical” creatures. But when an evil troll comes looking for the book, Jared must convince his siblings that they are in danger. The film is based on all five novels in the Spiderwick Chronicles series written by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi (though it leaves out most of the plot of book four). The story is enchanting and the special effects are first-rate, making this a must-see.


matildaMatilda (1996)

Matilda Wormwood, an exceptionally bright child with ignorant parents who don’t understand her, escapes into the world of reading, exercising her mind so much that she develops telekinetic powers. Matilda then uses her newfound gift to turn the tables on her parents, and on her school’s cruel, child-hating headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. Matilda is based on the Roald Dahl novel of the same name.


balletshoesBallet Shoes (2007)

This charming adaptation of Noel Streatfeild’s 1937 novel takes place in 1930s London. When an explorer adopts three orphan girls, he leaves them in the care of his niece, Sylvia. After several years pass without a word from her adventuring uncle, Sylvia must find ways to make ends meet, including taking on a host of fascinating boarders who soon become part of the family. When they enroll at a dance and performing arts academy, all three girls struggle to fulfill their dreams. The eldest, Pauline, longs to be a famous actress. Posey, the youngest, is a natural-born ballerina. Only Petrova, the middle sister, yearns for a life away from the stage, as an aviator.


coralineCoraline (2009)

Coraline is a dazzling stop-motion animation film based on the novel by Neil Gaiman. Coraline Jones feels neglected by her busy parents. While exploring her family’s new home, Coraline crawls through a hidden passage and ends up in a parallel world, which seems eerily similar to her own, only better. But when her “Other Mother” tries to keep her there forever, Coraline discovers that this world is far from perfect.


hugoHugo (2011)

If you haven’t seen Hugo, you might still recognize the title. This film received scores of well-deserved buzz when it was nominated for 11 awards at the 2012 Academy Awards ceremony. In the end it nabbed five of them, for art direction, cinematography, sound mixing, sound editing, and visual effects. There is no denying that this film looks incredible, but it’s the story, based on the 2007 novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, that really shines. In 1930s Paris, orphan Hugo lives in the walls of a busy train station. When he ventures out of his hiding place to search for clues to a secret his father left behind, he encounters a bitter old shopkeeper and an eccentric, adventurous young girl, both of whom have a part to play in this intricate mystery.


holesHoles (2003)

When teen Stanley Yelnats is falsely accused of theft, he is sent to Camp Green Lake, where each camper is forced to dig a hole five feet wide and five feet deep every day “to build character”. Stanley can trace his family’s bad luck for generations, all the way back to a curse brought on by his “no-good, dirty, rotten pig-stealing great, great grandfather.” The film seamlessly weaves Stanley’s story with those of two older generations of Yelnatses in a story about fate that is nothing short of magical. Holes features a superb screenplay, penned by Louis Sachar, author of the Newberry Medal winning novel, and all-star cast. The standouts for me were Patricia Arquette as Kathryn ‘Kissin Kate’ Barlow and Dulé Hill and Sam the Onion Man, whose scenes, though brief, were arguably the most poignant of the entire film.


lemonysnicketLemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

This movie is based on The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window, the first three books in A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler).  When Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire lose their parents in a tragic fire, they are sent to live with the vile Count Olaf (played hilariously by Jim Carrey) who will stop at nothing to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune. As the title suggests, the Baudelaire orphans face many unfortunate events, but these clever siblings stick together through thick and thin.


terabithiaBridge to Terabithia (2007)

Based on the 1977 Newberry Medal winner by Katherine Paterson, this is a heartwarming tale of two friends who create their own imaginary kingdom to escape the real world, where they feel like outcasts.  Fantastic performances from the young cast (Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, and Bailee Madison) set Bridge to Terabithia apart from similar fantasy fare. NOTE: This film is a tearjerker, so be warned.


thewitchesThe Witches (1990)

Nine-year-old Luke grew up hearing stories about witches from his grandmother. Witches are evil, child-hating creatures with purple-tinted eyes and square, toeless feet. While Luke and his grandmother are staying at a hotel in England, they discover that a group of women claiming to be a charity group are actually witches. Luke overhears the Grand High Witch telling the group about her plan to rid England of all children. Using a potion, the witches intend to turn all of the children in England into mice! This spooky adventure would be perfect for Halloween, but is fun all year long.


returntoozReturn to Oz (1985)

Six months after her first journey to Oz, Dorothy returns to the magical land and finds it far different from what she remembers. The yellow brick road is in shambles; the Emerald City has lost its emeralds; and – worst of all – the city’s residents have been turned to stone. Dorothy faces off against some formidable foes (and makes a few new friends) on her quest to restore the Land of Oz to its former glory. The movie is based on the second and third books in L. Frank Baum’s Oz series, The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz. Though some viewers may expect a sequel to the MGM classic, The Wizard of Oz, this is a very different film entirely. Though it has a few stylistic similarities, Return To Oz is not a musical, and has a decidedly darker tone overall. NOTE: This film has frightening images that could upset younger viewers.

7 Comments

  1. Return to Oz is what’s up! I LOVED that movie when I was little. I still love it now. Tik-Tok! Billina! It’s only too bad that the newer generations will think “Tik-Tok” refers to a Kesha song.

  2. I love this post. Spiderwick chronicles and Coraline are huge favourites., but now I totally want to read Ballet Shoes and Hugo. Thanks so much for linking it in to the kid kit blog hop.

  3. Great post Katie! I just finished reading Holes a few days ago – LOVED it! I didn’t realize that they made a movie about it. I would be curious to see that. I also didn’t realize that Coraline was based on a book. We actually own the movie but my daughter refuses to watch it because she saw a trailer with the button eyes and it TOTALLY freaked her out. I think we’ve seen just about every movie in your list but have only read a couple of the books. Thanks for linking this into the Kid Lit Blog Hop and for hosting! 🙂

  4. We also liked The Golden Compass and I enjoyed Tomorrow When the War Began although it was not critically liked and it was no where near as good as the book. Others we have enjoyed as a family include: Shiloh, Lassie, Black Beauty, The Black Stallion Fantastic Mr Fox and The Witches (Roald Dahl is like a modern Hans Christian Anderson I think, he can really tap into kids’ imaginations). Storm Boy is also great.

  5. Wonderful line-up. And I’ve actually read all of them, although I still need to see some of the movies. Enjoyed this 🙂

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