The best and worst HBO book adaptations, from 'Game of Thrones' to 'Big Little Lies'


“Game of Thrones” is the most iconic HBO show, and it’s based on a book series. But it’s far from the only series, original movie, or miniseries based on a book from the network.

A handful of HBO’s original shows and movies have been adapted from books, including the new series “Sharp Objects” starring Amy Adams, which is based on Gillian Flynn’s book of the same name. The book was Flynn’s debut novel, before “Gone Girl” became a bestseller (and a movie). The story follows a journalist who must return to her small Missouri hometown to report on a series of brutal murders.

Over the years, HBO has made its fair share of book adaptations. Some have been great, some good, and some really, really bad. Here, we took a look at HBO’s most significant book adaptions from TV series to movies, and determined which ones are the best and the worst.

Here are the best and worst HBO adaptations of all time:

BEST: “Sharp Objects”


Painfully slow but with a purpose, the beautifully directed and acted “Sharp Objects” captures the darkness that hangs over a community after a tragedy. It’s bleak and takes its time, but ultimately earns its tone and pace as the mystery unfolds.

WORST: “Fahrenheit 451”


It’s a shame that this movie failed so spectacularly, considering it starred two of the greatest working actors named Michael: Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon. Unfortunately, the movie completely missed everything that is good about the source material by not providing a new and unique perspective on it.

BEST: “The Leftovers”


The book “The Leftovers” is based on is what held it back throughout its first season. But once the show expanded and became more comfortable with its own ambition, it became one of the best and most underrated shows on television, with one of the best final seasons ever made.

BEST: “Big Little Lies”


“Big Little Lies” fooled a lot of people. At first it seemed like another murder mystery with non-linear storytelling, but it turned into a deep analysis of friendships between women, as well as domestic abuse, and became so popular that it got picked up for another season, although it was intended to be a limited series.

WORST: “The Wizard of Lies”

Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

While the performances were great in “The Wizard of Lies,” which is still watchable, this adaption of the nonfiction book about Bernie Madoff doesn’t add anything new to the story that most people know pretty well.

BEST: “Game of Thrones”

Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO

Because it tells the story in a more structured way – without pages and pages of gratuitous descriptions of the honey-roasted carrots its characters are having for dinner – the television adaptation of “A Song of Ice and Fire” improved on the books by making the story tighter and more exciting. It is also a well-cast series with great writing and filmmaking, and even its messy seventh season was still some of the most impressive TV ever made.

BEST: “Band of Brothers” (2001) and “The Pacific” (2010)

“Band of Brothers” (based on a nonfiction book of the same name) and “The Pacific,” which followed it years later, are prime examples of the most honest depictions of war in film and television. These shows aren’t for the faint of heart, as they really focus on the horrors of World War II from the perspective of the people who fought and died in it.

BEST: “Behind the Candelabra”


Based on Scott Thorson’s memoir – he’s played by Matt Damon in the film – “Behind the Candelabra” is one of HBO’s best original films and tells the story of Thorson’s relationship with legendary pianist Liberace. It’s lavish in every way possible, from its stunning performances to sparkly costumes and sharp camera work thanks to director Steven Soderbergh.

BEST: “John Adams”

HBO/’John Adams’

This seven-part miniseries based on David McCullough’s book about founding father and second president of the United States, John Adams, brings a little more insight into who he was and the people around him, even for history buffs who thought they knew everything about him. Its cast includes Paul Giamatti as John Adams and Laura Linney as Abigail Adams.

WORST: “Boardwalk Empire”

Macall B. Polay / HBO

More inspired than a direct adaptation, “Boardwalk Empire” was never a bad show. But it was consistently disappointing, considering all the actors, writers, and directors involved. As the show went on it was an interesting exploration of characters in fantastic period costumes and sets, but didn’t stand out among the rest of the TV shows in the Golden Age.

WORST: “True Blood”

John P. Johnson / HBO

“True Blood,” based on “The Southern Vampire Mysteries” books, was never good, but started out strong in that it was so shocking you couldn’t miss out. And everyone was talking about it the day after it aired. But what was once good, dumb fun turned into an unwatchable and unnecessarily bloody nightmare.

WORST: “Too Big to Fail”


Unfortunately, “Too Big to Fail,” which is based on the 2009 book “Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System-and Themselves,” is nothing more than a reenactment of current events. It was perhaps made too close to the events in the film for it to have a compelling perspective.

BEST: “Olive Kitteridge” (2015)


Based on the 2008 novel of the same name, this miniseries is slow-paced, but worth it. Every performance is incredible, especially Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins, and Zoe Kazan. The show, like the book, tells the story of maths teacher Olive’s life in a small town in Maine, spanning 25 years.

WORST: “Game Change”


Based on the 2010 book documenting the 2008 presidential campaign, “Game Change” stars Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin and Ed Harris as John McCain. The movie is fine, but suffers from its reliance on real news footage, so it feels only slightly fictionalized just to get big-name actors in it. And the actors are made up to look so much like the people they’re portraying that it’s a bit distracting.

WORST: “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”


The incredible nonfiction book of the same name is about Henrietta Lacks, a black woman whose cancer cells were used for medical research without any recognition or compensation starting in 1951. Unfortunately, the disjointed and condensed movie loses what made the book so great.

BEST: “Sex and the City”

Getty Images

A lot of people don’t realise that this iconic comedy is based on a book of essays of the same name. The series, which quickly became a favourite among critics and TV fanatics, changed things for women. The show put women who didn’t revolve their lives around finding one man at the forefront in a way that no other had before, and each character had her own distinct personality that many people could relate to.

WORST: “Mildred Pierce”


This miniseries stayed so loyal to its source material that besides Kate Winslet’s wonderful performance, the elaborate set design, and gorgeous period costumes, it wasn’t more than you’d expect it to be.

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