Underrated Movie Adaptations Of Classic High School Reading

List Rules
Vote up the film adaptations worth watching before a final exam.

Maybe you were one of those kids in high school who loved English class because it gave you the chance to read works of classic literature and ponder their deeper meaning. Or, maybe you were one of those students who never bothered to do the assigned reading and faked your way through your classwork about them. Or, maybe you were one of those students who copied off the first type of student. Either way, high school reading lists are full of novels and plays that have withstood the test of time. They're classics because they tell a compelling story that resonates with people regardless of the time and place in which they read it.

Often, the books that most of us skipped in middle and high school make for some of the best movies of their generations. Here are 15 underrated movie adaptations of classic high school reading. 


  • Movie adaptations of classic novels are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the stories they tell have withstood the test of time for a reason. On the other, that usually means that the story has been adapted for the stage and screen multiple times. And that means that subsequent adaptations often struggle to say something new about the source material.

    The 1992 adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men, about the relationship between a Dust Bowl-era farmer and his brother, managed to do just that. Steppenwolf theater members John Malkovich and Gary Sinise shine as Lennie and George, two of literature's most iconic characters. Roger Ebert called the film a "quiet triumph." 

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  • William Golding's 1954 novel Lord of the Flies is a tale about a group of British schoolboys who get shipwrecked on a remote island and descend into tribal madness. The story won Golding a Pulitzer Prize, and since then, it's been adapted into two films - in 1963 and 1990.

    The most recent version was a remake of the 1963 film by the same producer. It stars Balthazar Getty as Ralph, a boy in a class of American students whose plane crashes in the Pacific Ocean. It wasn't a huge commercial or critical success, but fans of the novel will definitely want to check it out - and maybe Yellowjackets fans, too. 

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  • The Count of Monte Cristo is Alexandre Dumas's timeless novel about two friends, Edmond and Fernand, both of whom work on a French merchant vessel that crashes on the island of Elba, home to the exiled Napoleon Bonaparte. Worse, Fernand is in love with Edmond's girlfriend Mercedes, and proceeds to conspire against Edmond to have his best friend arrested for treason.

    Like many films on this list, the epic tale of betrayal and revenge has been adapted for film several times - in this case, more than 10. The 2005 version, starring Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce as Edmond and Fernand, respectively, boasts an 88% Fresh audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, and a not-at-all-bad 73% Fresh among the critics. 

    246 votes

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  • Many high school reading lists include books about the Nazi Holocaust of WWII, from The Diary of Anne Frank to Elie Wiesel's Night. But few movies are as gut-wrenching as The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, the 2008 adaptation of John Boyne's novel of the same name.

    The story follows the young son of the commander of a concentration camp who strikes up a friendship with an imprisoned Jewish boy. We won't spoil the ending, but we'll just say it's shocking, disturbing, and above all, thought-provoking. 

    208 votes

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  • As far as movies commissioned by the CIA go, 1954's Animal Farm holds up as a decent film, approaching 70% Fresh among both the critics and the audience on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is an animated adaptation of George Orwell's 1945 satirical novel, about a group of farm animals that overthrow their human masters and attempt to establish a utopian community where everyone is equal. Eventually, the farm is betrayed by a pig who's clearly based on Napoleon Bonaparte. 

    The CIA's Office of Policy Coordination funded the movie as an animated feature for adults, intending for it to be identical to the novel in terms of plot and themes - except for a different ending in which Napoleon is overthrown in another revolution. Essentially, it functioned as anti-communist propaganda. When the film was released in 1954, it performed well at the box office and among critics. 

    183 votes

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  • Arthur Miller's 1953 play The Crucible is an allegory about the persecutions of McCarthyism, set during the Salem witch hysteria of the 1690s Plymouth Colony. It's also a timeless tale about forbidden love, religious persecution, paranoia, and politics.

    The film stars Daniel Day-Lewis as John Proctor, a farmer who has an affair with Abigail Williams, played by Winona Ryder. Ryder goes full-tilt as Abigail, a woman who's falsely accused of witchcraft, but the stress of the witch trials drives her to insanity anyway. 

    172 votes

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