News

Which Oft-Rebooted Story Yields the Highest Tomatometer Scores? We're Breaking Down the Ultimate Reboots

With new takes on Little Women and A Christmas Carol this month, we're doing a Tomatometer deep dive into reboots to ask whether TV is better than film, whether big changes work, and more.

by | December 18, 2019 | Comments

20th Century Fox

(Photo by 20th Century Fox)

In 1896, a 45-second clip featuring a segment from the book Trilby and Little Billee was produced and started a 123-year old trend of literary works being adapted into films or television shows (and being adapted again and again). With films Little Women (2019), West Side Story (2020, pictured above), Wendy (2020), Emma (2020), and television movie A Christmas Carol (2019) and limited series War of the Worlds (2020) on the horizon, we decided to take a deep dive into the Tomatometer to see which of the literary adaptations are the Freshest, and which are the Rottenest (it’s a word).

We pulled the data on 32 books that have at least three feature-length movies (80-plus minutes) or television shows with Tomatometer scores (don’t ask about Gone Girl, it’s only been adapted once) and created a dataset of 145 movies. We chose to exclude comic-book adaptations and movies like Godzilla that have copious reboots — it’s nothing personal, we just wanted to stick with literary adaptations.

Quick note: We also excluded short films such as the 16-minute, black-and-white Frankenstein (1910) that was technically the first adaptation of Mary Shelley’s book. Also, Nosferatu, which is basically Bram Stoker’s Dracula – but not. Also, there are many obscure or lost films that don’t have Tomatometer scores and weren’t feature-length, so they were excluded.


1. HENRY V RULES OVER ALL ADAPTATIONS WITH A 90% TOMATOMETER AVERAGE

Netflix

(Photo by Netflix)

With Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh, David Michôd, and Thea Sharrock directing the Henry V adaptations, it’s no wonder adaptations based on William Shakespeare’s Henry V have the highest Tomatometer average. The first two major adaptations released in 1946 and 1989 have perfect 100% Tomatometer scores, and the 2012 BBC adaptation starring Tom Hiddleston has a 95% Tomatometer score. The lowest-rated adaptation, with a Fresh 70% Tomatometer score, is The King, the Netflix released film starring Timothée Chalamet (who also stars in the latest Little Women adaptation). Henry V has only known Freshness, and that’s why it’s the Fresh king of adaptations.


2. WITH A 43% TOMATOMETER AVERAGE, TARZAN ADAPTATIONS KEEP SWINGING ON ROTTEN VINES

Lionsgate

(Photo by Lionsgate)

If it weren’t for Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984), and Tarzan (1999), the adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1912 story would be super-Rotten. The three most recent attempts at retelling the fabled legend — 2013’s Tarzan, 2014’s Tarzan, and 2016’s The Legend of Tarzan — have a 24% Tomatometer average. On a random note, we know George of the Jungle isn’t Tarzan–related; however, Brendan Fraser is the best, and we think you should watch it again.


3. THE FIRST ADAPTATION OF LITERARY WORKS HAVE THE BEST TOMATOMETER AVERAGE — WITH AN EXCELLENT 86% AVERAGE

Walt Disney Pictures

(Photo by Walt Disney Pictures)

The 86% Tomatometer average for the 32 first adaptations of various literary stories proves it’s good to be first. Only four of these adaptations have Rotten scores — and their average is an almost respectable 50%. The Tomatometer average for the adaptations that follow the firsts falls to a still Fresh 61% (which isn’t bad). While there are superb follow-up adaptations, such as the Jon Favreau–directed The Jungle Book and Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, there is a drop-off in quality that almost always happens with remakes or sequels, so it’s no shame that the Tomatometer average is lower. It just means there were more opportunities to water down the material (Hello Beastly or A Cinderella Story) or make something that pales in comparison to its predecessors.


4. TELEVISED ADAPTATIONS (74%) HAVE A HIGHER TOMATOMETER AVERAGE THAN THEATRICALLY RELEASED ADAPTATIONS (67%)

BBC One

(Photo by BBC One)

The 14 literary adaptations in our data set that were released on television or streaming services have a 74% Tomatometer average; whereas movie adaptations have a 67% Tomatometer score. The Fresh 74% average comes from a stacked lineup of adaptations such as 87% Tomatometer-rated War and Peace (2016) starring Lily James and Paul Dano and the epic 88%-rated Pride and Prejudice (1995) miniseries that propelled Colin Firth to superstardom and made striding out of lakes popular. The lowest-rated televised adaptations are the 25% Tomatometer-rated Tarzan (the less said, the better), and the 51%-rated Beauty and the Beast, that was released in 2013 on the CW, and actually got better as it progressed through its four seasons.


5. WHAT ARE THE HIGHEST TOMATOMETER-RATED ADAPTATIONS?

Continental Distributing

(Photo by Continental Distributing)

Thirteen films and television shows in our data set have 100% scores, which is impressive considering how exclusive the 100% club is. The movies and shows are The Three Musketeers (1921), Frankenstein (1931), Tarzan the Ape Man (1932),  Anna Karenina (1935), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), Pride and Prejudice (1940), Henry V (1946), Oliver Twist (1951), War and Peace (1968), Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983), Henry V (1989), and Hamlet (2009). There hasn’t been a 100% Tomatometer-rated adaptation in our data set since 2009 (and the last film with the score, Hamlet, has just six reviews). Let’s hope War of the Worlds or A Christmas Carol can join the club.


6. WHAT ARE THE LOWEST TOMATOMETER-RATED ADAPTATIONS?

Warner Bros. Pictures

(Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)

When it comes to the lowest-rated literary adaptations in our data set, we noticed a trend. Movies that either place the story in modern times or add a new wrinkle often get the lowest scores: 2006’s Material Girls  (loosely based on Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility) with a 4% score, 2014’s I, Frankenstein at 5%, 2011’s Beastly with 20%, 2011’s Age of the Dragons at 9%, 2018’s Little Women at 27%, 2001’s The Musketeer at 11%, and 2004’s A Cinderella Story at 12%. The tendency to modernize a classic story often results in Tomatometer scores below 30%. Age of the Dragons is Moby Dick, but with dragons. Using modern fight choreography, The Musketeer claimed it was “As you’ve never seen it before” and received an 11% Tomatometer score. Sometimes the approach works – Clueless (79%),  Scrooged (70%), or 10 Things I Hate About You (68%) – and sometimes, well, it does not, which brings us to…


7. ADAPTATIONS THAT DRASTICALLY CHANGE THE SOURCE MATERIAL HAVE A 44% TOMATOMETER AVERAGE

United Artists Films

(Photo by United Artists Films)

When compared to the 74% Tomatometer average for the adaptations that stick closely to their source material, the 44% looks really bad; however, a number of movies and television shows that modernized their stories or added zombies into the mix have done pretty well. Movies like Ethan Hawke’s Hamlet from 2000 with an almost-Fresh 57%, 1961’s West Side Story at a Certified Fresh 93%, and Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet from 1996 with 72% successfully modernized the source material and gave the world some really cool visuals. If you haven’t watched the 45% Tomatometer-rated Pride and Prejudice and Zombies yet, just know that it features Lily James, Matt Smith, Lena Heady, Charles Dance, Sam Riley, Suki Waterhouse, and Bella Heathcote battling zombies. It’s weird, and sorta charming.


8. THE LITTLE WOMEN ADAPTATIONS HAVE A 77% TOMATOMETER AVERAGE

Sony Pictures

(Photo by Sony Pictures)

Any other upcoming literary adaptations will have a hard time competing with Greta Gerwig’s wonderful take on Little Women. It’s earning rave reviews (currently 97% on the Tomatometer with 67 reviews), and looks like it may stand right alongside the 1933 (94%) and 1994 (92%) films and the 2017 television adaptation (84%) as wonderful Little Women adaptations that have big Tomatometer scores. If it weren’t for the 2018 Little Women, which is a modern retelling of the story that has a 27% Tomatometer average, the Little Women set would be competing for the top spot among all the adaptations.


9. KENNETH BRANAGH IS THE KING OF LITERARY ADAPTATIONS

Picturehouse

(Photo by Picturehouse)

If you’re looking for someone to direct your literary adaptation you would be wise to consider Kenneth Branagh first. Why? His adaptations for Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, In the Bleak Midwinter (A Midwinter’s Tale), Hamlet, As You Like It, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Cinderella, and Murder on the Orient Express have an average  70.5% Tomatometer score, with Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, and Cinderella having Tomatometer scores of 85% or higher.


10. ANIMATED LITERARY ADAPTATIONS HAVE A 70% TOMATOMETER AVERAGE

Walt Disney Feature Animation

(Photo by Walt Disney Feature Animation)

In the decades-long Tomatometer battle between live-action and animated literary adaptations, the animated adaptations have a slight 4% lead (70% > 66%). The averages are close, but the animated films, led by Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), The Jungle Book (1967), Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983), Beauty and the Beast (1991), and Tarzan (1999) put animated films in the top spot.

What are your favorite literary adaptations? Let us know in the comments!


Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.

Thumbnail image: A Christmas Carol (Kurt Iswarienko/FX), Cinderella (Jonathan Olley/©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures), Little Women (Wilson Webb/2019 CTMG, Inc.)

Tag Cloud

TIFF Teen parents Holiday video on demand breaking bad composers Calendar FOX SDCC LGBTQ VOD Reality Competition Lifetime Christmas movies SXSW The Purge Nat Geo award winner Oscars technology NBC superhero screenings versus Spike elevated horror Paramount Network halloween Chernobyl casting Trailer foreign ratings Crunchyroll dragons Britbox TBS critics TruTV comics Logo Pet Sematary golden globes Mudbound hollywood Mary Poppins Returns BET Awards deadpool Red Carpet Amazon Studios The CW based on movie Opinion Alien spider-man Amazon History CNN joker witnail CW Seed crossover franchise DGA Christmas Columbia Pictures Film Funimation blockbuster politics MSNBC Trophy Talk cancelled Rocky SundanceTV universal monsters justice league IFC Films TCA Winter 2020 Pixar Action revenge Fall TV Character Guide PaleyFest Television Academy Pirates Mystery comedies Summer Winter TV Hallmark Christmas movies finale movie Emmys Mindy Kaling Masterpiece 2020 National Geographic Food Network sag awards werewolf APB Comedy Song of Ice and Fire Brie Larson festivals Crackle news toy story Comic Book cinemax Comedy Central Sneak Peek true crime American Society of Cinematographers Television Critics Association harry potter Hear Us Out Bravo VH1 series political drama Marvel Television Captain marvel anthology BBC Tomatazos dark 2019 Rock The Arrangement HBO 71st Emmy Awards E3 sports Binge Guide Marvel Acorn TV TV Land what to watch nature stoner crime thriller diversity a nightmare on elm street Awards Ovation japanese Universal dc spain psychological thriller Emmy Nominations Super Bowl strong female leads hist Spectrum Originals PBS Extras TCM adventure sequels Ellie Kemper Box Office TCA Awards Nominations stop motion toronto RT21 Adult Swim Reality YouTube Red TLC name the review medical drama Avengers cults rotten Chilling Adventures of Sabrina documentaries See It Skip It mockumentary cancelled television 99% Set visit boxing Hallmark football australia talk show TCA 2017 Disney streaming service television Superheroes discovery serial killer OWN 45 italian A24 Interview Black Mirror disaster scary movies FXX Arrowverse GIFs Comics on TV Syfy supernatural DC Comics vampires transformers Paramount christmas movies chucky unscripted Spring TV spinoff crime GLAAD Freeform Sundance Now kids El Rey GoT Marvel Studios WarnerMedia DirecTV social media Valentine's Day Tumblr laika Premiere Dates anime movies Sundance TV Photos MCU zombie Horror Warner Bros. films MTV facebook 24 frames Writers Guild of America biography Holidays Rom-Com children's TV Countdown war YouTube Apple TV+ ghosts video Heroines VICE ITV adaptation Grammys 72 Emmy Awards Awards Tour space Shudder Black History Month BET President romantic comedy cars Disney Channel asian-american renewed TV shows RT History TV renewals Lucasfilm Creative Arts Emmys PlayStation dogs french canceled Walt Disney Pictures Disney satire Year in Review Tarantino Apple Superheroe richard e. Grant Lifetime emmy awards jamie lee curtis Western romance Sony Pictures canceled TV shows 007 spy thriller The Academy Netflix Christmas movies Fox Searchlight slashers quibi Thanksgiving fresh indiana jones Best and Worst Hulu BBC One Turner worst Disney Plus Stephen King sequel remakes cancelled TV series Dark Horse Comics free movies Fox News Lionsgate Cartoon Network green book cops Amazon Prime Video tv talk Drama cancelled TV shows Disney+ Disney Plus aliens independent theme song spanish language First Look TNT 2018 rotten movies we love AMC docudrama comiccon binge Sci-Fi stand-up comedy Cosplay Apple TV Plus Country best dceu south america Family DC streaming service Shondaland Animation Pride Month doctor who ABC Family New York Comic Con ABC ESPN Watching Series die hard Fantasy FX Netflix classics Rocketman crime drama Endgame cats LGBT Academy Awards First Reviews Women's History Month animated Infographic science fiction game show Marathons boxoffice Tubi Peacock Toys Vudu YouTube Premium sitcom Election Mary poppins singing competition Pop TV cartoon TCA BAFTA robots 4/20 Quiz blaxploitation X-Men child's play historical drama book nbcuniversal CBS All Access screen actors guild directors festival Martial Arts FX on Hulu Showtime Amazon Prime Podcast Cannes scorecard Certified Fresh Elton John Baby Yoda Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Turner Classic Movies Music YA Biopics OneApp Musicals psycho HBO Go travel Starz police drama reboot concert Polls and Games miniseries BBC America Film Festival 2015 A&E NYCC Pop spanish mission: impossible E! Schedule The Witch San Diego Comic-Con teaser venice USA Network 21st Century Fox 20th Century Fox streaming 2016 comic Ghostbusters archives Discovery Channel worst movies reviews Star Wars indie hispanic Esquire halloween tv DC Universe twilight Travel Channel Epix CBS 2017 TV ID cooking Mary Tyler Moore Winners Anna Paquin period drama CMT Musical Sundance documentary comic books Star Trek rt archives fast and furious james bond natural history batman Kids & Family zombies Video Games The Walking Dead Nickelodeon latino HBO Max zero dark thirty all-time obituary thriller USA Classic Film IFC mutant nfl dramedy criterion Trivia game of thrones WGN black