Best Roald Dahl film adaptations, ranked
Known for his absurd humor and often dark and macabre undertones, Roald Dahl is one of the most beloved children’s authors all time. His the books have sold more than 300 million copies, have been translated into 63 languages and have been adapted into more than a dozen films. Almost all of its film adaptations were huge critical successes, but, interestingly (and for various reasons), most failed to match that commercial success.
That may be about to change, however, as Netflix has announced the acquisition of the rights to its works. The deal will see the streaming giant branch out into multimedia, with planned adaptations including both live-action and animated features, games, virtual reality and immersive experiences, theatrical productions and derivative products. On top of that, there’s also an upcoming Warner Bros. movie. Wonka, which will serve as a prequel film about the young years of the eccentric chocolatier. While we wait for these exciting projects to come out, let’s take a look back at some of Roald Dahl’s greatest film adaptations.
6 The BGF (2016)
Directed by Steven Spielberg and co-financed and distributed by Walt Disney, The BFG surprisingly marks the first time the two entities have ever worked together. Unfortunately, the result wasn’t as groundbreaking as it could have been, and it’s certainly not the best movie out there. That’s not to say it’s a bad movie; the animation is extremely pleasing to the eye, and Mark Rylance provides captivating voice acting and motion-capture performance for the titular behemoth. Taking a decidedly lighter tone for other often dark Roald Dahl adaptations, The BFG is a fun family affair but sadly, although it is rather forgettable.
5 The Witches (1990)
While the recent remake certainly had its moments, it’s the 1990 version of this Roald Dahl classic that makes this list. Based on Roald Dahl’s fantastically twisted children’s book of the same name, The witches is one of the most enjoyable and frightening children’s films ever made. The witches in question disguise themselves as ordinary, ordinary people and specifically target children. We are told of a poor child who was cursed to spend the rest of her life trapped inside a painting, gradually aging until finally disappearing a few years earlier. The fear factor kicks into high gear, however, when the witches reveal their true form, thanks to Jim Henson for some grossly awesome prosthetic work. Long noses, rotten teeth, bald, mangy heads, and maniacal chattering are enough to give anyone nightmares.
4 James and the giant peach
Based on Roald Dahl’s 1961 novel of the same name, James and the giant peach is a 1996 musical fantasy that combines stop-motion animation and live action. The film is directed by Henry Selick, who also worked on A Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline and produced by Tim Burton. Their animation style and macabre edge is everywhere. While arguably slightly lighter than many of their other work, it certainly doesn’t shy away from the darker elements so common in Dahl’s work and is a joy to watch for adults and children alike. That said, the animated segments are by far the film’s strong points, with the opening live-action segment coming across as mostly forgettable and pointless. James and the giant peach features a strong lead voice performance from Paul Terry as James, along with outstanding supporting performances from Richard Dreyfuss and Susan Sarandon. Thankfully, the film is finding new life on Disney+ after initially failing to ignite the box office upon release.
Now a successful West End and Broadway production, Matilda the novel was originally released in 1988 and later became a feature film in 1996. The film was directed and co-produced by Hollywood legend Danny DeVito who also acted as the narrator and Matilda’s father in the film . Played for laughs in what is perhaps Dahl’s most straight-forward comedy adaptation, looking at the plot a little closer, there’s still a daughter who is the victim of family neglect and terrorized by a teacher who locks disobedient schoolchildren in a cupboard lined with broken glass. The movie is nonetheless hugely entertaining, and a lot of that is down to the committed performances of all the actors, including Mara Wilson as Matilda, Rhea Pearlman, Embeth Davidtz, and Paul Reubens alongside DeVito. Despite critical acclaim and praise directed at the film and especially DeVito’s direction, the film, like many others on this list, was a disappointment at the box office.
2 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
An adaptation of the 1964 novel Charlie and the chocolate factory by Roald Dahl Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory tells the story of a poor kid named Charlie Bucket who, after finding a Golden Ticket in a chocolate bar, visits Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory with four other kids from around the world. During the visit, extremely strange and most unpleasant things happen to each of the children one by one. While the remake starring Johnny Depp was an enjoyable ride, and Depp certainly made the character his own, it’s impossible to beat Gene Wilder’s original portrayal of the eccentric chocolatier. Although the film received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score and Wilder was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, again the film wasn’t really a box office success at the time of its release. It continued to amass a huge cult following, however, and enjoyed a resurgence in popularity when it was later released on home video. The film has achieved such respect that it is, according to Varietythe only Roald Dahl film to date to be selected for preservation in the US National Film Registry, forever cementing its status as a true classic.
1 Fantastic Mr. Fox
Fantastic Mr. Fox is a beautifully animated stop-motion film about the titular Mr. Fox and his relentless thefts, which result in his family and community being hunted down by three relentless farmers. Directed by Wes Anderson with his sense of fantasy, combined with genuine emotion, and featuring a stellar voice cast – featuring Hollywood stars and Anderson regulars including George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe and Michael Gambon – Fantastic Mr. Fox is truly a beauty to behold. With enough wit, adventure and heart to entertain adults and children alike, it never speaks to children, but never gets too dark for comfort. Similarly, humor is never too slapstick for adults, but never takes itself too seriously. Playing on all aspects of what makes a Dahl book so enjoyable, Fantastic Mr. Fox is (so far) the biggest film adaptation to hit our screens.
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