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.



(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.



(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.


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.



(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.


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.


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…


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.


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.



(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.


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

space Tomatazos Premiere Dates BET Awards Toys OWN Apple TV+ quibi Pixar Writers Guild of America what to watch video toy story Neflix royal family TLC wonder woman 1990s FXX FX on Hulu police drama Winners Netflix RT History Vudu free movies Dark Horse Comics mob superman telelvision technology Classic Film History Paramount book adaptation biography aapi Horror Biopics dramedy Anna Paquin sag awards ID HBO know your critic docuseries Hallmark Christmas movies genre hidden camera 2019 richard e. Grant streaming dceu batman ABC Signature Marvel Studios Hallmark documentaries versus monster movies streaming movies Pacific Islander chucky venice rt archives finale stop motion disaster First Look Winter TV Disney Plus Disney 93rd Oscars scene in color SXSW directors Ellie Kemper Television Critics Association razzies all-time GLAAD Cannes adaptation hollywood X-Men Superheroe Video Games TNT MSNBC CMT slashers comics BAFTA Mary Tyler Moore Animation SDCC spider-man movie concert robots psycho Calendar theme song Tubi comic video on demand new star wars movies Ghostbusters based on movie scorecard unscripted Mary Poppins Returns Music criterion AMC Plus Summer worst TCA international 007 PlayStation LGBTQ kong Rocky zombies First Reviews Schedule cancelled strong female leads Interview movies toronto obituary posters Avengers blockbuster Countdown Reality Competition trailers films Crunchyroll laika TIFF transformers indiana jones revenge Discovery Channel Disney Channel twilight Spike spain NYCC Food Network critics die hard rotten hist fresh Cosplay Fall TV Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Fox News Sci-Fi new zealand 99% PaleyFest cars women Year in Review reboot halloween tv saw Academy Awards Hulu screenings marvel cinematic universe james bond franchise dragons 71st Emmy Awards game show tv talk ratings Shudder OneApp Netflix Christmas movies Epix jurassic park Comic-Con@Home 2021 San Diego Comic-Con Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt rt labs critics edition Legendary Walt Disney Pictures cancelled TV shows golden globes documentary TruTV rt labs parents live event WarnerMedia Emmys Creative Arts Emmys crime drama Elton John Apple Wes Anderson psychological thriller The Witch VOD series feel good Teen Sony Pictures Arrowverse Lucasfilm 73rd Emmy Awards Lionsgate Rom-Com science fiction singing competition DC Comics USA MTV adenture slasher Travel Channel Pop IFC Films true crime Television Academy Columbia Pictures spanish discovery Song of Ice and Fire golden globe awards pirates of the caribbean Amazon Studios legend Rock Certified Fresh Star Wars Best and Worst a nightmare on elm street game of thrones WGN archives vs. 2016 justice league best Country asian-american supernatural universal monsters comic book movies television child's play TV Sundance Now Marathons dreamworks 2018 Disney streaming service ABC Family Funimation werewolf 2020 emmy awards elevated horror Starz Alien RT21 vampires stoner live action Esquire satire debate mcc Musicals Sundance Holidays serial killer travel cooking Awards Tour Marvel Turner Classic Movies spider-verse black Superheroes LGBT Acorn TV diversity See It Skip It CBS All Access Image Comics zero dark thirty crime teaser Martial Arts hispanic heritage month Mudbound crossover kaiju Peacock TV renewals Freeform AMC politics Election TV Land Film spinoff Film Festival ABC Action Box Office prank casting godzilla TCM Musical TV movies basketball renewed TV shows Tumblr book Valentine's Day Polls and Games Trophy Talk Logo natural history CNN TCA Awards ITV Watching Series high school Amazon HBO Max doctor who MCU popular Britbox 45 Christmas mission: impossible Thanksgiving Cartoon Network deadpool Spectrum Originals gangster 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards action-comedy Spring TV Fantasy Shondaland Disney+ Disney Plus rotten movies we love E3 jamie lee curtis VICE Marvel Television Baby Yoda foreign The Purge Photos Amazon Prime Video YouTube Red young adult king kong A24 Endgame Oscars Trailer Comedy Central FOX miniseries DirecTV BBC critic resources The Arrangement Mary poppins BET NBC binge IMDb TV Star Trek talk show zombie Ovation Pirates cops Nat Geo aliens Extras romance Nominations TCA Winter 2020 worst movies New York Comic Con Mindy Kaling Black History Month Sneak Peek APB Women's History Month Tarantino The Walt Disney Company composers Broadway Comics on TV suspense thriller PBS halloween classics Stephen King Syfy YouTube Premium DGA YouTube GoT olympics Emmy Nominations period drama marvel comics Captain marvel historical drama black comedy Pride Month National Geographic nbcuniversal HBO Go biopic Set visit reviews Chernobyl kids crime thriller Reality docudrama The CW social media comedies Holiday IFC cats Exclusive Video BBC One FX sequel comic book movie facebook remakes fast and furious witnail Fox Searchlight 24 frames latino sopranos blockbusters 2021 Universal CBS Tokyo Olympics dogs DC Universe Comedy TBS SundanceTV Infographic Lifetime Christmas movies sports romantic comedy Crackle Pet Sematary sitcom 2017 joker Hear Us Out Instagram Live Opinion E! animated The Walking Dead El Rey Drama 21st Century Fox scary nfl comiccon cults Kids & Family YA American Society of Cinematographers canceled ESPN children's TV Binge Guide spanish language Comic Book 2015 scary movies breaking bad TV One Red Carpet dark festivals art house news king arthur Sundance TV rom-coms french cinemax superhero Heroines christmas movies spy thriller nature Lifetime name the review VH1 ghosts new york Apple TV Plus australia dc cancelled television heist movie BBC America independent DC streaming service Warner Bros. stand-up comedy cancelled TV series Brie Larson Black Mirror war cartoon Rocketman south america boxoffice Trivia The Academy lord of the rings japanese dexter A&E 4/20 Mystery festival mockumentary Amazon Prime Adult Swim 90s Paramount Plus anthology Awards Bravo 72 Emmy Awards blaxploitation Grammys canceled TV shows Pop TV NBA Paramount Network harry potter Character Guide Super Bowl italian screen actors guild target Universal Pictures Turner political drama TCA 2017 adventure 20th Century Fox sequels green book indie Nickelodeon President Western medical drama GIFs football Family USA Network mutant CW Seed hispanic Quiz Masterpiece Showtime award winner ViacomCBS anime japan Podcast comic books boxing