Australian film adaptations

Must-see Australian film adaptations

Don’t kick the bucket until you have seen these great films
 Morgyn Phillips

We asked NFSA staff to nominate their favourite Aussie film adaptations and have compiled some lists for you to get through. There are clips available for several titles and you can also purchase many of these classics from the NFSA Shop.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of developing the NFSA’s upcoming exhibition Great Adaptations: Words to Image has been the discussions about which film or TV adaptation was the best and why. Is the adaptation faithful, better or worse or just different to the book or play? Most of the screen adaptations mentioned below are based on Australian literary works but a few have been based on works by international authors like Raymond Carver and Louis de Bernières.

According to a quick NFSA staff poll the must-see adaptations are Australian classics like Picnic at Hanging Rock and My Brilliant Career followed by films like Storm Boy, Jindabyne, Romulus My Father, Lantana and The Sentimental Bloke. The television adaptation of Seven Little Australians is the only television adaptation to get a mention, perhaps because a number of us saw it as children.

So get reading and viewing to celebrate the last half of the National Year of Reading.

Graham Shirley, NFSA Historian

  • The Sentimental Bloke (1919) – based on the poem by CJ Dennis
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) – based on the novel by Joan Lindsay
  • For the Term of His Natural Life (1927) – based on the novel by Marcus Clarke
  • My Brilliant Career (1979) – based on the novel by Miles Franklin
  • On Our Selection (1932) – based on the novel by Steele Rudd

Jan Thurling, NFSA Librarian

  • Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) – I love Australian gothic!
  • Lantana (2001) – have seen the play a couple of times now, and loved the way the film adapted the criss-crossing stories and made all the interactions and coincidences make sense. Based on the play Speaking in Tongues by Andrew Lovell.
  • A Town like Alice (1956) the film and (1980) the TV series – Virginia McKenna and Peter Finch vs Helen Morse and Brian Brown – no winners, both are fantastic. Based on the novel by Nevil Shute.
  • The Shiralee (1987) – first Australian mini-series I remember watching. I thought Buster was wonderful, and wanted to be Rebecca Smart. Based on the novel by D’Arcy Niland.
Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) based on the novel by Doris Pilkington (Nugi Garimara)NFSA: 608286

Kari Pahlman, NFSA Reception

  • Jindabyne (2006) – adapted from a short story by Raymond Carver called So Much Water So Close to Home.
  • Romulus, My Father (2007) – based on the biographical memoir by Raimond Gaita.
  • Storm Boy (1976) – based on the novel by Colin Thiele.
  • Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) based on the novel by Doris Pilkington (Nugi Garimara)

Amanda Paroz, NFSA Education Coordinator

  • Oscar and Lucinda (1997) – beautiful cinematography. Based on the 1988 Booker Prize-winning novel by Peter Carey.
  • Looking for Alibrandi (2000) – engaging. Such a fabulous teaching resource and I just genuinely love it. Based on the novel by Melina Marchetta.
  • Bran Nue Dae (2010) – the play is fantastic and the movie was bright, colourful and engaging. Based on the musical by Jimmy Chi.
  • Red Dog (2011) – example of a culture/time. Also it has a dog as the main character – we all know how I feel about dogs. Loosely based on a 2002 novel by Louis de Bernières.
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) – the bush is scary/mythical. The music is terrifying. The whole thing is scary yet only PG.

Ruth Hill, Scholars and Artists in Residence (SAR)

  • All the Rivers Run (1983-89) – TV mini-series starring Sigrid Thornton and John Waters. It is based on the novel of the same name by Nancy Cato, first published in 1958.
  • Seven Little Australians (1973) – TV series based on the novel by Ethel Turner (1894). Earlier film and BBC TV versions.
  • Come in Spinner (1989) TV series – based on novel by Dymphna Cusack and Florence James first published in 1951.
  • The Shiralee (1957) – film based on the novel by D’Arcy Niland first published in 1955. And a telemovie in 1987 starring Bryan Brown.
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) – based on the 1967 novel by Joan Lindsay.
  • Power without Glory (1986) – ABC mini-series based on the 1950 novel of the same name by Frank Hardy.
'Bran Nue Day’ (2010) based on the musical by Jimmy ChiNFSA: 792648

Christine Eccles, NFSA Archivist

  • Ride on Stranger (1979) – ABC TV mini-series starring Liddy Clarke and Noni Hazlehurst. Great depiction of an interesting time in Australian life. Based on the novel by one of my favourite authors, Kylie Tennant, first published in 1943.
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) – the film with its music, cinematography and acting makes so much more of the story than the book.
  • Looking for Alibrandi (2000) – a great adaptation based on the 1992 novel by Melina Marchetta.
  • Lantana (2001) – quirky blend of mystery, humour, good cinematography and script. Based on the play Speaking in Tongues by Andrew Lovell.
  • The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978) – made a big impact with Aboriginal actors, the injustice of the Aboriginal experience and the beauty of the landscape. Based on the 1973 novel by Thomas Keneally.

Morgyn Phillips, NFSA Exhibitions Curator

  • The Sentimental Bloke (1919)
  • William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996)
  • My Brilliant Career (1979)
  • Bliss (1985) – from the novel by Peter Carey.
  • Romulus My Father (2007) – from the biography by Raimond Gaita.
  • Age of Consent (1969) – based on a novel by Norman Lindsay.
  • Cosi (1996) – from a play by Louis Nowra.
  • Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002)
  • Mary Poppins (1964) – based on the novel by Australian-born PL Travers.
  • Chopper (2000) – based on Mark Brandon Read’s autobiographical stories.
  • Storm Boy (1976) – based on the children’s novel by Colin Thiele.
  • They’re a Weird Mob (1966) – based on the novel by John O’Grady under the pseudonym of Nino Culotta.

Stephen Groenewegen, australianscreen

  • The Sundowners (1960) – based on the novel by Jon Cleary.
  • Wake in Fright (1971) – based on the novel by Kenneth Cook.
  • Careful, He Might Hear You (1983) – based on the novel by Sumner Locke Elliott.
  • The Sugar Factory (1998) – based on the novel by Robert Carter.
  • Snowtown (2011) – based on the books Killing for Pleasure by Debi Marshall and The Snowtown Murders by Andrew McGarry.