Where To Start With... Nicholas Sparks
If you're a fan of romantic fiction, it's highly likely that you'll already be aware of Nicholas Sparks. In fact, if the information on the author's website is accurate, you probably already own at least one of his books; Sparks has shifted in excess of 100 million copies of his romantic novels, no fewer than 10 of which have already been adapted for the big screen, with an eleventh on the way next year in the form of The Choice. There's a reason they call Sparks 'the King of Hearts'.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves; the tenth of these films, The Longest Ride, lands in stores on Monday (November 2nd) and is directed by George Tillman Jr., a man whose previous stints in the director's chair have produced films like Faster, Soul Food and Men of Honor. It is, of course, a story of romance and this time around the star-crossed lovers are Scott Eastwood and Britt Robertson, who star as Luke and Sophia.
The storyline is familiar 'odd couple' territory from Sparks; Sophia is a New York art college student about to land her dream job, Luke is a former championship bull rider hoping to make a comeback. No, it doesn't exactly seem inevitable they will end up together, does it? However, they share a connection in the from of Ira Levinson (Alan Alda), whose tales of love and romance with his own wife many years since provide the spark the couple need.
Sparks is on record as saying that he tries to write what he knows his fans will like, so those already head over heels for his writing won't be disappointed and will find plenty of familiar Sparks tropes here; there's a misty-eyed nostalgia for a simpler time, the men all wear very tight jeans and nobody swears, ever.
For anyone who has fallen under the spell of Sparks' brand of romance already, The Longest Ride will have you reaching for the tissues all over again. You can find the trailer below, beneath that we've picked out five of the best films adapted from Nicholas Sparks' novels as handy guide for those new to his work...
If you only watch one of the films on this list, you should probably start with this. Even if you read the above and found yourself thinking 'yeah, romance films aren't really my thing', we urge you to give this one a try. Starring Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, Gena Rowlands and James Garner, Nick Cassavetes' film perfectly weaves a story of two intertwined love affairs across two generations and skilfully walks the tightrope between being heartbreakingly sad and joyously triumphant. If that sounds a little mushy for you fellas, believe us; this film is a test of anyone's manliness and if you can make it to the end without choking back the tears at least once, you might want to check your pulse.
The first of Sparks' novels to get the Hollywood treatment, Message in a Bottle is basically 'the grand romantic gesture' distilled and projected the big screen. Directed by Luis Mandoki, this 1999 film stars Robin Wright (back in the days she was called Robin Wright-Penn) as Theresa, a woman who finds herself enchanted by a wonderfully romantic letter when it washes up on a beach stuffed inside a bottle. Theresa becomes somewhat obsessed with the idea of finding its author and when she discovers that it was written fairly recently, decides to track him down herself. But is he all that she imagines? Kevin Costner stars as the mystery man in question, but it's Paul Newman's show-stealing turn as his father, Dodge, that really makes this film worth watching.
How many films are there with a story that goes like this: super-popular high school jock falls for pretty-but-dorky high school girl, but fears that he will be ridiculed if he makes his feelings known to his friends? Yep, loads of them. But, as comedian Frank Carson used to say, “it's the way you tell 'em” and Sparks is the master of breathing new life into well-worn territory. It helps, of course, if the director is up to the job and Adam Shankman nails it here, with Mandy Moore and Shane West putting in some great performances as the young would-be lovers. Along with the above two films, this is still one of the best adaptations of Sparks' work.
A directorial debut for George C. Wolfe, Nights in Rodanthe stars Richard Gere as Dr. Paul Flanner, who is travelling to see his estranged son when a storm hits and he takes shelter in a small inn in the tiny coastal town of Rodanthe, North Carolina. The inn's only other inhabitant is a woman named Adrienne Willis (Diane Lane), who is looking after the place for a friend while she is on vacation, but is also using the time to figure out her myriad of problems, not least a husband pleading for forgiveness and wanting to come home. As the storm rages outside, the pair bond over their troubles and soon find themselves longing for each other.
Our final pick is this 2010 film from Swedish director Lasse Hallström, whose impressive filmography includes movies like Chocolat, The Cider House Rules and What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Dear John stars Channing Tatum as an American soldier on leave from his base in Germany when he meets and falls for a college student named Savannah (Amanda Seyfried). He swears not to sign up for another term in the army so he can be with her, but then 9/11 happens. You can probably guess the rest. In less capable hands this could have been a bugle of patriotism, but Hallström handles the task with some skill and the performances from the two leads are very strong.