Few authors today have cultivated a body of work as distinct as Neil Gaiman’s. He joins the ranks of prolific fantasy writers who’ve helped the genre flourish, alongside visionaries like J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, and Ursula K. Le Guin.
In an interview with The Creative Process, Gaiman explains that he has “a lot of interest in using the fantastic in all its ways to illuminate.” Alongside his capacity to build intricately detailed worlds, the charm of his writing lies in how they defamiliarize what we know to be true by peering into oft-ignored cracks. It’s this sense of wonder and glee that permeates his bibliography, and the many unexpected twists and turns they include.
As a result, Gaiman’s stories have served as some of the richest source material for screen adaptations in the 21st century, with the world’s best directors eager to bring his unique vision to life. Whether he’s writing for children, diving into social issues, or playing with abstract concepts, he always brings something fresh to the table.
If you’re looking to venture into the spectacular imagination of Neil Gaiman, here are some of the best adaptations to fall into.
When Neil Gaiman began writing his dark fantasy horror Coraline, he explained that he meant to scare even the kids who aren’t easily spooked. In the novel, Gaiman deploys one of the most memorable and unsettling images in children’s fiction, as the titular character stumbles upon a world that mirrors her own — except all the people have buttons for eyes.
With a spunky heroine, stellar animation, a haunting score, and a classic Alice in Wonderland-type story, it’s now obvious why the 2009 film adaptation of Coraline became a critical and commercial success.
However, Gaiman and lead animator Travis Knight have shared that the movie was not an easy sell, with producers insisting that nobody wanted to see stop-motion animation.
The film was eventually picked up by LAIKA — the animation studio behind The Boxtrolls and Kubo and the Two Strings — and directed by Henry Selick, who was also behind The Nightmare Before Christmas. Meticulously detailed and laboriously crafted, Coraline feels like a gift to both kids and adults looking for a spectacular cautionary tale.
The film takes great pains to ensure that the eerie and sinister atmosphere of the book is deployed just right. Stop-motion ended up being the perfect animation technique, as it made Coraline the perfect dark fairy tale for avid Gaiman fans and casual viewers alike.
Good Omens Season 1 (2019)
Armageddon has always been a fixture in the popular imagination, but no one has done it quite like Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett in their 1990 novel, Good Omens.
In it, the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley, who have grown fond of Earth after being stationed in it since creation, go against heaven and hell to stop the apocalypse from happening. But with the 11-year-old Antichrist misplaced, things become more complicated than they anticipated.
The 2019 Amazon Prime series is a near-perfect adaptation that captures the novel’s lighthearted and dry humor, the characters’ amusing dynamics, and the plot’s epic scale. It also features a fantastic cast — including David Tennant, Michael Sheen, Frances McDormand, Benedict Cumberbatch, and more — who feel natural and magnetic in their roles.
And although the entirety of the book is covered in the first season, Good Omens’ second season follows up with a delightful exploration of Aziraphale and Crowley’s relationship in the aftermath of the botched apocalypse — ending with a cliffhanger that will leave you wanting more.
American Gods (2017-2021)
As Neil Gaiman works go, American Gods is probably among the darkest and most mature.
The urban fantasy novel follows Shadow Moon, who is released from prison after being informed that his wife, Laura, has died. He meets Mr. Wednesday and is opened up to a world where a god’s survival depends on the devotion of their followers. And in the changing landscape of America, where obsessions with modern entities like media and technology arise, a new pantheon threatens to overthrow the old gods.
The 2017 adaptation of American Gods contains some of the most chilling and artful sequences shown on TV, featuring performances by a star-studded roster that includes Gillian Anderson, Kristin Chenoweth, and Orlando Jones. With Hannibal director Bryan Fuller and producer Jesse Alexander serving as showrunners for different seasons of American Gods, it’s not surprising that the series is equal parts gory and visually captivating.
The show is deeply political, too, as the source material is updated to match the spirit of America today — taking on serious topics like race, immigration, religion, and power. Due to multiple changes in showrunners, the show can feel a bit disjunct from seasons one through three, but it’s nevertheless a great watch if you want something thought-provoking and energetic.
If you’re looking for an easy watch, 2007’s Stardust may be the perfect family-friendly flick.
The film is based on Gaiman’s 1999 book of the same title, in which Tristan Thorn ventures into the realm of the Faerie, vowing to bring home a fallen star to the woman he loves. He finds out, however, that the star is actually a woman named Yvaine.
What’s more, a trio of witches and a trio of princes are also in a vicious race to get to the star, tossing Yvaine and Tristan into an adventure-filled journey back to the latter’s village.
Stardust is a classic fairy tale that echoes the charms of romances like The Princess Bride and Ella Enchanted. It’s delightful, action-packed, and wondrous.
Although its lightheartedness can be deceptive, the film lives up to the intricate fantasy world that Gaiman lovingly crafted, with floating ships, unicorns, and travel by candlelight. It’s populated by stars too, with Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, and Peter O’Toole gracing the screen and Ian McKellen serving as the narrator. All these elements tie together to create the perfect upbeat fantasy adventure.
The Sandman (2022)
Across a body of work known for his distinct voice and complex world-building, none of Neil Gaiman’s universes are as expansive and ambitious as that of The Sandman.Often cited as the work that launched Gaiman into literary stardom, the dark fantasy graphic novel series is a grand ode to the power of stories.
Its main character, Morpheus, is the personification of dreams. He is one of the Endless, anthropomorphic embodiments of abstract concepts like Destiny, Death, and Delirium. Their adventures encompass history, mythologies, and legends across the universe throughout time.
Since its first issue was released in 1988, The Sandman had long been considered unadaptable — not only because of its fantasy elements, but also because of the way Gaiman stretches the limits of the graphic novel medium itself. The stories take on an elusive quality that only makes sense because of the delicate interplay between words and images.
But the 2022 Netflix adaptation does an elegant job of allowing the essence of its characters and themes to shine through. It doesn’t quite capture just how slippery and dreamlike the comics are, but it manages to wrangle many stories with diverse tones into a captivating narrative.
Twisting into unexplored realms and concepts, The Sandman is a treat — especially if you don’t know what you’re walking into.
Neil Gaiman readers have been rewarded with tons of adaptations to enjoy. But some of his best works, like The Ocean at the End of the Lane and The Graveyard Book, are yet to be seen on film or TV.
What Neil Gaiman stories do you want to see on screen? Let us know in the comments!