100 years ago today, an author was born who would forever shape our imaginations. Legendary writer of children's stories Roald Dahl crafted some of the most beloved novels of all time, ones filled with unforgettable characters, memorable language, sweet sentiment and no small amount of menace.
So grab your snozzcumbers and and celebrate Roald Dahl Day with us as we bring you the essential adaptations to have made it to the big screen.
36 Hours (1965)
The first big screen adaptation of a Roald Dahl tale and it’s not even a children’s movie. This version of Dahl’s 1944 shortie Beware of the Dog focuses on a German doctor in WWII who tries to obtain vital information from an American soldier by pretending that it’s 1950 and that the war is over.
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Dahl’s first screenplay, and his bruise-black fingerprints are all over this spicy adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 11th James Bond novel. After stating that You Only Live Twice was "Ian Fleming’s worst book, with no plot in it which would even make a movie", Dahl was given free rein to cook up his own story, keeping only a few elements from Fleming’s original novel.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
Dahl’s second screenplay, again from an Ian Fleming novel, and once more for Bond producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. There’s a thick vein of Dahl DNA in the movie version, not least in the memorably menacing Child Catcher, a character created specially for the movie and one straight out of Dahl’s ghoulish imagination.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Dahl essentially disowned this American-British-German version of his most beloved story after his original script was rewritten after a series of missed deadlines. He believed the movie focused too heavily on Willy Wonka at the expense of Charlie Bucket, and was miffed that the studio failed to hire his first choice for Wonka – Spike Milligan. Bluntly, he’s wrong. Gene Wilder makes for a roaringly charismatic Willy Wonka and Peter Ostrum is impossibly sweet as the pauper-like Charlie. A scrummy, gold-plated family classic.
Danny, the Champion of the World (1989)
Jeremy and Samuel Irons star as the father and son team who conspire to thwart a local businessman's plans to buy their land by poaching his pheasants. Though made for TV it had a limited theatrical run and boasts an impressive cast, including Robbie Coltrane, Michael Hordern, Jimmy Nail and – from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – Lionel Jeffries.
The Witches (1990)
The last movie adaptation made in Dahl’s lifetime (he died in 1991) and also the final film worked on by Muppet Show man Jim Henson, who provided the film with its myriad of creature designs, director Nic Roeg's dark-hued delight is a fizzily inventive feature version of the author’s much-loved 1983 book. A rarely better Angelica Huston steals the show as the Germanic Grand High Witch, while Rowan Atkinson is fantastically sour as the officious hotel manager Mr Stringer.
James and the Giant Peach (1996)
Tim Burton produced this endearingly old-fashioned animated feature based on Dahl’s 1961 novel. Ingeniously, it starts off live-action, before moving into stop-motion animation 20 minutes in once the action moves to New York City. We could have done without the musical numbers though.
The only real contender to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’s crown for the Best Roald Dahl Adaptation, this tangy version of Dahl’s 1988 book boasts a dazzling star turn from Mara Wilson as the precocious, book-hungry six-year-old sent to a school ruled over by the tyrannical Miss Trunchbull (Pam Ferris). Look closely at the framed photo of Matilda’s kindly teacher Miss Honey’s father – it’s actually Roald Dahl.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
There’s much to love about Tim Burton’s lavish reimagining of Dahl’s 1964 book – the sumptuous production design, the songs, the casting of Deep Roy as the Munchkins. Unfortunately, Johnny Depp proves more irritating than enchanting as the Michael Jackson-styled Willy Wonka, while the character’s bolted-on backstory, sucks out much of his mystique.
Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)
Stop-motion again (there seems to be something about Dahl’s stories that seem an ill-fit with CGI), this is, in some ways, more of a Wes Anderson film than a Roald Dahl one. With his customary stylistic precision and his regular rep of actors, including Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe and Owen Wilson, alongside George Clooney as Mr "Foxy" Fox, it feels more like a companion piece to The Royal Tenenbaums and The Grand Budapest Hotel than to James and the Giant Peach.
Esio Trot (2015)
The title is 'tortoise' spelled backwards and the end result is one of Dahl's most sweetly down-to-Earth stories, a romance between an elderly widower and his neighbour with more than a few reptiles thrown in. Love Actually director and British comedy institution Richard Curtis brought the story to the BBC last year with movie titans Dustin Hoffman and Judi Dench turning in terrific performances as the lovestruck pensioners.
The BFG (2016)
Is there a better match of director and author than Steven Spielberg and Roald Dahl? The E.T. filmmaker's charming take on Dahl's enduringly popular story of the Big Friendly Giant boasted cutting-edge motion-capture effects – but it would have meant nothing without a beautifully expressive performance from Oscar-winner Mark Rylance, whose rich tones and warmly expressive features brought the character to life. Equally impressive is newcomer Ruby Barnhill as Sophie, who really sells us on the friendship between two lonely souls.