From 'The Queen's Gambit' to 'The Man Who Fell to Earth,' Walter Tevis' works still resonate decades after they were first written.
Walter Tevis is having a moment. And that's saying a lot because the author died in 1984.
On April 24, Showtime will premiere The Man Who Fell to Earth, a continuation of the world Tevis built in his 1963 sci-fi classic of the same name (which itself has already seen a 1976 film directed by Nicolas Roeg and starring David Bowie as well as a failed pilot-turned-TV movie directed by Bobby Roth from 1987).
Tevis also wrote the book The Queen's Gambit, which — after some false-starts — was turned into an Emmy-winning Netflix miniseries that premiered in 2020. His credits also include the books The Hustler and The Color of Money, which also became noteworthy films.
A prolific short-story writer whose work appeared in everything from Playboy to Redbook magazines, Tevis also wrote a piece for Cosmopolitan magazine in 1959 that was adapted into a teleplay for NBC's anthology series, The Loretta Young Show.
But which of the TV adaptations of Tevis' works is truly the best? Metacritic crunched the numbers to find out.
Best for: Fans of underdog stories set in gritty locales
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In one of his most notorious parts, Paul Newman plays small-time pool shark Fast Eddie Felson who travels with his friend Charlie (Myron McCormick) to take down infamous pool player Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) in this 1961 adaptation. When things don't go as planned, Eddie sets out to find a way to beat Fats at his own game. George C. Scott also stars as professional gambler Bert Gordon, and Piper Laurie plays Sarah Packard, Eddie's love interest who has her own demons. All of these actors, as well as director and co-writer Robert Rossen, were nominated for Academy Awards — a nomination Scott famously refused as he disagreed with the concept of actors competing against each other.
"A postnoir melodrama with metaphysical trimmings, it does remarkable things with mood and pacing, and the two matches with Gleason as Minnesota Fats are indelible." — Jonathan Rosenbaum, Reader
Best for: Fans of sci-fi stories that have a cultural message, as well as those who enjoy Bowie looking snazzy in a suit and tie
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A humanoid alien who goes by the name of Thomas Jerome Newton, speaks with an English accent and looks strangely like musician Bowie crash-lands in New Mexico. His goal is to bring water back to his drought-plagued planet. He quickly amasses tremendous wealth in the technology space, but he also develops an addiction to alcohol and becomes of interest to the government. Rip Torn, Candy Clark, and Buck Henry also star in the film directed by Roeg and with a script adaptation by Paul Mayersberg.
"Bowie, slender, elegant, remote, evokes this alien so successfully that one could say, without irony, this was a role he was born to play" — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
Best for: Fans of prestige dramas that offer complicated stories of addiction, neglect, and relationships. Also, fans of chess.
Where to watch: Netflix
Orphaned by her mother and abandoned by her father, Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) develops a keen ability to play chess after the orphanage's kindly janitor (Bill Camp) takes her under his tutelage. She also becomes addicted to the barbiturates that the program forces upon her. Eventually adopted, Beth travels the world and becomes a chess all-star while her addiction to pills and other substances grows. The series, which was created by Scott Frank and Allan Scott, won 11 Emmy Awards in 2021, including Outstanding Limited Series or Anthology.
"[Anna] Taylor-Joy's cerebral acting meshes perfectly with Beth's story. She's an actor of micro-expressions, of flickers of eyes and twitches of lips, and what makes The Queen Gambit such a good fit for her is the way she keeps both the viewer and Beth's opponents at arm's length." — Emily St. James, Vox
Best for: Those who want a seedy gambling movie that also discusses addiction and the thrill of the win
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The 1986 Martin Scorsese-directed follow-up to The Hustler sees Newman as an older, perhaps wiser, version of Fast Eddie Felson. Now a retired pool player and working as a Chicago liquor salesman, he still stakes bets for other players — and sees particular promise in a young player named Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise) and his girlfriend Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). The trio hit the road, hustling their way half-way across the country as they make their way to a tournament in Atlantic City, positing whether Eddie will ever return to the game along the way.
"The problem may be that Scorsese, arguably America's most gifted and gritty director, is working from a script not written by one of his veteran collaborators, and so the grit is gone. All of the performances are fine. Newman is particularly effective, but he is forced to run a familiar treadmill." — Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune
Best for: Sci-fi fans who loved the first iteration of the story but are not so devoted to it that they aren't willing to explore uncharted territory.
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Forty-five years after Thomas Jerome Newton was unable to complete his mission to bring water from Earth to those on his dying planet, a new alien who eventually adopts the name Faraday (Chiwetel Ejiofor) crash-lands here to finish the job. He enlists the help of brilliant-but-doesn't-know-it single mom Justin Falls (Naomie Harris) and her dad, Clarke Peters' Josiah, as he tracks down Newton (now played by Bill Nighy). This time around the story is a limited series, which means six hours of digging into important themes, such as the climate crisis.
"Loaded with fantastic performances and a fascinating plot, The Man Who Fell To Earth not only entertains but may even give you a greater appreciation for what it means to be human." — Terry Terrones, Paste