Wondering what version of Anne of Green Gables you should watch? Here are eight surviving film adaptations of Anne, from big-screen productions, to anime, to T.V. movies and miniseries. I’ve given a mini review for each plus a star rating to help you decide which is the best version of Anne of Green Gables!
Over the past 6 months, I’ve spent over 40 hours watching Anne of Green Gables movie adaptations. Yes, Anne Shirley has gotten that much screen time in the past century since she was written! Why did I personally spend so much time watching Anne? First of all, I love Anne of Green Gables and all the books she’s featured in, so this self-imposed assignment was delightful. Second of all, I wanted to write a guide for you, my reader, to help you decide which AoGG versions are worth your time.
I found both hidden gems and bitter disappointments when preparing this guide, and learned more about Anne filmography than I thought was possible! Enjoy this list, and let me know in the comments how you feel about the Anne movies you’ve seen!
Anne of Green Gables Film Adaptations
There are twelve English-language film adaptations of L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series. In addition, there are at least 5 “fan fiction” movies and T.V. series based on Anne, as well as numerous radio dramas and musicals based on the books.
Anne films based on the original novels
- 1919: Anne of Green Gables – A silent film directed by William Desmond Taylor. No recordings remain.
- 1934: Anne of Green Gables – Directed by George Nichols Jr.. Reviewed below.
- 1940: Anne of Windy Poplars – Directed by Jack Hively. Reviewed below.
- 1952: Anne of Green Gables – A television series produced by Pamela Brown. No recordings remain.
- 1972: Anne of Green Gables – A BBC miniseries directed by Joan Craft. No recordings remain.
- 1975: Anne of Avonlea – A BBC miniseries directed by Joan Craft. Reviewed below.
- 1979: Akage no An (Red-Haired Anne) – An anime series directed by Isao Takahata. Reviewed below.
- 1985: Anne of Green Gables – A television series directed by Kevin Sullivan. Reviewed below.
- 1987: Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel – A television series directed by Kevin Sullivan. Reviewed below.
- 2016: L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables – A television movie directed by John Kent Harrison. Reviewed below.
- 2017: Anne of Green Gables: The Good Stars – A television movie directed by John Kent Harrison. Reviewed below.
- 2017: Anne of Green Gables: Fire & Dew – A television movie directed by John Kent Harrison. Reviewed below.
- (2017) Anne with an E – A Canadian drama and Netflix series produced by Moira Walley-Beckett and Miranda de Pencier. The first season loosely follows the book, but the second season diverges even more widely. Reviewed below.
Anne films that aren’t based on the original novels
- 2000: Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story – A television series directed by Kevin Sullivan. An original story about Anne and Gilbert which does not follow the books.
- 2000 – 2001: Anne of Green Gables: The Animated Series – A television series directed by Kevin Sullivan. It uses Montgomery’s characters to teach moral lessons for children.
- 2005: Anne: Journey to Green Gables – An animated film directed by Kevin Sullivan, it serves as an original prequel story.
- 2008: Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning – A television miniseries directed by Kevin Sullivan. It is an original prequel/sequel that uses some of Montgomery’s characters but does not follow the books.
- 2009: Kon’nichiwa Anne (Before Green Gables) – An anime directed by Katsuyoshi Yatabe. Based on the prequel novel Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson.
Out of the 8 novels in the Anne series, it’s interesting that only material from the first 4 books has been filmed! So many people have filmed Anne, but it’s typically just the first book, over and over again. When will someone at least make a Rilla of Ingleside movie?? Anyway, I diverge…
Let’s dive in to the Anne movies that have been made (and that still exist!). You can click on the linked titles to check the DVD prices on Amazon and read more reviews.
8 Anne of Green Gables Movies, Reviewed and Rated
Anne of Green Gables (1934)
After watching this film, Lucy Maud Montgomery commented that “On the whole it is not a bad picture. At least the first two thirds. The last third is a silly sentimental commonplace end tacked on for the sake of rounding it up as a love story.” Viewers didn’t seem to mind the silly sentimental ending—the film was a record-breaking box office hit.
When I heard that lead actress Dawn O’Day embraced her role so much that she legally changed her name to Anne Shirley after the film, I expected great things from her performance. She doesn’t disappoint! This is a great portrayal of Anne and is thoroughly enjoyable to watch. I also liked Matthew, and Gilbert wasn’t too bad. Marilla I didn’t care for much.
This film suffers from its short run time and its compressed characters and story line. The sped-up Anne + Gilbert love story felt terribly out of place, and I disliked how they changed the plot in this last part of the movie. The highlights are some well-done interactions between Anne and Gilbert and some sweet Anne and Matthew moments. In the end, Montgomery’s assessment sums it up aptly.
Anne of Windy Poplars (1940)
The movie studio hoped to piggyback on the popularity of the 1934 film, but this sequel actually incurred a loss at the box office. Dawn O’Day plays Anne Shirley again, and does a wonderful job, but other than that there’s an entirely new cast (including a new Gilbert). The film jumps right into Anne’s arrival at Summerside (called Pringleton in the movie). It’s less episodic than the book, for the most part keeping the tension focused tightly around the Pringle snobbery.
It was an interesting film to watch, and I enjoyed the casting quite a bit. It borrowed a lot from the book, but there are also so many invented scenes and relationships that it would take too long to point them out! As far as Anne books go, Windy Poplars is my least favourite, so honestly I wasn’t too bothered by the divergences from the novel. It makes a fun watch for a cozy evening in.
Anne of Avonlea (1975)
When I found the 1975 BBC Anne of Avonlea at my local library, I expected it to be a dated, low-budget curiosity piece. Well, it is low budget, but it’s so delightful that it’s aged considerably well. I loved this one!
If you’re a fan of Anne books 2 and 3 you are in for a treat, as this 6-part miniseries actually covers both Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island. (The BBC also made a miniseries of Anne of Green Gables in 1972, but tragically it is a lost film.) While Kevin Sullivan touches on a few episodes from books 2 and 3 in his 1987 series, he draws most heavily from book 4. So this 1975 adaptation is practically all uncharted territory. We get to see the A.V.I.S., Echo Lodge and Lavender Lewis, Paul Irving, Davy and Dora, Redmond College and Patty’s Place, Phillipa Gordon and Roy Gardner…everything’s there, with only a few minor and forgivable changes to the books.
In spite of being a very unflashy production, the 1975 Anne of Avonlea feels like cannon. Kim Braden makes an excellent and realistic-feeling Anne. The whole cast is lovely—even Marilla, who I wasn’t certain about at first, grew on me tremendously. I loved watching two of my favourite Anne novels come to life in such a faithful, unpretentious way.
Funfact: Barbara Hamilton, the actress who plays Marilla, is sister to Patricia Hamilton who plays Rachel Lynde in Kevin Sullivan’s Anne films!
Akage no An (1979)
An anime Anne of Green Gables?? Yes. If you are a true Anne fan, whatever you do, don’t pass this one by. In spite of (or perhaps because of) being animated, Akage no An is the best, most beautiful, fullest representation of Montgomery’s novel. You read that right! I was about a dozen episodes in to this 50-episode series when I told my husband “I think this might be the best Anne of Green Gables! But it’s still not my favourite.” But by the last episode: “Okay. I’m just going to call it. This is my favourite.”
With stunning, painterly backgrounds, a delightful soundtrack, nuanced character growth, and word-for-word dialogue, this series feels, sounds, and looks like the book. I was astounded by how well the filmmakers understood and loved Montgomery’s world. There’s a sharp attention to period and setting detail, shown in things like the Scottish roots of the Islanders or the way the schoolchildren put their milk bottles in the stream to stay cool.
Interestingly, there is one episode that is actually taken from Emily of Moon (when Emily eats the poisoned apple). Although I found this odd, it was also neat to know that the show creators have read other Montgomery books besides just the first Anne.
There are two Akage no An versions available to watch for free on Youtube: a dubbed version and the original voice actors with English subtitles. I recommend the latter, as the subtitles directly quote the book, and I loved hearing the personalities come through from the original voice cast.
Note: Here’s a fascinating article on why Anne Shirley is so popular in Japan. Also, a Youtube video that examines the progression and pacing in Akage no An.
Anne of Green Gables (1985)
I adored Kevin Sullivan’s hugely popular miniseries when I was little, but as an adult I wondered if my nostalgia was clouding my judgement. Well, even with repeated re-watches where I try my best to be critical, this adaptation still sweeps me off my feet every time. It’s iconic, and they nailed it on almost every score. Speaking of scores…isn’t that theme music to die for?
This version is so widely-loved and uncontroversial for a reason. It’s a carefully-crafted, faithful adaptation that hits all the right notes.
Kevin Sullivan followed up his 1985 success with this sequel, which focuses on the novel Anne of Windy Poplars, but has a handful of episodes and elements from Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island. Growing up, I actually liked this sequel better than Sullivan’s first miniseries. I liked seeing all the characters grown up and beginning adult lives, with all the backstory of the first miniseries to give them depth.
Sullivan’s divergences from the book are tasteful and don’t feel utterly out of place. He eliminates some characters and invents others to avoid being overrun with episodic side plots. Emmeline Harris is a combination of Paul Irving and Elizabeth Grayson; Morgan Harris takes the place of Roy Gardner, Mr. Irving, and Pierce Grayson; and grandmother Harris is based on Mrs. Campbell and Sarah Pringle. However, I can’t help but wonder if the positive reception Sullivan got to these changes made him more bold with future divergences; sadly, his next two Anne miniseries don’t follow the books at all.
The highlight of this series is seeing Anne grown up in a natural and engaging way, getting the satisfaction of her love story with Gilbert Blythe, and having an amazing cast and plotting that brings Montgomery’s least-compelling Anne novel to life. I give it four stars instead of five for the changes it makes to the books, although I don’t think it detracts from the viewing experience.
L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables (2016-17)
This made-for-TV movie and its sequels The Good Stars and Fire and Dew was nice but completely unremarkable. It added nothing to the filmography of the Anne books, and seems unnecessary in light of the established 1985 series. The movies were touted as “a new Anne for a new generation,” which made me wonder: do we need a new Anne? Today’s small fry will love the older adaptations if we introduce them.
If you want to make a new kid-targeted Montgomery movie, why not film Rainbow Valley? There’d be a lot less riding on the actors as well. This adaptation missed the mark with almost all of its iconic characters: Marilla was too sweet and indulgent, Mathew became comic relief, and the little boy who played Gilbert would’ve been better cast as Charlie Sloane! It was bad enough that Diana didn’t have jet-black tresses, far worse that Gilbert was a redhead!
The movies also suffered from strange alterations to the book, like the White Way of Delight being a little group of trees Anne glimpses from the porch, but which aren’t really shown to the viewers. We’re subjected to an apocryphal and cliche “fall through the ice” episode, and a supposedly humorous scene where Matthew lands on his face in the mud.
The high points of these movies are the lovely and detailed settings and props. Green Gables is a gorgeous house, and there’s some nice nature scenes. There’s suitable homage paid to the domestic rhythms that are so prominent in Montgomery’s books: hospitality, preparing food, and all the quotidian duties of a working farm. I also thought Ella Ballentine did a good job as Anne, even if she’s not how I picture Anne when I read the books.
Note: The somewhat cheesy-sounding titles “The Good Stars” and “Fire and Dew” actually come from a poem by Robert Browning. I don’t recall this being explained or even referenced in the movies. Do you remember if they were?
Anne with an E (2017-)
This ongoing Netflix series had potential to be something different and special. Many of us Anne fans hoped that it would even take us deeper into the book series, especially since Netflix typically waits a year to release new seasons of its originals, so the cast could age naturally.
Well, Anne with an E is different alright. But it’s not for the faint of heart. My skin was crawling by the second episode. It’s the Upside-Down version of Avonlea, where adult themes abound and truth, beauty, and goodness seldom shine through. I think I get what the filmmakers were trying to do, exploring modern issues and sensibilities in a period setting. I just wish they hadn’t done it on Anne. Instead of honoring L. M. Montgomery, I feel like they stole her characters to animate their own agenda.
Perhaps the chief strength of this series is its talented cast. They often don’t behave the way Montgomery wrote them, but at least they’re good actors. The series also has a high budget, which means it often looks nice, with an intentionally dark color palate and earthy tones to reflect this darker take.
If you don’t mind shows that push the envelope and run beloved classics through the meat grinder, go ahead and give this a watch (without your kids). But if you feel that Anne is a little too special to be tampered with, just re-read the books instead.
What do you think are the key components that make a good Anne film? What’s your favourite version of Anne of Green Gables?
For more discussion on L. M. Montgomery novels and the novels’ portrayal in film, watch this video interview with Dan Schneider, Monika Hilder, Holly Blackford, and myself (I’m the one who does the long awkward pause when I’m supposed to be fielding my first question!).
(Here’s the link if you can’t get the video to play above.)
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