From Green Gables To Avonlea To Anne With An E, 7 Great Movie And TV Adaptations Of Anne Shirley

Amybeth McNulty on Anne with an E
(Image credit: Netflix)

Here’s something that might not surprise you: I love Godzilla. And here’s something that might surprise you: I also love Anne Shirley from the Anne of Green Gables series. I’ve read all eight Anne novels (nine if we’re counting The Blythes Are Quoted), and I’ve watched nearly every adaptation, to at least some extent. I just love Anne Shirley!

It’s probably because she’s both constantly changing, but also deeply rooted in her good-hearted nature. Throughout the book series, we got to watch Anne grow up from a precocious young lady, to an almost tragic figure as a devoted wife and mother. 

That said, in all ways, she is a complex, three dimensional woman, who often seems more alive than many of the people I know in real life. Here are just a few of the best movies and TV shows that touch upon the brilliance of the magnificent Anne Shirley. 

Anne in Akage No An

(Image credit: Nippon Animation)

Akage No An (1979) 

Translating to, “Red-haired Anne,” you might be wondering why, of all places, I’m starting with an anime version of Anne of Green Gables (oh, and in case you didn’t know, I also love anime). Well, I’m starting with it for two reasons. 

One: much of the older adaptations, like the 1919 Anne of Green Gables film, the 1952  TV series of the same name, and the 1972 BBC miniseries (which also had the same title) are actually, surprisingly, lost adaptations. Two: the anime version is really freaking good. 

Since it just missed the ‘80s, I couldn’t put it in my article on classic anime from the ‘80s and ‘90s. However, it’s definitely worthy of that spot, especially if you’re a fan of the first novel, because it might be the closest adaptation of them all. I’m dead serious. 

The series is 50 episodes-long, and it covers all of the major moments from the first book. It also has a high pedigree, as Hayou Miyazaki (yes, that Miyazaki) did layout for the first 15 episodes, even though Isao Takahata (who also did Grave of the Fireflies) was its director. 

Honestly, if you only watch one version of Anne of Green Gables, watch Akage No An. You won’t be disappointed.  

Megan Follows as Anne in Anne of Green Gables

(Image credit: CBC)

Anne Of Green Gables (1985)  

I remember my wife-then-girlfriend-at-the-time brought a DVD of the 1985 version of Anne of Green Gables to my house, and I just wasn’t having it. I fell asleep instantly, and my then-girlfriend chastised me when I woke up by saying, “I watch what YOU want to watch.” I apologized, but I didn’t see what the big deal was (Not about falling asleep, mind you. But about Anne of Green Gables!). 

It actually wasn’t until I read all of the novels that I had a newfound appreciation for this Canadian made-for-TV movie that covered the first book.

Directed by Kevin Sullivan and starring Megan Follows as the titular Anne, much like Akage No An, this live-action version follows the book pretty faithfully. Though, since it’s not as long, it has to condense the story a little bit. I really enjoy this version, because it has some of my favorite scenes from the book, like when Anne accidentally gets her friend drunk.

It doesn’t hurt that Follows is probably the perfect Anne, and that Jonathan Crombie (who you really like to see get whacked on the head by Anne - You go, girl!) makes for a great Gilbert Blythe. 

Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the perfect casting of Colleen Dewhurst as Marilla Cuthbert, and Richard Farnsworth (star of one of my favorite, though, not one of the best, David Lynch movies, The Straight Story) as the lovable Matthew Cuthbert, as well. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with this version. It’s definitely one of the best.  

Megan Follows in Anne of Avonlea

(Image credit: Disney Channel)

Anne Of Avonlea (1987) 

Also known as Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel, this follow-up is actually an amalgamation of multiple books, those being Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, and Anne of Windy Poplars. So, that’s why it’s more of a miniseries than the first one, and much longer. 

Kevin Sullivan again directs, and most of the characters are back again, but they’re all aged up, since Anne is older in this series. It’s kind of like Saved By the Bell: The College Years (Remember that?) in that you definitely feel the progression of the characters. As for how it is? Well, it’s good, though I do prefer these books being told one at a time, rather than as a mixture of stories. 

There were a number of times where I thought, wait, did that happen then? Isn’t that much later in the story? And so on. It might not have helped that I watched this soon after I finished reading the entire series (so, this might be an example of a series to not read after watching the movie). But, overall, it’s a good follow-up that remains mostly faithful to the source material.  

A screaming woman in Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story

(Image credit: CBC)

Anne Of Green Gables: The Continuing Story (2000) 

Okay, so it might be controversial to put this entry on the list since there are many Anne fans who hate it, mostly because it doesn’t follow any of the books. But, for an original story, I definitely find it to be an interesting curiosity.

This version sees both Gilbert and Anne (played by the same actors from the 1985 and 1987 series, respectively) in the midst of World War 1. There is a child involved, and also an explosion, and it really does kind of feel like fan fiction, but it’s at least engaging fan fiction. 

Plus, Megan Follows is as good as ever, as she plays a much older Anne. Sure, I’d much rather have gotten a Rilla of Ingleside movie, but you know. Beggars can’t be choosers.  

Anne up front in Anne of Green Gables: The Animated Series

(Image credit: Sullivan Animation)

Anne Of Green Gables: The Animated Series (2001)  

Now, look. Anne of Green Gables: The Animated Series is NOT for us OLDER Anne fans. Instead, it’s for a much younger demographic, as each episode, which is not connected to any of the books, is more like an adventure of sorts. And by the end of it, you learn a lesson, like how to be good to your siblings, or how you should save your money rather than just blowing it all on something frivolous.

The animation is serviceable, and if you just want a little bit more Anne Shirley in your life (Who doesn’t?), then it’s a nice little series to watch at only 26 episodes. 

Ella Ballentine as Anne in L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables

(Image credit: Breakthrough Entertainment)

L.M. Montgomery’s Anne Of Green Gables (2016)  

Here’s the thing about the 2016 Anne of Green Gables. If the 1985 version didn’t exist, I would think this is a pretty good translation of the first novel. It certainly looks more modern, and Ella Ballentine actually feels closer in age to the Anne that I remember in the novels. In fact, all of the kids feel younger, especially the boys (Though Gilbert seems a little different than I envisioned him in the books).

Plus, it has Martin Sheen as Matthew Cuthbert, and Canadian actress Sara Botsford as Marilla Cuthbert. I won’t say that I prefer Sheen as Matthew, but he’s certainly a different take. So is Marilla, who definitely doesn’t seem as aloof in this version. 

Honestly, I can see certain people preferring this one to the 1985 version, and I can’t hate on them for that. It’s pretty good, too. There were two sequels – The Good Stars, and Fire & Dew, but they don’t go into Avonlea territory like the 1987 series did. 

Amybeth McNulty in Anne With an E

(Image credit: Netflix)

Anne With An E (2017) 

And lastly, for the most wildly different take of Anne of Green Gables, there’s the Netflix series, Anne with an E, which CinemaBlend’s own Laura Hurley once called, “Netflix’s best new family drama.” This gets deeper into Anne’s struggles, and often felt like it was more for adults than children. 

In fact, I definitely wouldn’t allow my kids, ages 8 and 7, to watch it, because it has a much darker tinge on the story. 

However, this might be why I appreciate it so much. I kind of liken it to how the show Andor is Star Wars, but also feels distinctly different from Star Wars. That’s what Anne With an E is like. It’s definitely Anne Shirley, but Amybeth McNulty is a different kind of Anne. One who is hard (and yet fragile), but also filled with the same light within her that we love Anne for. 

Honestly, I know she isn’t Batman or James Bond, but the multiple different interpretations of her character are impressive, to say the very least. 

It’s a shame that we haven’t gotten all of the Anne books adapted to the screen, since Anne does grow up to be a strong woman. But, what else would you expect from the magnificent Anne Shirley? 

Rich Knight
Content Producer

Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.