Nancy Drew was introduced to the world in 1930. Since then, the franchise has gone on to produce an incredible 613 books across 13 different series, seven movies, three television series, 41 video games, several comic books, and an entire line of merchandise.
Throughout it all, there are certain characteristics fans expect to see in Nancy. She’s smart, brave, resourceful, and independent. While the literary and video game versions have managed to keep her personality consistent while modernizing her world, Nancy has been far more difficult to adapt on the screen. Here are all the Nancy Drew adaptations for film and television, ranked from least loved to fan favorites.
Nancy Drew, Nelvana 1995
The second television series, Nancy Drew premiered in 1995. In this version, Nancy is a 21-year-old college student studying criminology living in New York City. The series was based on The Nancy Drew Files, a series started in 1986 and starred Tracy Ryan. It was released in conjunction with The Hardy Boys. Unfortunately, the series never took off and was canceled in the middle of the first season.
Nancy Drew… Troubleshooter, Warner Bros. 1939
The third in the series of films ordered by Warner Bros. in 1938, Nancy Drew… Troubleshooter has aged the worst. Bonita Granville once again returns and brings consistency to Nancy, but other cast members were replaced, shaking the foundation the first two films built. Beyond that, Troubleshooter is filled with racist stereotypes that are part of the main plotline, making it uncomfortable to watch and impossible to enjoy. The mystery wraps up in a rather unbelievable way and the overall vibe of the film is focused far more on the comedy than the mystery.
Nancy Drew, ABC 2002
The third attempt to bring Nancy to life in a television series was in 2002. ABC produced the show starring Maggie Lawson as Nancy. The pilot premiered as part of The Wonderful World of Walt Disney and was based on the original Nancy Drew novels. While the show attracted over seven million viewers the first night, the characters and plot didn’t land with critics or viewers. In the end, the show was never picked up and only the pilot remains available to view today.
Nancy Drew, Warner Bros. Pictures 2007
In the 2007 movie, Nancy and her widowed father move to California when he accepts a temporary job. Emma Roberts brings Nancy to life with a bubbly charm that both fans and critics admired. Unfortunately, the rest of the film relied on overly cliché story elements while clearly catering to a much younger audience than the books and even other adaptations. It’s a cute movie but lacks the grit fans expect in their intrepid detective.
Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, Warner Bros. 1939
Even though the fourth and final movie in this series is titled after one of the novels, the script deviated almost entirely from the book. This inconsistency was viewed as irredeemable at the time and mixed reviews have followed for similar reasons over the years. Bonita Granville returns for her final appearance as Nancy, and while the character continues the deviation from her literary contemporary, she’s consistent for the films. The comedy was removed in this version, but the mystery elements were also lacking. Despite being scheduled to produce four more films, the series was canceled after this installment.
The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, ABC 1977
The first television show to bring Nancy Drew alive was unique. Instead of focusing entirely on Nancy, the show was split between Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. In the first season, the odd episodes focused on The Hardy Boys, the even on Nancy. The first season is the only one that allows Nancy to be her own character. In the second season, she’s only in the crossover episodes and is dropped in the third season entirely. Her lackluster treatment in the show disappointed fans, both then and now, as Mysteries stays closest to the literary material than any other adaptation.
Nancy Drew… Detective, Warner Bros. 1938
Nancy Drew… Detective is the original Nancy Drew movie and one that’s now considered a cult classic. Nancy is played by Bonita Granville and loosely follows The Password to Larkspur Lane. At the time, critics and fans were divided on how the film presented Nancy. Many felt that the story altered her personality and character traits so much that she was an entirely different character. However, modern viewers seem to accept that the presentation on screen is perfect for the girls of the time and enjoy the movie on its own, as opposed to staying faithfully true to the books.
Nancy Drew… Reporter, Warner Bros. 1939
The second film is based on the Nancy Drew character in general without pulling from any of the specific novels as source material—a move the rest of the series followed. Bonita Granville returns as the young detective and while reviews were initially mixed, the film played with other elements that make it fun to revisit. It’s the only Nancy Drew film to include musical numbers and shows a young Ned stripped to the waist in a risqué (for the time) boxing scene. Of the four original films, Reporter remains the highest rated.
Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, Warner Bros 2019
The Hidden Staircase is the most popular Nancy Drew novel in the series, so it makes sense that this was the story chosen to reintroduce Nancy on the big screen. Nancy is played by Sophia Lillis and is focused far more on developing the characters than on the mystery. Fans and critics loved how relatable Nancy stayed while also bringing her to life in a way that felt directly taken from the pages of the novels. It remains one of the higher-rated adaptations.
Nancy Drew, CW 2019
On the surface, this version of Nancy Drew might feel like it deviates the most. Again, we meet Nancy—played by Kennedy McMann—as an adult heading off to college. But where the other versions showed Nancy as plucky and cheerful, this series leans towards the darker, creepier elements of the murder mystery genre. There are even supernatural elements, though they are subtle. Critics and viewers have strongly identified with this version of Nancy as being true to the original while adding modern attributes in a fresh, interesting way. This series has managed to get rid of the more dated aspects of the story while keeping Nancy as the resourceful, brave, determined heroine her fans have always known her to be.
Featured still from Nancy Drew via The CW