18 Books That Are Now Hit Movies
You know that classics like Little Women and To Kill a Mockingbird—and recent blockbuster adaptations like Harry Potter—started as novels. But you probably didn’t know that these other successful movies also came from the page.
This 2016 Academy Award-nominated film illuminated a little-known part of American history, telling the story of real-life Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) and other female African-American mathematicians who helped propel (literally) the United States into space in the 1960s. Although the film had phenomenal commercial and critical success, many fans might not know it was actually based on a 2016 nonfiction book. As in any dramatization, not everything occurred in the film exactly as it did in reality, but the underlying inspirational message of overcoming barriers remains. The movie did boost sales of the book after its release, and it’s worth the read to find out more about these fascinating role models. Check out other books that are movies you need to check out.
The Shawshank Redemption
Movie lovers hail this now-classic film as one of the best of all time—but it bombed on its initial release. The slow-moving 1994 story about prison inmates just didn’t resonate with box office audiences. Plus, to this day viewers don’t realize it’s actually based on a novella written by one of the greatest horror writers ever, Stephen King, in a genre-swapping turn. Following the book fairly closely and even lifting some dialogue directly, the film didn’t change much—except in the casting of Red, described in the book as a red-haired Irish guy but played in the film by Morgan Freeman. But after the film gained attention with Academy Award nominations, it found new life on video and TV. Although not as popular as King’s horror books, the novella, packaged with three others as Different Seasons, is well regarded, and three of stories have already been made into films (The Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me, and Apt Pupil). Shawshank is also one of the classic movies people lie about watching.
An instant classic whose technological achievements hold up 25 years later (those dinosaurs are still really scary!), 1993’s Jurassic Park often finds itself on “the movie was better than the book” lists. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the film makes the novel’s characters deeper and more sympathetic, and adds more STEM power to female characters Dr. Sattler (Laura Dern) and Lex (Ariana Richards). But it did completely eliminate one dino who figures prominently in the novel: the procompsognathus. Although the book was a hit before Spielberg got his hands on it, the movie helped propel its already popular author, Michael Crichton, to even greater success. Did you know Jurassic Park is one of the movie filming locations you can actually visit?
The Martian took on the task of making a lot of complicated tech talk in the novel understandable and enjoyable without sacrificing too much plot. Luckily, this 2015 movie hit the right note with both science buffs looking for accuracy—could a stranded astronaut (Matt Damon) really survive on Mars?—and mainstream audiences looking for humor, complex characterizations, and gorgeous Red Planet scenery. Andy Weir’s book was also something of a survival story: Self-published in 2011 to success, it was picked up by a major publisher and optioned for movie rights at almost the same time. Both were a hit. If you’re a fan of these movies based on books, find out more iconic books that almost didn’t get published.
The Princess Bride
This 1987 fairy tale satire may be one of the rare instances where the book and the movie are seen as equal in quality. There are some differences: In the book, a father reads his son a story that originally came from the (fictional) country of Florin; in the movie, it’s a gruff Peter Falk reading the tale (of unspecified origin) to his grandson (Fred Savage). But perhaps because screenwriter and author William Goldman adapted his own 1973 novel, it’s really hard to say which is better. The film did not immediately reach the book’s popularity, but over the years has become a family classic, surpassing the book as the better-known version. Check out more movies from your childhood that your kids will love.
The Girl on the Train
It seems any popular thriller with the word “girl” in the title (Gone Girl, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is destined to be a movie—even if it’s not as good as the book. Paula Hawkins’ psychological thriller, about a woman on a train who thinks she sees something strange out the window, was a runaway success and the bestselling book of 2016. But unlike the fast-paced, can’t-put-down quality of the novel, the movie is plodding and dreary. It was a modest success at the box office but not well-reviewed; although it did serve to keep the book flying off shelves. Here are more psychological thrillers you won’t want to put down.
This hit teen film was actually based on Jane Austen’s Emma, written nearly 200 years earlier, in 1815. A testament to the timelessness of Austen’s insight into relationships, the tale of a well-off girl (Alicia Silverstone) who seems to know how to match-make everyone except herself, adapted perfectly to 1995 Beverly Hills. Austen may not have needed Clueless to gain the public’s attention, but it helped keep her works fresh in our minds and spawned more Austen interpretations for the modern era, including Bridget Jones’s Diary (both book and movie are based on Pride and Prejudice) and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Oh, and a Clueless remake is in the works—could it be better than the original? As if!
Spielberg did it again, taking the rather outlandish, melodramatic 1974 novel by Peter Benchley and honing in on the characters and (mostly unseen) villain to create the first summer blockbuster and one of the greatest thrillers ever made. Among book elements we’re glad the 1975 film leaves out: a Mafia subplot, an affair between Chief Brody’s wife, Ellen, and shark scientist Matt Hooper, the demise of another main character, and the lack of an explosive ending. Audiences of the time loved the bestselling book even before the movie; today, though, there’s no doubt that the film is the true masterpiece. Fun fact: Did you know author Benchley makes a cameo in the film as the news reporter on the beach? Here are more scary movies that will make you afraid to go into the water.
This 2007 commercial and critical success based on Ian McEwan’s 2001 period romantic drama mirrors its source material closely. But, it stands out in its own right for its performances, including a star-making turn from a young Saoirse Ronan (who recently starred in another McEwan adaptation, On Chesil Beach), and for a five-minute unbroken shot of the beach at Dunkirk during World War II. The bestselling book, however, expands further on the surprise ending—and it could be argued that the novel presents a deeper story overall.
This 2004 Cinderella-reimagining starring a young Anne Hathaway might not have been a box office smash, but it was huge for its target audience: tween girls, who still remember the film fondly today. Unfortunately, the 1997 book it came from, by Gail Carson Levine, had garnered a prestigious Newbery Honor for children’s fiction, and many critics argue the film just can’t compare, with less well-rounded characters, numerous plot changes, and cheesy bursts into song. “Originally there was a script made that was closer to the way the book was, and it didn’t work as a film,” Hathaway said at the time in an interview. “I understand that there are some people who are disappointed about that, but it’s not the first time a movie has been different than a book.” Fans today remain divided. You might not agree with all of these movies based on books, but here are some fun family movies everyone will love.