22 Best Movies Based on Books
Everybody loves settling in for a movie on the couch, but the same can’t be said for reading a book. While it’s true people should read more often, some find it difficult to sit down and concentrate. Especially men, as the statistics reveal. We encourage all men to read more, but if you are really struggling, another option is movies based on books. Yes, it’s cheating, but at least you understand what the big fuss is when everyone else is talking about their favorite books being turned into a movie.
The major negative is that there are hundreds of movies based on books, but not many are actually that good. Often large parts of the plot have to be trimmed down or cut out altogether. Sometimes even minor characters or important dialogue gets ditched in favor of a more Hollywood-styled movie that will do well at the box office. And don’t get us started on the endings, which often get changed to be “happy” to appease moviegoers.
But as books continue to be a big inspiration for movies, we thought we’d look at some of the best movies based on books. These movies are just as enjoyable as the books they are adapted from, and in some cases, even better!
22 Best Movies Based on Books
1. Schindler’s List (1993)
This is a masterclass in movie making from the great Steven Spielberg. Schindler’s List tells the true story of industrialist Oskar Schindler who saved more than a thousand Polish-Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. He did this by bribing guards and employing prisoners of war in his factories.
Shot in black and white, which only adds to the emotional gravity of the movie, Schindler’s List is led by a cast of greats that includes Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Kingsley. The score by John Williamson is also haunting.
Schindler’s List was a huge hit grossing $322.2 million worldwide. It earned seven Academy Awards and is ranked by the American Film Institute as the 8th most important film of all time on its list of the 100 best American films.
2. Children of Men (2006)
Not only is this a fantastic movie based on a book but one of Clive Owen’s best performances. Director Alfonso Cuarón’s take on this sci-fi novel by P. D. James is an entertaining jaunt about a world on the brink of collapse. It’s 2027 and there hasn’t been a child born in over two decades. But when a pregnant refugee emerges from hiding, all hell breaks loose as the government tries to take control.
Owen is tasked by his ex-wife Julianne Moore to transport the woman to safety, while Michael Cain’s cameo as a pot dealer is fantastic. Chock full of action, political and social themes surrounding hope and religion, and Cuarón’s incredible long shot single takes (the six-minute ambush sequence is intense), Children of Men delivers on all fronts.
3. The Godfather (1972)
Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather is a classic American novel that somehow is even better on the big screen. Although he had to trim down the 433-page tomb into a workable screenplay, the results speak for themselves. The movie won two Academy Awards and established director Francis Ford Coppola as a genius.
This is an epic story about a family set in the world of the mafia that features some of the greatest performances of all time from the likes of Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Cann, and Robert Duvall. The sequel is arguably a better movie while the third is misunderstood.
4. Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Before accusations of being a cannibal ruined his career, Arnie Hammer starred in this coming-of-age love story with everyone’s favorite newcomer Timothée Chalamet. 24-year-old Grad student Hammer heads to Italy for a summer in 1987 (1983 in the book) and embarks on a relationship with 17-year-old Chalamet.
Widely praised for being a sensual love story that’s visually arresting thanks to the Italian locations, Call Me By Your Name does great justice to the source material and gave Chalamet another notch in his belt as he continues to fulfill his promises as one of this generations great actors.
5. Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Based on the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, this is another book-to-movie adaptation that translates incredibly well on the big screen. Banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is given a life sentence for the murder of his wife and her lover, despite protesting his innocence. Inside he makes friends with fellow inmate Ellis “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman) and the two form a strong bond which is the basis for the movie.
Upon its release, Shawshank Redemption was critically praised but a box office bomb. It wasn’t until the movie was released on VHS that it found another life and quickly became a huge hit. With great performances from its leads, a tight plot, and a dynamic Clancy Brown as the menacing prison warden, this is one of the all-time classic prison movies.
6. Mary Poppins (1964)
The only musical on this list is a fantastic showcase of Julia Andrews’ magnetic talents. She plays the title character Mary Poppins who visits a family in London and sorts out their dysfunctional relationship with her eye-raising methods.
The highest-grossing film of 1964 is a wonderfully fun movie with lots of enjoyable musical moments and a cast of colorful characters. Andrews is the star of the show, but she is well supported by Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson, and Glynis Johns. While the books are great, there is no doubting the big screen version of Mary Poppins is the better.
7. Pride and Prejudice (2005)
There have been plenty of adaptations of the Jane Austen classic Pride and Prejudice over the years, but it’s the 2005 version that gets the nod here. Slight changes (such as a different time setting and more youth-orientated writing) create a more realistic feel as the relationship between enemies turned lovers Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightly) and Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) blossoms.
As is often the case with an Austen adaptation, Pride and Prejudice was a smash hit and helped propel Knightly to stardom. It’s a very clever take on the original novel and opened the doors for book adaptations of period drams to be youth friendly.
8. Goodfellas (1990)
Martin Scorsese kicked off the 90s with a bang when gangster epic Goodfellas hit cinemas. The story follows Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) as he rises up the ranks of a local crime family. Along the way, he becomes best buddies with Irish-American mobster Jimmy “the Gent” Conway (Robert De Niro) and psycho Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) and the three get into all sorts of mischief, from digging up dead bodies to pulling off the Lufthansa vault heist.
This movie has everything; a gripping story, incredible performances from the leads, a fast-paced story, and some great cinematography, particularly the single take Steadicam shot of Hill and his lady walking through the Copacabana nightclub soundtracked by Bobby Vinton’s “Roses are Red.” Incredible.
9. Die Hard (1988)
Not many people realize Die Hard is actually based on the book Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp. Originally offered to Frank Sinatra, along with a host of other actors, sitcom star Bruce Willis finally got the role of luckless cop John McClane. He’s never looked back since.
Die Hard set the template for action movies about ordinary guys who find themselves in extraordinary situations. Willis is incredibly cast as the wise-cracking McClane who must battle terrorists while trying to save his wife. Alan Rickman, an experienced theatre performer is also unforgettable in his movie debut as the charming but deadly terrorist leader Hans Gruber. Action films were quite the same after Die Hard.
10. Jurassic Park (1993)
Michael Crichton’s story about a dinosaur park that goes to hell is an absolute thrill ride ready-made for the cinema. Released the same year as his Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg went for something totally different with Jurassic Park. This is a thrill-a-minute summer blockbuster with amazing special effects that still hold up today.
This is a movie about dinosaurs set in modern times and if that doesn’t get you excited, nothing will. Movies based on books don’t get much better.
11. Little Women (2019)
Greta Gerwig gave Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women a new lease of life with her 2019 version of the famous book. The story concerns sisters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy coming of age during the Civil War as they deal with love, loss, and the pains of growing up.
The movie is another feather in Gerwig’s directing cap with an all-star cast that stars newcomers Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, and Timothée Chalamet alongside established veterans Emma Watson, Meryl Streep, Bob Odenkirk, and Chris Cooper. Easily the best adaptation of Little Women yet.
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12. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Roald Dahl has written plenty of books that have been turned into movies, but the pick of the bunch is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Charlie Bucket finds a Golden Ticket and gets the chance to tour recluse Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
It’s a delightful movie with lots of fun moments as Bucket and four other kids get a guided tour of the factory as the mystery of Wonka’s disappearance is slowly revealed. Gene Wilder is a standout as Wonka while the rest of the supporting cast is great. They don’t make movies like this anymore.
13. Forrest Gump (1994)
Tom Hanks plays the title character, a slow-witted southern gent who experiences more in the first half of his life than most do in their entire time on the planet. Forrest Gump is a charming and heartfelt movie about Gump’s journey from a young kid who had leg braces to fighting in the Vietnam War and starting his own shrimp company.
Interacting with many famous people and events, Gump goes through life with a positive outlook, always looking out for those close to him. Forrest Gump won six Oscars including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actor for Hanks, who is truly in his prime at this moment in time.
14. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001, 2002, and 2003)
You can’t mention the best movies based on books without The Lord of the Rings trilogy. J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy novels about hobbits, powerful rings, and the end of days is masterfully transferred from the pages of his books to the big screen by Kiwi director Peter Jackson.
Somehow he manages to make the descriptive world created by Tolkien burst with life through the cinematic lens. The incredible scenery of New Zealand substitutes for Middle Earth, with the colorful ensemble cast and eye-popping special effects all coming together to create one of the most successful trilogies since the original Star Wars movies.
15. The Princess Bride (1987)
American writer William Goldman not only wrote the novel The Princess Bride is based on, but also the screenplay. That’s probably why it stays so close to the source material, besides a few cinematic changes. A childhood favorite that still holds up today, the movie stars Cary Elwes as farmhand Westley who must rescue his true love Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright) from the evil Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon).
This is just a feel-good flick that is the type of movie you whack on when you need cheering up. A true 80s classic.
16. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
One of America’s great novels got the Hollywood treatment and actually turned out to be a fantastic adaptation. The film (and the book for that matter) were widely praised, with Gregory Peck going on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of lawyer Atticus Finch.
The film follows Finch as he defends a black man accused of rape. It’s a very confronting look at racism and prejudice with some valuable lessons.
17. Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Crazy Rich Asians is your typical fish-out-of-water romance about a lower-class woman who falls for a rich man and must do all she can to win his family over. What sets this movie apart is the fact that it features a predominantly all-Asian cast. This is nothing new for Asian productions, but as this movie is made in Hollywood, it’s a big deal.
While not without some criticism (not all ethnicities in Singapore are represented and many of the actors aren’t Chinese-born), this is still a great modern romantic comedy with a happy ending.
18. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Based on the 1853 slave memoir by Solomon Northup, 12 Years a Slave is an emotional journey that will leave you shook. Chiwetel Ejiofor is outstanding as Northup, a free black man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. As the title suggests, he spends 12 years as a slave trying to find a way to escape and reunite with his family.
The subject matter is heavy but handled incredibly by Steve McQueen, who doesn’t shy away from the horrible way African Americans were treated during America’s slavery years.
19. Gone Girl (2014)
Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is chock full of twists and turns that works well as a thriller on the big screen. When Ben Affleck’s wife, Rosamund Pike, goes missing, a nationwide search kicks off. But as the evidence seems to point to Affleck as the one responsible for her disappearance, things start getting stranger in this great adaptation from David Fincher.
Gone Girl looks at issues of marriage, gender, love, and misogyny, with Affleck and Pike both captivating. If you can predict the finale of this film then you are a mind reader. Absolutely shocking.
20. Doctor Zhivago (1965)
There aren’t too many people who actually manage to finish Boris Pasternak’s famous novel. It’s a whopping 592 pages, so it’s understandable. Instead, watch the 1965 movie adaptation starring Omar Sharif as Yuri Zhivago and Julie Christie as his love interest Lara Antipova. Sure, it goes for three hours but that is much quicker than the time it will take you to read the book.
Doctor Zhivago is an intense love story between Zhivago and Antipova set in Russia during World War I and the Russian Civil War. The movie is the 8th highest-grossing film in American cinema and walked away with five Academy Awards. It just might take a few watches to get all the way through.
21. Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Giving us one of the greatest movie villains in history, Silence of the Lambs is a thrilling flick following inexperienced FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) trying to get serial killer and cannibal Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins) to help her catch another serial killer known as Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine).
Silence of the Lambs turned Hopkins into a certified A-lister and established Foster as one of the best up-and-comers. The final stanza of the film will have you on edge, as Lector masterminds his escape from police custody while Starling confronts Bill in his home. The film also took out the five big Oscars at the Academy Awards – Best Picture, Best Director (Demme), Best Actor (Hopkins), Best Actress (Foster), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Ted Tally) – becoming only the third film to do it.
22. Stand By Me (1986)
Another Stephen King adaptation, Stand By Me is a coming-of-age story about four young boys’ journey to look at a dead body. The lads are played by River Phoenix, Jerry O’Connell, Corey Feldman, and Will Wheaton, four actors who all went on to do great things in Hollywood, even Phoenix before his life was cruelly cut short.
The boys get up to lots of mischief on their trip and encounter a load of different characters before finally reaching the body. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll scream while watching this heartwarming drama. All the actors are great, the script is well written, and the soundtrack is chock full of classic songs from the 50s and 60s, with Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” sure to get you reaching for the tissues when it starts playing over the closing credits.
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