25 Movies That Rival Their Literary Originals

Posted by , Updated on November 13, 2022

There have been hundreds of books made into movies since the golden age of film but unfortunately in most instances the adaptation’s quality didn’t match that of the literary work. One major example of this failure was The Scarlet Letter, starring Gary Oldman and Demi Moore, despite whose performances the film violated the classic to the point where New York Times critic Caryn James angrily stated,

“If you have heard anything about this film, you probably know the filmmakers have added a happy ending. As it turns out, they have also changed the beginning, the middle, and the very essence of the book. That’s okay. The problem is not that the novel was changed, but that it was changed to something so trashy and nonsensical.”

If you happen to love certain books and want to see their film version, don’t get too disheartened because there have been a number of movies that rivaled (or even surpassed, in a few cases) the text they were based on. The list of 25 Movies That Rival Their Literary Originals that follows will make literature fans who also enjoy a good film every now and then happy.


Jurassic Park

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Jurassic Park is an epic ’90’s sci-fi adventure film directed by the master of the kind, Steven Spielberg, who got his inspiration for the movie from the 1990 novel of the same name by Michael Crichton. The film grossed a phenomenal $1.063 billion at the box office, one of the first movies in history to surpass the $1 billion “barrier” worldwide.


Memoirs of a Geisha

Source: Internet Movie Database, Image: YouTube Source: Internet Movie Database, Image: YouTube

The strange thing about this book, written by American author Arthur Golden and published in 1997, is that on the surface, it is all Japanese, but underneath it is all American male in thought. Reading the book is like watching a magnificent ballet with great music, sets, and costumes but performed by barnyard animals in those costumes—so far from the Japanese vision were the characters. The movie is not about Japan, its culture, or real geishas. It is the story of a few American men’s mistaken ideas about Japan and geishas filtered through their own ignorance and misconceptions. So what is this movie if it isn’t about Japan or the geisha experience? One must watch to find out.


Gone Girl

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One of the best films of the past few years, Gone Girl narrates the events surrounding Nick Dunne (portrayed beautifully by Ben Affleck), who becomes the primary suspect in the sudden disappearance of his wife in a psychological thriller that will take your breath away. The screenplay by Gillian Flynn was based on her 2012 novel of the same name.


The Bourne Identity

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The Bourne Identity is undoubtedly the best action spy thriller of the previous decade, and the film that transformed Matt Damon from a talented actor and screenwriter to a superstar and an action movie hero. It was based on Robert Ludlum’s novel of the same name and grossed $215 million globally.



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Goodfellas, which has been cited as the greatest mob film of the 1990’s, was directed by Martin Scorsese, and is based on the 1986 nonfiction work Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, who co-wrote the screenplay. To prepare for their roles, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Ray Liotta often spoke with Pileggi, who shared research material left over from writing the book to help them develop their roles as closely as possible to the text’s characters. Judging from the result, things went pretty awesomely.


The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is a 2003 epic high fantasy adventure film directed by Peter Jackson and is the third and final installment in the trilogy, following The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) and The Two Towers (2002). It’s based on the second and third books of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. It has grossed over $1 billion lifetime, and at the 76th Academy Awards it won all eleven Academy Awards for which it was nominated, therefore holding the record for best Oscar sweep.


The Godfather

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Director Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) is widely considered the greatest mobster film in movie history. It is based on Mario Puzo’s best-seller of the same name and has two of the greatest actors of all time—Marlon Brando and Al Pacino—starring as the heads of a fictional New York crime family. The movie, which spans the years 1945 to 1955, tells the story of this family presided over by Vito Corleone, and focuses on Michael Corleone’s (Pacino) transformation from unwilling outsider to pitiless mob boss.


The Shining

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This film brought together three legends in their respective fields, creating nothing less than a cinematic masterpiece. Based on Stephen King’s 1977 novel, The Shining was produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick three years later, and in front of the camera, Jack Nicholson (as Jack Torrance) delivered one of his best performances ever.



psychoSource: Internet Movie Database, Image: YouTube

Whether you liked it or not, this classic directed by the master himself, Alfred Hitchcock, is an integral part of pop culture. If you haven’t seen this masterpiece, then other than being ashamed of yourself, do yourself a favor and watch it. The film, which made the psychological thriller into a mainstream category, was based on the 1959 novel of the same name by Robert Bloch. It focuses on the encounter between a secretary, who ends up at a secluded motel after stealing money from her employer, and the motel’s disturbed owner-manager, Norman Bates (played by Anthony Perkins), and its aftermath.


Fight Club

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Brad Pitt and Ed Norton give incredible performances in this film, one of the most unique and bizarre of the ’90’s, which challenged millions of viewers worldwide to come up with their own interpretations. Fight Club presents the vast existential terror and angst of modern existence—ridden as it is with shallow values, rampant consumerism, and void of meaning and feeling—in a slick and ironically consumer-oriented fashion. Based on the 1996 novel of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk, the film was directed by David Fincher and became one of the most controversial and talked-about films of 1999.


One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

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The film that according to many critics and movie fans showcases Jack Nicholson’s best performance, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is considered a landmark in cinema. It garnered Jack his first Oscar (he had previously been nominated four times and never won) and became the second movie to win all five major awards (Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Screenplay) after It Happened One Night in 1935, an accomplishment not repeated until 1992 by The Silence of the Lambs. The 1975 film was based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Ken Kesey.


Interested in some fun movie facts? Here are 25 interesting tidbits you might not know about movies.


Gone with the Wind

gone with the windSource: Internet Movie Database, Image: YouTube

Only three years after being published, Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone with the Wind (1936) became one of the most revered films in the history of cinema. Starring Vivien Leigh and the masterful Clark Gable, the film tells the story of Scarlett O’Hara, the strong-willed daughter of a Georgia plantation owner. It received ten Oscars (two honorary) at the 12th Academy Awards and is still the most successful film in box-office history when adjusted for monetary inflation.



trainspottingSource: Internet Movie Database, Image: YouTube

The iconic film that portrayed the struggles of UK youth (and that of youth in most of Western Europe) during the ’90’s better than any other of its time was condemned for promoting and glorifying drug use and violence, but in reality, it was being quite honest about such things in that period. The movie was quite popular in the UK but didn’t get much acclaim overseas. It was based on the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh and was released in 1996.


The Silence of the Lambs

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The Silence of the Lambs, which swept all five major Academy Awards back in the early 1990’s, isn’t just any old literary-adaptation film but rather one that has influenced all the crime and horror movies that have followed since its release. Based on Thomas Harris’s 1988 novel of the same name, his second to feature Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer, the film gave cinema one of the greatest serial killers and villains (Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal) ever according to both critics and fans.


The English Patient

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The story of this film is based on a novel by Michael Ondaatje and is told in flashbacks by Ralph Fiennes’s Count Laszlo de Almásy, the protagonist. The fact that his name does not sound like he’s English plays a key role in what unfolds. He has been badly burned in a plane crash, occurring just as the film begins, and is being cared for back in Europe by Hana, an army nurse played by Juliette Binoche, who was introduced to the English-speaking cinematic world in this amazing film that won an astonishing nine Academy Awards at the 69th Academy Awards (1997).


L.A. Confidential

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Even though this film was quite a disappointment at the box office, earning only $53 million, critics claim it might be one the smartest movies ever made. With amazing performances by a brilliant all-star cast and a clever script, the dramatic tension of this modern film-noir classic is an absolute must-see. It is based on James Ellroy’s 1990 novel of the same name, the third in his L.A. Quartet series.


The Bridge on the River Kwai

The Bridge on the River KwaiSource: Internet Movie Database, Image: YouTube

David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai is an antiheroic war film from the 1950’s, set in a POW camp. Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle, the film is fiction but borrows the construction of the Burma Railway in 1942–43 for its historical setting. The film won seven Academy Awards and is considered a classic.


Midnight Express

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This 1978 film, which shocked American society at the time, narrates the true story of Billy Hayes, an American college student who got caught smuggling drugs out of Turkey and thrown in prison where he went through hell. The film was based on Billy Hayes’s 1977 nonfiction work Midnight Express and was adapted into a screenplay by Oliver Stone.


Full Metal Jacket

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One of the manliest yet simultaneously antiwar films of the ’80’s made by the great Stanley Kubrick was based on Gustav Hasford’s 1979 novel The Short-Timers. The film follows a platoon of U.S. Marines through training and focuses on the experiences of two of the platoon’s men in the Tet Offensive during Vietnam. As for the film’s title, the change happened because Kubrick wanted it to refer to the full metal jacket bullet used by soldiers.


The Last of the Mohicans

The Last of the MohicansSource: Internet Movie Database, Image: YouTube

The Last of the Mohicans is considered one of the best-directed films in the 1990’s, while Daniel Day Lewis’s Hawkeye cemented his legacy as the phenomenally diverse actor that he is despite not winning an Oscar for his performance. The film was a remake of the 1936 version based on James Fenimore Cooper’s novel of the same name.


Romeo + Juliet

Romeo & JulietteSource: Internet Movie Database, Image: YouTube

Romeo and Juliet, as most readers already know, is one of the few literary classics that has been adapted to the silver screen a number of times during the last several decades. Based on Shakespeare’s tragedy, the 1996 version with a young Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo is probably the best and most unique we’ve ever seen on the big screen.


The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank RedemptionSource: Internet Movie Database, Image: YouTube

Currently ranked as the greatest movie of all time on Internet Movie Database, The Shawshank Redemption is undoubtedly one of the best film adaptations in the history of modern cinema. Taken from the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, the film tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a banker who is sentenced to life in Shawshank State Penitentiary for the murder of his wife and her lover, despite his claims of innocence.



300Source: Internet Movie Database, Image: YouTube

Arguably the most successful fantasy war film of the past fifteen years, 300 was based on the 1998 graphic novel series of the same name by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. Both are retellings of the Battle of Thermopylae that took place during the the Persian Wars and manage to relate the history pretty accurately without changing the essence of events even though the fictional elements in the film are pretty obvious. The film grossed a strong $460 million worldwide.


The Last Temptation of Christ

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The Last Temptation of Christ is one of the least commercially successful films directed by Martin Scorsese. Willem Dafoe plays the role of Christ, and the film is based on the highly controversial and banned 1953 novel of the same name, written by Nikos Kazantzakis, who was excommunicated by the Greek Orthodox Church for portraying Jesus as a sinful common man.


Blade Runner

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The epic philosophical manifesto of Ridley Scott that gave the cinematic world one of the greatest—if not the greatest—sci-fi films and villains (Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty) of all time is a modified adaptation of the 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by the great Philip K. Dick.


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