In honor of this year’s Oscar Awards, we rounded up some of Hollywood’s best films based on a book, taking into consideration both its commercial success and how well the film adapted its source material. There are many best films based on a book that never made it to the big screen, and this is especially true in the horror genre. Some of these movies never received the backing of Hollywood, while others were turned into super hits only to be shelved for decades. In either case, it pays to know what films are now considered classics, and here are the best examples.
One of the most enduring and beloved films of the decade is Invictus. Based on the book by Cook, this tense drama stars Matt Damon as one of the world’s greatest military leaders, General George S. Patton. As a war leader, he is almost reluctant to pick up the arms again after seeing the carnage of war during the Vietnam War. But when his own troops are slaughtered at the battle of Anvil, he discovers the horrors of war and stands back with a vengeance, determined not to fail in his mission to protect America. Damon also provides one of the best-supporting casts in an action/adventure film, giving a series of complex and conflicted characters an often-perfect screen performance.
Another of the best films based on a book that won Oscars was The DaVinci Code. Winner of four Oscars including Best Picture, this science fiction thriller depicts the complicated interactions between a religious fanatic, a scientist, and a Vatican official during the Renaissance era. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the mind behind the conspiracy and happens to be both the faith-based and scientific mind of the film. This Oscar-winning film also starred Al Pacino and Russell Crowe as the three main characters. Though largely forgotten upon its release, The DaVinci Code still managed to gross over $1 billion worldwide. Just as Gladiator is remembered for the grand battles between gladiator fights, The DaVinci Code is remembered for the interplay between three major characters, which remains the best scene in a science-fiction film, and the book is still on the list of must-read books.
One of the best movies based on a book that never got an Oscar nomination was Kill Bill. Now, that’s putting it mildly, because Kill Bill has a lot going for it. Firstly, the story and the intense fighting scenes were probably the best elements of the entire movie, which made it an easy Oscar winner. However, writer Suzanne Collins did manage to include a great deal of humor and one of the more memorable supporting roles in any movie, Jennifer Santos from Sex and the City.
While Kill Bill was not actually an adaptation of a book written by pulp fiction author Gertrude Stein, many of the same characteristics can be found in her stories, particularly her protagonist, the heroine, Binkle. Stein wrote a number of stories set in the Wild West, and although she based most of her stories on the lives of cowboys, she also borrowed plot concepts from a number of other sources. Forrest Gump was based on a story that Stein wrote about a man called Huck Finn who travels across the Wild West with a band of outlaws, on a quest to find the legendary Fountain of youth. Another of the best movies based on a book that never got an Oscar nomination was The Pursuit of Happyness. Based on the novel by John Stein’s The Road to El Dorado, the movie revolves around a young girl’s search for the legendary city of San Francisco with her newly remarried, intelligent, and somewhat crazy mother.
Of all the novel-based movies ever made, perhaps the best one was The Departed. Although technically a sequel to the first film, The Departed differs mainly in that it is intended to be a stand-alone film with no ties to the previous films. It is told from the point of view of a former FBI agent, Joe Mantegna, who is found dead, supposedly killed by some motorcycle-riding terrorists. This film adaptation follows the same format as many other novel adaptations, with interviews with notable characters, and a fair amount of twists at the end result. One of the greatest strengths of the film is the way in which director Tom Cruise uses his physical movement to tell the story, rather than using exposition. As a result, the film never loses its momentum and ends up as a very entertaining and successful film overall.
As you can see, there is a lot that can be learned from adapting a novel into a successful blockbuster or TV show/film. Even though the first or second installments of the adapted material may not be as successful as the source material, the third and fourth installments can definitely follow in the same vein. Why stop there? Take the formula and run with it! The more successful your film adaptation is, the more likely you are to produce more such movies based on book ideas.