When you think of the literary world, it is easy to envision the quiet world of book clubs and great literature. The pages of a book can transport you to the past or to a faraway place. But it is important to remember that books can be great sources of inspiration for creative people, including film directors and screenwriters. They love to read but also want to share their vision with others, which has inspired amazing book to film adaptations over cinematic history.
Sometimes these talented people take classic books or old stories and turn them into movies or TV shows. One benefit of using this method is that it allows for a new way to experience familiar stories. And sometimes these changes add new dimensions that were not there in the original work.
Many book-lovers are well aware of this fact, but in case you’re not, here are five titles that may surprise you when it comes to the book versions of their movies.
1. “The Princess Bride” by William Goldman
So, you’ve probably heard of The Princess Bride. The movie is a classic comedy from the 1980s. It’s a whimsical adventure with romance and swordplay, set to the backdrop of true love and high adventure.
But did you know that it’s based on a novel by William Goldman? And did you know that the original title is “The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, The “Good Parts” Version”?
This might be news to you especially since the book’s name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. It’s a bit of a mouthful, and yet the world synonymously knows it by the abridged title of just three words.
All joking aside, the original work is actually an abridgment of an original work by S. Morgenstern. The catch is Goldman, in his perspective, included only the “good parts” from Morgenstern’s original narrative. Goldman also includes plenty of his own original writing, with some chapters being completely new additions to Morgenstern’s story.
Interestingly, the book is at least partly autobiographical. Goldman’s father read him the same bedtime story each night—The Princess Bride. He wanted to pass on the tradition of family story-time with his son—only to discover that he simply couldn’t find his way past the first chapter. It was only then that Goldman read Morgenstern’s work for the first time and realized his father had decided to skip over some of the political satire that gives the book its bite, in order to instead focus on what he considered “the good parts.”
When you get down to it, the novel really is a labor of love and you see that translated across the screen. He used elements from his own childhood in order to write an engaging story, one that was also close to his heart. Perhaps this is why Goldman’s version of the story is still remembered by so many more people than its original book counterpart.
2. “The Godfather” by Mario Puzo
The Godfather, one of the most popular films of all time, was also a best-selling novel. When it was first released in 1972, The Godfather was a ground-breaking film that went on to become a classic regarded by many as the best of its genre. The novel of the same name is the first in a series and takes place between 1945 and 1955, chronicling the story of Vito Corleone rising from humble beginnings in New York to become one of the most powerful men in organized crime.
Mario Puzo, the author, found himself involved with both the writing and production of the movie adaptation. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why the movie script and story are regarded as one of the best ever written. The novel and film are both excellent, but fans who have read the book first will agree that there are some differences between them. However, these differences do not take away from the quality of either medium.
While it seems like you’re watching a straightforward mobster movie, there are many aspects of the story that are based on real events and details about life in New York at that time. It was filmed in a way to make things more dramatic, but in doing so, some of the facts are left out and replaced with things to make it more entertaining.
The most glaring omission is the lack of any serious reference to racial prejudice, which would have been a major part of the lives of people at that time. This was done intentionally by director Francis Ford Coppola, who probably wanted to avoid injecting contemporary issues into the movie and avoid any openly offensive scenes on screen but it certainly reduced the harsh reality of what actually happened back then—something that’s explored in the books. There are more painful, heartwrenching scenes in the novel where black characters deal with racism from authority figures like the police.
Another difference is the ending. The movie’s ending has a darker tone than the novel but both are rich with themes of family betrayal, loyalty and vengeance. Unlike many book-to-film adaptations, The Godfather has maintained its reputation as an outstanding film since its release—and despite being 40 years old at this point—it is still widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.
3. “The Silence of the Lambs” by Thomas Harris
The Silence of the Lambs is a movie that has captured the minds and hearts of many horror fans. The film, directed by Jonathan Demme in 1991, was based on a novel written by Thomas Harris in 1988. Harris wrote two more novels after the first one, and all three were turned into movies. The Hannibal Lecter character was portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in all three films.
The Silence of the Lambs is considered one of the most terrifying movies to ever come out—it won five Academy Awards and was nominated for another four. It’s also one of the most quotable: I have a friend who makes a habit of saying “Hello, Clarice” whenever we meet.
But not many people know that it’s actually based on a book. Yes, everyone’s favorite character Dr. Hannibal Lecter first appears in Thomas Harris’ 1981 novel Red Dragon. So if you think about it, the character from the movie is actually just an interpretation of the character from the book (and yes, there are multiple movies based on this story as well).
What’s remarkable about The Silence of the Lambs is that it isn’t just your typical horror book-to-movie—it’s also a psychological thriller. We all know what happens at the end (spoiler alert!), but to get there, it plays with your expectations until surprising you in its very last scene.
4. “And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie
The novel And Then There Were None, published in 1939 by Agatha Christie, is a classic murder mystery that has been adapted to film, opera, and stage. It was also adapted for television in 2015 by the BBC, starring an impressive ensemble cast.
The story begins when ten strangers are invited to Soldier Island for a party. Once on the island, they find themselves trapped and unable to leave—they are told that they each have a connection to the person orchestrating the murders. The characters are isolated and must figure out who among them is the killer before they become his or her next victim. This three-hour drama follows their journey and attempts to solve the mystery of who among them is actually killing off the other guests and why.
Many other adaptations of this story have been made over the years, but this one stood out to me as the most loyal to the source. As it was released as a limited series consisting of three episodes instead of one film or play, it allowed for more time to develop the story and characters in depth, which really paid off for fans of the original work.
There are some minor changes such as the name of the island being changed from “Indian Island” to “Solider Island.” There is more of a romance element between two characters in the cinematic version. The twist is also revealed in different ways, as a product of the medium no wonder, but that doesn’t take away from either the book or the TV adaptation (although I lean toward the former when it comes to the ending reveal.)
All in all, if you’re a fan of mystery, this adaptation will keep you at the edge of your seat and is well worth the watch.
5. “Fight Club” by Chuck Palahniuk
Fight Club is one of the most well-known movies of the late nineties, combining an intense story with a stylized visual style and an incredible soundtrack. But it wasn’t always a movie. The original work was a novel published in 1996, written by Chuck Palahniuk. The movie was released in 1999 and was directed by David Fincher, who was riding high off the fame of Seven at the time.
The film adaptation remained true to the original plot but portrayed the events and characters in a cinematic way that streamlined the story and made it appeal more to mass audiences. The film did a good job of capturing Palahniuk’s style: short, sharp scenes that made you start thinking about what was going on immediately while also throwing in surprising twists to keep you off balance.
In both versions of Fight Club, Palahniuk includes bits of philosophy or existentialism that are expressed by the narrator or other characters. Thematically (and story-wise with 90% of the book making it to the film), it translates well to the big screen.
In the film, certain elements of violence and “fantastical” bits are toned down. The movie’s ending is perhaps the biggest difference, which is a lot more cinematic (and harder to believe) than the book’s, still worked for me. In fact, it made me like the book even more. While I understood why some things were changed, I couldn’t help but be slightly disappointed by the parts that didn’t translate so well on screen. Also, I felt like things might have been played up too much at certain points.
Fun fact: you would think that the author made big bucks from it but the rights were bought for only $10,000. Compare this to the $17.5 million Brad Pitt was paid and you get a sobering picture of reality. That being said, I’m still stoked Palahniuk’s story was adapted to a feature-length and became the cult hit that it is today.
Honorable Mentions from Twitter
Here’s a fun ‘TIL’ moment I had while in the process of writing this blog post:
Who would’ve thought that the beloved ogre who just wants to fit in and be accepted actually came from a children’s book?
You can read more about Shrek’s origins as a children’s illustrated book here.
Over to You
With the popularity of movies these days, it’s hard to imagine that some of them started out as books especially if you’re not an avid reader, but it’s true. Hopefully, this list has inspired you to look behind the cinematic curtain and explore some of your favorite on-screen delights further.
What about you? Do you have any films based off books that didn’t make this list? Or maybe you’d like to see a follow-up to this one in the future?
Let me know in the comments!