Books have long served as the inspiration for movies. Some of the very first feature films were adaptations of great works of literature making them instant hits with audiences. Hollywood has routinely gone to the printed page to fill movie theaters ever since. Some adaptations are major cinematic events designed to sell movie tickets as well as tie-in copies of the novel. Other films fly under the radar with the relationship to their printed origins to the point that most fans are completely unaware they were based off a book or short story in the first place! Here are a few of our favorite flicks with literary counterparts you should consider reading - as well as watching.
While most fans of Carpenter's tense potboiler of science fiction terror know it was a remake of Howard Hawks' The Thing From Another World, few know that both films were actually based off a short story called "Who Goes There" by science fiction author J.W. Campbell. While the Hawks film was a little looser in the adaptation, Carpenter and co-writer the late Bill Lancaster maintained a more faithful adaptation about a team of scientists who made a chilling discovery of extra-terrestrial life deep in Antarctica. Both are exceptional and creepy sci-fi films and worthy adaptations of this terrific short story.
Similar to The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers has enjoyed multiple turns at movie theaters over the decades. And like The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is based on a literary work and wasn't made up to cash in on the alien invasion craze of 1950s B-movies. Jack Finney's original novel has been adapted multiple times over the years, with each film taking various liberties. The most glaring difference between the novel and the various films - in particular, the exceptional 1978 version - is the tone of the ending. I won't give specifics, but Finney opted for a decidedly different outcome to his sci-fi yarn.
Director David Cronenberg is well known for making solid adaptations of great literary works, but for A History of Violence, he took on the exceptional graphic novel written by John Wagner with gritty artwork by Vince Locke. Cronenberg admittedly never read the graphic novel as he felt screenwriter Josh Olson's script was good enough (it was nominated for an Oscar). As great as the movie is, it differs wildly from the source - in particular, the latter half where Viggo Mortensen's Tom Stall confronts the demons from his past. Even with the differences, it's an excellent movie and a great read.
Some of the best adaptations take great liberties from their source material and instead focus on the theme and inner workings of the source. Francis Ford Coppola and John Milius transported Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" from the African Congo to the Vietnam conflict. Obviously, there are notable differences between the book and the film from time period, setting, and characters, but after reading the book, it's hard to deny that Apocalypse Now is an effective and brutal thematic adaptation of the story.
Jackie Brown is undeniably a Quintin Tarantino film - however, most folks often overlook the fact that it is the only film to date that Tarantino didn't write an original screenplay for. Based on Elmore Leonard's exceptional novel "Rum Punch", Tarantino nailed the tone, dialogue, and the colorful criminal characters. This film is not only one of the best adaptations of an Elmore Leonard story but also one of Tarantino's best films. The storytelling stylings of Tarantino and Leonard were a match made in heaven.
Most people know that Die Hard was an adaptation of Roderick Thorp's thrilling novel "Nothing Lasts Forever" which could have seen Frank Sinatra reprise his character from The Detective before Bruce Willis was cast and the story altered a tad. However, most fans don't know that Die Hard 2: Die Harder was also inspired by a novel - albeit from a completely different author. Walter Wager's "58 Minutes" was the perfect source material for a Die Hard sequel as it featured a hardened cynical New York cop waiting at the airport for his daughter to come home for Christmas from California when terrorists seize control. Swap some names, change the daughter to a wife and you can already see a dirty and bloody Bruce Willis running around an airport knocking off terrorists one by one.
After his successful novelization of Night of the Living Dead original co-screenwriter, John Russo sought to create his own Living Dead universe with "Return of the Living Dead". Picking up shortly after the events of Night of the Living Dead, Return was originally intended to be a straight-forward horror sequel - that is until Dan O'Bannon came along and transformed it into a Horror-Comedy hybrid that has little to do with NOLD. While it may not be a faithful adaptation of the admittedly rough around the edges novel, Return of the Living Dead has become a celebrated cinematic classic. The original paperback is out of print and can be difficult to find, but you can check out Russo's original screenplay that he intended for the movie to be and see the differences for yourself.
John Carpenter went back to the literary well for his Action-Horror-Western Vampires. In this case, he took the basics of John Steakley's novel "Vampire$" of a Vatican sanctioned vampire hit-squad lead by the rough and tough Jack Crow. That's about all from the book that made it to the movie. While some plot points remain the same, Carpenter took the action of the novel and placed it in the American Southwest and made some drastic alterations to the film leaving little room for most of the events and characters of the source material. It's a fun flick and a good read, but they're very different animals.
Director Joe Dante and screenwriter John Sayles' The Howling is a classic werewolf movie about a reporter and her husband who travel to a secluded resort community so she can recover after being assaulted while covering a story. The original novel by author Gary Brandner is only vaguely similar. The plot setup, characters, main events differ - about the only thing from the movie that is in the novel is a secret community of werewolves no one knows about. In fact, as far as adaptations go, The Howling IV: The Original Nightmare is actually a far closer adaptation of the original Brandner novel than the first film.
When one first thinks of the character John Rambo, most people immediately think of series star and steward Sylvester Stallone. Rarely do people think of the film's original 1972 source novel by David Morrell that inspired it. That's largely because they are very different beasts. While many characters and events are the same, the book had a more nuanced focus where the film was more content to be a rampaging action movie with Rambo as a misunderstood anti-hero. The novel even saw Rambo dead, but Stallone was already thinking sequels and the book had a notably different ending that didn't leave room for any sequels - so some obvious changes were made. Worth noting, Morrell's involvement with the franchise didn't end with the first book, he actually stayed on to write the novelizations for Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rambo III.
As long as novelists keep writing new material, Hollywood is sure to come knocking on their door with a suitcase of cash and a hope that sequels are in the works. Movie adaptations of obscure and popular literary works are a cornerstone of the film industry. The only thing we can do is sit back and hope the creative team in charge of the adaptation does right by our favorite novels. What about you - are there any obscure novels that were made into movies you think deserves to be on this list? Sound off in the comments!