Movie List

25 Best Movies Based on Novels

Updated August 4, 2019
19 min read

Never judge a book by its cover. Or the movie based on it. Right? Maybe not. There have been ventures galore, trying to recreate on the celluloid, the magic of some of the most enchanting novels. And they have had their fair share of failure. But when done right, the audience is left bedazzled. In essence, movies and novels have a marriage of convenience. Whenever a movie needs a good screenplay, novels oblige. And whenever a novel needs a boost of fame, movies are always available. But the true fruits of this unison are devoured by the audiences. There have been many a times when cinema has ventured in the land of novella to find inspiration. When your favorite book transcends the walls of paper and printed ink to cinema and celluloid, it’s an orgasmic feeling! The thing with adopting a novel is to sustain its essence. The film should be equally gripping and moving for the audience.

The thought of cashing in through the most popular bestsellers is beguiling, but it is not as easy as it seems. The path is full of challenges, and the responsibility enormous. For making the text speak and shine on screen, without losing the spirit or the splendor, is not a walk in the park. There have been several instances where the end product hasn’t been quite the same.

However, every once in a while, the celluloid is bedaubed with a piece that hits the sweet spot. Some of these have even transcended the horizons of popularity set by the books so much so that they have overshadowed the popularity of books themselves. Be it animating the characters, bringing to life the visual splendor, or creating sub-stories for the plot, these movies have ticked all boxes. The adoption of such films requires due diligence and care. Voracious readers love their characters. And the ones who see as they read, are the ones who are meticulous with the details. The following movies have not only managed to be evocative in itself as motion pictures, but have also lived up-to the measure of the novels. Here is the list of top movies adapted from books and do justice to the novels they are based on. You can watch some of these several of these movies based on books on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.

25. The Pianist (2003)

‘The Pianist’ is based on the eponymous autobiographical memoir of a Polish-jewish pianist who survived the Holocaust. The film is directed by Roman Polanski (who himself is a Holocaust survivor), and stars Adrien Brody. The book is one of the most popular memoirs of the holocaust, and the movie gets successful in its portrayal of the struggle for survival. It went on to win three Academy awards including the Best Actor and Best Director. It is one of those unforgettable movies that can never be extirpated from your memory. It never tries to foist sentiments, instead portrays what the pianist saw and experienced. It bewitches you and enthralls you, as he survives through his stoicism and good luck.

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24. The Notebook (2003)

‘The Notebook’ lends its script from the 1996 bestseller by Nicholas spark of the same name. Starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, the film is a heartwarming romantic drama at its core. The movie unfolds as an ailing old codger finds his fellow nursing home resident smitten by his love story. The love story is set in the 1940s and it dares to portray the love of old times, which rendered every scintilla of heart wavering, in these times of hook-ups. The movie preserves the spirit and the warmth of the book. It fared high at the box-office, and reached heights in terms of popularity. The film has been considered one of the better romantic dramas of the 2000s. It has reached the cult status ever since its release, much like the book.

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23. The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

‘The Fault in Our Stars’ encapsulates the magic that is stirred when two dying people ‘live’. The movie is based on the critically acclaimed Bestseller of the same name by John Green. The story unfolds through the eyes of Hazel Grace Lancaster who has cancer, as she falls in love with Augustus Waters, an amputee. The plot sounds sullen, doesn’t it? But the movie isn’t. It is one of the most high-spirited movie you will lay your eyes on. It catches you off-guard with its honest and simple story telling. You are aware of their imminent death, but you start living with them. It is one my favorite movies of all time, not merely because of its plot but because of the characters and the arguments they propound. The book gets on your nerves, and so does the movie.

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22. Into the Wild (2007)

‘Into the Wild’ is adapted from the International Bestseller by Jon Krakauer. It is the real story of Christopher McCandless who embarks on an Alaskan adventure, leaving behind his family and all his belongings. His peers announced him as a refractory rebel, but the author proves them wrong as he goes deep into his psyche, while interjecting with his own experiences. Sean Penn and Emile Hirsch together create a movie for the ages. It has a soothing freshness to it. It provides you with the vicarious pleasure of escaping from the hullabaloo of everyday life, giving life lessons throughout. I suggest watching the movie first and then going for the book as it adds to the details. Highly Recommended!

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21. Room (2015)

The film is based on the award-winning novel by Emma Donoghue. It got nominated for four academy awards including Best Picture and Best Actress. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, and underpinned by a hypnotic performance by Brie Larson, it will seep into your heart. The story is of Joy Newsome, who is held captive in a squalid shed after being tricked by a man’s plea for help. It unfolds through the eyes of Jack, her five years-old son born in captivity. As soon as you set your eyes upon it, there is no coming back. Within moments, you are ensnared, locked in a shed with Joy and Jack.Your heart resonates with the hearts of the protagonists. It’s an unforgettable and enriching experience.

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20. Goodfellas (1990)

‘Goodfellas’ is a classic Martin Scorsese crime film. It has some superb performances from Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, but did you know the movie was based on a 1986 non-fiction book Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family by Nicolas Peggi. It is an actual story of mafia mobster Henry Hill who later became an informant played by Ray Liotta. The movie was nominated for various Academy awards including nominations for Scorsese and Pileggi. Joe Pesci won an Academy award for Best Supporting actor for his portrayal of Tommy Devito.

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19. L.A. Confidential (1997)

‘L.A. Confidential’, a critically acclaimed neo-noir crime thriller of the 90s, boasts of an exceptional cast of Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito and James Cromwell. The film is actually based on a 1990 novel of the same name by James Ellroy. It was nominated for 9 Academy awards winning two: Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Kim Basinger). It could have won more had Titanic not been a competition that year.

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 18. Die Hard (1988)

“Yippee-ki-yay, motherf**ker,” No! You won’t get to read it in the book but ‘Die Hard’, the Christmas themed action flick directed by John McTiernan, is based on a lesser known 1979 Roderick Thorp novel by the name Nothing Lasts Forever. The movie gave us some excellent action moments, one of the best villains of all time in Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber and of course a new action hero: Bruce Willis. The movie was nominated for 4 Academy awards, all technical ones but sadly did not win any.

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17. Mrs. DoubtFire (1993)

The Chris Columbus directed comedy drama starring Hollywood gems Robin Williams, Sally Field and Pierce Brosnan is a full-fledged family entertainer gaining critical and financial success. The movie is based on an English novel Alias Madame Doubtfire (1987) by Anne Fine. Robin Williams proved how good an actor he was playing double roles, one of them being a Scottish housekeeper Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire. It’s a fun filled emotional ride and one you won’t regret watching. It deservedly won the Academy Award for best make-up.

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16. Ben-Hur (1959)

Charlton Heston starrer magnum opus ‘Ben-Hur’ is a film unlike any other. The scale at which it was made, the sets, the production design, the epic story remain unmatched. It is till this day considered an all-time classic! The epic historical drama is based on an 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ by Lew Wallace. The book is considered “the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century”. The movie was a lengthy film clocking more than 3 hours but it did not matter. The sheer scale of the movie demanded it. The chariot race seen in the movie is still revered among most movie lovers. Such films just cannot be remade. It was tried recently but flopped big time. Heston gives a performance of a lifetime and the film won record-breaking 11 Academy awards!

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15. Blade Runner (1982)

‘Blade Runner’ is considered one of the best science fiction films of all time. Its ideas, themes, messages are unlike others and the movie comes up with things to shock the viewers. Directed by the legendary Ridley Scott, the movie was based on a sci-fi novel published in 1968 by Philip K. Dick titled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? With music given by Academy award winner Greek composer Vangelis and Harrison Ford at his best, the story revolves around genetically engineered replicants who look like humans, and special police operatives called Blade Runners. It has achieved a cult status among fans.

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14. The Graduate (1967)

A coming of age film starring Dustin Hoffman in his early years is based on 1963 novel by Charles Webb of the same name. The film follows Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock, a college graduate, who is seduced by an older woman and also falls in love with her daughter. The film was a big critical and commercial success and has attained countless fans over the years since. ‘The Graduate’ was nominated for 6 Academy awards with director Mark Nichols winning the Best Director award.

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13. Mackenna’s Gold (1969)

‘Mackenna’s Gold’ is considered one of the best western films of all time. It is actually based on the 1963 novel of the same name by Heck Allen. The film is power packed with great performances from the excellent Gregory Peck playing the titular Marshal Sam MacKenna and joined by Omar Sharif, Terry Savalas and an impressive cast. The climax is a visual delight, the story superb. It is a must watch for anyone interested in old classic western films. Mackenna may have found gold or not but this movie is certainly gold!

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12. Schindler’s List (1993)

This is the second of the two movies that portray stories of the Holocaust featuring in this list. But I can’t help it. The book is one of the most riveting I have ever read, the movie even better. Based on the Booker-prize winning “Schindler’s Ark” by Thomas Keneally, ‘Schindler’s List’ is a true gift to humanity. The story is of Oskar Schindler, who saves countless jews from a ghastly fate. Directed by Steven Spielberg, it stars Liam Neeson who renders the character alive. Schindler’s List took the box-office by storm, and received universal acclaim. It went on to win 7 Academy awards including Best Picture, and grossed over 300 millions. If you haven’t watched it yet, I envy you.

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11. The Lord of the Rings (2003)

This is not bound to any introduction. From one of the bestselling novels of all time to one of the highest earning movie-trilogies of all time, this is the greatest unison of book and movie ever witnessed. Peter Jackson, while trying to literally besmear the magic of these J.R.R. Tolkien classics, left no stone unturned. It is a fruit of unbridled expenditure coupled with eight years of toil. And it shows. It is one of the best fantasy films of all time, and has received universal acclaim. The trilogy has won seventeen academy awards in all, with ‘The Return of the King’ bagging 11 in a year. The series has created an ineradicable legacy which is bound to live forever.

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10. Forrest Gump (1994)

Adapted from the 1986 novel of the same name by Winston Groom, ‘Forrest Gump’ received universal acclaim and went on to win six Academy Awards. Starring the adorable Tom Hanks as the equally adorable Forrest Gump, the film canvasses his journey from his tryst with childhood paralysis to becoming a war-hero for his country. The childlike innocence of the character on and off-screen was deftly dealt with. Certain idiosyncrasies of the characters were created, such as the hard ‘Gs’ at the end of sentences by Forrest, that have garnered cult status and are widely implied in film culture. The film itself, like the novel has achieved cult status, with the “Run Forrest! Run!” taking many shapes and forms in the modern-day. Grossing more than $678 million worldwide, the film was loved by one and all, much like the novel.

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9. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

One of the only three movies to win the Academy Award in the top five categories, this film is an adaptation of the 1988 novel of the same name. The original author, Thomas Harris has gone on record saying the movie was better than the novel. Need I say more! But I will. Laden with improvised hisses (Hannibal Lecter), gory visuals of naked operated bodies and the ever so beautiful Jodie Foster, the film was gripping and engaging, making you hold on to the edge of your seat. The movie would go on to have a number of sequels, starring the petrifying Anthony Hopkins as the cannibalistic Dr Lecter. The film had the spooky air of suspense, the conflicted and reserved psyche of Sergeant Starling and the maniacal serial killer’s grotesque crimes. Truly, a film equal in cadre with the novel, if not better. It also went on to win Academy awards in all the top five categories. It is preserved in National film Registry.

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8. No Country For Old Men (2007)

One of my personal favorites, the flick is adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel of the same time. While the dialogues are 90% verbatim, the way the Coens manage to bring the story to life with the vast vistas of never-ending beauty and the supremely brilliant Javier Bardem, playing the role of the antagonist Anton Chigurh. The Coens received the novel as a gift, by post, by none other than the great Martin Scorcese, who passed on the project (thankfully) and they immediately fell in love, just like me, With its dialogues, or the startling lack of it, and the gripping screenplay (the Coens skipped a good chunk of scenes), this engrossing tale of a man on the run for his life wins hearts, just like the novella.

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7. One Flew Over Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Adapted from the 1962 Ken Kesey novel, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ stars the charismatic Jack Nicholson as the eccentric Randle McMurphy, who feigns dementia to abscond conviction. This is the second of the three films to win the top five categories at the Academy Awards. The film is not only remembered for Nicholson’s award winning performance, but also the performance of Lousie Fletcher as the insouciant Nurse Ratched. Over the years, her character has gained the status of the antagonist, something the author of the original novel has constantly repudiated. Exploring themes such as tragedy, humor, irony and self-depreciation, the film was a commercial and critical success, though Ken Kesey claims to dislike the film.

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6. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

One of the two films based on Stephen King‘s novella, this Darabont-helmed film is considered one of the greatest movies of all time. Adapted from Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, it tells the story of Andy Dufrense, an accountant convicted of murdering his own wife, who through the course of the film is raped, assaulted and eventually starts keeping the guards’ accounts and the account of the Warden. The beautiful screenplay, with moments that make you drop your jaw in awe (the scene where Andy plays music for the inmates), with clever plot twists make the flick a journey of self-discovery and gives you a perspective of discerning life differently. Boasting of a stellar cast including Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman and Clancy Brown, the film was commercially and critically acclaimed, not winning any Oscars (sigh).

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5. The Shining (1980)

So we’ve got another Stephen King novella adoption on the list. Directed by the master Stanley Kubrick, the film today remains one of the most iconic movies ever made, thanks to the brilliant story and in particular, this improvised dialogue by Jack Nicholson. Considered as one of the best horror movies of all time, this one may just not let you blink. Kubrick’s direction demands all the applaud in the world. The story of a family in a haunted hotel sounds cliched, but you may just be judging too early. ‘The Shining’ wasn’t received whole-heartedly by the critics at the time of its release. But over time, with better analysis it started gaining popularity. Ever since it has featured in various Best movies lists, and has been considered the best movie of all time.

This psychological horror also has one of the most confusing endings of movies, with many having their own versions panning out. Shadowing the six month stay of the Torrances at the Overlook Hotel and the impending killing spree Nicholson’s character embarks on, the film’s initial reviews were mixed. But the outstanding box office returns prompted reconsideration, which led to critical acclaim and several award nominations, and cemented its place as one of the greatest movies ever made.

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4. Fight Club (1996)

This Fincher-helmed movie was adapted from the 1996 novel by Chuck Palahnuick. Starring Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter and Jared Leto, the film canvasses the journey of Tyler Durden, who suffers from disassociated personality disorder, and his tryst to give the world a new beginning by obliterating all the debt. The clever plot twists in the film, with one in particular considered one of the greatest in cinema history, compliment the recurring themes of banality, self-criticism, depression and inferior complexity which make the film a must watch.

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3. To Kill a Mocking Bird (1965)

Harper Lee’s 1960 novel of the same name remains my favorite novel even today, having read the book three years ago. The book is one of the most widely read books and a classic in literature. The 1962 adaptation of the novel directed by Robert Mulligan received universally overwhelming response, both critically and commercially. This perhaps remains the only pair in the list where I can diffidently say that the novel was better than the film. Not that the film was any lesser, but the book was so much more. Harper Lee, in an interview, said this about the performance of Gregory Peck: ”When he played Atticus Finch, he had played himself, and time has told all of us something more: when he played himself, he touched the world”.

The movie was scene to scene a facsimile of the novel, with Gregory Peck earning inundated laurels and recognition for his portrayal of the taciturn lawyer. The film also marked one of the first appearances of Robert Duvall on-screen, bringing the character of the mysterious Boo Radley to life with much aplomb in a 10-minute cameo. The film won three academy awards and was nominated for several others. If you loved the book, you will surely fall in live with the movie. It remains one of the greatest movies of all time, the same applying for the novel.

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2. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Another movie helmed by the mercurial Stanley Kubrick, this one is an adaptation of the 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess. Not as glorified as its other counterparts in the list, owing to the aesthetic use of crime and delinquent violence, the film still attracted critical acclaim, much of it directed towards Kubrick and Malcolm McDowell. The novelist deemed the movie as “brilliant, even so brilliant that it might be dangerous”, but blamed the American publishers, who omitted the novel’s redemptive final chapter until the year 1986. It garnered a lot of flak for not being sensitive with “morality” of the society norms, deeming them communist and monotonous. The truth hurts, doesn’t it?

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1. The Godfather (1972)

A book that caused a sensation and the film, considered today as arguably the greatest film ever made, ‘The Godfather’ revolutionized the mob-war genre and took the film industry by a storm. Detouring from its quotidian predecessors, the film tried to translate the point of view of the mobsters’ conflict and dilemma protecting the ones they love to the audience.

Based on Mario Puzo’s novel of the same name, the film didn’t glorify bad guys, but it glorified what the bad guys would do to protect their families. Innumerable production halts, countless antics of its stars and its dark theme cast an equivocal shadow on its completion. But director Francis Ford Coppola held his own, cast the people who had been etched into his relentless vision (if not for him, Marlon Brando and Al Pacino wouldn’t have been a part of the film). He took the audience into the mobs’ home, acquainted us with their secret family recipes and made us a part of christening their new-born; we saw something we had never seen before. The essence of the mobster genre changed forever and the legacy of the film lives on today.

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