On June 6, 1944, brave Allied troops broke through the waves cresting on Normandy’s shore and attacked nearby Axis powers. This affront, known as D-Day, would be the biggest seaborne invasion in all of history. Nearly 80 years have passed since the Allies won, and yet, the fascination with and respect for those involved lives on. From the soldiers to the refugees, the nurses to the scientists involved in World War II, we continue to tell their stories in all mediums. In honor of D-Day, here are five book-to-film adaptations you can read or watch for some of the most prominent stories to come out of World War II.
Joseph Heller wrote Catch-22 in 1961. Although it centers around one bombardier’s fight to survive, it’s actually quite a funny read. A satirical take on the paradoxical nature of war and its associated politics, Catch-22 is a classic World War II soldier’s tale.
The first movie adaptation was released by Paramount just nine years later and has an 81% rating on the Tomatometer. If you prefer TV, Hulu released a limited series in 2019 that has a whopping 84% on the Tomatometer.
Found yourself enthralled by Heller’s world and don’t want the story to end? Here’s the sequel, set 50 years later.
The Painted Bird is unique in its point of view. This book immerses us in the war through the eyes of a young “non-Aryan” boy wandering through Eastern Europe. If you’re more interested in the civilians’ lives of the time, this might be right up your alley. Though written in 1965 by Jerzy Kosinski, the international adaptation wasn’t released until 2019. It is a beautifully shot black and white film with an 82% on the Tomatometer. But beware: neither the book nor the movie are for the faint of heart.
If you’re fascinated by the science (and the scientists) behind the weapons developed during and for World War II, check out American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. This biography was written in 2006 and is a whopping 721 pages, but the author’s writing style makes this one addicting. It details the life of the physicist who led the development of the atomic bomb for the United States, which was no small (or boring) feat. In fact, the book was so compelling that Universal Pictures picked it up. The film adaptation, dubbed Oppenheimer, hits theaters on July 23, 2023. If the page count seems daunting, be sure to see the adaptation this summer.
This trilogy by Sebastian Faulks is set in war-torn France and follows the perilous journey of Charlotte Gray. She’s a member of the Resistance based in London, but when her lover’s plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France, she vows to find him. Once there, she realizes just how badly France has been affected by the war and feels compelled to help its citizens. Charlotte Gray was published in 1998, and its adaptation, based solely on the first book, was released in 2001. Although critics gave this one a 33% on the Tomatometer, the audience score was nearly twice as high.
As bombs came down on Warsaw, Wladyslaw Szpilman played Chopin’s Nocturne live for thousands; this would be the last broadcast from Polish Radio for years. This heartbreaking and haunting memoir details Szpilman’s struggle to survive in hiding.
This is a deep and heavy read, but Szpilman’s message is one of hope and kindness. The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945 was written just after the conclusion of World War II but did not make publication until 2000. Its adaptation was released in 2002 and earned an impressive 95% on the Tomatometer.
79 years ago, a great sacrifice was made by thousands for the safety of millions. We keep these stories alive so that those who fought, those who suffered, those who lived, and those who died are never forgotten. Whether you prefer to read or watch them, you are sure to absorb their message of bravery through the darkness.
Interested in more book-to-film adaptations? Check out this article.