Books have been the inspiration for great films for as long as movies have been around – after all, books were here first! But as movies have become a big business, we’ve left some of our appreciation for the great books behind. Everyone knows that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was adapted from a novel, but other books haven’t been quite so lucky.
That’s why we’ve put together this list of great films that you may not have known were based on books. If you loved these movies, you should run out and get the books – because as every reader knows, the book is always better!
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Film buffs will know this one, but others might be surprised to learn that Francis Ford Coppola’s nightmarish Vietnam movie is based on a book written more than 50 years before the war started. Coppola takes Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a novella about the wilds of colonial-era Africa, and re-sets it in Vietnam. Both works question imperialism and the line between civility and savagery.
Most of Disney’s great early films were based on fairy tales, but Bambi wasn’t. It was, however, based on a book! Austrian writer Felix Salten’s Bambi, A Life in the Woods is the original inspiration for Disney’s classic film.
Field of Dreams (1989)
Field of Dreams is based on W.P. Kinsella’s 1982 novel Shoeless Joe. Though Kinsella’s novel has become a bit better known thanks to the film version, it remains nowhere near as famous as the Kevin Costner film. The film is great, but Kinsella’s magical realism is the perfect style for the story.
The French Connection (1971)
The “French Connection” was a real thing, a notorious New York City drug ring that brought heroin into the United States. Writer Robin Moore wrote a non-fiction account of the crime ring called The French Connection: A True Account of Cops, Narcotics, and International Conspiracy, and that’s the book that the 1971 film was based on. What the book lacks in car chase footage, it makes up for in cold hard facts.
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam classic doesn’t have the same name as the book that it’s based on. Gustav Hasford’s The Short-Timers, which was the inspiration for the film, didn’t meet with the same success as the on-screen version. It can be hard to find a copy of the book, but it’s well worth reading if you can get your hands on it.
Goodfellas is one of the greatest gangster movies of all time, and it’s based on one of the best true crime books ever written. Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy isn’t as well-known as Martin Scorcese’s film, but it ought to be. Unlike the film, the book also delves into Henry Hill’s involvement in the famous Boston College basketball point-shaving scandal.
M*A*S*H was an instant classic, and it spawned a television series that ran for seasons. But before there was a movie or a television show, there was a book: Richard Hooker’s MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors. The dark comic tone of the book will be familiar to fans of the movie.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
The Coen brothers’ great prison escape drama might start to feel a little familiar to you after a while. O Brother, Where Art Thou is a re-imagining of Homer’s Odyssey. Just like Odysseus, the film’s heroes try to get home while dodging seductive singing ladies and a frightening one-eyed villain. This adaptation is fascinating in its style.
Raging Bull (1980)
Martin Scorcese’s Jake LaMotta biopic is tough on its subject. LaMotta is represented as a jealous man who destroyed his own family. But Scorcese didn’t come up with all of this himself – he based his movie on LaMotta’s own memoir Raging Bull: My Story.
Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film has long overshadowed the book version, but both deserve a place in your collection. The original book, The Living and the Dead, was written in French by Pierre Boileau and Pierre Ayraud under the joint pseudonym Boileau-Narcejac. It has also occasionally been published as Vertigo, thanks to the success of Hitchcock’s film.