10 Films You May Not Know Were Based on a Book (Part I)

The Prestige Book CoverI. The Prestige (2006)     

The secrets to magicians’ tricks are often mundane – it is the way those tricks are performed which makes all the difference. Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige is a complex, clever film about two magicians competing against each other in the 19th century, but the film is actually based on a Christopher Priest’s 1995 novel of the same name. The novel starts in the present time, but, as in the film, we are being fooled and do not realise that we have had all the clues to the puzzle in front of us at the beginning. Whatever you thought was clever in Nolan’s film – the chances are that it is also in the novel.   

Drive Book CoverII. Drive (2011)

Nicolas Winding Refn may have directed this stunning film and Hossein Amini (Two Faces of January (2014)) penned the script, but Drive is based on James Sallis’s 2005 novel of the same name. In fact, allegedly, the Drive producers first encountered the story by chance in Publishers Weekly. In the book, as in the film, it is the intriguing character study which becomes the focus. The merit should go to Refn for visionary creative choices, but the film was fledged out of the already existing story, which also feels strangely nostalgic for the decade gone.

One Fine Day CoverIII. Groundhog Day (1993) 

This is a more speculative entry on my list. Danny Rubin may have all the accolades for writing the screenplay to Groundhog Day, but the story looks very similar to a novel by Leon Arden titled One Fine Day (1981). As the movie, the book is about a man who is hopelessly in love and who wakes up each day with the repetition of the previous one. He also has to do good deeds to earn his “tomorrow”. The similarities between the book and the film are so overwhelming that, in fact, a court judge once pronounced that there were indeed many, but dismissed the case of Arden v. Columbia Pictures Inc. on the basis that “ideas are not copyrightable”.  

Madam Doubtfire BookIV. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) 

Mrs. Doubtfire is a fine, entertaining American comedy starring Robin Williams in a double role and Sally Field, with Chris Columbus being the director. However, its script is actually based on a novel for young adults by a British author Anne Fine titled Madame Doubtfire. The concept of the novel is adapted more or less faithfully into the movie, but the film probably benefits enormously from the characteristically ingenious and funny performance by Robin Williams. This is definitely another case of a film being better known than the book.

The Greatest Gift Story CoverV. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) 

There is a beloved-by-many Christmas film It’s a Wonderful Life starring James Stewart and directed by Frank Capra, but maybe not everyone is aware that it is based on a short story written by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1943 called The Greatest Gift. Van Doren Stern gathered inspiration from Dickens’s A Christmas Carol to write a story about one suicidal man who learns his lesson that the greatest gift of all is life. The interesting bit of trivia in relation to this story is that the author found it hard to get his little story published initially, and, at first, sent his story in the form of a Christmas card to all his relatives. Eventually, his story did get a publisher and then got Capra’s attention.

Psycho Book CoverVI. Psycho (1960) 

This example is probably a very strong case of a film surpassing in popularity its literary source. In this way, it is similar to the film Les Diaboliques (1955) and its literary source novel – Celle qui n’était plus of 1951. Almost as soon as Robert Bloch wrote his book Psycho, it was made into a film with Alfred Hitchcock as a director. Comparisons between the novel and the book have been made elsewhere, but it may be commented that the book seems to have a more intriguing main character, while the film has a-less-obvious-what-happened plot.

Nothing Lasts Forever Book CoverVII. Die Hard (1988) 

The fact that this film is based on a book is probably now one of the most well-known you-probably-did-not-know bits of trivia, so it will be a crime not to include it here. John McTiernan’s action movie Die Hard was based on a novel by Roderick Thorp Nothing Lasts Forever, which he wrote in 1979. This sounds a bit incredible, because Die Hard feels like it was based on a better-quality action-driven Hollywood script too. Anyway, whatever the adaptation process may have looked like, it seems like the team made a good job out of it. 

Primal Fear Book CoverVIII. Primal Fear (1996)

Do you know that courtroom-style drama film with Richard Gere and Edward Norton, and with an unforgettable twist at the end? It was based on a novel by William Diehl of the same name of 1993. It is likely that many people know about this one, but it also does not hurt to draw attention to the good book once again. In the story, a lawyer Martin Vail, played by Richard Gere in the film, is involved in defending a young man Stampler (Edward Norton) who is accused of murdering an archbishop, and all evidence points at him…or does it?   

Bicycle Thieves PosterIX. Bicycle Thieves (1948)

It may sound surprising, but Bicycle Thieves, a neo-realist cinematic masterpiece which is deemed by some critics as one of the greatest films all of time, is based on a book. In 1946, Luigi Bartolini penned a book Ladri di Biciclette, where he told a story of one man searching for his lost bicycle in Rome. The film, allegedly, ended up being different from the novel (see the amazing facts about the film here), but it is still good to know that something great originated first from a book. 

Shoeless Joe Book CoverX. Field of Dreams (1989)   

If you build it, he will come…“, and if you read it and watch it, he will come twice. Field of Dreams is a well-known sports film starring Kevin Costner in the lead role, but, those not too well-versed in Canadian literature, may not know that it was based on a novel Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella, published in 1982. For a nice comparison between the two see an article here. Both the film and the book are a love letter to baseball, but it is also interesting to know that W.P. Kinsella was a real baseball fan, and his novel worth checking out too. 


11 Comments Add yours

  1. I knew all of them except for the Die Hards. That’s surprising!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Many of the best movies came from novels. Plenty of Oscar winning movies too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. mistermuse says:

    There are many great older films based on books, but unless the movie has remained well-known (like THE WIZARD OF OZ), I suspect that few people would be interested in hearing about them, unfortunately.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Chris says:

    I’ve read a few books which were adapted into films. Forrest Gump was definitely more believable as a movie, as in the novel he goes to space 🙂 Haven’t read your list picks though I have watched all the movies. These ten seem to be more popular as movies than books, or am I wrong about that?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dbmoviesblog says:

      Well, yes, that was one of the points of this list – to draw attention to some books that were overshadowed by their respective films.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. There are very few movies that aren’t adaptations, so I’m not surprised, but I didn’t know about a single one of these. Great list!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. John Charet says:

    Great post 🙂 Here is another example you may not be aware of. I am sure you have seen Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. The source material for it actually came from a short story that was in just one in a collection of five short stories from Daphne du Maurier’s 1971 book collection of short stories entitled “Not After Midnight.” Interesting isn’t it? 🙂 Anyway, thanks for dropping by 🙂


    1. dbmoviesblog says:

      Thanks for this info. No, I did not know that and it is interesting. It also shows that Daphne du Maurier’s short stories do not like to merely sit on their bookshelf, do they? – since The Birds by Hitchcock was also notoriously made from one of those – well, provided inspiration.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Paul S says:

    Drive was one of the rare occasions I preferred the film to the book. It might have had something to do with watching it before I read James Sallis’s novel.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. filmsCine says:

    Interesting!! I had no idea about Mrs Doubtfire.

    Liked by 1 person

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