25 Films That Bibliophiles Still Love
It’s inevitable, really. The second a film adaptation of a popular or cult novel is announced, every college student‘s English major friends chime in a (Greek) chorus of woe and detraction before any details even emerge. Understandable, to be certain, but just because Hollywood has a tendency to tinker entirely too much with many literary works doesn’t mean they always squirt out artistic diarrhea. Behold! A list of films even the prickliest bibliophile can appreciate. OK…well…maybe the worst of the lot will shoot down every single one of them. But who wants to hang out with negative nancies like that anyway?
- Gone with the Wind (1939) by Victor Fleming: This not-so-romantic movie began life as an equally not-so-romantic novel by Margaret Mitchell, and like all adaptations, it squashed and stretched and deleted and added to make the original plot and characters fit the format. Considering the enduring popularity of the Gone with the Wind film and book alike, it stands to reason that there’s more than a little room in bibliophile’s hearts for both.
- The Wizard of Oz (1939) Directed by Victor Fleming: “The book was way better” has become more than a bit of a cliche as Hollywood continuously dips into other media for inspiration, but rarely (if ever) is it used in reference to The Wizard of Oz. While not terribly faithful to the source material, the musical adaptation of L. Frank Baum‘s delightful – but often dark — series remains just as much of a family classic beloved by bibliophiles, cinephiles and everyone else.
- Hamlet (1948) Directed by Laurence Olivier: Kenneth Branagh‘s 1996 film version of William Shakespeare’s existential tragedy is fantastic as well, but receives far less acclaim than Laurence Olivier’s legendary direction and performance. This version wrings all the drama and pain from the enduring Elizabethan play, making it required viewing for any fans of the Bard’s essential works.
- The Graduate (1967) Directed by Mike Nichols: So acclaimed is Mike Nichols’ post-collegiate bildungsroman, almost nobody remembers the originating novel by Charles Webb. Considering he never much liked the attention and never received any royalties for the use of his characters and plot, everything worked out for the best.
- A Clockwork Orange (1971) Directed by Stanley Kubrick: Original A Clockwork Orange author Anthony Burgess and director Stanley Kubrick famously differed over the cinematic version owing to a giant misunderstanding over the ending, which led to the former disowning the project entirely. The version published in the United States, from which the celebrated filmmaker worked, dropped the last chapter entirely and changed a goodly portion of the writer’s meaning. Other factors contributed to the divide as well, but nothing says bibliophiles aren’t allowed to enjoy the artistry of only one interpretation.
- The Godfather (1972) Directed by Francis Ford Coppola: So iconic is the first installment of The Godfather trilogy, many viewers never even realize or remember it was based on Mario Puzo’s brutal book. A surprisingly high number of critics and pop culture aficionados who enjoyed both the film and the original novel still tout their preference for the former. Certainly a rarity!
- Carrie (1976) Directed by Brian De Palma: Stephen King’s Carrie is an absolutely terrifying read, and its movie adaptation translates the near-universal adolescent anxieties and chilling telekinesis with great aplomb. Like many of the movies and literary works featured here, both are rightfully considered classics in their respective mediums.
- The Shining (1980) Directed by Stanley Kubrick: One of cinema’s most intense classics adapted Stephen King’s novel for the big screen, though it infamously took more than a few liberties with the original story. While the author himself found the film inadequate, it nevertheless receives plenty of accolades from a diverse selection of critics, cinephiles and bibliophiles. In spite of this situation, The Shining remains an incredibly emotional thriller worthy of analysis and study.
- Blade Runner (1982) Directed by Ridley Scott: Though Ridley Scott only kept to the most basic elements of Philip K. Dick’s landmark pre-cyberpunk work Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, only the most staunch supporters of complete adherence in book-to-film translations complain about it. However, anyone passionate about gritty science-fiction settings and philosophical questions about humanity and artificial intelligence should find something to appreciate about both versions of the story. Don’t believe the internet — such things are actually possible.
- The Princess Bride (1987) Directed by Rob Reiner: What makes this hilarious parody of classic fairy tales and love stories such an amazing adaptation is the fact that the novel’s author William Goldman himself wrote the screenplay. Both the book and the film are absolutely hilarious, and it’s highly recommended that those harboring a love for one should go out of his or her way to seek out the other. As they wish, of course.
- Barton Fink (1991) Directed by the Coen Brothers: While not an adaptation, bibliophiles still have plenty to love about this oft-overlooked Coen Brothers classic. A playwright uprooted and plunked down in Hollywood suffers from the most debilitating creative block of his career — an unfortunate period universal to all true writers, artists and performers.
- Schindler’s List (1993) Directed by Steven Spielberg: Few American viewers realize that one of the quintessential Holocaust movies was actually based on the book Schindler’s Ark (retitled Schindler’s List in the United States) by Thomas Keaneally — itself borrowing from the author’s meeting with a survivor. Surprisingly enough, Steven Spielberg’s haunting, emotional interpretation more than the stories initially inspiring it.
- The Shawshank Redemption (1994) Directed by Frank Darabont: It’s probably hard to believe that a bittersweet, but ultimately hopeful, story could come from Stephen King’s pen — much less go on to become the inspiration for a celebrated entrant into the cinematic canon. Despite the expected liberties taken with the text, many who’ve read the original short story (titled “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”) and viewed the film seem to prefer the latter.
- The Big Lebowski (1998) Directed by the Coen Brothers: Bibliophiles with shelves (or library card listings) overflowing with Raymond Chandler detective novels simply must see this venerable cult classic if they haven’t already. Jeff Bridges’ iconic portrayal of The Dude brings hardboiled protagonist Philip Marlowe to a decidedly different generation.
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) Directed by Terry Gilliam: In Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s hallucinogenic work of the same name, thinly fictionalized versions of himself (Raoul Duke) and Oscar Zeta Acosta (Dr. Gonzo) chase down the supposed “American dream” with a car full crammed with “two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a saltshaker half-full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, a pint of raw ether, and two dozen amyls.” The film adaptation may not have much critical support, but it’s endured as a cult classic amongst bibliophiles and non-bibliophiles alike.
- Fight Club (1999) Directed by David Fincher: Original Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk actually praised the ending of David Fincher’s adaptation, openly admitting that its pitch-black comedy made far more sense than the more dreamlike one he wrote. Save for that, much of David Fincher’s intense adaptation hews painfully, faithfully close to the disturbing themes of materialism, the ironic conformity of so-called “nonconformists” and myths and misconceptions about American manhood.
- The Virgin Suicides (1999) Directed by Sofia Coppola: With a title like that, one can easily assume that neither Jeffrey Eugenides’ debut novel nor its movie adaptation by Sofia Coppola are terrifically happy stories. However, they can still easily pique the interest of bibliophiles and their similarly obsessed cinematic peers. The 1999 film stays extremely close to its source material, even using large passages from the book itself as narration.
- American Psycho (2000) Directed by Mary Harron: Prior to stepping into his now-iconic role of Bruce Wayne, Christian Bale was playing an unhinged, obscenely wealthy playboy of an entirely different sort in this wrenching adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ equally queasy satire. Provocative, highly effective and ruthlessly intellectual, both works painstakingly dissect the privilege, selfishness and materialism that characterized an entire generation.
- The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003) Directed by Peter Jackson: Director Peter Jackson knew he couldn’t please all of the fans all of the time, but nobody can accuse him of anything less than epic ambition when he took on J.R.R. Tolkien’s rich, highly detailed mythos of Middle Earth. Individuals who greatly enjoy the fantasy genre (and one of its most defining series) shared the theaters with those who do not — a rather rare occurrence standing as a testament to the films’ artistry.
- Adaptation. (2002) Directed by Spike Jonze: Not every thoroughly awesome film for bibliophiles is necessarily a book-to-film translation. Charlie Kaufman started this screenplay as an adaptation of Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, only to metamorphose it into a provocative, postmodern glimpse into the often frustrating, unforgiving creative process instead.
- The Hours (2002) Directed by Stephen Daldry: Michael Cunningham’s 1999 Pulitzer Prize winner wasted little time getting a movie adaptation. Bibliophiles who enjoy Virginia Woolf may enjoy watching a story inspired by Mrs. Dalloway and lives intersecting with the author’s own personal and fictitious narratives.
- American Splendor (2003) Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini: The extraordinarily ordinary life of underground comic writer Harvey Pekar receives a far more unique approach than the traditional biopic. He narrates his own story while Paul Giamatti acts it and scene intercut with the reality of sets and recording studios. At least one moment features the man, the actor and a portrait sharing the same frame in an intriguing meta commentary on the nature of biography.
- Stranger than Fiction (2006) Directed by Marc Forster: Another film more about the meta aspects of storytelling as opposed to a straight adaptation, Stranger than Fiction follows a hapless man who begins hearing narration in his head — which frighteningly ends up dictating the events in his life. Bibliophiles who love debating the very nature of narratives and reality will find plenty to appreciate here.
- No Country for Old Men (2007) Directed by The Coen Brothers: Most of Joel and Ethan Coen’s cinematic oeuvre contains some sort of hyper-literate element, but No Country for Old Men was their first outright novel-to-film adaptation. Like the Cormac McCarthy novel from whence it came, the heavily lauded movie weaves an intense, primal thriller fraught with torture, drugs, obscene amounts of money and murder.
- Precious (2009) Directed by Lee Daniels: As with many book-to-movie adaptations these days, few people sadly knew about Sapphire’s visceral debut novel Push until Precious was released to glowing acclaim. Regardless of whether or not one chooses to witness the brutal narrative through words or visuals, they both remain essential for anyone passionate about social justice.
- The Wizard Of Oz Being Remade With Robert Zemeckis? (screencrave.com)
- Elizabeth Taylor: Mike Nichols pays tribute to ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ actress (insidemovies.ew.com)