Which top ten films were based on books?


Image: Pixabay


My son wants to go to the cinema this weekend with his pals.

He’s got to the age where he’s happy to pay to sit in a cold auditorium, his shoes sticking to the soft-drink-soaked carpet as he struggles to concentrate on a loosely-plotted, CGI laden, convoluted storyline over the sound of cola slurping, sweet-wrapper rustling and ringtones.

After years of sitting through countless animated features of widely varying quality, I’m quite happy for him to go to the cinema without me.

We did see the new Star Wars movie as a family the other week, the first few minutes of which were accompanied by periodic cussing from a drunk the staff had seen fit to allow in.

The man’s outburts were unsettling for several reasons: his language, which was bluer than the sky over the sun-soaked beaches of Malibu: the violence of execution, which was threatening and sporadic, meaning we’d have a few moments of unnerving, distracting peace waiting for the next explosion of filth (which, if it isn’t a thrash rock band name, should be): and finally, the fact that apart from the light from the screen, it was darker than a sewer in a power cut in there and the man was sitting close behind us.

So rather than wondering where Luke Skywalker had got to and why Chewbacca had aged better than Han Solo, I was left wondering if (a) the lunatic in the darkness was capable of physical violence as powerful as his verbal violence and if so (b) whether he had smuggled in a knife /machete / meat cleaver or any other such weaponry and was prone to the occasional blood-soaked rampage.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away

M***ER F***ER

is probably not the opening JJ Abrams had in mind.

Fortunately, after ten minutes or so of this, someone overcame their natural English reserve, and got up to complain that disurbingly screamed obscenities and beloved family sci-fi francises don’t mix and the gentleman in question was removed.*


There’s nothing as landmark-y being screened at the moment, but if the lad is off to soak up some multi-plex block buster nonsense, the other half and I were hoping to watch a film too – favourite being Leonardo DiCaprio being mauled by a bear and left for dead in The Revenant. Personally, I feel he deserves no less for Titanic – I have a long memory, people.

After seeing the book of the Leo vehicle in the supermarket today, and knowing that the boys will likely be watching Goosebumps, I wondered how many of the current top ten movie offerings at my local cinemas are based on books.

The answer was:

The Big Short : based on a non-fiction account of the econimic crisis by Michael Lewis.

The Revenant : Michael Punke’s  fictonalised account of a frontiersman’s fight for survival.

Thirteen Hours : Mitchell Zuckoff’s non-fiction account of the Battle of Benghazi.

Goosebumps : based on the kids’ horror fiction series by R.L.Stine

Room : based on the prize winning novel by Emme Donoghue.

The 5th Wave : based on the YA sci-fi novel by Rick Yancey.

6/10 – that’s a big chunk.

Now, this is the first time I’ve done this, so it could be that in a fortnight, they’ll be no book-inspired offerings. But I doubt it, for I’m sure we’ve all noticed the feed-through.

The Hunger Games, the Harry Potters, the Lord of the Rings movies – innumerable D.C and Marvel offerings – all have started out as paper and ended up celluloid, or code, or whatever format it is filmmakers use these days.

What can we aspiring authors learn from this?

Well, that filmmakers and movie studios don’t like to risk their bucks and reputations on untried ideas and would rather writers and publishers did it first. And that if you write a book that’s at least semi-successful you’re quite likely to get a film deal out of it.

I also wonder to what extent authors now write with cinema in mind.

Maybe they don’t do it consciously. But now we’ve had several generations who have grown up with TV and cinema filling some of the imaginative voids in their heads, is it possible NOT to imagine the framing of a scene, the score, the special effects?

Come on, writers. What do you think? 


*The person who got up and complained wasn’t me, of course. It’s possible I would have sat there for 2 hours 15 minutes, tutting loudly as the man’s screaming grew more frenzied, only grumbling to a staff member after said loony had laid about me with his blade of choice.

24 thoughts on “Which top ten films were based on books?

  1. That is interesting!

    I do have a very visual imagination and usually write as if I am watching a film… not that Scorsese or Spielberg are knocking on my door.

    My only bug bear about this is when they totally alter a book for the cinema and it is unrecognisable from the story I enjoyed. That and bad casting… casting matters!

    I love your funny description about the cinema… I would be the same as you… I would seethe quietly but do nothing. Yay to the brave soul that spoke up.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Radical changes to plot and characters are sooo disconcerting, whether you’ve read or watched first or last. Some tinkering does work — I quite like some of Studio Ghibli’s adaptations, bar the execrable ‘Tales from Earthsea’ — and some challenge perceptions, like Helen Mirren as Prospero/Prospera in the film adaptation of ‘The Tempest’.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Shakespeare’s very flexible, isn’t it? I remember the Ian McKellen / 1930s fascist state reworking of Richard III – it fitted very well. Though I suppose, as they are plays, you naturally see a lot of different people in the roles and don’t build up your own ideas of the characters to the same extent as you might a novel.
        Radical changes jar, don’t they? So difficult to get across onscreen what the reader imagines – especially if there’s no big descriptive passage on the character’s looks in the book.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Austen was good at keeping physical descriptions minimal, letting their action and their words do the work. This makes Austen adaptations a gift to the screen writer, of course!

        Transferring the action to a different place and time produces variable results Lord of the Flies and War of the Worlds, neither of which I’ve seen, have been given a less than favourable reception when recently set in an American scenario (though the 50s version of Wells’ classic was equally disappointing, I seem to remember). But I loved 10 Things I hate about You because it completely re-envisioned The Taming of the Shrew plot.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes, you’re right about ‘Shrew’ – and it starred the wonderful, sadly missed Heath Ledger, who added class to anything he was in. Yes, the Tom Cruise War of the Worlds is kind of pointless, as they take an alien invasion premise and little else from the original (though I admit, the tripods are frightening). There’s a version of the deranged vicar, but little else. Of course, being a child of the 70s, War of the Worlds will always be the Jeff Wayne musical version for me, complete with Heat Ray, surely the scariest sound effect ever on record -‘OOOOOLAAAAA’. Scared the living daylights out of me when I was 8!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Yes, casting the right person is vital – though I’m not sure any adaptation I’ve seen of a beloved book has been entirely successful, as the filmmakers so rarely reproduce what you’ve imagined. Though I thought Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell was very good.
      And to my shame, that cinema scene is all true – I wonder how far I would have gone before I’d be forced to get up and say something? Would I wait until the lunatic drew his machete? Possibly.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Has “Brooklyn” come and gone? Based on a novel by Colm Tóibín and adapted by Nick Hornby, it’s one of the most perfect pieces of film making I’ve seen in a long time. There isn’t a wasted shot in it. And Saoirse Ronan’s performance has to be seen to be believed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I saw it reviewed on a film programme, but never saw it on general release here. Would’ve been on the run up to Christmas, so not a great time for me to watch films – too busy at work. A shame, as I remember the reviewers saying Saiorse Ronan was mesmeric.


  3. I’ve always had a visual imagination with books (or like to think so) but despite a musical upbringing I never have a score running through my head; nor do I picture different camera shots, whether tracking or from the air; nor, unless I’ve seen the film first, do I as it were photoshop actors’ faces onto characters on the page. If anything it’s always a continuous video seen from the narrator’s POV.

    I’m with you re interruptions in the cinema — viz. a bit of a wimp — but usually quite fierce on behalf somebody else, which always makes Emily anxious (though she’s been known to intervene herself!).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My other half definitely imagines the framing of shots etc – but then, he works in film and TV, so he would.
      I see what’s happening on the page too, though usually from outside my character, not from their POV – interesting. I don’t score a scene often, though the special effects are always there, of course!
      I think I would’ve been more likely to intervene if the man had been an obvious nuisance to anyone in particular – but he was just a drunk / deranged person screaming!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I didn’t know room ha been made into a movie – I suppose it’s kind of topical, as horrible crimes such as that have come to light a few times in recent years.
    I read the book, but I’m not sure how well I’d cope with the movie…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The book was inspired (if that’s the right word) by the Jospeh Fritzl case, apparently. I’ve never wanted to read it – possibly never will, so I doubt I’ll watch the film. someone told me that it’s very good and more hopeful than it sounds, though. What did you think, Jane?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I picked it up in a charity shop and the first paragraph got me hooked. It was painful, but well written, as a book of this nature should be, out of respect for those who have suffered. Although the mother and child escaped it left me horrified. I don’t regret reading it, but I wish I hadn’t lent it to my my daughter Claire. She was terribly upset by it.
        I think it was an important book. As you know, I believe we should shout about the horrors of life, in the hope that it will help in one way or another.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s certainly struck a chord with people – it was a bit hit, wasn’t it? on reading the premise initially I was worried it was salacious and exploitative, though having spoken to a few people about it, it seems my worries were entirely unfounded. Still sounds like a very tough read. But nothing as tough as reality, if the Fritzl case is anything to go by.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Fortunately I didn’t realise it was based on cold fact, although I knew that it happens occasionally. If I had realised I probably couldn’t have read it. I watched a movie about a girl who was kidnapped, and exchanged for her minder, who was then shot. It was an excellent film, but upsetting. I kept saying “It’s only a story, it’s only a story,” then the credits cam up and I saw it was based on a genuine case. I was traumatised. It kept slipping into my mind for weeks. I should remember the name of it – it was a big hit.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I think I’ve mentioned that I’m a weirdo who thinks that the world is a single organism, like a beehive, and we are all one. It’s a pity not everyone agrees with me, because if they did, right or wrong, we would get along a lot better.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I visualise the big scenes at least, complete with soundtrack (and sometimes, camera angle). But not because I want the story to be turned into a film (of course I want a film – if nothing else, it means more money…) – if I can’t see it in my head, I can’t write it down. And it’s always the parts that I’ve spent ages perfecting in all its cinematic glory that translate best onto the page.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m the same, I think – I visualise a lot and include camera angles, special effects etc, but also smells – smellyvision – as it’s such an important sense to flesh out the reality of the scene.
      Kind of heartening that so many successful books are adapted – many don’t earn big bucks, I hear, but everything helps, as you say. 🙂


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