11 Books Better Known For Their Movies

Movie ReelRecently, Jay at Bibliophilopolis posited the idea in the comments section of last week’s book review of Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin of works that are better known for their film adaptations than from the original book (or short story).

This got me thinking. I’ve come up with a list of the first few that popped into my mind. I haven’t read them all but I’ve seen all of the movies. Are there any film/book combos that I’m forgetting??

  • Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. One of my favorite movies of all time, this Kubrick directed film is loosely adapted from Peter George’s novel Red Alert. At first, George co-adapted the novel into the screenplay with Kubrick but later disapproved of the satirical road it took.
  • The Graduate. Another favorite film of mine, I first learned of the book as a college student, when in the final weeks of my final semester, my Literature & Sexuality class was assigned to read Charles Webb’s The GraduateApparently, the book was given mediocre reviews when it came out but when I read it, I completely connected with the anxiety faced by Benjamin in the book. Just one word, plastics.
  • Soylent Green. Much to my surprise as I read Harry Harrison’s Make Room! Make Room! was that soylent green was not people. What a let down. It’s been ages since I read it and I don’t remember much of the book, but I do remember Harrison successfully portraying the sweaty, overcrowded claustrophobia of the setting of the book.
  • Psycho. I’ve never read Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel, Psycho, but I can never get enough of Hitchcock’s film adaptation. After once being told that Bosco chocolate syrup was used in the infamous shower scene, my Pavlovian response is to crave an ice cream sundae while Marion Crane is brutally murdered on the screen.
  • Secretary. Mary Gaitskill is a favorite author of mine and, in 2002, a film adaptation of one of the short stories from Bad Behavior was made. Although, many liberties were taken with the adaptation, I highly suggest nabbing up any one of Gaitskill’s books….right now!
  • The Thirty-Nine Steps. A classic “man-on-the-run” story, John Buchan wrote this slim book while he was convalescing due to an ulcer. The book has been adapted several times both into movies and theatre. The most notable film adaption was made by Hitchcock. The novel is available for free through Project Gutenberg. Read the book, watch the movies, see the stage play, if you like to have a good time.
  • The Illusionist/The Prestige. Okay, maybe it’s not fair that I’m lumping two very different texts into one point but the film adaptations came out around the same time and they both concern magicians (or illusionists, if you prefer). Eisenheim the Illusionist is a short story by Steven Millhauser, while The Prestige is a novel by Christopher Priest. I won’t give away the magic behind either text but they are both mysterious and enthralling.
  • Planet of the Apes. Admit it. You love it. I love it. We all love Planet of the Apes (and if you’re like me, find great pleasure in its sequel–Beneath the Planet of the Apes). But, it was first a novel written by Pierre Boulle (original French title being La Planète des singes).
  • Girl, Interrupted. Before it was a movie, Girl, Interrupted was the 1993 memoir by Susanna Kaysen about her time spent as a patient in psychiatric hospital in the 1960s. One of things I liked most about the book is the inclusion of Kaysen’s medical records from her time there.
  • Full Metal Jacket.Private Joker is silly and he’s ignorant, but he’s got guts, and guts is enough.” Kubrick adapted his film from Marine veteran Gustav Hasford’s semi-autobiographical book The Short-Timers. Hasford’s early literary career was concerned mostly with sci-fi, but in the late 1970s, he penned his first novel about his time in Vietnam.


  1. I love lists like this. I recommend reading Psycho is you ever get the chance.

    Since you mentioned Hitchcock, my favorite film of his is also based on a novel of the same name – The Trouble with Harry. Neither book nor film ever achieved any real success, but both are very good.

    The awful The Truth About Charlie is a remake of Charade and thus based on the serialized novel of the same name. It had only be turned into a novel because it had no success as a screenplay.

    I love Secretary and I had no idea it was based on a short story (that I now have to read).

    1. I definitely recommend anything by Mary Gaitskill. They changed a bunch from the story for the movie (but that happens all of the time).

      Thanks for the other recs (I’ve never seen the remake of Charade but I’ve heard before how awful it is).

      I had a few honorable mentions–Wonder Boys (Michael Chabon; the movie is good too) and some King novellas: Apt Pupil, The Body. I think this list could go on and on. Psycho is always on my to-read list but there are so many hours in a day but, perhaps, I can move it closer to the top.

      1. King novella adaptations have generally turned out better than his novel adaptations – as long as you don’t judge them by The Lawnmower Man.

        Stand by Me/The Body always ranks about my favorite movie adaptations and one of my favorite coming of age films. It usually falls right behind Clueless, which is actually a good option to include on lists like this one too.

  2. NIce list. I do recommend reading Psycho, not least because it’s almost exactly the same as the film, and yet totally different. The tiny differences make all the difference.

    1) The entire opening is missing – the book starts with Mary Crane’s arrival at the Bates Motel 2) Yes, she’s called Mary – in the movie she’s called Marion (not a crucial difference, this one, and probably for legal reasons) 3) Norman is dumpy and a cliche loner/serial killer, much less interesting 4) Conversely, the private detective is square jawed and tall, another cliche which is also subverted in the film.

    Almost all the plot is the same, but those small changes take it from predictable to brilliant. Very interesting. How much is that the case with the others?

    1. Thanks for all of the info. I’m curious to read it. Although, I think the casting of Anthony Perkins as a fresh faced attractive serial killer a perfect idea, I’m still intrigued to read Norman as a dumpy loner.

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