Skip to main content

The ability to check out countless books and films on your smartphone is one of the great things about living in the future. And if you’re a real movie book buff, what better way to spend the day than watching film adaptations. Hollywood has been plundering the literary treasure chest ever since director Erich von Stroheim attempted a literal adaptation of Frank Norris’s novel McTeague in 1924. The resulting film, Greed, was sixteen hours long. Thankfully directors have since honed their art and we’re now spoilt for choice. Nevertheless, if we had to pick five, these would be our Oscar winners.


Adapted from James Ellroy’s LA Confidential

Ellroy was afraid that moviemakers would ‘screw it up beyond redemption.’ He admitted to selling his soul but ‘Then I retrieved it.’ In his imitable style, he was rumoured to have recited creepy poetry to Russell Crowe. When Crowe challenged the writer about Bud White not drinking, Ellroy said ‘Never.’ Crowe, being a method actor, went teetotal for the whole film, calling it the worst time of his life.


Adapted from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club

Film critic Rex Reed said ‘Maybe this film will find its audience in hell…’ In response, Palahniuk cheerfully said ‘I’m going to have to look him up in hell and buy him a drink some day.’ The big-hearted writer also donated the faux IKEA yin yang table that formed the establishing shot in Edward Norton’s apartment, to animal charity The Pixie Project. It eventually sold in April this year for over four thousand dollars.


Adapted from Susan Orlean’s The Orchard Thief

The swamp ape in the 2nd draft of Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay didn’t make the final cut. Understandably, producers got author Susan Orlean drunk before they handed over the script. Afraid that it might ruin her career and admitting that she ‘should have taken Valium’ before the screening, she eventually said  ‘What the hell!’ But although Cleveland-born Orlean jokingly stipulated that it was ‘Never shown in Ohio,’ she was impressed that Kaufman had ‘Unearthed themes not explicit in the book.’


Adapted from Schindler’s Ark – Thomas Keneally

Director Stanley Kubrick called it a film about success, when the Holocaust was about failure. Terry Gillian laid into Spielberg’s Hollywoodised ‘tied up in bows’ work. Spielberg said for so many reasons, it was the most important film he ever made. Schindler, he said, saved 12,000 lives but remained an enigma. The ignored girl in the red dress? An analogy for how obvious the Holocaust was to so many. Spielberg’s grandmother taught maths to Holocaust survivors.  The young boy never forgot learning numbers from their arm tattoos


Adapted from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – J.R.R Tolkien

For so long, Peter Jackson had talked about making a film like Lord of the Rings. Eventually he thought, why not the actual books? Harvey Weinstein wanted one film for 75 million dollars, which Jackson challenged. It took three years of preparation. Actors were tied in for a three film deal, with no pay rise if the first film made them ultra successful, which of course it did. They also had to survive in New Zealand for eighteen months without going crazy.

That’s our top five, but what about yours? If you think we’ve missed some classic novel adaptations, let us know in the comments below.

Image credit: Silver circle movies