The Most Influential Movies Based on Books

The film industry has long used literature as source material for successful movies. Some of the earliest hit films were based on classic novels, such as George Du Maurier’s Trilby, Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The works of Shakespeare and Charles Dickens were swiftly adapted to film, just as they had been for the stage, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s character of Sherlock Holmes soon became as familiar on the big screen as on the printed page.

More recently, several book-to-film adaptations have had a profound influence on the cinema industry as a whole, and on the attitudes and behavior of vast numbers of filmgoers. Some have spawned long-running franchises and made billions of dollars- others have changed the way that films are made. Here are five examples of the most influential movies based on novels.

Jaws

Peter Benchley’s novel was already a runaway bestseller, but Steven Spielberg’s 1975 movie adaptation virtually invented the blockbuster ‘event’ movie, as well as the notion of the ongoing film franchise. The film, made for less than $9m, took over $470m at the box office, thanks in part to a groundbreaking $2m marketing campaign that made audiences familiar with the film’s concept well in advance of its release. Although the author Benchley was involved in scripting the film, writing the first couple of drafts, Spielberg insisted on several changes to the book, and in fact only stuck closely to its final act, the great shark hunt. The first two-thirds were considerably rewritten, mainly to work better in the film medium.

Spielberg made the characters more likable, removed an adulterous affair between Brody and Hooper, and added more humor to relieve the considerable tension. Also, several of the film’s most famous lines were improvised by the actors, including: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Not just a massive hit, the film also impressed the critics, garnering four Oscar nominations and winning three. The endless sequels may have been of varying quality, but every big summer blockbuster since- from Star Wars on- has been a child of Jaws one way or another.

Casino Royale

The James Bond books and films have been the subject of endless critical analysis, as befits a cultural icon on a par with Sherlock Holmes and Superman; however, by 2006 Bond seemed like a relic of a bygone age. The somewhat camp appeal of his cinematic adventures being significantly out of step with a new generation of gritty, no-nonsense 21st Century action heroes. Nevertheless, the 2006 version of Casino Royale successfully rebooted the franchise, with director Martin Campbell going back to basics and actor Daniel Craig portraying a tough, realistic Bond that was closer to Ian Fleming’s original character than any of his predecessors’ interpretations.

The change in approach also made Bond easier for modern audiences to identify with. The glamorous casino setting of Casino Royale found Bond in Montenegro to infiltrate a high-stakes poker game to stop a villainous arms dealer from recouping his fortune. The scenario, and the attention it attracted, was a boon to the online casino sites. The best sites offer an exceptional casino bonus as a welcoming gift, so that would-be 007s looking to sharpen their poker skills on the internet can enjoy all of the fun and excitement of a high-class poker game with a little extra in their bankroll, just like Bond himself. It was the best Bond film in decades and reinvigorated the character and the franchise, and many fans would say it hasn’t been bettered since.

The Exorcist

William Friedkin’s 1973 adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s occult horror novel was just as shocking and controversial as its source material. It’s easy to forget now, but The Exorcist was a genuine cultural event, with people from all walks of life queuing up to be terrified and scandalized. They certainly got their money’s worth, with reports of widespread fainting and hysteria among audience members during The Exorcist’s initial theatrical release.

Loosely based on a true story, this tale of a young girl possessed by the demon Pazuzu and the attempts to save her soul broke new ground in terms of the gruesome special effects, profane language and sheer brutality it deployed, arguably inventing modern horror cinema in the process. Where earlier horror films had mainly suggested the nastiness happening off-camera, here it was all right in your face- often literally. Rumors spread about the film being cursed, but it earned a record-breaking $232m at the US box office and is still considered one of the greatest horror movies of all time.

The Lord Of The Rings

Tolkien’s original books are the most influential fantasy novels ever, virtually defining the genre and inspiring countless imitations, not just in literature but also in films, TV, and gaming. Yet for many years the books seemed far too complicated and epic to be successfully adapted for the screen, despite several attempts to do so, including an unfinished animated film in the 70s. Peter Jackson’s incredible film trilogy (2001-2003) changed all that however, and in the process invented the high-concept, high production value 21st Century event movie franchise. Harry Potter, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the return of Star Wars- all were in a sense made possible by the huge success of The Lord Of The Rings.

Inevitably, Jackson was forced to make changes to the original stories, leaving out certain scenes and characters or adding new ones. But the resulting films not only satisfied existing Tolkien fans, they also won millions of new ones. Shooting all three films back to back, pioneering the use of digital technology and combining that with painstaking old school photography and acting, The Lord Of The Rings changed the way movies are made, and the film trilogy is arguably just as influential as its literary source material.

Harry Potter

The Harry Potter books were a publishing phenomenon, but the films turned them into a cultural tsunami. The eight-movie franchise was mostly scripted by Steve Kloves (Michael Goldberg wrote Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix) but original author JK Rowling was a consultant, and as a result, the films are extremely faithful to the books. There are changes and omissions, as the movies focus more closely on Harry’s personal journey than the books, but they make them work better in their own right.

The franchise not only saved the UK film industry, encouraging Hollywood to use British locations for more of its big movies, it also provided a massive boost to British tourism and the image of the UK abroad as well. The sophisticated plots, character development, and complex world-building, proved that films for children could be made to the same standard as their adult counterparts, and reap huge financial rewards, and awards, as a result.

Key points

  • Films have always looked to literature for source material.
  • The Exorcist was a cultural phenomenon that invented the modern horror film.
  • Jaws was a best-selling novel but an even bigger movie, shifting the focus of the film industry onto blockbuster hits.
  • Casino Royale gave us a realistic modern Bond that audiences could emulate and believe in.
  • The Lord Of The Rings trilogy changed the way movies are made.
  • The Harry Potter franchise saved the British film industry and gave children a new set of role models.

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