Based on a Book: 10 Classic Movies Inspired by Novels

As "Dune" finally arrives in theaters, we take a look at ten movies that you might not know were also based on a book.

Matt Lissauer

By Matt Lissauer

Based on a Book - Timothee Chalamet in "Dune"

© Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

It's no hyperbole to call "Dune," the novel, one of the most influential sci-fi books of all time. Don't believe us? Just look at how much George Lucas scrubbed from the pages of Frank Herbert's tome. Famed filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky struggled to bring Herbert's pages to life. David Lynch ended up realizing it in 1984 to mixed effect. Now, director Denis Villeneuve is the next in line to adapt the book. After what he brought to "Blade Runner" and, thus, the pages of Philip K. Dick, anticipation is high. Hopefully, the crowds will turn out this time.

To most, "Dune" is an obvious movie based on a classic novel. But in many cases, such adaptations might not be so clear. Here are ten more movies you might not know were actually based on a book.

  • 1

    It's a Wonderful Life

    Donna Reed and James Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life."

    Courtesy Everett Collection

    Frank Capra's sentimental Christmas drama is a gift that keeps on giving. The original story, "The Greatest Gift," was a viral sensation of sorts in 1939. After being turned down by numerous publishers, author Philip Van Doren Stern took matters into his own hands, mailing it out to 200 friends and family members. It wasn't long before the story captured the attention of director Capra. The director seized on it as his first post-war project under his new production company, Liberty Films.

    It's a Wonderful Life Poster

    It's a Wonderful Life

    PG

    Holiday

    January 7, 1946

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  • 2

    Planet of the Apes

    Charlton Heston in "Planet of the Apes (1968)."

    TM & Copyright © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved. / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Franklin Schaffner's 1968 sci-fi classic "Planet of the Apes" has spawned nine movies (and possibly soon a tenth), two TV shows, and countless other forms of media. With such a deep collection of material, it's easy to forget the first movie in the franchise was based on a book. The source? The 1963 French novel "La Planète des singes" by Pierre Boulle, the same author of "The Bridge Over the River Kwai." A trip to a zoo inspired Boulle's story of man and ape's complicated future. There are differences, however, between the novel and the film. For example, co-screenwriter and "Twilight Zone" creator Rod Serling added the film's notable Cold War themes and the famous twist ending.

    Planet of the Apes Poster

    Planet of the Apes

    G

    Science Fiction

    February 8, 1968

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  • 3

    The Silence of the Lambs

    Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster in "Silence of the Lambs."

    Courtesy Everett Collection

    "The Silence of the Lambs" is famous for being the third film in Oscar history to sweep the main categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. For all its accolades, the iconic horror film and franchise owe all its debt to Thomas Harris' 1988 novel of the same name. Harris penned a total of four books featuring sadistic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lector, with each getting their own big and small-screen treatments. His novel "Red Dragon" has been adapted three times. First with 1986's "Manhunter," then again in 2002. Most recently, "Red Dragon" was adapted in NBC's hit prequel show, "Hannibal." However, don't expect more allusions to the stories in CBS's series "Clarice." Due to trademark hangups, the show cannot mention or even acknowledge "The Silence of the Lambs" at all.

    The Silence of the Lambs Poster

    The Silence of the Lambs

    R

    Crime Drama

    February 13, 1991

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  • 4

    Apocalypse Now

    Martin Sheen in "Apocalypse Now."

    © United Artists / Courtesy: Everett Collection

    Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam War epic has great visuals and captivating music, but few might remember that Coppola and John Milius based the basic story on a book. Coppola's war story has its origins in Joseph Conrad's 1899 novella "The Heart of Darkness." While the film deviates a lot from the source, the iconic final line, "The horror! The horror!" -- the last words of mad Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) -- comes directly from the book. Controversial elements from the source aside, the basic premise of a man traveling a long journey to seek out a leader gone mad can be seen most recently in the Brad Pitt sci-fi film "Ad Astra."

    Apocalypse Now Poster

    Apocalypse Now

    R

    War

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  • 5

    Breakfast at Tiffany's

    Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany's"

    Courtesy Everett Collection

    Blake Edwards' based his glamorous (though culturally insensitive) 1961 rom-com starring Audrey Hepburn on Truman Capote's 1958 book of the same name. For the film, Edwards changed the time period; and in ultimate Hollywood fashion, he inserted a love story. While Capote had envisioned Marilyn Monroe as society girl Holly Golightly, Monroe's contractual obligations to another studio led to Hepburn getting the part. Now, it's hard to imagine anyone else in what became Hepburn's most iconic role.

    Breakfast at Tiffany's Poster

    Breakfast at Tiffany's

    Romantic Comedy

    October 5, 1961

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  • 6

    The Princess Bride

    Cary Elwes and Robin Wright in "The Princess Bride."

    © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved. Courtesy: Everett Collection

    We all know the famous opening scene of "The Princess Bride," with Peter Falk reading to his sick grandson (Fred Savage). Well, you can mirror this too by picking up William Goldman's 1973 fantasy novel. But maybe you'll want to seek out your own kid (sick or not) instead of kidnapping Savage like Deadpool does in the PG-13 version of "Deadpool 2."

    Director Rob Reiner had a similar connection to the source, having received the novel as a gift from his famous dad Carl. Goldman worked closely with Reiner to adapt his book for the screen, but the celebrated fantasy almost never made it to release. Several studios held the rights to the novel, and several directors, including Richard Lester and Robert Redford, couldn't realize the project. Reiner found luck with his former "All in the Family" TV producer Norman Lear, who had also helped fund his earlier '80s classic "This Is Spinal Tap."

    The Princess Bride Poster

    The Princess Bride

    PG

    Fantasy

    October 1, 1987

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  • 7

    Blade Runner

    Harrison Ford in "Blade Runner."

    © Warner Bros. / courtesy Everett Collection

    Ridley Scott's cult sci-fi hit finds its origins from Philip K. Dick's 1968 book "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" Those who followed the epic odyssey that was the "Snyder Cut" will tell you that Warner Bros has a long history of meddling too closely with projects. Such is the case with "Blade Runner." The original film came out in 1982, but it wouldn't be until 2007's "Final Cut," where director Ridley Scott maintained complete artistic control. "Blade Runner" wasn't a big success at the time, but Hollywood realized the potential from Dick's novels through its cult status. Other books of his that found their way to the big and small screen include "Total Recall," "Minority Report," "A Scanner Darkly," "The Adjustment Bureau," and Amazon's hit series "The Man in the High Castle."

    Blade Runner Poster

    Blade Runner

    R

    Thriller

    June 25, 1982

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  • 8

    Psycho

    Janet Leigh in "Psycho (1960)."

    Courtesy Everett Collection

    Alfred Hitchcock's horror-thriller spawned a bit of a franchise of its own. There have been three sequels, a misguided remake, a lesser-known TV spin-off, and a more well-known and well-regarded prequel series (whose final season covers the events of this movie). The source, Robert Bloch's 1959 novel of the same name, was thought to be inspired by actual psycho killer Ed Gein. It wasn't directly, but Gein's evil killings did loosely inspire fictional killers Leatherface ("The Texas Chainsaw Massacre") and Buffalo Bill ("The Silence of the Lambs").

    Psycho Poster

    Psycho

    R

    Horror

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  • 9

    Rebecca

    Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier in "Rebecca (1940)."

    Courtesy Everett Collection

    Back-to-back Hitchcock thrillers are never a bad thing. For his 1940 Best Picture, Hitchcock adapted Dame Daphne du Maurier's 1938 gothic thriller of the same name, though he changed the book's big revelation – Rebecca's cause of death – to ensure the film conformed to production standards of the time. Despite this, the film still went on to become a classic. So too did the source material, which despite claims of plagiarism, went on to inspire other works, including various plot elements found in "Fifty Shades Darker." Last year Netflix and director Ben Wheatley gave us another interpretation of the story to mixed results.

    Rebecca Poster

    Rebecca

    Thriller

    April 12, 1940

  • 10

    Die Hard

    Bruce Willis in "Die Hard."

    © 20th Century Fox Film Corp./courtesy Everett Collection

    We open and close the list with Christmas classics – and yes, "Die Hard" is a Christmas movie. The film, and its five-film franchise, was actually based on Roderick Thorp's 1979 book "Nothing Lasts Forever." That book itself is a sequel to Thorp's 1966 book "The Detective." And, that was turned into a 1968 movie of the same name, starring Frank Sinatra.

    Did we lose you? Well, because "Die Hard" was based on a sequel to a book that was turned into a Sinatra film, the studio was contractually obliged to ask Sinatra if he'd like to reprise his role. The then-70-year-old Sinatra passed. After a long search, producers eventually landed on Bruce Willis. By that time, the script had morphed into the classic film we know today. Interestingly, 1990's "Die Hard 2" is also based on a book – an unrelated 1987 thriller, "58 Minutes," by Walter Wager. Both Wager and Thorp received credits in the sequel.

    Die Hard Poster

    Die Hard

    R

    Action

    July 15, 1988

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Related tags

DuneBlade Runner

Matt Lissauer

Matt Lissauer is a writer & data manager for Noovie. When he is not busy writing listicles, Matt is enjoying life in New Jersey with his lovely wife and three kids.

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