Based on a Book: 10 Classic Movies Inspired by Novels

As "Voyagers" lands in theaters with its "Lord of the Flies" inspiration, we take a look at 10 more movies that you might not know were based on a book.

Matt Lissauer

By Matt Lissauer

Based on a Book - Bruce Willis in "Die Hard."

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

This week's new sci-fi movie "Voyagers" isn't directly based on a book, but it is loosely inspired by one. Developed by screenwriter and director Neil Burger, the concepts explored in "Voyagers" has roots in William Golding's classic 1954 novel "Lord of the Flies." In the sci-fi drama, 30 young men and women are sent into space to seek out a new home. As the years go by the mission soon descends into madness. Like the boys stranded alone on a deserted island, the crew reverts to their most primal state, as they become more paranoid with each passing day.

This isn't the first time a screenwriter dabbled with the idea of taking a classic adventure novel and sending it into space. As you'll see below, James Gray attempted something similar with 2019's "Ad Astra," to mixed effect. Here now are ten more movies you might not know were based on books.

  • 1It'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

    Holiday / 1946 / PG

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  • 2Planet 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 actually 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." Boulle's story of man and ape's complicated future was inspired by a trip to a zoo. There are differences, however, between the novel and the film. 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

    Science Fiction / 1968 / G

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  • 3The 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 actually owes all its debt to Thomas Harris' 1988 novel of the same name. Harris penned a total of four novels featuring sadistic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lector, with each getting their own big and small-screen treatments. In fact, his novel "Red Dragon" has been adapted three times. First with 1986's "Manhunter," and most recently in NBC's hit prequel show, "Hannibal." However, don't expect more allusions to the stories in CBS's new 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

    Crime Drama / 1991 / R

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  • 4Apocalypse 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 the basic story itself is based 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

    War / 1979 / R

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  • 5Breakfast at Tiffany's
    Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany's"

    Courtesy Everett Collection

    Blake Edwards' glamorous (though culturally insensitive) 1961 rom-com starring Audrey Hepburn was loosely based on Truman Capote's 1958 book of the same name. For the film, the time period was changed, and in ultimate Hollywood fashion, a love story was inserted. While Capote had envisioned Marilyn Monroe as society girl Holly Golightly, Monroe's contractual obligations to another studio lead 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 / 1961

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  • 6The 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" where Peter Falk reads 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 own novel for the screen, but the celebrated fantasy almost never made it to release. Rights to the novel were hung up by several studios, and several directors including Richard Lester and Robert Redford, just 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

    Fantasy / 1987 / PG

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  • 7Blade 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?" As those who have been following the epic odyssey that is the "Snyder Cut" will tell you, Warner Bros has a long history of meddling too closely with projects. Such is the case with "Blade Runner." It wouldn't be until 2007's "Final Cut" where director Ridley Scott would maintain complete artistic control. "Blade Runner" wasn't a big success at the time, but through its cult status, Hollywood realized the potential from Dick's novels. 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

    Thriller / 1982 / R

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  • 8Psycho
    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 (the final season of which covers the events of this movie). The original 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


    Horror / 1960 / R

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  • 9Rebecca
    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. In spite of this, the film still went on to become a classic. So too did the source material, which in spite of 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


    Thriller / 1940

  • 10Die 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 script had morphed into the classic 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

    Action / 1988 / R

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About the Author

Matt Lissauer

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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