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10 Classic Movies Based on Books

In honor of National Book Lovers Day, we present 10 awesome movies that started life as books.

By Matthew Lissauer

Bruce Willis in "Die Hard."

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

  • It's a Wonderful Life

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    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 author Philip Van Doren Stern self-published it and mailed it to 200 friends and family members. It wasn't long before the story captured the attention of director Capra, who seized on it as his first post-war project under his new production company, Liberty Films.

    It's a Wonderful Life

    Holiday / 1946 / PG

    Synopsis: After George Bailey (James Stewart) wishes he had never been born, an angel (Henry Travers) is sent to earth to make George's wish come true. George starts to realize how many lives he has changed and impacted, and how they would be different if he was never there.

  • Planet of the Apes

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    After nine movies (and a possible tenth on the way), two TV shows, and countless other forms of media, it's easy to forget this franchise all started from 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 between the novel and the film, most notably the film's Cold War themes and the famous twist ending, which were added by co-screenwriter and "Twilight Zone" creator Rod Serling.

    Planet of the Apes

    Science Fiction / 1968 / G

    Synopsis: Complex sociological themes run through this science-fiction classic about three astronauts marooned on a futuristic planet where apes rule and humans are slaves. The stunned trio discovers that these highly intellectual simians can both walk upright and talk. They have even established a class system and a political structure. The astronauts suddenly find themselves part of a devalued species, trapped and imprisoned by the apes.

  • The Silence of the Lambs

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    The third film in Oscar history to sweep the main categories (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay), owes its debt to Thomas Harris' 1988 novel of the same name. Harris penned a total four novels featuring sadistic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lector, with each getting its own big and small-screen treatments. This includes the thrice-adapted "Red Dragon," which became 1986's "Manhunter," 2002's "Red Dragon," and its story elements being used for NBC's hit prequel show, "Hannibal" (specifically the second-half of the show's third season).

    The Silence of the Lambs

    Crime Drama / 1991 / R

    Synopsis: Jodie Foster stars as Clarice Starling, a top student at the FBI's training academy. Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) wants Clarice to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant psychiatrist who is also a violent psychopath, serving life behind bars for various acts of murder and cannibalism. Crawford believes that Lecter may have insight into a case and that Starling, as an attractive young woman, may be just the bait to draw him out.

  • Apocalypse Now

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    Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam War epic has its origins in Joseph Conrad's 1899 novella "The Heart of Darkness." Controversal story elements aside, the story's basic premise of a man traveling a long journey to seek out a leader who's gone mad with power can even be seen most recently in the sci-fi film "Ad Astra."

    Apocalypse Now

    War / 1979 / R

    Synopsis: In Vietnam in 1970, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) takes a perilous and increasingly hallucinatory journey upriver to find and terminate Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a once-promising officer who has reportedly gone completely mad. In the company of a Navy patrol boat filled with street-smart kids, a surfing-obsessed Air Cavalry officer (Robert Duvall), and a crazed freelance photographer (Dennis Hopper), Willard travels further and further into the heart of darkness.

  • Breakfast at Tiffany's

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    Blake Edwards' glamorous (though culturally insensitive) 1961 rom-com starring Audrey Hepburn was loosely based on Truman Capote's 1958 novella 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

    Romantic Comedy / 1961

    Synopsis: Based on Truman Capote's novel, this is the story of a young woman in New York City who meets a young man when he moves into her apartment building. He is with an older woman who is very wealthy, but he wants to be a writer. She is working as an expensive escort and searching for a rich, older man to marry.

  • The Princess Bride

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    Just as Peter Falk reads to his sick grandson (Fred Savage), in the film's set-up, you too can pick up William Goldman's 1973 fantasy novel and do the same. 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."

    The Princess Bride

    Fantasy / 1987 / PG

    Synopsis: A fairy tale adventure about a beautiful young woman and her one true love. He must find her after a long separation and save her. They must battle the evils of the mythical kingdom of Florin to be reunited with each other. Based on the William Goldman novel "The Princess Bride" which earned its own loyal audience.

  • Blade Runner

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    Ridley Scott's cult hit finds its origins in Philip K. Dick's 1968 novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" Dick's novels have been a gold mine of sorts for Hollywood, with films like "Total Recall," "Minority Report," "A Scanner Darkly," "The Adjustment Bureau," as well as Amazon's hit series "The Man in the High Castle," all stemming from his work.

    Blade Runner

    Thriller / 1982 / R

    Synopsis: Deckard (Harrison Ford) is forced by the police Boss (M. Emmet Walsh) to continue his old job as Replicant Hunter. His assignment: eliminate four escaped Replicants from the colonies who have returned to Earth. Before starting the job, Deckard goes to the Tyrell Corporation and he meets Rachel (Sean Young), a Replicant girl he falls in love with.

  • Psycho

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    Alfred Hitchcock's horror thriller spawned a bit of a franchise of its own, with three sequels, a misguided remake, a lesser-known TV spin-off and more well-known and well-regarded prequel series (the final season of which covers the events of the 1960 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").


    Horror / 1960 / R

    Synopsis: Phoenix secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), on the lam after stealing $40,000 from her employer in order to run away with her boyfriend, Sam Loomis (John Gavin), is overcome by exhaustion during a heavy rainstorm. Traveling on the back roads to avoid the police, she stops for the night at the ramshackle Bates Motel and meets the polite but highly strung proprietor Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), a young man with an interest in taxidermy and a difficult relationship with his mother.

  • Rebecca

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    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 in "Fifty Shades Darker." In fact, later this year, director Ben Wheatley will give us another interpretation of the story, with Lily James and Armie Hammer.


    Thriller / 1940

    Synopsis: Story of a young woman who marries a fascinating widower only to find out that she must live in the shadow of his former wife, Rebecca, who died mysteriously several years earlier. The young wife must come to grips with the terrible secret of her handsome, cold husband, Max De Winter (Laurence Olivier). She must also deal with the jealous, obsessed Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), the housekeeper, who will not accept her as the mistress of the house.

  • Die Hard

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    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 born from Roderick Thorp's 1979 novel "Nothing Lasts Forever;" which itself is a sequel to his 1966 novel and the 1968 Frank Sinatra film adaptation "The Detective." After Sinatra passed on reprising his role for a movie sequel, producers eventually landed on Bruce Willis. By that time, the script had morphed into the classic we know today. Interestingly, 1990's "Die Hard 2" is also based on a novel – an unrelated 1987 thriller, "58 Minutes," by Walter Wager. Both Wager and Thorp received credits in the sequel.

    Die Hard

    Action / 1988

    Synopsis: New York City policeman John McClane (Bruce Willis) is visiting his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia) and two daughters on Christmas Eve. He joins her at a holiday party in the headquarters of the Japanese-owned business she works for. But the festivities are interrupted by a group of terrorists who take over the exclusive high-rise, and everyone in it. Very soon McClane realizes that there's no one to save the hostages -- but him.