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100 best movies based on books

  • 100 best movies based on books

    It might seem like this is an age where every movie is based on a previously existing piece of work, but the truth is Hollywood has been adapting prose and other source materials for more than a century. There are only so many original screenplay ideas out there, no small percentage of which are likewise based on previous ideas and formulas. “Art is theft,” as Picasso reportedly said, but at least Hollywood dispenses credit every now and then.

    Without exceptional books there would be far fewer impressive films. Just ask directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and Francis Ford Coppola, all of whom based some of their finest films on novels. Each talented director delivers their own take on the work, often to the author’s chagrin. Look no further than Stephen King’s openly critical stance on Kubrick’s adaptation of “The Shining.”

    In other cases, the directors stay impressively true to the source material. Some examples might include Luchino Visconti’s “The Leopard” or the Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men,” to name just a couple. It still goes to show, however, that the mere visualization of a novel can affect how the content might be perceived. What was once the stuff of personal imagination has now been made flesh and the indelible images might prove hard to shake. And who wants to shake them when they come from masters of the craft?

    Putting the printed page up on the big screen is a tradition as old as cinema itself. To honor that tradition, Stacker compiled data on all top-rated movies to come up with a Stacker score, i.e., a weighted index split evenly between IMDb and Metacritic scores as of July 8. 

    To qualify, the film had to be based on a book, including novellas, comic books, and short stories; have an IMDb user rating and Metascore; and have at least 5,000 votes. Ties were broken by Metascore, further ties were broken by IMDb user rating, and final ties were broken by user votes. Going from great to greater, here are the 100 best movies based on books. 

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  • #100. The Great Escape (1963)

    - Director: John Sturges
    - Stacker score: 88
    - Metascore: 86
    - IMDb user rating: 8.2
    - Runtime: 172 minutes

    In this World War II adventure film, a group of prisoners of war try to escape from a German camp. It’s based on a book by Paul Brickhill, who was once a real-life POW at the very same camp. While the author did help out during the famous escape, he didn’t flee down the tunnel due to severe claustrophobia.

  • #99. It Happened One Night (1934)

    - Director: Frank Capra
    - Stacker score: 88
    - Metascore: 87
    - IMDb user rating: 8.1
    - Runtime: 105 minutes

    This 1934 classic is based on Samuel Hopkins Adams’ short story “Night Bus,” which was published the previous year. It traces the cross-country travels of a spoiled socialite, played by Claudette Colbert, whose confusion creates a convoluted love triangle. The film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

  • #98. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

    - Director: David Lean
    - Stacker score: 88
    - Metascore: 87
    - IMDb user rating: 8.1
    - Runtime: 161 minutes

    The celebrated war drama is based on a French novel by author Pierre Boulle. Due to heightened Cold War tensions, the original screenwriters were accused of being communists and thereby robbed of credit. As a result, Boulle—who didn’t even speak English—not only received credit for a script he didn’t write, but went on to win an Academy Award.

  • #97. Strangers on a Train (1951)

    - Director: Alfred Hitchcock
    - Stacker score: 88
    - Metascore: 88
    - IMDb user rating: 8
    - Runtime: 101 minutes

    Alfred Hitchcock frequently used novels as the basis for his films and “Strangers on a Train” was no exception. Before debuting on the big screen, the story of two men who swap murder duties was the subject of Patricia Highsmith’s brilliant novel. Highsmith is also the mastermind behind the character that inspired the film “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”

  • #96. Of Mice and Men (1939)

    - Director: Lewis Milestone
    - Stacker score: 88
    - Metascore: 89
    - IMDb user rating: 7.9
    - Runtime: 106 minutes

    Author John Steinbeck culled from his own experiences at a labor camp when crafting his timeless novella. It follows two migrant workers of strikingly different dispositions through the Great Depression. This Oscar-nominated film version was later followed by a number of adaptations for both the stage and screen.

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  • #95. In Cold Blood (1967)

    - Director: Richard Brooks
    - Stacker score: 88
    - Metascore: 89
    - IMDb user rating: 7.9
    - Runtime: 134 minutes

    First published in 1966, Truman Capote’s account of a brutal murder remains an absolute benchmark of the true crime genre. Striving for authenticity, this film adaptation was shot in locations where the actual crimes once occurred. It was nominated for four Academy Awards.

  • #94. Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)

    - Director: Clint Eastwood
    - Stacker score: 88
    - Metascore: 89
    - IMDb user rating: 7.9
    - Runtime: 141 minutes

    Screenwriters drew upon the actual letters of Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi, portrayed by Ken Watanabe, for this war drama. A companion piece to “Flags of Our Fathers,” it depicts the World War II battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese perspective. The film was a commercial disappointment but a critical darling.

  • #93. Great Expectations (1946)

    - Director: David Lean
    - Stacker score: 88
    - Metascore: 90
    - IMDb user rating: 7.8
    - Runtime: 118 minutes

    Charles Dickens’ iconic novel follows an orphan named Pip as he comes of age under the protection of a hidden benefactor. This Oscar-winning adaptation brings the story to life with visual grace and palpable emotion. Film critic Roger Ebert credits director David Lean with creating “pictures on the screen that do not clash with the images already existing in our minds.”

  • #92. The African Queen (1951)

    - Director: John Huston
    - Stacker score: 88
    - Metascore: 91
    - IMDb user rating: 7.7
    - Runtime: 105 minutes

    Screen legends Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn hop aboard a riverboat in this World War I adventure. The film’s screenwriters cleaned up some of the source material to appease censors, who still took issue with certain components. Tourists can visit the original African Queen riverboat to this day.

  • #91. Tristana (1970)

    - Director: Luis Buñuel
    - Stacker score: 88
    - Metascore: 93
    - IMDb user rating: 7.5
    - Runtime: 99 minutes

    An 1892 novel laid the groundwork for this Spanish drama, in which the title character, played by Catherine Deneuve, struggles for independence. Both the source material and the film adaptation explore the oppressive expectations of a patriarchal society. Director Luis Buñuel spent nearly 20 years getting the project made and incorporated personal details into the final product.

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