10 films you (probably) didn’t know were based on books
You can’t beat a good book. Unless, of course, you make a film of that book and it becomes infinitely more famous.
We’ve rounded up a list of ten films that you may not have realised are based on novels.
- Die Hard is based on a book by American novelist Roderick Thorp
- Shrek is based on a picture book by an 80-year-old man
- The classic farce Airplane! has its roots in the 1958 book Runway Zero Eight
1. Die Hard (1988)
Book: Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp (1979)
Yep, it’s true. The classic 1988 action movie Die Hard is, in fact, based on a book. American novelist Roderick Thorp wrote Nothing Lasts Forever in 1979 as a sequel to his 1966 story The Detective. The earlier novel had already been turned into a film starring Frank Sinatra as policeman Joe Leland. However, Sinatra was too old to reprise the role for Die Hard (the thought of him wriggling through air vents and yelling ‘Yippee ki-yay’ is appealing, but not exactly plausible). Eventually, Bruce Willis took on the role of the cop, now renamed John McClane, and kickstarted one of the most successful franchises in movie history.
2. Shrek (2001)
Book: Shrek! by William Steig (1990)
You may be surprised to learn that Shrek is not the product of bearded creatives spitballing ideas while riding tiny bicycles around their work tipees. In fact, the 2001 Dreamworks animation is based on a children’s picture book by the American illustrator William Steig. Though he was a cartoonist for The New Yorker for 73 years, Steig didn’t start writing children’s books until he was in his 60s. At the time of Shrek!’s publication in 1990, he was 83 years old. Of the Dreamworks version, he is reported to have said, “It’s vulgar, it’s disgusting – and I loved it.”
3. King Ralph (1991)
Book: Headlong by Emlyn Williams (1980)
When the whole British Royal Family is wiped out in a freak accident, an heir must be found. This is the premise of Welsh dramatist Emlyn Williams’ rather sober 1980 book, Headlong. In it, the heir is stage actor Jack Green who eventually abdicates because he misses his girlfriend. But by the time Headlong made it to the big screen, it had morphed into a comedy. 1991’s King Ralph stars John Goodman as a slobbish, fourth-rate Las Vegas lounge singer who breaks priceless vases with bowling balls, sneaks out to visit McDonald’s and alarms visiting dignitaries with his rowdy renditions of Little Richard hits.
4. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Book: The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford (1979)
Though The Short-Timers was a best-seller at the time of its release, its fame has been hugely eclipsed by that of Stanley Kubrick’s film, Full Metal Jacket. Author (and former US Marine) Gustav Hasford had intended The Short-Timers to be the first in a trilogy of books on the Vietnam war. However, he died in 1993 having only completed the second instalment, 1990’s The Phantom Blooper.
5. Forrest Gump (1994)
Book: Forrest Gump by Winston Groom (1986)
Winston Groom’s novel about a multi-talented idiot savant sold just 30,000 copies prior to its Hollywood makeover. The film is largely faithful to Groom’s story, though Gump’s Savant syndrome is omitted (as are his NASA mission and a period spent living with cannibals). Groom wrote a follow-up, titled Gump and Co., to coincide with the release of Robert Zemeckis’ movie. In it, Forrest encounters an aspiring actor who is shooting a film called Big. It should make for a good scene, if the Gump and Co. movie, which has been in development since the late ’90s, ever arrives.
6. Withnail and I (1987)
Book: Director Bruce Robinson’s unpublished novel
In 1970, long before it became a screenplay, director Bruce Robinson had Withnail and I drafted as a novel. At that time, he was still living in London’s Camden Town, where much of the film’s action takes place. The book remains unpublished, but a copy of the 70-page manuscript was auctioned at Sotheby’s in December 2015. It sold for £8,000.
7. Airplane! (1980)
Book: Runway Zero Eight by Arthur Hailey (1958)
There’s a book of Airplane!? Shirley, we can’t be serious? While the legendary farce starring Leslie Nielsen is indeed a parody of the 1957 movie Zero Hour!, it’s also true that there is an entirely straight-faced novel. British playwright Arthur Hailey sold his screenplay Flight Into Danger to Canadian TV, who produced it as a film in 1956. Two years later, Hailey published the story as Runway Zero Eight.
8. Jaws (1975)
Book: Jaws by Peter Benchley (1974)
Think Jaws the film is scary? Well, the story gets scarier; Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel was, in part, based on real events. Benchley was inspired by a 1964 news report declaring that a 4,500lb Great White Shark was caught off Montauk Point, Long Island, New York. His idea to write a novel about a shark that terrorises beachgoers is also reminiscent of the Jersey Shore Shark attacks of 1916, where five people were attacked in a ten day period.
9. Stand By Me (1986)
Book: The Body by Stephen King (1982)
The Body is one of four short stories that originally appeared in Stephen King’s 1982 collection Different Seasons. Also included are Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (later adapted into the Oscar-winning The Shawshank Redemption) and Apt Pupil (which made it to the big screen in 1998, starring Sir Ian McKellan). The book’s fourth story, The Breathing Method, is currently in development.
10. Apocalypse Now (1979)
Book: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899)
Francis Ford Coppola’s Oscar-winning epic, Apocalypse Now, is a loose adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness. Conrad’s tale of a rescue mission in the Congo is reimagined as a horrific mission in the Vietnam war. George Lucas was originally pencilled to direct the film, so it could have turned out very differently. Rather than Marlon Brando’s terrifyingly insane Colonel Kurtz, we might have just had a naughty Ewok instead. Very lucky have we been.