Hollywood’s 20 Greatest Book-to-Film Adaptations of All Time

Schindler's List film adaptations

Superlative and more importantly, original scripts are hard to come by. Filmmakers have often looked to literature and adapted best-selling novels because they offer strong stories and a dedicated fan base. The latter assures safe investment and sometimes, pre-determined profits. Margaret Mitchell’s classic Gone with the Wind’s adaptation in 1939 went on to become a monstrous hit. Hundreds of books have since been adapted on screen. Some of these have even surpassed their source materials. Here’s a look at the 20 best film adaptations of all time, in chronological order:

1) Gone with the Wind (1939)

best film adaptations hollywood

This is an adaptation of Mitchell’s novel published in 1936. The Victor Fleming-directorial is popular for its rich production and costume design given the time it was produced in.

The prodigious storytelling of the American civil war makes it a vintage film. The box-office numbers are enough to justify its success considering it’s the highest-grossing film adjusted for inflation.

2) Psycho (1960)

best hollywood film adaptations

This Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece is an adaptation of Robert Bloch’s novel of the same name. Psycho is still a hugely appreciated horror film for Hitchcock’s vision which was way ahead of its time.

The shower scene is one of the many highlights of this classic whodunit. The film shocked the audience with its unpredictable narrative and an unnerving climax.

3) To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

best book-to-movie adaptations

Harper Lee’s 1960s classic novel was famous for its humorous depiction of serious issues like sexual assault and racism. Two years later, Robert Mulligan adapted the best-selling book on screen.

Starring Gregory Peck in the titular role, To Kill a Mockingbird grossed $20 million against its budget of $2 million. The film is valued for its themes that were portrayed to astounding effect.

4) The Graduate (1967)

best film adaptations

Charles Webb’s The Graduate was one-of-its-kind novels to come in late sixties. It had a counter-cultural storyline which dared to talk about taboo subjects.

Mike Nichols transformed the book into celluloid, casting exceptional actors like Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, who delivered unforgettable performances. The film was so bold that it led to public outrage at the time it released in cinemas.

5) The Godfather (1972)

Godfather book film

Francis Coppola’s The Godfather is the epitome of filmmaking. It’s easily the greatest film adaptations of all time. Mario Puzo’s novel talked about family bonding and sibling rivalries, in a gangster world. It was the first mafia film with a cast that consisted mostly of Italians. The film captured the essence of the book to the highest order.

The detailing, the performances, the cinematography were top-notch. If there is a novel or a film that’s universally found in everyone’s library, it’s this one.

6) Jaws (1975)

Book adaptations Hollywood films

Jaws was Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Peter Benchley’s thrilling novel of the same name about a giant man-eating shark. The film delivered the thrills as effectively as Benchley wrote it.

Jaws also sparked a trend of high-concept films that didn’t need heavy character development. It still stands as one of the finest adventure-cum-disaster films ever made.

7) The Shining (1980)

Hollywood movies from books

Speaking of novelty, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining stands tall in the category. Based on Stephen King’s novel, The Shining was a different sort of beast that relied on psychological terror over cheap thrills or gore.

The visuals and Jack Nicholson’s performance petrified the audience. Even after decades of technological advancement, The Shining retains the #1 spot among horror films.

8) Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Hollywood films from books

Based on Gustav Hasford’s semi-autobiographical novel ‘The Short-Timers,’ Stanley Kubrick’s hard-hitting adaptation depicted the true consequences of a war. It was a daunting watch considering everyone made commercial war films before, where you’d cheer for your protagonist with a bucket of popcorn. In Full Metal Jacket though, nothing was chirpy. The audience was served with shell-shocking themes of military brainwashing, or dehumanization.

Just like the novel, the film tried to show the horrors of war on a personal level and succeeded in doing so.

9) Die Hard (1988)

Die hard movie book

Roderick Thorp’s ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ was a sequel to his book ‘The Detective.’ The novels weren’t popular until John McTiernan’s adaptation into a film. Die Hard received universal critical acclaim and turned its lead actor Bruce Willis into a superstar.

The film made insane amount of money and developed into a franchise. It still ranks among the best action films ever made.

10) The Silence of the Lambs (1990)

best hollywood film adaptations

A psychological thriller, like The Shining and Jaws, The Silence of the Lambs is one of the scariest films ever made. Based on Thomas Harris’s novel, the film offered memorable characters (Dr Hannibal), exceptional performances and was fantastically executed.

It won an Academy award in five categories: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay and was selected to be preserved in the ‘National Film Registry’ in 2011.




  1. Very nice compilation of book adaptations into full-length movies. One of my personal favorites in a German novel- Das Parfum. The novel was later made into a full-length movie titled- Perfume- The story of a murderer. If possible, please include this as well.

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