Behind Many Great Films Is… A Great Book

Books have been responsible for some of the finest films ever produced. Professional storyteller Rutger Bruining reveals his picks for the greatest ever films based on the creative genius of books

Billions of pounds are made every year from the most commercially successful films. The spectacle of cinema certainly helps bring a story to life. However there’s no better medium for storytelling than good old-fashioned books.

With the rise of technology, streaming services and huge budgets for film and TV studios, it was feared books would suffer.

Yet millions of novels and biographies of every genre sell each year. Some of the world’s most critically-acclaimed, well-loved films are in fact based on novels that came before them.

As a professional storyteller and CEO of biography-writing service StoryTerrace, Rutger Bruining has had the pleasure of documenting some of the most incredible stories from hundreds of people across the UK and US.

Now he reveals what he believes are some of the best films based on books.

Cover of The Godfather book, red lettering with drawing of puppet strings attached to letters

The Godfather (1972)

The Godfather is perhaps the most widely referenced film in modern-day cinema. Drawing praise from critics and audiences alike, it has achieved legendary status in our culture. However, Francis Ford Coppola’s masterful direction of the dark inner workings of the New York crime family was based on a 1969 crime novel by Mario Puzo.

A tale of family drama, complicated relationships and imperfect people carrying the weight of an empire on their shoulders, it has captivated millions. Its allure continues to this day.


The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption was based on a book written by Stephen King in 1992. It is one of the most well-known and celebrated tales of a man’s descent into, and ultimate escape from, a cruel fate in prison.

Morgan Freeman’s narration adds an extra dimension to the storytelling. Audiences were captivated as they saw the plot unfold through the character’s eyes.

Cover of The Wizard Of Oz first edition, illustration of cowed looking lion in glassesThe Wizard of Oz (1939)

Arguably one of the most successful adaptations of a book to date, Frank Baum’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written in 1900. It has formed the basis for one of the world’s most well-loved and referenced films (and musicals).

The film was one of the first to use Technicolor®, changing from black-and-white to full colour as Dorothy finds herself in Oz. It was a device that amazed audiences worldwide.


Jurassic Park (1993)

Michael Crichton’s sci-fi novel, released in 1990, was relatively successful. However the film by Steven Spielberg far surpassed this, becoming the biggest film ever at the time of its release.

The film became known for its incredible musical score, great effects and quotable lines. It also gave rise to an extensive and commercially successful franchise.

Cover of The Color Purple, photo of young black girl in a green field, wearing a white dress, holding a straw hat onto her headThe Color Purple (1985)

Spawning both a film, musical and earning a Pulitzer prize, Alice Walker’s novel follows the painful and chaotic life of Celie, a young African American woman in 1900s America.

Contending with a whole host of family dramas, Celie writes letters detailing her separation from her sister and her interactions with her husband’s mistress.

The fraught family ties and complex emotional exchanges set against the backdrop of rural Georgia remains one of the best adaptations in film and launched the career of Whoopi Goldberg.


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Each Harry Potter film is of course taken from J.K. Rowling’s world-renowned series, but The Prisoner of Azkaban stands out.

The film adaptations of Rowling’s work exposed her incredible storytelling to an even greater audience. They have also spawned one of the biggest franchises ever. This includes clothing, Lego and multiple theme parks, appealing to people of all backgrounds and generations.

Cover of Lord Of The Rings, gold letters on red, circular illustration with eye and flamesThe Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

The Lord of the Rings books and subsequent films constitute one of the most well-respected, critically acclaimed trilogies in existence.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel of the same name has become an icon of the fantasy genre. It inspired a film series often lauded as one of the boldest, most well-crafted fantasy films in modern cinematic history.


Gone Girl (2014)

Based on a 2012 novel by Gillian Flynn, the suspenseful, psychological thriller delighted and chilled audiences in equal measure.

Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay herself, and this adaptation came about little more than two years after the book’s release.

The Economist called the film “a perfect adaption”. This was no doubt aided by the involvement of the author in the film from the very beginning.

Cover of Atonement, girl aged 8-10 , barefoot in summer dress, sitting on stone steps looking thoughtfulAtonement (2007)

The film Atonement is based on a book of the same name, penned by Ian McEwan. In turn he had based his novel on  another book, What Maisie Knew by Henry James.

The film won an Oscar for its score and was nominated for six others including Best Adapted Screenplay. It is perhaps no surprise, given that the novel itself was nominated for the Booker Prize.

Recognition from the two most prominent awards in their respective sectors? Surely this shows the sheer power this story has across both formats.