The most influential book adaptations on the big screen

A Clockwork Orange

This is an example of a film adaptation that caused more controversy than its original novel form. Everyone loves a healthy bit of dystopia, but Burgess took this to the extreme in his shocking story. A Clockwork Orange was written in a three week bout of inspiration in 1962, and was set in the ominously near future. Brutal teenager Alex narrates his sociopathic, random acts of sadism and his ensuing experiences with the sinister authorities which seek to ‘reform’ him. All this occurs in a form of invented slang coined as ‘Nadsat’, which in some ways softens the pornographic content of the text, but also functions to ‘brainwash’ the reader.
Kubrick’s film of 1971 adapts this psychologically heavy work into even more disturbing manifestations on the screen, in particular the mental conditioning exercises involved in his rehabilitation. As in the book, Kubrick has Alex narrate events in ‘Nadsat’, providing an eerie sense of immersion in his psychosomatic world. The use of soundtrack in the film enhances this immersion, as Alex is a keen lover of Beethoven until his therapy renders it unbearable to him. It is clear that the screenplay remains faithful to the book on a number of levels. Despite accusations of glorifying violence, the film made $26 million – no small feat considering their budget of only $2.2 million. It was a film which hailed growing acceptance of violence in cinema and, despite distressing images and subject matter, continues to be ranked highly today; AFI recently rated it at the fourth top science-fiction film to date. No doubt, this adaptation has increased the infamy and durability of A Clockwork Orange, as it continues to force us to question our own morality and the dangers of brain-conditioning…


Blade Runner

Adapted from Philip K Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, this 1982 classic helped to catapult science fiction into the public domain as a legitimate genre in its own right. Its gritty story and dark atmosphere, set in a dystopian LA, ushered in a new age in sci-fi filmmaking.

Where Star Wars had paved the way as an entertaining epic, Blade Runner became a leading example of the neo-noir style, later influencing other films such as Ghost in the Shell and Brazil. Not only did it do wonders for the film industry, it also brought other sci-fi authors to popular attention, of which Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert and Kurt Vonnegut are some of the more notable.

But the film especially worked wonders for Dick, whose other works would later be adapted to the big screen, with the likes of Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly and Paycheck on the list – it’s safe to say both his literature and the associated cinema have left an important mark on the genre.


The Shining

If there is one name who stands out in the world of book to film adaptations it’s Stephen King. The first film to be made from one of his works was the 1976 horror flick Carrie. Since then, King has seen somewhere between 50-60 of his short stories and novels make their way onto the big screen. Not that these have disappeared into the back catalogue of B-movie horror either. King is responsible for the likes of The Green Mile, Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, and no less than three remakes of Carrie.

Leading up to the making of another of King’s creations, seminal horror film The Shining, Kubrick locked himself in a room with piles of classic tales of terror. In his desperate search for inspiration, “Kubrick’s secretary heard the sound of each book hitting the wall as the director flung it into a reject pile after reading the first few pages. Finally, one day the secretary noticed it had been a while since she had heard the thud of another writer’s work biting the dust. She walked in to check on her boss and found Kubrick deeply engrossed in reading The Shining.”

It is easy to see why King’s stories so intrigued directors and film fans alike, as their ability to blend the sinister and the scary with something ultimately intelligent and thought-provoking is unparalleled. The sheer brevity of adaptations of his work makes his name well known, and surely the fact that Kubrick was so engrossed is enough to make anyone want to go back and find out what everyone sees in a Stephen King novel.


There Will be Blood

Paul Thompson Anderson is well known in Hollywood for being perhaps one of the most interesting and underrated directors of our generation. He is in a sense the directors’ director, having produced some of the most challenging and thought-provoking films of the past decade. His adaption of the book Oil! to the film There Will Be Blood was no different.

The Oscar-winning film handles a small segment of the novel focusing more on the father of the book’s narrator. Cinematically the film is breath-taking. Anderson’s understanding of character and atmosphere are second-to-none; Daniel Day Lewis’ Academy Award winning performance being the highlight. For those who have read the book though, the focus on the moral integrity of Daniel Plainview (Lewis) and also the town’s pastor, Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), will seem somewhat to miss the point. The novel Oil! is vast and is, predominantly, a critique of American foreign policy. Although the film does manage to retain some of the books introspection surrounding greed, it does not highlight the terrible bloodshed that America has caused around the world securing its oil interests.

For these reasons the title of the film is appropriate; it is not an investigation of the history of oil in the way the book is, I believe it is something very different. I believe both deliver what they wish to deliver, but they should be understood as very separate entities.



You’ll be hard done by finding someone who can’t recognise John Williams’ menacing ‘Jaws Theme’.

Already a successful novel of the same name (selling over five million copies when the film adaptation premiered), Steven Spielberg’s Jaws became an instant classic, kick-starting Spielberg’s long and successful career. Although inspiring three sequels, without input from Benchley and Spielberg, none reached the dizzying heights of the original film. It has set the benchmark for all modern monster movies and is a stand-out example of how to create blockbuster suspense with an awkward and mechanical fake shark.

Spielberg found the right balance between suspense, lulls and climaxes to give the film constant movement and drive. A standout scene is during the night of the final hunt for the shark. After excitement all day and near misses, the crew of three takes to the hull to drink beer. The tension builds as they swap horror stories, proving the severity of the attacks with nasty scars. Just as you’re engrossed with the Captain’s story, Spielberg juts in with a final assault on Jaws, bringing the film to a satisfying pinnacle of action.

Filmed on a relatively small budget of $9 million, this film took over $470 million at the Box Office. Adapted by the original novelist, Peter Benchley, it stayed true to the key themes that made the book so successful. Nail-biting action, superb acting and a giant mechanical shark prove its place on numerous ‘Best Films’ lists. The United States Library of Congress has archived a copy, labelling it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.


Forrest Gump

t is hard to describe this film and the protagonist Forrest Gump. He is a unique character with an extraordinary life, which makes for a great book and an equally enjoyable film. Although the adaptation deviates from the book somewhat, the story is just as humorous and endearing to Forrest Gump fans (however, seeing Forrest work with NASA and have an ape named Sue would have been great in the film!).

The widespread use of visual effects in the film to insert Forrest into a multitude of famous archived footage and feign amputated legs exceeded limits on the realistic look of CGI. Another highlight is the fantastic score, which in itself sold 12 million copies worldwide; it really helps to bring the viewer into the various precise time periods of the film.

The film is so influential, it even became a successful restaurant chain. There are 32 ‘Bubba Gump Shrimp Company’ establishments in America, Malaysia, Japan, Mexico, Indonesia, Hong Kong and the Philippines. The restaurant appears in the film when Forrest leaves the army and buys a shrimping boat. He struggles at first, but after a hurricane destroys all other shrimping boats he makes a huge profit.

Constantly referred to as a movie great, Forrest Gump is filled with hidden meanings and symbolism that keep film admirers watching it time and again. It went to take over $670 million at the Box Office and won numerous awards including Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Visual Effects and Best Film Editing. World renowned and critically acclaimed, it is a must-see for anyone who likes an exceptional story.


The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption is another Stephen King adaptation, this time directed by Frank Darabont who saw this as his “chance to do something really great” and the outcome definitely was great.

The story of Andy Dufresne, wrongly accused of his wife’s murder and imprisoned in Shawshank prison, is beautifully told, both in the book and the film. This, coupled with excellent performances by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, pushed the film to the IMDb user favourite top spot in 2008 where it has stayed since.
While King was already a respected author with many previous successful adaptations such as The Shining and Misery, the film did wonders for Darabont’s reputation. He later came back and proved it was not a fluke by adapting the wildly successful The Green Mile to the big screen as well.

All in all Shawshank is a timeless classic, discussing the idea of freedom in a captivating and honest way that has kept audiences coming back for the last 20 years.