The Relationship Between Books And Movies

Based On The Book By…

Based on the book by… As Oscar fever descends on us, take some time to see if the movies in the running for Best Picture were based on novel or not. It’s a fun exercise.

The Relationship Between Books And Movies

The novel has always had an uneasy relationship with film.

  1. Ernest Hemingway famously remarked he would toss his book over the California state line, wait for them to throw some cash back at him, and hope for the best. He had reason for this bitterness after For Whom the Bell Tolls was stripped of its political statement in favour of a mushy love story.
  2. Jackie Susann was so livid that a director had given her book, Valley of the Dolls, a different ending; she had to be restrained from punching him at the première.
  3. Stephenie Meyer was apparently reduced to tears when MTV initially wanted to cast her Twilight vampires as sexy teens on Rollerblades.

Happy Marriages

However, sometimes Hollywood gets it right. The results are superb and often inspiring.

  1. In 1980, the gut-twisting drama Ordinary People won the Oscar for Best Film. The screenplay was based on a novel by Judith Guest. At the time, the book was still unpublished and Guest just an ordinary housewife herself.
  2. The Silence Of The Lambs, released in 1991, entrenched novelist Thomas Harris’s legacy as the iconic creator of Dr Hannibal Lecter.
  3. In 2007, the screen adaptation of No Country for Old Men bolstered the popularity of the long overlooked and reclusive literary genius, Cormac McCarthy.

Outraged Fans 

When you’ve read a good book, you are always a little nervous to go see the big screen version. Many fans were disappointed with the film version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and others were outraged when Tom Cruise was cast as Jack Reacher in the film version of the Lee Child novel. 


The novel and the film both tell a story—but they are radically different mediums. There are always challenges in adapting a novel to film and it takes a skilled screenwriter to be able to keep the essence of the source in the visual storytelling process.

  1. When adapting The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles, the screenwriter met the challenge of a double narrative by using a film set as a frame for the story, to enormous acclaim.
  2. Translating Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being benefited from a linear storyline in the movie rather than the complex literary style of the novel. 

Making It Special

For other novels, the innovation in special effects has helped translate the novelist’s boundless imagination into filmic poetry.

  1. A book like Yann Martel’s Life Of Pi would look very different if not for CGI.
  2. Similarly, the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings franchises have used special effects to breath-taking effect.

Source for comic

Classics On Celluloid

And then there are novels that are so perfect for the cinema, they have been remade over and over again by film-makers. Irish legend Bram Stoker’s Dracula is probably one of the most filmed novels of all time.

Top Tip: Take our FREE COURSE: Visual Storytelling | 30 Exercises For Screenwriters. If you want to learn how to write a book, sign up for our online course.

by Anthony Ehlers

Posted on: 30th January 2014

3 thoughts on “Based On The Book By…”

  1. Just a doubt.

    In the 3rd point (Challenges), you say that cinema and books are two different ‘mediums’.

    Isn’t the correct usage ‘media’? Or is the term ‘mediums’ also usable when we are actually talking about a medium?


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