Screenwriting | Script Reviews

28 Bestselling Novels Adapted Into Screenplays

Let’s face it. Most of the filmmakers have taken inspiration from real life stories, books, short stories and comics for their films. And it’s not a bad thing to do. Generating 100 times more money than the original work, it has been a sure shot way for studios to make money without hiring screenwriters to develop their own story. 

However, credit goes to the directors, actors and the studios involved in production of these films equally or sometimes even more than it is necessary. Ultimately, the audience decides if the story is good on screen or should have remained on paper in a novel.

This list covers bestselling novels and books which were adapted in screenplays and made into films. Some of these scripts are even written by the authors themselves.

1. The Godfather (1972)

The Godfather is a Academy Award winning crime drama film directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Based on Mario Puzo’s novel by the same name. It is the first installment in the Godfather trilogy. The screenplay was written by Mario Puzo and Coppola. The film won the 3 Oscars including the best adapted screenplay. It is still considered as the best ever film in the Mafia genre.

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Also Read : Top 10 Free & Paid Screenwriting Software Tools

2. Lord of The Rings Franchise (2001-2003)

The most fascinating fantasy novels of the 20th Century written by J R R Tolkien, these novels have sold over 150 million copies. The franchise has 3 parts and the story is based on a Hobbit named Frodo who has to destroy The Ring. Peter Jackson wrote the screenplays along with his wife Fran Walsh and another screenwriter Philippa Boyens. The film series has won numerous Academy and Golden Globe awards.

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3. Forrest Gump (1994)

The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Winston Groom. Forrest Gump is a fictional character and is basically a nice guy, having witnessed a lot of setbacks in life and still he has immense positivity. The script written by Eric Roth differs from the film in a lot of ways but remains true to the character. Eric Roth won the best adapted screenplay award for this film.

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Also Read : Is the Screenwriting MasterClass Really Worth it?

4. The Color Purple (1985)

The Color Purple is a novel by Pulitzer Prize winning author Alice Walker. The film by the same name was directed by Steven Spielberg in 1985 and he was nominated for best director. The script was written by Menno Meyjes and stays extremely close to the novel in every part of the way. The novel won him the Pulitzer prize and the film was box office success.

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Also Read : 7 Best Udemy Courses to Learn Screenwriting Online

5. The Harry Potter Series (2001- 2011)

In the late 90’s a woman named J K Rowling in the UK, started writing the most epic fantasy novels of the 21st Century which were possibly even greater than the Lord of the Rings. The English have been known for their writings since centuries. But J K Rowling’s Harry Potter novels based on magic and wizardry made her a household name. There are 7 books in this series with 1 film based on each book. The last book was adapted into 2 parts for the film. The screenplays written by Stephen Kloves have been somewhat true to the story. Some people who have read the books first feel that they are more interesting than the films. The films grossed over $7.5 billion till as of 2019.

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6. Jurassic Park (1993)

Michael Crichton’s most successful novel on dinosaurs inhabiting an island near Costa Rica was made into a film. Directed by Steven Spielberg and written by David Koepp the novel’s rights were bought by Universal and Amblin Entertainment even before the release. The film made careers for archaeologists worldwide. You wouldn’t want to miss the film and the novel in any case.

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Also Read : 10 Best Writing Courses on Coursera (Screenwriting Included)

7. The Jungle Book (1967 & 2016)

Inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s collective works from the late 19th and early 20th century, The Jungle Book tells the story of a boy who is brought up by wolves in the forests of India. A film by the same name was released in 1967 by Disney. The 2016 film was scripted by Justin Marks and is a little different from the original stories written by Kipling. However Kipling’s work on the Jungle Book has inspired many other books and ideas in the film world and literature since his time.

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8. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

The film is based on Harper Lee’s 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by the same name. Atticus Finch is the main protagonist who’s a lawyer defending the poor and is against racism. Written by Horton Foote the film was a critical success than the book itself. Atticus has been named the one of the greatest movie characters of all time in many polls worldwide.

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Also Read : 18 Best Books & eBooks on The Art of Screenwriting

9. The Pelican Brief (1993)

Acclaimed novelist and lawyer John Grisham wrote this suspense thriller in 1992. The story was adapted into a film in 1993 based on the same name and starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington. The story follows an investigation by the two protagonists played by Julia and Denzel, which leads to the President possibly being on the losing side. A total of 9 John Grisham’s novels have been made into films.

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10. Shawshank Redemption (1994)

This film is based on Stephen King’s novel Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. The script is written by Frank Darabont who also directed the film. In the novel and the film Andy Dufresne is a banker and is wrongly convicted of murdering his wife and her lover. Andy gets friendly with an inmate who is serving time for smuggling contraband. The film was a critical success but a box office failure. However it was nominated for 7 Academy Awards and is still extremely popular in many countries due to its story.

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Also Read : 16 Best Screenwriting Contests to Submit Your Screenplay

11. The Bridge on The River Kwai (1957)

French novelist Pierre Boulle published this novel in 1952. The story is not real but some experts say it is based on Pierre’s own life experiences during World War II.  Thousands of British prisoners were made to build a railway in Burma, by the Japanese Army and died in the process. The script for the film was written by Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson. The British Film institute has voted this film as the greatest British film of the 20th Century.

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Also Read : 14 Best Screenwriting Websites to Learn Writing Screenplays

12. The Social Network (2010)

The film is based on the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich. It tells the story of Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg. The screenplay whether based on a true story or not has been written for the audience to grasp the world of social media in a cautious way. Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay and won an Oscar for it. It holds your breath while reading and turns the scripts pages automatically as the story unfolds. 

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13. Gone Girl

Gone Girl is written by Gillian Flynn who is a former writer for Entertainment Weekly, Gone Girl is a thriller published in 2012. The screenplay was also written by Gillian Flynn. The protagonist is an author named Nick Dunn, who becomes a prime suspect in the disappearance of his wife. The novel was adapted by David Fincher into a feature film and is regarded as one of his best masterpieces.

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Also Read : 15 Best Screenwriting Podcasts for Writers

14. Jaws (1975)

This summer blockbuster film catapulted Steven Spielberg into Hollywood and as a force to reckon with. The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Peter Bechley in 1974. The plot follows the hunt for a man eating great white shark on the beaches of a town named Amity Island.

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15. Les Miserables (2012)

This is a french novel written by Victor Hugo published in 1862. It depicts the history of France, its design and sculpture. Numerous stage plays and musicals have been made on it. Based on it the film by the same name was made in 2012 and the screenplay was written by four screenwriters. The film was nominated for 8 Academy Awards.

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16. Jason Bourne Series (2002-2012)

These acclaimed spy thriller novels by Robert Ludlum were adapted into movies in 2002. Jason Bourne is a spy for the CIA and does not know his own identity in the first novel.  Matt Damon played Bourne in the first three adaptations. All the three films except the fourth one received positive reviews. The series has been proclaimed as one of the best spy thrillers of all time.

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17. The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

The Fault in Our Stars is a romantic tragedy film based on the novel of the same name which was written by John Green. The screenplay was written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. The story follows a sixteen year old cancer patient who falls in love with another patient in a cancer support group. On a $12 million dollar budget the movie earned a whopping $300 million worldwide.

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Also Read : 30 Best Screenplays of the 21st Century to Learn From

18. The Notebook (2004)

It is a romantic comedy film based on the novel The Notebook written by Nicolas Sparks. It was Sparks’s first novel which was published. The story is based in the 1940’s in America where a young couple fall in love to fall apart again, eventually overcoming obstacles to get married.The script which was written by Jeremy Leven, stays true to the novel. 

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19. The Bridges of Madison County (1995)

The film is based on the novel by the same name written by Robert James Waller. The screenplay was written by Richard LaGravenese. The story set in the 60’s, is of a woman who falls in love with a photographer and has a four day affair which changes both of their lives.

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Also Read : Screenwriter’s Salary: Do Screenwriters Really Earn Millions?

20. The Irishman (2019)

This film is a crime fiction thriller based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by writer Charles Brandt. The story follows a hitman and his involvement in a crime family and the mafia of the 60’s and 70’s in America. Directed by Scorsese the film won 10 Oscar nominations.

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21. Pride and Prejudice (2005)

The film is based on the romantic novel of the same name written by Jane Austen. She wrote it in 1813 and is one of her most successful works. This film’s screenplay was written by Deborah Moggach. There are numerous films and TV series based on this novel. 

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Also Read : How to Correct Writing Mistakes in a Novel or a Blog

22.The Da Vinci Code (2006)

The mystery thriller film is based on the bestselling novel of the same name written by Dan Brown. The screenplay was written by Akiva Goldsman and the story revolves around a professor who is accused of a mysterious murder. The Holy Grail is somehow connected to this murder. The film and the novel both were controversial when they were released but nonetheless worth watching and reading, respectively.

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23. American Sniper (2014)

It is based on the US Navy Seal sniper Chris Kyle’s biography titled American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. The biography was written by Kyle himself with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. Kyle died in 2013 but the book was adapted into a screenplay by Jason Hall for Clint Eastwood who directed the film. It was the highest grossing war film till 2014.

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Also Read : Screenwriting: How to Write a Montage in a Screenplay

24. The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Lauren Weisberger.

The story follows a fashion magazine editor played by Meryl Streep and a college graduate who lands a job as Streep’s assistant. The screenplay for the film was written by Aline Brosh McKenna.

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25. Gone With The Wind (1939)

The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Margaret Mitchell. The novel was first published in 1936. The film stays mostly true to the novel and was directed by Victor Fleming. It is one of the most epic romantic films of the century. 

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Also Read : Screenwriting Basics: The Format to Write a Screenplay

26. The Goodfellas (1990)

This film was adapted from 1985 book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, who co-wrote the screenplay with Martin Scorsese. It is regarded as the greatest gangster films ever made after The Godfather. The story in the film is narrated by Henry Hill, a mob associate in the 60’s and 70’s who is played by Ray Liotta. 

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27. The James Bond series

Who hasn’t heard of James Bond huh! They are a series of novels featuring Bond as a fictional British spy. The novels were written by Ian Fleming and the film series currently has 24 films made on them so far. Numerous actors have played James Bond over a period of 58 years since the first film in 1962.

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28. The Twilight Saga (2008 – 2012)

The films are based on four novels by author Stephenie Meyer. The stories follow a girl named Isabella falling in love with a 100 year old vampire. The screenplays for all the films in the series were written by Mellisa Rosenberg. The novels and the films were a massive success.

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Also Read : When Should You Use Cut To in a Screenplay?

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