The line “the book was better” is something of a catchphrase among a certain kind of hipster, and while it’s often true, sometimes it’s not. A director or screenwriter understands what makes a book great or how to translate it a different medium, and can reimagine the magic in a different way. And while there’s some examples that won’t surprise anybody, there’s also a whole range of great movies based on books without people realising the literary inspiration behind them! Bearing that in mind, for World Book Day 2021 we’re celebrating the best movies you probably didn’t know were based on books. And if you did know… well, congratulations on being so well-read.
Once you’re done, be sure to check out all our World Book Day pages to see what other deals, bundles and best-ofs we have to offer! We’ll be adding more pages across the week, so keep an eye on it!
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
- I am Legend
- The Mask
- Starship Troopers
- The Godfather
- Jurassic Park
- 12 Years a Slave
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Bizarre to think, especially considering that the Robert Zemeckis’ movie was so dependent on filmic elements, but yes: Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was actually based on a novel from 1981 named Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, a noir-spoof by author Gary K. Wolf. There’s some important distinctions: in Wolf’s novel, the characters are modern-day newspaper strip cartoon characters, rather than animated characters in the 1940s. There’s also a few major plot points that were changed, including a strange element in which toon characters can create temporary “stunt doubles”, duplicates of themselves that can suffer all the worst anvils and hammer strikes instead. The film is an unrivalled classic made famous for its seamless blending of real life and animation, but the book is such a fun oddity, and so much its own thing, that it’s worth hunting down even if you saw the film recently.
I am Legend
Here the divide between source material and movie is all about the monsters and the way we interact with them. The set-up is identical – Robert Neville is the last human survivor in a world filled with vampires – but the execution is very different. The movie focuses on the ideas of faith and hopelessness, while the book is all about the experience of isolation and how Neville confronts day-to-day living in this empty world.
The other big difference is in the vampires themselves. In the film, Will Smith is up against shrieking, inhuman horrors who have basically become animals, but book-Neville is going up against calculating, bloodthirsty humans who are constantly trying to manipulate him into a moment of weakness. They wait outside his fortified home at night, calling out to him, appealing to his desire for comfort, for death, for freedom, even as he studies and hunts them in the safety of daylight. It makes for a fascinating relationship in which neither side is solely prey or predator, and both live in fear and fascination of the other.
Jim Carry’s energetic performance as Stanley Ipkiss helped define the movie landscape of the 1990s, playing as a bouncy, big-headed superhero who warped the world around him with cartoon logic. However, the original film’s script was going to play much closer to the Dark Horse Comics that inspired them; splattery horror comics that absolutely would not work as family-friendly fare.
That being said, some of the beats are the same. Ipkiss is still a put-upon dork who finds the mystical Mask, but this time it morphs him into a dangerous psychopath known around town as the “Big Head Killer,” using his Looney-Tunes powers against criminals, cops, and just anybody who he doesn’t like. The Mask would later move from person to person across the course of the series, but would always bring the same terrifying, unpredictable energy with it.
This one of those adaptations that’s made with anything but love, yet is so undeniably fascinating for the disconnect between source material and final result. Robocop director Paul Verhoeven was brought the original book (written by Robert A. Heinlein) and hated it almost immediately, bored and annoyed by the right-wing, nationalistic theming to the point where he couldn’t even finish reading it.
And while the novel Starship Troopers has been criticised as right-wing and obsessed with the military, Verhoeven’s film is an overt satirical parody of the book that inspired it. The characters are oblivious fascists engaging in a permanent propaganda newsreel, and have stormed onto an alien planet with the intention of killing everything that doesn’t seem happy about their invasion. If you ever wanted a glimpse into a filmmaker attempting to assassinate his source material, there’s no experience quite like this.
Arguably the movie among movies, The Godfather is one of those movies that took the original source material and made it its own. The original novel by Mario Puzo had a similar plot with a very different tone, aiming to be sleazy and pulp-fiction where the film leans austere and dramatic. Both are iconic in their own way, and provide wonderfully different interpretations of the machinations of organised crime.
People forget it now, but before Steven Spielberg made raptors a sensation in a million kids’ nightmares, there was Michael Crichton. A prestigious author who was also behind Westworld and the TV series ER, Crichton’s original material was a little more dark and cynical than the Spielberg pixie dust we’ve come to know and love. You can see it in every detail; the park’s creator is more scheming and opportunistic, the dinosaurs seem more monstrous, and there’s a real flavour of Frankenstein to the whole affair, as these creations run amok and slaughter everything they come across. If you ever found the original film just a little too nice, then the book is happy to be a little more tooth-and-claw.
12 Years a Slave
The heartbreaking and iconic tale of Solomon Northup wasn’t just based on a true story, but a beautifully-told book he wrote recounting the impossible cruelty and injustice of his experiences. A free man born in New York, Northup was kidnapped to New Orleans and sold into slavery, forced to work as a carpenter, driver and cotton picker while struggling to survive the horrors inflicted by the slave trade. Northup’s writing style is ponderous, reflective and haunting, and provides a vital window into the horrors of America’s past. More than a hundred and fifty years after the book was published, Chiwetel Ejiofor helped present Northup’s plight to a new generation, in a movie that won Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress at the 2013 Oscars. If you’ll read any book on this list, it should definitely be this one.
Of course, there’s plenty more we’re doing for World Book Day 2021 this week! Check out where to get the best eReaders and tablet devices here, or check out the best introductory Marvel comics to check out here! Alternatively, take a look at the Jelly Deals Twitter page and follow us for info on discounts everywhere!