Since Erich von Stroheim attempted a literal adaptation of Frank Norris’s novel McTeague in 1924 (the movie was 9 ½ hours long!) we’ve come a long way. When you look at the list of past winners for the Best Picture at the Oscars, you’ll find that literary adaptations have been hugely successful.
While some of the victories have been shrouded in criticisms by book lovers complaining that the movie was not a faithful adaptation, these movies have struck a chord with many movie buffs, including the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
To celebrate the 88th Academy Awards, we have compiled a list of 10 books that were adapted into movies that went on to win the Best Picture at the Oscars.
Ben Hur: A Tale of Christ by Lew Wallace
Lew Wallace’s best-selling “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ” is considered as “the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century.” The novel which was also blessed by Pope Leo XIII, recounts the adventures of the Jewish prince Judah Ben Hur. He is accused of tying to assaninate the Roman governor and is enslaved. The book also narrates the story of Jesus Christ, who is from the same region. The novel reflects themes of betrayal, redemption and love.
The movie, starring Charlton Heston, was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won an unprecedented 11 awards. To date, only “Titanic” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” has matched that.
Dances with Wolves by Michael Blake
The 1988 novel was written as a possible source for a screenplay by Michael Blake. It was later adapted for screen by the author himself, despite many differences between the book and the film. Set during the American Civil War, Lt. John Dunbar, the protagonist, is a white man who ends up in the frontier and starts living with a tribe of Native Americans. He is later named Dances with Wolves by the Indians. The novel was later criticized for its similarity to Elliot Silverstein’s “A Man Called Horse.”
The Kevin Costner directed movie won 7 Oscars at the 63rd Academy Awards. The Library of Congress selected the movie for preservation in the United States National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” in 2007.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is one of the finest work of fiction of all time. The story is set in the southern United States during the American Civil War and the Reconstruction era. The protagonist of the novel, Scarlett O’Hara, is a spoilt daughter of a plantation owner. The novel tells the story of the poverty she finds herself in after the war and how she overcomes it. The novel, which was Mitchell’s only work to be published during her lifetime, is controversial for its use of racial theme and ethnic slurs.
The film starring Hollywood legends Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, won 10 Oscars at the 12th Academy Awards. The film, while being criticized for glorifying slavery, has been regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made. When adjusted to monetary inflation, “Gone with the Wind” is the highest earning movie of all time, beating blockbusters like “Avatar,” “Titanic” and “Star Wars.”
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
The 2005 novel by Cormac McCarthy is set in the American-Mexican border in south Texas. The name of the novel is taken from W. B. Yeats’ poem “Sailing to Byzantium.” The plot follows the stories of the three central characters whose paths are intertwined by a series of events that starts with a drug deal gone bad.
The movie by the Coen brothers, won 4 awards at the 80th Academy Awards. “No Country for Old Men” is considered one of the finest films of the 2000s. The film, like the book, explores themes of fate, moral sense and circumstances.
One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
The book is set in a psychiatric hospital in Oregon and follows the story of Randle Patrick McMurphy, a petty criminal who fakes insanity to avoid serving prison time. The hospital is ruled by the sadistic head administrative nurse Mildred Ratched. The novel has been praised for its critique of human behavior and a celebration of humanistic principles as well as a study of the human mind and the institutional processes at the time.
The film version is one of 3 films to win all five major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Actor in Lead Role, Actress in Lead Role, Director, and Screenplay). The film has received universal acclaim and in 1993 was chosen for preservation in the National Film Registry. The onscreen battle between McMurphy and Ratched has been compared to the culture wars of the 1970s.
Out of Africa by Karen Blixen
A memoir by the Danish author Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke, “Out of Africa” recounts her experiences in British East Africa or as we call it today, Kenya. Blixen, who lived in a coffee plantation, provides a deep insight into the last years of British colonialism in Africa. She has said that the book is dedicated to the people that touched her life in the 17 years that she spent there.
Sydney Pollack’s immensely popular adaptation starred the evergreen Meryl Streep. The movie, has been criticized by book lovers because it is more of a love story rather than a direct adaptation of Blixen’s work. “Out of Africa” won 7 Oscars at the 58th Academy Awards. Apart from the performances, the movie has been praised for its unforgettable depiction of the beauty of Africa.
Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally
The Booker Prize-winning novel by Australian novelist Thomas Keneally, is based on a true story and tells the story of Oskar Schindler. Schindler, a Nazi Party member, saved 1,200 Jews from concentration camps during World War II. Keneally’s magnum opus, although a work of historical fiction, describes actual people and places with fictional events and scenes.
The movie adaptation, directed by Steven Spielberg, along with “Citizen Kane” has regularly been called one of the greatest movies ever. The movie, like the book, owes its name to the list of Jews who worked in Schindler’s factory.
The Bridge on the River Kwai by Pierre Boulle
The French author, who also wrote “Planets of the Ape,” wrote “The Bridge on the River Kwai” based on experiences from his time in Malaysia. The book, set during World War II, uses the construction of the Burma Railway to deal with its central theme of the plights of POWs (Prisoners of War). The railway is called the “Death Railway” because of the large number of prisoners who died during its construction. The book depicts the inhumane treatment meted out by the Japanese army to the British POWs.
The film has been widely praised and won 7 Academy Awards at the 30th Academy Awards. The World War II epic was filmed in Sri Lanka and starred many of the big Hollywood names of the day. David Lean’s masterpiece captured the imagination of the public and has been praised for staying true to the book and bringing the novel to life.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien
J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” is the best selling novel of all time with over 150 million copies sold. Tolkien’s work was a sequel to his early hit “The Hobbit” and was published in three volumes. The story takes place in the fictional world of Middle Earth where the main characters (ranging from hobbits to elves and dwarves to humans) must unite to beat the dark lord Sauron. Tolkien’s work was inspired by his experiences during World War I and includes themes on philosophy, mythology and religion.
The 2003 movie was one of the greatest box office successes of all time. Jackson’s masterpiece brilliantly captured the magic and excitement of Middle Earth. Peter Jackson’s film swept the Academy Awards that year winning 11 Oscars!
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Thomas Harris’ “The Silence of the Lambs” was published in 1988 and went on to become a major hit, both critically and commercially. It is a sequel to his 1981 novel “Red Dragon.” The novels feature the cannibalistic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who has consistently been called one of the greatest characters ever. The other killer in the book, Buffalo Bill, is said to have been based on five real-life serial killers: Ed Gein, Ted Bundy, Gary Ridgway, Edmund Kemper and Gary Heidnik.
The movie adaptation was just as successful and the director, Jonathan Demme, has been praised for his subtle handling of the topic. It is one of just three movies to win the “big five” at the Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay.