Book-to-film adaptations have been a staple strategy in the film industry. Since the dawn of cinema, filmmakers look into any potential literature they can adapt to put on the big screen. One of the most adapted book series is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series. It was also formerly the most expensive book-to-film adaptation before it was overtaken by the Harry Potter series in the 21st century. Not long after the industry’s exploration and knack for book-to-film adaptations, they found more freedom in adapting short stories into the big screen.

Some of the earliest short stories made into films are H.G Wells’ The Time Machine and Edgar Allan Poe’s Metzengerstein. Short stories have a more exclusive nature as opposed to novels, which was an innovation during the 17th century. Short stories grounds great strength in its brevity and simplicity of its language and often relies on strong visual imagery. Most importantly, short stories are able to engage the audience immediately, a quality that makes it easily adaptable into films.

Although short stories are, like its label, short and mostly too straightforward, sometimes abrupt, and maybe too grounded, the industry and its filmmakers found the most freedom in short stories since buying the rights for its adaptation is less expensive than the novels. Though not all short stories made the best book-to-film adaptations, it did mold some of the greatest and most memorable films of all time.

 

                        Below are NRM’s favorite book-to-film short story adaptations as of 2020:

 

                        Stand by Me (1986)

                        Dir. Rob Reiner

                        from

                        “The Body”

                         by Stephen King

 

Kicking off the list is probably the most recognizable young adult book-to-film adaptations and a classic coming of age story. The Body is a short story written by the iconic Stephen King for Different Seasons, his 1982 short story compilation book. Stand by Me, came out 5 years after the release of Different Seasons and was then, and still, applauded for its storytelling by the critics. It tells the story of Gordie, reminiscing his childhood memory and how an eventful search for a dead body in order to become recognized and, hopefully, applauded in their little town made him and his three friends, Chris, Teddy, and Vern, go their separate ways. Narrated as a single perspective memoir, the movie did not deviate away from the short story’s atmosphere but also delivers a more layered approach to the story and its characters.

 

                        Secretary (2002)

                        Dir. Steven Shainberg

                        from

                        Bad Behavior: “Secretary”

                        by Mary Gaitskill

 

The second short story from our list has, by far, one of the most controversial subjects in its time. Luckily, its book-to-film adaptation came at a time where such subject was no longer taboo. Secretary is about an emotionally fragile woman hired as a secretary to an eccentric boss who starts a sadomasochistic relationship with her. Deviating away from its source material, Secretary, the film is an upbeat storytelling about how kinks could lead us to finding that special someone; while the story it was based from told the experience of a damaged woman who misinterpreted her boss’ treatment of her as affection and being understood. Although the literary work and the film adaptation had their strengths, one can’t help but wonder what would have been the reaction if the film did not deviate away from its original source material.

 

                        Burning (2018)

                        Dir. Lee Chang-Dong

                        from

                        “Barn Burning”

                         by Haruki Murakami

 

                        If you’re searching for an ominous story with an abrupt yet perfectly deserved closure for an ending, then look no further. Haruki Murakami’s Barn Burning, a short story from his compilation book, The Elephant Vanishes, delivers just that and prominent Korean Filmmaker, Lee Chang-Dong, delivers the story to new heights with his book-to-film adaptation, Burning. It tells the story of a man who befriends his beautiful neighbor, who introduces him to a mysterious man whose hobby is burning barns. The book-to-film adaptation delivers a more ominous story compared to its source material thus, once the credits roll, you’ll be left with so many questions though the answers are already given in its narrative.

 

                        The Fly (1958)

                        Dir. Kurt Neumann

                        from

                        “The Fly”

                        by George Langelaan

 

Kurt Newmann’s The Fly was one of the most celebrated book-to-film adaptations during its release and for good reasons. The Fly was an ambitious sci-fi horror who did not deviate every important bit away from its source material. If any, the major difference between the original story and the film adaptation was the perspective from which it was being told. In the movie, it was from the perspective of the scientist’s wife as opposed to that of the literature where it was told from his brother-in-law’s perspective and whose ending might be too tragic for the big screen. The Fly still continues to terrify the audience despite being released 63 years ago. The film adaptation was remade in the 80s by body horror master director David Cronenberg.

 

                        Rear Window (1955)

                        Dir. Alfred Hitchcock

                        From

                        “It Had to Be Murder”

                         by Cornell Woolrich

 

Also, considered one of the best book-to-film adaptations of all time, and a career changer for already legendary director, Alfred Hitchcock, Rear Window tells the story of a wheelchair-bound photographer who is suffering from a leg injury and his fiancée as they unravel their suspicion that their neighbor might be a murderer. The original story It Had to be Murder and Rear Window, the film adaptation, prove to be a terrifying concept and one that lingers on your thought late at night. There is no doubt why this film is considered one of many masterpieces that contribute to the legendary status of Alfred Hitchcock and one that made Cornell Woolrich’s writing style worth analyzing and his name remembered forever.

 

                        Predestination (2014)

                        Dir. Michael and Peter Spierig

                        from

                        “All You Zombies”

                        by Robert Heinlein

 

Though respected for its original storytelling, Robert Heinlein’s short story All You Zombies had been cited as almost “unfilmable” and “too challenging.” Despite this, its film adaption Predestination holds no bar to give justice to its source material. The original story and the big screen version are both oddly satisfying and would surely linger in one’s mind, the source material is not as violent as its adaptation. Directors Michael and Peter Spierig offer a more open approach inside the story’s world while keeping it grounded to its plot line. It follows the story of a young woman who is offered assistance by the bartender, after telling her life story, unaware of the paradoxes she is going to encounter and the mind boggling twist she never expected. Predestination is intriguing and more layered but as atmospheric and mind boggling as its original source.

 

                        They Live (1988)

                        Dir. John Carpenter

                        From

                        “Eight O'Clock in the Morning”

                         by Ray Nelson

 

This book-to-film adaptation is one of the noteworthy examples of the consequence if a visionary director encounters a short story that intrigues the artist. They Live by John Carpenter is regarded as one of the best cult classic films of all time and that is no joke. It tells the story of an ordinary man who wakes up one day to realize that the world he resided in is being manipulated by aliens. The adaptation, They Live, deviates away from its source material as it manages to attack capitalism and corporate greed while keeping the story humorous, upbeat, and action-packed, while Eight O'Clock in the Morning' centered solely on the main character, Nada, as he kills the aliens that has already manipulated his world. Under the genius of John Carpenter, They Live might even prove to be the better adaptation in comparison to its source.

 

                        It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

                        Dir. Frank Capra

                        from

                        “The Greatest Gift”

                        by Philip Van Storen Stern

 

Arguably, the best Christmas movie ever made, probably the most upbeat entry in this book-to-film adaptation list, and one of the most celebrated films of all time, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life delivers a Christmas story like no other. The story is about a man who was about to end his life after realizing that despite doing nothing but good, the worst things kept happening to him. Seeing all of it happening is an angel who is sent down by God to make him realize that though there are humps he had to hurdle, it is still a wonderful life. One of the key differences between the adaptation and the source material was that the movie focused on the protagonist, George, his process of learning to be grateful while in Philip Van Storen Stern’s The Greatest Gift is about the angel convincing George that life is the greatest gift. In sum, both versions told in an upbeat and heart-warming. Truly a classic!

                       

                        Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

                        Dir. Stanley Kubrick

                        from

                        “Traumnovelle: Dream Story”

                        by Arthur Schnitzler

 

By far the most controversial and unconventional Christmas story made and had one of the longest production time, Eyes Wide Shut was partly erotica and drama, though mostly an amalgamation of both dream-like and nightmarish story about love and fidelity. Like its source material, Eyes Wide Shut is about a man who questions his wife’s faithfulness and decides to go on a “sexcapade” only to have gone through more than just a shelter for his pleasure. Considered by critics as one of the best and divisive book-to-film adaptation, Traumnovelle: Dream Story and Eyes Wide Shut tackles the tangibility of our pleasure and how insecurity can always manipulate our viewpoint. It is often analyzed by scholars and even Kubrick fans for good reasons. It is ambitious, bold, and riveting. Eyes Wide Shut is also Kubrick’s  last film but while it is sad to think that this is Kubrick’s farewell to the world, but it amply immortalizes his contribution to the industry and originality not just as a film director but also as a storyteller.

 

                        Total Recall (1990)

                        Dir. Paul Veorhoeven

                        from

                        “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”

                        by Philip K. Dick

 

                        Also considered a cult classic and has catapulted action star Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career to new heights, Total Recall is an ambitious retelling of Philip K. Dick’s short science fiction story We Can Remember it for You Wholesale. It tells the story of a man who encounters a company who offers a virtual world you get to live and experience for a price. The man then dreams of being an agent only to end up realizing that he is indeed an agent and everyone in this world he is living in are enemies in disguise. Total Recall is a big leap from its original source material, given that the original only provided a protagonist and not a hero. It also went as far as creating a body horror-slash-action-packed story with a mix of suspense and horror in between. Many fans and critics alike have theorized if both stories end with the hero still in the simulation or in the real world but that only contributes to the goodness of both stories’ ambiguity. This book-to-film adaptation is the perfect popcorn laidback action flick for those who only wish to be entertained.

 

            Wanting to know more about NRM’s picks both on movies and literature? Do not hesitate and get in touch with New Reader’s Magazine!