6 Movies You Didn’t Know Were Books First
by Alison Auger
Though it may feel like only recently that Hollywood has been on a book-to-film conversion trip, here are 6 movies that prove the movie business has always come crawling back to the novel for ideas.
1. The Godfather
Francis Ford Coppola’s famous classic gangster film, The Godfather, was actually an adaptation of Mario Puzo’s crime novel published in 1969. And, unlike what many book fans today contend, the movie follows the themes and plot almost to a tee, with one key exception- the novel’s ending is actually more up-beat than the film’s.
2. Raging Bull
The iconic American film, directed by Martin Scorsese, originated from an autobiography written by professional boxer, Jake LaMotta, aka the “Raging Bull.” Though not very well written or widely popular, it was Robert De Niro who first approached Scorsese with the idea of adapting LaMotta’s autobiography into a film—a proposal that Scorsese denied several times until a near death experience changed his mind! The box office reception of the 1980s film was lukewarm at best, in part due to its violent content. And yet it still went on to become an iconic American film.
3. Die Hard
This famous action flick starring Bruce Willis originated from the novel, Nothing Lasts Forever, by Roderick Thorp. Though both involve a terrorist plot, exploding towers, and saving the day on Christmas Eve, the “terrorist” organization from the book has a much more meaningful vendetta. Rather than simply distracting the world with phoney terrorist demands in order to steal a few million dollars, they plan to steal documents that will publicly expose the Klaxon corporation’s (owners of the tower) dealings with a real terrorist. They also intend to deprive Klaxon of the proceeds of the corrupt deal by dumping $6,000,000 in cash out of the tower’s windows.
4. The Thing
The original movie version of The Thing was made famous and is probably most remembered for its ground-breaking, stunning, and beyond-horrifying special effects. The original plot for the movie, however, came from the novella, Who Goes There?, by John W. Campbell published in 1938. The story was voted by the Science Fiction Writers of America as one of the finest science fiction novellas ever written. The film adaptation and novella vary slightly, and the filmed version certainly added its own special effects/horror flair—namely, someone’s head melting off the table and turning into a giant skull-spider-shit-your-pants-scary-thing. Despite their variances, the movie kept not only the main plot, but also specific terrifying scenes. Man’s abdomen growing teeth and biting people’s arms off, anyone?
5. Forrest Gump
Based on the novel of the same name by Winston Groom, Forrest Gump sold an estimated 30,000 copies before being adapted for the screen. Like many of the other movies, the plot remains largely the same except for a few key instances. The most interesting deviation is that the movie downplayed the idiot savant character that Forrest Gump was in the book. According to Groom, the movie “took some of the rough edges off” of Forrest’s character, namely his sex life and profanity. Some other interesting plot points that the movie left out:
1) Jenny doesn’t die but rather is reunited with Forrest.
2) One of Forrest’s many adventures included going on a mission for NASA with a female astronaut and an ape named Sue; upon reentry, they are captured and held by cannibals for four years.
6. Apocalypse Now
While you’ve probably seen this classic Vietnam War movie, and perhaps were forced to read Joseph Conrad’s 1898 novella, Heart of Darkness, in your high school English class, you may not have known that these are both the same stories. Though Conrad’s novella takes place in colonial Africa, and Francis Ford Coppola’s film in the midst of the Vietnam War, the thematic content and story arch remained intact. The key differences between the two lie in their making; Conrad likely did not struggle as much as Coppola did to finish his creation.
After firing his leading man, Harvey Kietel, for drug related issues, director Coppola hired Martin Sheen. Sheen, who was dealing with an addiction problem of his own, walked in to a disorganized production whose director was literally writing the script as he went along—fortunately producing a movie whose plot and direction was already set in stone! Catastrophes plagued the production. The crew came down with various tropical diseases. The helicopters used in the combat sequences were constantly recalled by President Marcos to fight his own war against anti-government rebels. The production cadavers were acquired from a seller who supplied medical schools, but who turned out to be a grave robber! Martin Sheen suffered a heart attack.
Coppola convinced himself he was to blame and one evening had an epileptic seizure. “We had access to too much money and little by little we went insane,” he later confessed. “Ask anybody who was out there, we all felt like we fought the war.” While the production could probably go down in history as having the most frequent and extraordinary problems, the film was honored with the Palme d’Or at Cannes, nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama, deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”, and was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in 2000.
Hollywood is not always terribly original when it comes to creating stories—stealing from the good ole’ novel whenever they get the chance! But when it comes to telling the story movies add their own thematic flair—as many of these films prove—which sometimes gets more people to listen to the novel’s tales than perhaps normally would.
Alison Auger has been working in various positions for TBL since the summer of 2013, when she was a fledgling editing intern. She is currently a student of Creative Writing at the University of Colorado with an emphasis in whatever genre fits her fancy for that particular semester. She has been published through the One Book One Denver writing contest and participated in the Poetry Out Loud State Finals.
As Special Programs Director and Executive Assistant, Alison heads TBL’s education projects, grant writing, does a number of poetry reviews and interviews, and is sometimes sort-of helpful to the Editing Department.
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