Saturday, September 27, 2014


Not long ago, I was having a conversation with a friend about favorite movies, and we were talking about The Princess Bride. I don’t think I know anybody who doesn’t love that movie. It’s almost perfect. Anyway, I mentioned that William Goldman and I happened to attend the same high school and summer camp (albeit about 37 years apart).

“William Goldman,” I said. “You know, the guy who wrote the book.”

My friend replied, “It was a book?”

Yes, it seems that mainstream films sometimes erase memories of literature. So I’m going to remedy that by ranking the 84 best movies that were books first. It’s a bit of a challenge, mostly due to an embarrassment of riches. From 12 Angry Men to Apollo 13, from The Graduate to The Player to The Firm, Hollywood has been poaching literature for decades.

But it doesn’t always work. John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row is classic reading. The movie starring Nick Nolte and Debra Winger? Not classic watching. Roger Ebert wrote that it seemed “scripted out of old country songs and lonely hearts columns.” Same with 1984. One of the finest books ever written, but it doesn’t always translate to film.

Rather, this is a list of the best films that happen to be based on books or short stories. I’m not even going to select any movie series options. No Harry Potter, no Twilight, no Hunger Games, no Bourne this-and-that. Not even The Lord of the Rings trilogy, though I do love those movies.

Still, it’s a tough call—and a very personal one. In fact, here are two-dozen films I didn’t choose: Les Miserables, Leaving Las Vegas, Mystic River, Mommie Dearest, First Blood, There Will Be Blood, Fight Club, Brokeback Mountain, Cold Mountain, Cocoon, Cape Fear, Doctor Zhivago, Total Recall, Invictus, Out of Africa, The Perfect Storm, The Help, The Outsiders, The English Patient, The Devil Wears Prada, The Father of the Bride, The Da Vinci Code, The Blind Side, and The Witches of Eastwick.

And here are the films I did select, starting with my personal choices for the best of the best:

1. Shawshank Redemption (Stephen King)
2. The Princess Bride (William Goldman)
3. Dances With Wolves (Michael Blake)
4. Goodfellas (Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family by Nicholas Pileggi)
5. Schindler’s List (Thomas Keneally)
6. 12 Angry Men (Reginald Rose)
7. The Godfather (Mario Puzo)
8. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Ken Kesey)
9. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
10. The Untouchables (Eliot Ness) 

11. Forrest Gump (Winston Groom)
12. Stand By Me (The Body by Stephen King)
13. Searching for Bobby Fischer (Fred Waitzkin)
14. The Player (Michael Tolkin)
15. The Shining (Stephen King)
16. Field of Dreams (Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella)
17. Gone with the Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
18. The Silence of the Lambs (Thomas Harris)
19. A Beautiful Mind (Sylvia Nasar)

20. Glory (One Gallant Rush by Richard Burchard)
21. The Natural (Bernard Malamud)
22. Jaws (Peter Benchley)
23. Election (Tom Perrotta)
24. Hugo (The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick)
25. The Graduate (Charles Webb)
26. The Firm (John Grisham)
27. No Way Out (Kenneth Fearing)
28. October Sky (Rocket Boys by Homer H. Hickam)
29. Apollo 13 (Lost Moon by Jim Lovell)

30. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Arthur C. Clarke)
31. Deliverance (James Dickey)
32. L.A. Confidential (James Ellroy)
33. A Midnight Clear (William Wharton)
34. A River Runs Through It (Norman MacLean)
35. Scent of a Woman (Giovanni Arpino)
36. The French Connection (Robin Moore)
37. Taps (Father Sky by Devery Freeman)
38. Fletch (Gregory McDonald)
39. Wag the Dog (American Hero by Larry Beinhart)

40. Big Fish (Daniel Wallace)
41. The Social Network (The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich)
42. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
43. The Color Purple (Alice Walker)
44. Ordinary People (Judith Guest)
45. About Schmidt (Louis Begley)
46. Die Hard (Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp)
47. Dead Man Walking (Helen Prejean)
48. Cool Hand Luke (Donn Pearce)
49. Awakenings (Oliver Sachs)
50. The Ice Storm (Rick Moody)
51. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary Wolf)

52. Jurassic Park (Michael Chrichton)
53. 12 Years a Slave (Solomon Northup)
54. Postcards from the Edge (Carrie Fisher)
55. 3:10 to Yuma (Elmore Leonard)
56. Contact (Carl Sagan)
57. The Hunt for Red October (Tom Clancy)
58. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (Peter Hedges)
59. Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick)
60. Get Shorty (Elmore Leonard)
61. Charly (Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes)
62. Sophie’s Choice (William Styron)

63. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Cameron Crowe)
     64. Adaptation (The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean)
65. No Country for Old Men (Cormac McCarthy)
66. Born on the Fourth of July (Ron Kovic)
67. A Christmas Story (In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd)
68. Alive (Piers Read)
69. Terms of Endearment (Larry McMurtry)
70. The Cider House Rules (John Irving)
71. The World According to Garp (John Irving)
72. Quiz Show (Remembering America by Richard N. Goodwin)
73. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
74. Into the Wild (Jon Krakauer)

     75. Full Metal Jacket (Gustav Hasford)
76. Pay it Forward (Catherine Ryan Hyde)
77. Seabiscuit (Laura Hillenbrand)
78. Reversal of Fortune (Alan Dershowitz)
79. True Grit (Charles Portis)
80. Marathon Man (William Goldman)
81. High Fidelity (Nick Hornby)
82. Romancing the Stone (Diane Thomas)
83. Shrek (William Steig)
84. Private Parts (Howard Stern)

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