12 Favorite Movies Based on Classic Literature

12 Favorite Movies Based on Classic Literature

7 minute read

Everyone loves a good story; some of us may be movie goers, some book nerds, some may be movie buffs who love to read while others are book nerds who like to see their favorite stories play out on the big screen. Hollywood has given us so many movies based on classic novels that became box office hits that it was hard to choose from, and while we've certainly left out a few big ones, we think you'll enjoy these favorite movies based on classic literature. 

In order of film release:

the Tin Man, Dorothy, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion from the 1939 Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Frank L. Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was an instant success when it was first published in 1900. Readers loved Dorothy, her dog Toto, and her companions the tin man, the scarecrow, and the cowardly lion.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a book filled with wonder, fear, and the power of friendship and knowing where home truly is. And even though there were a few differences because of constraints on time and technology, the 1939 groundbreaking technicolor film captured the heart of it and still remains one of the most beloved movies of all time nearly 85 years later! So beloved that the Wicked Witch of the West got her own story (1995) and musical (2003).

Disney's 1951 Alice in Wonderland movie poster

Disney’s Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Despite not being received well when it was first completed, Disney’s 1951 Alice in Wonderland found its audience (and the big screen) when it was re-released in 1974, 23 years after its initial debut—and at a time when "trippy" art animation was much more well-received.

The animated movie doesn’t really stick closely to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland published in 1865 and the animation looks quite a bit different than the original illustrations, which is part of the reason folks didn’t care for it at first. But as a story that just lets a kid be a kid and get wrapped up in their own imagination, both the original film and the book are worth another—if not first—dive in.

Willy Wonka and Charlie from the 1971 film adaptation

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Roald Dahl wrote many cherished classic children’s books including James and the Giant Peach and Matilda (both great movies in their own right); he also wrote several screenplays…some for his own books. The 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory happens to be one of them based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory published in 1964 and became an instant success—like the book.

We’ll also give a nod to Tim Burton’s 2005 version that critics seemed to enjoy a bit more than other movie goers, probably because of nostalgia. And, FUN FACT: a sequel titled Wonka will be released in 2023 with Timothée Chalamet playing the young Willy Wonka. We’re so excited!

One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest movie poster

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

Director Milos Forman brings Ken Kesey's 1962 novel of the same name to the big screen in 1975. With Jack Nicholson as Randle Patrick McMurphy and Louise Fletcher as his foil and adversary Nurse Ratched, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest the movie is as disturbing—albeit a dark comedy—as the book.

Though author Kesey notably disliked the adaptation, the movie is still only one of three that have won all five major Oscars. The other two are It Happened One Night (1934) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991)—another fantastic book-to-film adaptation.

The Color Purple movie poster

The Color Purple (1985)

A movie both heart wrenching and joyous, The Color Purple directed by Stephen Spielberg does Alice Walker’s 1982 novel of the same name incredible justice. These are both stories (the film and the book) that should be consumed by everyone.

Walker’s story is told in the form of letters as a way for Celie, the main character, to keep a grasp on her own reality when it seems that she’s alone in the world. Spielberg takes this story and brings it to life. Both the novel and the film became instant classics with the film receiving 11 Oscar nominations, but unfortunately no wins though it is clear that many believe Whoopi Goldberg as Celie was the clear winner.

1985 Anne of Green Gables poster

Anne of Green Gables (1985)

L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables published in 1908 has been adapted for film and television a few times. We happen to be partial to the 1985 mini series with Megan Follows as Anne Shirley and Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert Blythe. The cinematography of Avonlea on Prince Edward Island is stunning and the actors are perfect. This version will have you wanting to pick up this childhood classic and relive Anne’s adventures.

Princess Bride movie poster with the entire cast

The Princess Bride (1987)

Did you know that the cult classic movie The Princess Bride was actually a book before it became a movie in 1987? We know it’s “Inconceivable” but it's true! The novel that Grandfather (Peter Falk) reads to Grandson (Fred Savage) in the movie is the book with the same title written by William Goldman. In the novel, the narrator is Billy Goldman whose father is telling the story.

It might be a “kissing book,” but it has pirates, giants, sword fights, magic, rodents of unusual size, revenge, comedy, and great lines, too! The Princess Bride is well worth another watch or read-through!

The Age of Innocence movie poster

The Age of Innocence (1993)

This one may seem a bit obscure, but trust us on this one. If you’ve never read Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, you should as it was the first novel written by a woman to win the Pulitzer Prize. Wharton’s mastery of language gives readers an inside view of high society New York in the Gilded Age with its unspoken language and social constructs juxtaposed with a tantalizing forbidden romance. And that’s just the novel itself.

You may be surprised to learn that director Martin Scorsese has claimed The Age of Innocence “the most violent [film he] ever made” when it is devoid of bloodshed and even profanity. But the violence of the movie doesn’t come from action; it comes from Scorsese and Wharton’s brilliance.

Movie posters from the 1995 mini series and 2005 film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice for favorite movies based on classic literature

Pride & Prejudice 
(1995 mini series & 2005 movie)

We’ve had a little debate here about which Pride and Prejudice movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel of manners is the favorite. Alas, the 1995 mini series starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy wins this time. While we enjoy Kierra Knightly as Elizabeth Bennet, the 2005 film just doesn’t allow the time for Austen’s nuances in language and wit as the six-part version does. We know it isn’t fair, so watch them both and you won’t regret the time spent, we promise!

Movie posters from 1994 and 2019 Little Women movie adaptations

Little Women 
(1994 & 2019)

Okay, this one is a hard one too as they are both fantastic adaptations of probably one of the most widely read classics of all time. Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women was instantly popular when it was published in 1868 and is still a time-honored story of struggle, resilience, and family bonds.

Sisters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy portrayed by elite actors are as different as sisters can be, allowing readers of the novel and viewers of the films to find themselves in the story and endearing us to each.

So we’ve decided to end this with a tie. Read the book (again) and watch both movies, then let us know if you have a favorite!

If you love classics, take a look at our Classics Collection Shop!

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