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Posted on Feb 21, 2019 in The Book Was Better

The Books Behind Hollywood’s Best Pictures

Over two-thirds of Best Picture winners have been based on or inspired by literature, from Ben-Hur to The Silence of the Lambs. Here are a few of our favorites from the books-to-film Hall of Fame.

1930: All Quiet on the Western Front

Based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, a German novelist whose work largely focused on the horrors of war, the 1930 Best Picture winner tells the story of a young soldier facing the horrors of World War I. The novel was first published in a German newspaper (the title in German was Im Westen nichts Neues), and was one of the books that was later banned in Nazi Germany.

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1939: Gone With The Wind

Margaret Mitchell’s epic Pulitzer-Prize winning novel (1936) about the American South during the Civil War became the inspiration for the 1939 movie of the same name. The novel has legions of loyal fans, but the movie has also earned its spot as a classic American epic. It’s impossible not to picture Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable when you read the famous and contemptuous love story of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler.

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1940: Rebecca

Daphne Du Maurier’s Gothic novel Rebecca was published in 1938 to wide acclaim. It tells the story of a young unnamed narrator–known only as “the second Mrs de Winter”–who marries a wealthy widower after a brief courtship. The most memorable character is the sinister housekeeper Mrs Danvers, who makes it her mission to ensure the second Mrs de Winter that she will never fill the shoes of the deceased Mrs de Winter. Alfred Hitchcock adapted the novel into a haunting psychological film in 1940.

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1949: All the King’s Men

Robert Penn Warren’s 1946 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel follows the rise and fall of Willie Stark–an honest young politician whose ascension to power leads to a complete transformation, from idealistic lawyer to political pawn to corrupt governor. Largely believed to be based on Louisiana governor Huey Long, Willie Stark uses intimidation to build power. The film noir adaptation of All the King’s Men won Hollywood’s top prize in 1949.

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1972: The Godfather

Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 film The Godfather is widely regarded as one of the most influential films of all time. Likewise, Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel about the patriarch of the Corleone family was on the bestseller lists for 67 weeks, selling over nine million copies in two years.

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1975: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, about a boisterous and charismatic criminal who finds himself in the psych ward, is a seminal novel of the 1960s. The central character Randle Patrick McMurphy, made (even more) famous by Jack Nicholson’s portrayal, is a fun-loving rebel who questions authority at every turn, and finds a worthy opponent in the institutional authority of the Big Nurse, played in the film adaptation by Louise Fletcher. The 1975 film adaptation was added in 1993 to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

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1993: Schindler’s List

Published in 1982, Schindler’s Ark (released in America as Schindler’s List) is a work of historical fiction by Australian novelist Thomas Keneally. The book focuses on Oskar Schindler, a member of the Nazi Party who becomes an unlikely hero by saving 1,200 Jews from concentration camps all over Poland and Germany. Steven Spielberg adapted the book for the big screen in 1993.

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1994: Forrest Gump

The 1994 epic comedy-drama film was a massive box office success and made “Forrest Gump” a household name. The film’s inspiration is a heartwarming book about the incredible and unlikely adventures of a modern (and unexpected) hero.

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1996: The English Patient

Michael Ondaatje’s 1992 novel about loss and redemption follows the lives of four damaged souls brought together in an abandoned Italian villa at the end of WWII. The 1996 film focuses on the character of the unrecognizably burned man, the (presumably) English patient, who tells his story through flashbacks involving a complex romantic affair, while a nurse tends his extensive burns.

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2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

For fans of J.R.R. Tolkien, it comes as no surprise that his celebrated epic fantasy books have inspired countless award-winning films. Directed by Peter Jackson, the 2003 film adaptation of The Return of the King completed the Lord of the Rings film trilogy and won Hollywood’s top prize–the first fantasy film to do so.

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2007: No Country for Old Men

Cormac McCarthy is a master of the Southern Gothic, and the Coen Brothers’ film adaptation of McCarthy’s novel brilliantly captures the tone and setting of the Texas desert backcountry that haunts No Country for Old Men. McCarthy’s fiction lends itself brilliantly to the big screen: this is one of five McCarthy novels that’s been adapted to film.

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2013: 12 Years a Slave

The film that earned the 2013 Best Picture accolade is an adaptation of an 1853 slave memoir by Solomon Northup, a free-born African-American man who was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery. Steve McQueen was enthralled by the memoir when he first read it, and his film adaptation was a passion project for the director.

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