Literary adaptations have forever provoked us to debate: Book or movie? In this collection, we bring the written word to the screen so you can decide for yourself! These movies are all based on literature, including a Shakespearean tragedy (Hamlet), a work from Charles Dickens (Nicholas Nickleby), a play about the life of poet T. S. Eliot (Tom and Viv), a classic by Emily Brontë (Wuthering Heights), and a few novels by contemporary literary icons Jack Kerouac (Big Sur) and Haruki Murakami (Norwegian Wood). Plus a saga so successful in Europe (The Millennium Trilogy) that we needed an American version (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and many more!

Top 5 Staff Picks

1. Hamlet

The tragic play by William Shakespeare is recontextualized in modern times and set in contemporary New York by director Michael Almereyda, whose experimental documentary Skinningrove was a recent Sundance hit. The all star cast speaks in Shakespearean dialogue despite the contemporary setting, and includes Ethan Hawke as Hamlet, a mad film student, Kyle MacLachlan as the villainous Uncle Claudius who quickly marries Hamlet’s mother Gertrude (Diane Venora) after his father is murdered. It also features Sam Shepard as the ghost, Julia Stiles as Ophelia, Liev Schreiber as Laertes, Steve Zahn as Rosencrantz, and the one and only Bill Murray as Polonius, father of Ophelia and Laertes and counsel to the King. This famous revenge story has clearly stood the test of time… though perhaps the same cannot be said of the 2000 era fashion choices affectionately entombed in this movie.  

2. Big Sur

With the gorgeous Northern California landscape and notable San Francisco landmarks as a backdrop, legendary author Jack Kerouac recounts his three visits to a cabin in Big Sur owned by his friend and poet laureate Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Slowly deteriorating from his alcoholism and unable to cope with the fame that followed his seminal Beat novel On the Road, Kerouac finds himself involved with the mistress of the infamous Neal Cassady. Unlike the 1962 novel of same name, director Michael Polish’s adaptation uses the real names of the notable writers and players in Kerouac’s Beat circle.

For all the poetry fans out there, this tragic love story between T. S. “Tom” Eliot (Willem Dafoe) and his wife, Vivienne “Viv” Haigh-Wood Eliot, (Miranda Richardson) is a deeply mournful romantic drama, based on the play by Michael Hastings, focusing on the poet’s life and the physical and mental health issues that plagued Viv, who like so many women of that time was misdiagnosed to dangerous ends. Richardson earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and Rosemary Harris, who plays Viv’s mother (and who you may recognize from Spider-Man), was nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest are psychological thrillers famously adapted from the bestselling novels by Stieg Larsson. Marathon all three installments of the bloodcurdling Nordic saga, and discover what has inspired so many interpretations: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was recently remade for American audiences by David Fincher with Rooney Mara starring, and The Crown’s Claire Foy will fill Noomi Rapace’s motorcycle boots next, in the upcoming reboot The Girl in the Spider’s Web.

Filmed as if each and every frame were itself a classical painting, Raúl Ruiz’s Mysteries of Lisbon is based on a famous nineeenth-century Portuguese novel by Camilo Castelo Branco. With a fantastic performance by Léa Seydoux and featuring lush artistic direction and stunning cinematography, this exquisitely textured film weaves together the lives of a young orphaned boy, a countess with a secret, and a businessman over the course of decades, in a complicated story that spans Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy. Settle in for an epic cinematic event — its runtime is around four hours — but the ending is worth it, as is an appearance 

Watch Now: The full Spotlight: Based on the Book!

Do you love great writing? Then you might also love our curated collections Staff Picks: Script to Screen, which features movies who have won awards for their screenwriting and Written, Directed By, and Starring, featuring filmmakers who wear multiple hats in their projects. And don’t miss our video on Famous Actors as Famous Authors!