In 1959, Peggy Robertson, Alfred Hitchcock’s production assistant, came across Anthony Boucher’s glowing review of Robert Bloch’s new novel Psycho in the New York Times Book Review. Intrigued, the bought a copy for her boss, who promptly snatched up the rights for $9,500, even though the studio rejected the story as a viable film premise. Well, we all know how that story ended — but we, at least, didn’t know how it began. If you didn’t either, it’s probably Hitchcock’s fault — after all, the man had Robertson buy as many copies of the original novel as she could get her hands on, so as not to spoil the film’s ending.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
After Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation hit stands, he found that reporter after reporter asked him about Upton Sinclair, “I guess because he wrote about meatpacking and I wrote about meatpacking.” Intrigued, Schlosser dove into Sinclair’s backlist, and came up with his 1927 novel Oil!. He bought the film rights and was later approached by director Paul Thomas Anderson, who created the (very loose) adaptation we know as There Will Be Blood, with Schlosser as executive producer.
Die Hard (1988)
We were totally surprised to discover that one of the best Bruce Willis movies of all time was based on a 1979 novel called Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp, itself a sequel to Thorp’s 1966 novel The Detective. That book had already become a 1968 film starring Frank Sinatra, which had, needless to say, a somewhat different feel than Die Hard. The franchise wasn’t particularly loyal, however — Die Hard 2 was adapted from Walter Wager’s 1987 novel 58 Minutes, and Die Hard with a Vengeance and Live Free or Die Hard were originally scripts for entirely different movies.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Given how much Stanley Kubrick loved to adapt great books (Lolita, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining), we probably should have known this one — but unlike Kubrick’s other films, Dr. Strangelove‘s source material, Peter George’s 1958 novel Red Alert, hasn’t gone down in history along with its film version, though George collaborated on the screenplay with Kubrick, and later wrote a novelization of the film. Maybe that’s because George’s novel was serious and Kubrick’s film a satire, and once you’re laughing, it’s just too hard to go backwards.
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
We would never have guessed that this Hayao Miyazaki movie was actually based on a 1986 YA novel of the same name by British author Diana Wynne Jones, if only because we consider Miyazaki such a distinctive creative voice in and of himself that we don’t really picture him as an adaptor. Indeed, the film and book are reportedly very different, with Miyazaki using the story’s framework as a platform to discuss the importance of pacifism. Either way, we have a new book on our to-read pile.
The Road to Perdition (2002)
We only recently discovered that the 2002 Tom Hanks film was based on a graphic novel (or collected series of comics, if you like) by the venerable Max Allan Collins. But it goes back even further — Collins’s Road to Perdition was based on another comics series: Lone Wolf and Cub, a ’70s manga series created by writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima, which Collins transplanted into the gangster world.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)
Oh yes. This movie, most famous for its then-innovative use of live action and animation in the same frame, was based on a 1981 novel by Gary K. Wolf called Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, also about a hard-boiled private detective and his cartoon sidekick. However, the novel is very different from the movie — both in plot and in the mechanics of the world (the toons generally speak in word bubbles above their heads and Roger’s self-created stunt double helps Valiant search for his murderer). In 1991, Wolf wrote another Roger Rabbit book, Who P-P-P-Plugged Roger Rabbit?, but by all accounts, that book has more to do with the film than the original novel.
Believe it or not, Shrek is (loosely) based on Shrek!, a rather obscure 1990 picture book by a not at all obscure children’s book author, William Steig. In the original book, Shrek is a very ugly ogre who heads off to see the world, eventually meeting and immediately falling in love with a princess who is even uglier than he is. Aww?
Rambo: First Blood (1982)
The first installation in the legendary Rambo series is based on a 1972 novel by David Morrell, which the author wrote after hearing his students’ tales of their experiences in Vietnam, and which is supposedly even grittier, more depressing, and less humane than the films. Go figure.
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003)
Ugh, we should have known. This silly movie is in fact based on an actual informational dating book entitled How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days: The Universal Don’ts of Dating , populated by child-like stick figures acting out dating no-nos. Funny, they still seem more dimensional than most of the characters in this forgettable rom-com.