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Classic Novels With Movie Adaptations

Photo collage of classic novels of books To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Great Gatsby, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

This blog was updated on 07/28/2022.

What could be better than curling up with a good book? Nothing - except, perhaps, pairing that book with its movie adaptation. Seeing your favorite characters and moments brought to life on the silver screen can be a wonderful way to cap off a reading project. We’ve chosen five classic novels with movie adaptations to enjoy. Whether you’ve seen them before or not, what better time to watch than now?

Original book cover from To Kill a Mockingbird

Classic Books With Movie Adaptations

To Kill a Mockingbird

This mainstay on school reading-lists, written by Harper Lee, is perfect for exploring more than once. Its story of race, social structure, family ties, and growing up is told through the eyes of six-year-old Scout.

In 1962, two years after its publication, the book was adapted into a movie starring Gregory Peck and Mary Badham. At just over two hours, the film touches on all of the major points of the novel. One of the highlights of the film for readers of the book is the arrival of Boo Radley.

Dr. Zhivago

Banned from publishing in his homeland, Russian author Boris Pasternak instead had his novel printed in Italy in 1957.

The plot is intricate and complex, tracing the life of the titular Dr. Zhivago. It was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in the year following its publication.

The movie adaptation stars Omar Sharif and Julie Christie. It is long, with a run time of nearly three-and-a-half hours, making it the perfect watch for a rainy afternoon.

Original book cover from The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby

The landscape of this classic F. Scott Fitzgerald story is familiar to many native New Yorkers. And for many Americans, the tale is, too: It explores themes of excess and social change in the Roaring Twenties.

The story has been adapted into several movies over the years. Two are perhaps the most well-known:

  • A 1974 version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow.
  • A 2013 version starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan.
Both films have a run time of about two-and-a-half hours. And both have a distinctly different take on the classic - we’ll leave it to you to see which one you prefer!

Les Misérables

Another novel that’s stood the test of time - including being translated from French - is Victor Hugo’s masterpiece Les Misérables. It spans almost two decades and recounts the story of the French Revolution as it affects the lives of numerous characters.

Again, you have several options for viewing - a handful of movies, plus a musical, movie version of the musical, radio adaptation, and television miniseries have been made. Time Magazine gave its take on each of the versions in this article to help you narrow down your selections.

Original title page from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz

Chances are you’ve seen the movie once or twice (or a dozen) times. But did you know The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is actually one of a series of 14 books written by L. Frank Baum?

Part of the fun of re-watching the 1939 movie adaptation is noticing all of the small details you may have missed on previous viewings (many fans know to watch for Dorothy’s pigtails appearing in different lengths throughout the film, or that the horse of a different color was dyed with Jell-O).

Whichever version you prefer, book or movie, you’ll enjoy revisiting this beloved classic.

The Bridge on the River Kwai

One of the best-known classic war movies started out as a novel (titled The Bridge Over the River Kwai), written by French novelist Pierre Boulle in 1952. The plot tells the fictional story of British POWs building a railroad bridge in Japanese-occupied Burma during WWII.

The movie, directed by David Lean, stars Sir Alec Guinness, William Holden, Jack Hawkins and Sessue Hayakawa. With a run time of more than two-and-a-half hours, the film grapples with topics like power, perseverance during struggles, and a sense of duty.

The Lord of the Rings

It’s technically multiple books, but J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings deserves a spot among the greatest novels of our time. Its complex themes of friendship, good and evil, and history make it worth visiting Middle Earth again and again.

Peter Jackson’s award-winning trilogy brought the novels to the screen with talent including Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, and many others. If you’re a true fan, spend the extra time watching the director’s cut to catch your favorite scenes from the books.

Suggested for You: Staying Culturally Connected

Even in a time of social distance, it’s possible - and perhaps easier than ever - to stay culturally connected with your favorite art, music, and theater outlets.

Read our next blog, “Culturally Connected in a Time of Social Distance,” to get ideas you can try from anywhere.

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