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20 Best Picture Films That Were Even Better Books

by Staff Writers

Even the best students realize that there comes a time when they must put down their studies and focus on some fun for a while. If you find yourself needing a break from your online university experience, why not try a little experiment watching films that won Best Picture at the Oscars and then reading the books on which they were based? Below are 20 of the Best Pictures ranging from Gone with the Wind in 1939 to No Country for Old Men in 2007.

  1. Gone with the Wind (1939). Perhaps one of the most famous Oscar winners based on a novel, this movie and book have both stood the test of time. Margaret Mitchell’s book and the movie document the South during the Civil War and its recovery afterward through the story of Scarlett O’Hara–a strong, stubborn southern belle–and her tumultuous relationships.
     
  2. All the King’s Men (1949). Robert Penn Warren’s novel by the same name inspired this Oscar-winning movie that told the tale of the political life of Willie Stark, an honest man, who turns out to be less of the man he started out to be. The novel is based on the life of Huey Long, who was a US Senator for Louisiana when Penn Warren began teaching at Louisiana State University.
     
  3. From Here to Eternity (1953). Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, and Deborah Kerr’s performances in this movie still move viewers in much the same way they did in 1953. The story is adapted from James Jones’ novel by the same name that follows the life of American soldiers stationed in Hawaii just prior to Pearl Harbor. The movie also featured Frank Sinatra as a soldier who can’t stay out of trouble.
     
  4. Around the World in 80 Days (1956). This movie and book pairing boasts the biggest spread between when the book was published and the movie was released. Jules Verne’s 1873 book was published 83 years before the movie was released. The engaging tale of adventure describes Phileas Fogg’s attempt to travel around the world in a hot air balloon in 80 days in order to win a bet. The popularity of the novel is evident in the number of remakes on movies and TV throughout the years.
     
  5. Gigi (1958). Colette wrote a novella by the same name in 1944 that tells of a young woman being raised by two courtesans in Paris. Gigi is being groomed to become a courtesan for a wealthy gentleman, but he discovers he actually loves Gigi and wants to marry her. The story tells of Gigi’s reluctance and eventual acceptance of the marriage. After the novella was published, a successful stage version of the story was produced, which then led to the Oscar-winning 1958 musical.
     
  6. The Sound of Music (1965). This wildly popular movie is still the subject of movie house sing-a-longs and a wide fan base. The movie was based on The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, a memoir written by Maria von Trapp. Maria tells of her last days at the convent, her life with the family and eventual marriage to the Baron, the family’s fleeing Austria, and their life afterward in Vermont. For fans of the movie who would love to know more about the family, the book is a must-read.
     
  7. Midnight Cowboy (1969). Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight star in this movie based on the novel by James Leo Herlihy. Voight comes to New York to be a male prostitute for rich women and after his dreams are dashed, falls under the guidance of Dustin Hoffman’s streetwise character. The fact that a movie with strong themes of sex and drugs won the Oscar reflect the changing times going on in America. While the movie remains a classic, the book, which actually adds much more depth to the characters and the theme of the story, has been sadly overlooked.
     
  8. The French Connection (1971). This unflinching look at two cops who go after a narcotics ring not only launched Gene Hackman’s career, it also has made this movie remain a classic. The movie is based on a documentary-style book by Robin Moore that is even more gripping than the Oscar-winning movie.
     
  9. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). Jack Nicholson, early in his career, starred in this movie that portrays patients at a mental hospital and their ongoing battle against the establishment. Ken Kesey based his novel, from which the movie was adapted, on his own experience working as an orderly at a mental hospital. The book explores issues of individual freedom, human suffering, and American politics of the times.
     
  10. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). Set in a time when fathers enjoyed very little rights to their children after divorce, this movie explores the life of a father who has put work above all else, to the detriment of his marriage and family. When his wife leaves him and his son, Ted Kramer must reevaluate his priorities and learn to become a father. When mom returns and wants custody of their son, Ted Kramer is faced with yet another challenge to his personal growth. This touching film is adapted from Avery Corman’s novel of the same name which actually spends more time on the relationship between father and son than the ugly divorce proceeding.
     
  11. Out of Africa (1985). This visually stunning movie took seven Oscar awards, including Best Picture, in 1985. It tells the story of Baroness Karen Blixen who traveled to Africa for a marriage of convenience with a friend from her home in Denmark. In Africa, Blixen set up a coffee plantation, which along with her marriage, failed. Her love affair with the adventurous Denys Finch Hatton and Africa itself carry this film. Blixen, writing as Isak Dinesen, wrote the book upon returning to Denmark after living in Africa for 17 years. The novel captures the beauty of the continent, yet takes readers on a deeper understanding of Blixen’s relationship with the people in Africa.
     
  12. The Last Emperor (1987). This movie follows the life of Pu Yi, the last emperor of China. Taken from his family at the age of two and raised in the isolated Forbidden City, he rises to become emperor, then must abdicate his throne. He later becomes a common gardener, where he finally finds peace and freedom. The movie is based on the autobiography, From Emperor to Citizen, written by Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi himself.
     
  13. Dances with Wolves (1990). When a Civil War hero finds himself stationed at an isolated post out west, he befriends a wolf and a Sioux tribe. The relationships developed in the movie depict American history and Native Americans in a touching manner that will have viewers rethinking what they learned in elementary school. Michael Blake actually wrote the novel of the same name with an eye on making a movie, so viewers will notice few deviations from the book.
     
  14. Silence of the Lambs (1991). This movie is perhaps as famous for its chilling dialog as for the captivating tale of a young FBI agent tracking down a serial killer with the aid of an even more sophisticated serial killer. For some, this movie was at once difficult to watch and impossible not to watch. The book by Thomas Harris shares this trait in being so spellbinding that the reader may find it difficult to put down despite the chilling story.
     
  15. Schindler’s List (1993). Liam Neeson plays Oskar Schindler — a German businessman who saves over 1000 Jews from the Nazi concentration camps — in this stunning movie that will leave viewers both inspired and emotionally exhausted. The movie was adapted from Thomas Keneally’s novel, which itself was award-winning.
     
  16. The English Patient (1996). Set during WWII, this movie depicts a story of an injured soldier and the nurse who cares for him. As the patient regains his memory, he recalls the fated love story of his passionate affair with a married woman. The Booker Prize-winning novel by Michael Ondaatje from which the movie was adapted goes even deeper, bringing in two additional characters who play a major role in the story.
     
  17. A Beautiful Mind (2001). Russell Crowe plays John Nash, a brilliant mathematician who suffers from schizophrenia. The beauty of this movie is how the viewer is taken on a journey into Nash’s mind, not feeling quite clear about the boundaries between reality and mental illness. Sylvia Nasar’s book of the same name delves deeper into the life of Nash, capturing more of both his genius and his illness.
     
  18. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). This movie, based on the third novel of JRR Tolkien’s famous trilogy, enjoyed as much popularity as the first two movies, yet came out a winner at the Oscars, carrying home 11 wins. The book takes readers on an even deeper journey through the world of good versus evil.
     
  19. Million Dollar Baby (2004). Clint Eastwood’s movie takes viewers on a brilliant emotional ride as they watch the training of an amateur female boxer in an attempt to atone for the trainer’s past. The movie is based on the short story, "Million $$$ Baby," taken from FX Toole’s book, Rope Burn: Stories from the Corner. This story is arguably the best of the collection, all of which will have you waiting for more in this captivating book.
     
  20. No Country for Old Men (2007). This powerful movie depicts the essence of pure evil in the character of Anton Chigurh and the pure brilliance of the brothers Coen as they wrote, directed, and edited this eerie, yet masterfully-created cinematic feat. The movie was adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name and stays remarkably true to the storyline. The book and movies seem so incredibly part of one another on so many levels that those who loved the movie must read the book.