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4 award-winning films you didn't know were based on books

Sometimes there are best-selling novels that are adapted into award-winning films and the relationship between them is obvious - think Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Crime and Punishment, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and so on.

Other times, there are films that sweep the board at the awards, make millions at the box office, and enter the Halls of Fame with cult-like status - but were based on books that didn't quite reach the public spotlight.

Here are four award-winning films that you may not have known were based on novels.


Novel written by Rex Pickett (2004)

Film directed by Alexander Payne (2004)

Sideways is the story of two friends, Miles and Jack, who take a road trip to the Santa Ynez Valley a week before Jack plans to marry. Miles is a recently divorced wine aficionado who struggles to publish his novels. Jack is a charismatic television director who is determined to engage in a short affair before his marriage. What ensues is a hilarious story of life, love, friendship, and regrets.

Sideways the film received widespread acclaim from critics and won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress.

Dances with Wolves

Novel written by Michael Blake (1988)

Film directed by Kevin Costner (1990)

A Civil War soldier develops a relationship with a band of Lakota Indians. Attracted by the simplicity of their lifestyle, he chooses to leave his former life behind to be with them. Having observed him, they give the name Dances With Wolves. Soon he is a welcomed member of the tribe and falls in love with a white woman who has been raised in the tribe. Tragedy results when Union soldiers arrive with designs on the land.

Author Michael Blake originally intended Dances with Wolves to be a speculative film script, but published it as a novel after Kevin Costner urged him to. Costner then bought the rights immediately and made the film. Blake won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

The film was nominated for twelve awards at the 63rd Academy Awards, winning seven, including the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay, in addition to a variety of technical awards.

Never Let Me Go

Novel written by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005) Winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature

Film directed by Mark Romanek (2010)

Kathy, Tommy and Ruth are raised in an idyllic environment at Hailsham, a boarding school. Even as they deal with pangs of love, a teacher lets it slip that their fate has already been written.

This is a beautifully-written, haunting dystopian piece that addresses some very human issues.

The book was shortlisted for the 2005 Booker Prize (an award Ishiguro had previously won in 1989 for The Remains of the Day), for the 2006 Arthur C. Clarke Award and for the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award.

The film won eight awards and was nominated for a further twenty-seven.

The Bridge on the River Kwai

Novel written by Pierre Boulle (published in French in 1952, and English translation by Xan Fielding in 1954)

Film directed by David Lean (1957)

British POWs are ordered by their Japanese captors to construct a bridge of strategic importance and are happy to sabotage and delay the progress until their commanding officers orders them to continue the work unhindered to its completion, but are his actions tantamount to collaborating with the enemy?

The film was widely praised, winning seven Academy Awards (including Best Picture) at the 30th Academy Awards.

So, there you go. Whether literature is better than film remains an age-old debate and a heated topic of conversation at the dinner tables of book lovers and film buffs everywhere. I’m ambivalent: sometimes the film adaptation of a book is terrible, but sometimes it's absolutely glorious. Either way, it’s quite fun to see a visual version of what had previously only been in my imagination (speaking of which, I have recently read and then watched Gone Girl – both the book and the film are brilliant and well done in their own ways. I appreciate more the written insight into Amy's psyche from the book, but then has there ever been a better bit of casting than Ben Affleck as the apathetic Nick Dunne? Perfect).

I’ll end with a quote from Stephen King, who sums it all up pretty nicely:

“Books and movies are like apples and oranges. They both are fruit, but taste completely different.”
~Stephen King ~

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