ByBenjamin Eaton, writer at
Resident bookworm and semi-professional nerd. Find me on Twitter: @Singapore_Rice
Benjamin Eaton

We've all missed a reference here and there, letting a quote or visual nod go over our heads whilst watching a movie. You didn't recognize the impression everyone else finds hilarious, and you're left wondering what it all means. What does it matter if he's got red on him, why do they need a bigger boat and why aren't we in Kansas anymore?

Cult classics can be an endless source of alienation and camaraderie - especially when it comes to a film's source material. The literary works that inspired cult films can often be even more obscure than the films themselves. Take a look at 7 films you didn't know were inspired by literature.

For More Surprising Literary Adaptations, Check Out:

7. The Warriors

The Warriors [Image Credit: Paramount]
The Warriors [Image Credit: Paramount]
  • Initial release: 1979
  • Director: Walter Hill
  • Adapted from: The Warriors by Sol Yurick / Anabasis by Xenophon

The Warriors is the unlikely cult hit that was simultaneously criticized for popularizing gang violence and celebrated as an urban fable that explored the dangers faced by young people on the streets.

The basis for The Warriors was the book of the same name by author Sol Yurick, but his novel was in turn inspired by a centuries old text from around 370 BC. Anabasis or The March of the Ten Thousand is attributed to a Greek soldier known as Xenophon, and it chronicles the rout of an army stranded in hostile Persia, attempting to make their way back to Greece.

Major differences between the text and the film:

The obvious and most important difference is the setting. Sol Yurick's book transposed the story of soldiers trapped and desperate in a hostile environment to the streets of New York, adapting a soldier's fear of violence as something a modern readership could better understand.

Ultimately, this is what made the film a cult hit. After a spate of violence and vandalism followed its theatrical release, Paramount were forced to halt their advertising campaign for The Warriors, while releasing cinemas from any contractual obligation to screen it. Despite, or perhaps because of that controversy, The Warriors has stood the test of time as a quintessential cult classic.

6. A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange [Credit: Warner Bros.]
A Clockwork Orange [Credit: Warner Bros.]
  • Initial release: 1972
  • Director: Stanley Kubrick
  • Adapted from: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

In the years since its release, A Clockwork Orange has lost none of its disturbing appeal. Like the novel before it, Kubrick's movie analyzes violence, gang culture, and state brutality through a kaleidoscope, mingling its severe topics with absurdity.

One of the most iconic yet repulsive scenes features a gang rape set to the warbling acapella of 'Singin' In The Rain', a horrific irony that aptly summarizes one of the themes of the film: the manifold connection of violence, art, and sickness. It was the movie's superb direction and expert use of music that made it an instant hit and a lasting cult classic.

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Major differences between the text and the film:

While the Singin' In The Rain scene may be one of the most enduring moments of Kubrick's adaptation, the major difference has to be the omission of the novel's final chapter. While the movie suggested that Alex, the ultra-violent sex-offender, would slip back into old habits after a surreal realization that he's been cured of his state-mandated hypnotherapy, the novel offered him a way back.

In Burgess's ending, Alex begins to consider having a family of his own, realizing he has less desire to cause harm and destruction. That understanding is tempered with the existential angst of guessing that his children would be just as bad as he was. Swings and roundabouts.

This ending was cut from many versions of the novel, as it felt incongruous with the rest of the book. In fact, Kubrick didn't even read the intended ending until he'd finished the screenplay for A Clockwork Orange.

5. Re-Animator

Re-Animator [Image Credit: Empire International Pictures]
Re-Animator [Image Credit: Empire International Pictures]
  • Initial Release: 1985
  • Director: Stuart Gordon
  • Adapted From: Herbert West-Reanimator by H.P Lovecraft

Sometimes all it takes for a film to go down in cult memory is a few gallons of fake blood and some campy violence. That's what audiences got with Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator, the zany horror-comedy loosely directed from H.P Lovecraft's "poorest work", a short story originally written in serialized format called Herbert West-Reanimator.

The problem with writing a serialization meant that Lovecraft was forced to end each chapter with a cliffhanger and spend the first portion of each with a recap of the last. By all accounts, he hated writing the short story, but Stuart Gordon saw a zany weirdness within that instantly clicked with some - and hugely upset others.

Major differences between the text and the film:

H.P Lovecraft fans are a dedicated bunch, and Gordon's film upset a lot of the purists out there who considered it a dumb and exploitative adaptation of a beloved classic. There're enormous differences between the movie and the story, from changing the Lovecraftian setting to a contemporary one to the inclusion of a love interest.

Lovecraft rarely included female protagonists, but Stuart Gordon added in the character of Megan, because Hollywood isn't sure what to do with a movie that doesn't feature some semblance of a romantic interest.

Gordon's version is a pretty twisted form though, as Megan is essentially kidnapped, abused, murdered by zombies, and raised from the dead - only to scream the movie out to black. That's got cult written all over it.

4. The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride (Credit: 20th Century Fox)
The Princess Bride (Credit: 20th Century Fox)
  • Initial Release: 1987
  • Director: Rob Reiner
  • Adapted From: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Rob Reiner's The Princess Bride wasn't an instant hit, but it's definitely been a lasting one, reaching cult status as one of the most quotable movies ever made. Production was notoriously difficult and uncertain, and novelist William Goldman even ruined a few early takes because he could be heard on the microphones praying for success. This inconceivable doubt was evidently unfounded.

Major differences between the text and the film:

William Goldman's The Princess Bride is uniquely represented as an abridged version of a much longer story written by S. Morgenstern, with the author offering comedic asides by interjecting and imposing his presence on the narrative.

This narrative style survives in a way in the movie, which is framed as a man reading a story to his sick grandson.

There was originally an alternate ending planned in which the grandson went to the window and found the four adventurers from the book outside his window, beckoning him to go on their next adventure. A weird meta-twist, or unusual sequel bait? We'll fortunately never know.

3. Die Hard

Die Hard [Image Credit: 20th Century Fox]
Die Hard [Image Credit: 20th Century Fox]
  • Initial Release: 1989
  • Director: John McTiernan
  • Adapted From: Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp

Welcome to the list, pal! Die Hard is one of the most contentious Christmas films ever made, but as an action movie it's near the top of everyone's list. Sassy John McClane taking on the 'terrorists' at Nakotomi Plaza gave us some of cinema's most entertaining and memorable moments, while launching Bruce Willis as the unlikely everyman turned hero that'd return again and again and again and again.

Major differences between the text and the film:

The movie is loosely based on the Roderick Thorp thriller Nothing Lasts Forever, which returns to the protagonist of one of his earlier works: Joseph Leland. In the movie, the aging cop became the younger John McClane, and the central relationship was changed to reflect that. In Thorp's novel, Leland is actually visiting his estranged daughter, not his estranged wife.

It was Bruce Willis that changed all that. A slew of serious actors at Leland's age-range turned down the role, from Richard Gere to Frank Sinatra. When Willis was offered the role, he was a relatively unknown actor whose credits were simply listed on TV.

His involvement not only necessitated a shift in the script due to his age-range, it resulted in one the most smart-alec heroes ever realized on the big screen.

2. Fight Club

Fight Club [Image Credit: Fox]
Fight Club [Image Credit: Fox]
  • Initial Release: 1999
  • Director: David Fincher
  • Adapted From: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

It probably says something about what makes a cult film that so many of those on this list hold up a distorted mirror to society to show us some ugly truths. David Fincher's Fight Club is an expert depiction of aimless masculinity in a capitalist society, exploring drug abuse, cult behavior and mental illness with plenty of laughs along the way.

Major differences between the text and the film:

The movie is a fairly accurate adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's novel of the same name, with the notable exception of a very different ending. After choosing to shoot himself, the narrator wakes up in a mental hospital, believing himself to be dead and in heaven where he has a brief discussion with God. That is, until he is confronted by hospital workers who're revealed to be members of Project Mayhem expecting Tyler to come back.

1. Mean Girls

Mean Girls [Credit: Paramount]
Mean Girls [Credit: Paramount]
  • Initial Release: 2004
  • Director: Mark Waters
  • Adapted From: Queenbees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman

She doesn't even go here! Well actually, she does. Mean Girls was adapted by Tina Fay from the self-help book Queenbees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman, which was the DNA for essentially everything in the movie. Yet the movie is more than just an examination of high school society and evil clad in pink. It's hysterical, which can be more powerful than misery in many cases.

Major differences between the text and the film:

Given that the entire story and tone is different from the source material, the top difference has to go to something particularly profound. It has to be the mystery of Glen Coco, a brief addition who was immortally acknowledged by Damien, but who is this mystery character that warranted four Candygrams? You go, Glen Coco!

It's this sort of thing that can ingrain itself into cultural consciousness for no other reason than being a little bit daft. The sort of thing that gets lampooned and auto-tuned on YouTube. It's quotable. It's absurd. And now, it's inexplicably loved by millions.

Honorable Mention: Donnie Darko

  • Initial Release: 2001
  • Director: Richard Kelly
  • Inspired By: Watership Down by Richard Adams

For all its literary inspirations, Donnie Darko is a totally unique beast of social satire and intricate science fiction, which is why it's more of an honorable mention than a fully-fledged member of the list.

This portrayal of teen angst literally warped through time is an unsettling classic, which launched Jake Gyllenhaal to fame from his nervy portrayal of a troubled teenager. But the plot has several literary allusions and subtexts running concurrently beneath the suburban nightmare.

Most important inspiration for the film:

One of the most memorable images of Donnie Darko is easily the creepy, dead, time-traveling rabbit named Frank. It was thought to be an allusion to 'Harvey', a comedy in which Jimmy Stewart is believed to be crazy for speaking with a rabbit nobody else can see.

However, Frank was supposedly inspired by the protagonists of Richard Adams' novel Watership Down, which actually features briefly in the movie prior to one of Donnie's trembling existential rants. It foreshadows the reveal of who and what Frank is, not to mention it taps into a confusing nostalgia for one of the bleakest cartoons ever shown to children.

There you have it! 8 Films You Didn't Realize Were Inspired By Literature. Do you have any left-field favorite movies based on books? Let us know in the comments below!


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