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Do Short Stories Make Great Films?

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Mark Kermode | 17:09 UK time, Friday, 24 June 2011

A newly remastered version of the great Nic Roeg film Don't Look Now is about to be released on BluRay and DVD. It got me thinking about other films made from short stories and wondering whether less is more when it comes to adapting the written word to the big screen?

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  • Comment number 1.

    The vastly underated science fiction film enemy mine is based on a short story. Then expanded into a full novel after the film came out.

  • Comment number 2.

    "The Box", "....Benjamin Button"?? Hmm, I am tempted to say no, but must admit, it is probably as much about the filmmaker getting it right as it is abotu the length; after all there are some full-length novels that have proven impossible on film (no names, Mr Burton)

  • Comment number 3.

    The opening scene of the 'The killers' (1946) is taken from a short story by Ernest Hemingway. the rest of the film is invention of the screen writers, but the title says Ernest Hemingway's 'the killers'.During the 30's and 40's short stories were routinely published in magazines.'The maltese falcon' 'It happened one night' and 'Its a wonderful life' were based on stories published in magazines.

  • Comment number 4.

    Before people attend to the question at hand I must mention Paul McGuigan's "The Acid House" (1998), which was a feature length film consisting of three bracketed short stories taken from Irvine Welsh's book of short stories, of the same title. While McGuigan added very little in terms of content to these tales, what he did manage to do was oppress the audience's ability to conceive of the characters in any way other than his unambiguously obnoxious scum representation and thus, unlike the book, I wished they were all dead.

  • Comment number 5.

    Although most critics lambasted it as sentiemental drivel, I have a soft spot for Spielberg's Artificial Intelligence. Based on the story "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long" by Brian Aldiss, A.I captures the biting political satire perfectly, but also captures the incredible feeling of loneliness that the original story evoked so well.

    As for the real stinkers among short story adaptations, "I, Robot" is a depressingly watered down and mainstream adaptation of Isaac Asimov's brilliant collection of short stories.

  • Comment number 6.

    Of course you have Christopher Nolans Memento, based on Jonathan Nolans short story Memento Mori. Where Nolan takes the antereograde amnesia phenomena described in his brothers short story, expands and uses it to play with the narrative structure of the film.

  • Comment number 7.

    Bill Lancaster's screenplay for John Carpenter's "The Thing" is a masterpiece of tension, extrapolated from the exceeding pulpy, and dated short story/novella "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell, Jr.

  • Comment number 8.

    The Third Man. The best British film ever made, full of superb performances by Welles, Cotton and Trevor Howard, a unique outstanding score composed by Anton Karas using only a Zither and a cracking chase sequence which goes down on my list of favourites of greatest on foot chases. Rear Window (it is my personal favourite Hitchcock). Shawshank Redemption and Apocalypse Now are also top of my list.

    Talking of King adaptations I want to pass mention to Misery (granted it’s not a short story) which seems to go almost unnoticed among the likes of The Shinning and The Shawshank Redemption (both great). I feel that Misery deserves to be placed second in the best adaptations of his work, directed by Rob Reiner, I believe.

    I would not say I hated I am Legend but the final act spoiled what I thought was an enjoyable movie.

  • Comment number 9.

    Minority Report. Being an admirer of Phillip K Dick, I was somewhat surprised that this was an adaptation of a short story and not a full lenght book. I not only think it is one of Spielberg's best, but it also rather captures the essence of Dick's science fiction.

    3:10 to Yuma I was rather fond of as well and I didn't know Benjamin Button was based on a short story, but it did always seem like that's what it should have been.

  • Comment number 10.

    The Lawnmower Man; 'based' on a Stephen King short story but it bears no resemblance to the short story.

    The film is about Cyberspace and expansion of human consciousness/capability whilst the short story is about a man who strips naked, gets on all fours and begins to eat the titular lawn and then proceeds to kill the owner of said lawn...
    No cyberspace and no mentally handicapped Jeff Fahey...

    No wonder Stephen King wanted his name removed from it!

  • Comment number 11.

    I would have to give a vote to 'Brokeback Mountain' as a great film based on the short story by Annie Proulx.

    After reading the story I didn't think there was enough material in it to stretch to a full-length film, but Ang Lee really managed to flesh out the laconic characters of the book and managed to make me much more investigated in the central relationship.

  • Comment number 12.

    Brokeback Mountain was perhaps the best recent adaptation from a short story.

    The simplistic set-up (that film really needs) did wonders for allowing space for the director to get in and really explore the two men's relationship with each other and with the other people in their lives away from the mountain.

    Aside from the unnecessary Benjamin's Brad Pitt Button I would say that iRobot is a good example of the rule gone wrong.

    The short story was so because the idea was already treading old territory and so the snappier the better.

    Sadly the film became an ugly mutation of Terminator and Blade Runner that had the most ludicrously designed robots ever committed to film with the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air shoved into the middle of it all to draw audiences.

  • Comment number 13.


    Great topic, I think the reason short stories can and do work is that when you think of the much of best cinema it comes when directors and screen writers sell-out on one single idea, theme or concept. Obviously shorter story normally means more focused ideas. Examples

    Memento - Memory Loss
    Secretary - Sadomasochism
    Brokeback Mountain - Forbidden Love
    Rear Window - Voyeurism

    Whilst for me my most frustrating cinematic experiences occur when films try and cram too much in or leave certain elements of the narrative under developed, often as a result of trying to be too faithful to the source material when it is a longer piece of work.

  • Comment number 14.

    For me there is only one choice Bad day at Black rock, Based on the short story Bad day at Hondo by Howard Breslin.
    Spencer Tracy gives the best 'every man' performance of his career and 'karate chops' his way through Robert Ryans thugs.
    Still one of the most influential films today it just goes to show what you can do with a modern take on the 'western' idea.

    Incidentally Tracy lost out on the Best actor oscar to one of his co-stars (borgnine for Marty) a tragedy not repeated til Driving miss daisy beat Dead poets, born on the fourth, my left foot, and field of dreams.

    Just shows the Academy didn't know what they were doing in 1955 either!

  • Comment number 15.

    All about Eve

    Breakfast at Tiffanys.

    Both favourites of mine, both based on novellas.

  • Comment number 16.

    @14 keyser sozes ghost

    a bit harsh on Borgnine i loved Marty! Ah yes where were we,short stories.I know it wasnt a whole film i know but i have fond memories of George Cole in `The Kite`by i think Graham Green.

  • Comment number 17.

    Spielberg's so-good-it-was-released-in-theatres TV flick Duel was borne of a Playboy-published short story by Richard Matheson.

  • Comment number 18.

    I'm not convinced it's the length of the source material so much as it is what the screenwriter wants to do with it and how good they are at doing that. Consider Wes Anderson's "Fantastic Mr. Fox". All the elements of the treasured short story are there, but they're crammed into the first half hour and last ten minutes. The rest of the film is new material - mostly aimed imho at giving adults something to write about - but then again, I seem to recall Dr. K pointing out before that a lot of kids movies these days are really written for adults.

    At the same time, one of the best things about adaptations is the ability to reconceive or embellish a story familiar to its fanbase, and in that regard, short stories are more flexible because there's more room to take creative liberties. For example, one of the good things about "V for Vendetta" was that the film was able to find its own voice and focus on different themes, whilst one of the things that made "Watchmen" so dreary for me (having read the comix first) was how pathologically faithful it was to Alan Moore's masterwork. A bit off-topic maybe, but I hope it makes the point...

  • Comment number 19.

    memento was made based on chris nolan's brother short story called memento mori however chris used the idea and jumbled it alll up in the end ur either confused or dead but still a big hit

  • Comment number 20.

    Out of all of them for me, it has to be 'Rear Window', based on the Cornell Woolrich short story "It Had to Be Murder". The core ideas of voyeurism and paranoia are adapted beautifully and unfold with a great pace. Not to mention made iconic by Hitchcock and the hypnotic chemistry between Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly.

  • Comment number 21.

    Well the first films that come to mind for me are Bubba Ho-Tep and Memento. Both based on short stories. Both good films.

    Also, on the point of King I think one of his strongest adaptations is the novella The Mist, another by Frank 'Shawkshank' Darabont.

    Let's look at Philip K. Dick for a moment. He's an interesting case. His shorts have given us Minority Report, Total Recall, The Adjustment Bureau but also Paycheck, Screamers and Next. Varying degrees of quality there. Everything from the excellent to the rubbish.
    However his novels have given us A Scanner Darkly and flippin' Blade Runner!

  • Comment number 22.

    Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator is one of my favourite horror movies and I feel that it improves on the H.P. Lovecraft short story "Herbert west - Re-Animator". In the short story, West has blonde hair and blue eyes, completely different to Jeffrey Coombs yet Coombs played the role perfectly. In terms of poor adaptations, I wasn't a fan of Lucio Fulci's movie based on Edgar Allen Poe's The Black Cat. Not one of Fulci's best in my opinion.

  • Comment number 23.

    Short answer: yes! "Rashomon" was based on two short stories, while "The Man Who Would Be King" was a Kipling short story that became an excellent film too. "Bringing Up Baby" is one of my favourite films, and it was also a short story (by Hagar Wilde).

    The title of Asimov's "I, Robot" was used for a Will Smith film, but that's about all they took from the story! I wish directors would make better films from short stories by Asimov, Heinlein, and others from the "Golden Age" of SF. Arthur C Clarke's "The Sentinel" was the basis of "2001", and he also has a huge catalogue of short stories that would make good films, in my opinion - such as "Against The Fall Of Night", "Sunjammer", and "Death and the Senator". The rash of asteroid impact films in the late 1990s may owe something to his story "The Hammer Of God" (1992), I suspect ...

  • Comment number 24.

    I'd have to simply say that blade runner is the best example of a short story that was made into a far better film, the short story (do androids dream electric sheep for the three people who don't know) is a load of meandering dross where as the film is a tightly made piece of cinematic art depending on the version you watch.

  • Comment number 25.

    If I remember rightly, Frank Darabont's THE MIST is based on a Stephen King short story. THE MIST remains my favourite; I especially admire the fact Darabont had the courage to keep his staggeringly bleak ending to the film. It wouldn't be the film it is without it.

  • Comment number 26.

    John Carpenter's They Live, which is based on the short story "Eight O'Clock in the Morning' by Ray Nelson. Carpenter took the central premise - man realises the whole human race has been brainwashed by aliens - and used it as a springboard to explore issues of consumerism, capitalist culture and the effect of mass media. Add in some killer lines about bubble gum and you have one of the great cult hits of the late-1980s and to date Carpenter's last truly great film.

  • Comment number 27.

    I can say, without a doubt, that my favorite film (based on a short story) is John Carpenter's 1982 version of 'The Thing'. Many people think that it's a remake of the Howard Hawks version from the 50's. But this is not actually true. Both version of the film are based on the story story 'Who Goes There'. The Howard Hawks version is only loosely based on the original story; serving more as a basic template rather than a translation. But what makes Carpenter's version far more superior is that it focuses on the crucial elements that made the original story so good; with its main focus being on the idea that the characters turn against one another due to their paranoia about not knowing who's human and who's the thing. It is this core idea that made the original short story so compelling and interesting. John Carpenter captured the essences of that idea perfectly.

  • Comment number 28.

    There are so many... Obvious examples would include the other Daphne du Maurier short story that became a classic - "The Birds", or Julio Cortazar's "Las babas del diablo" which became "Blow-up". Both movies differ a lot from the source material.

    However, I've recently seen John Huston's last movie, "The Dead", which is almost identical to the James Joyce original story, with the exception of a poetry recital that enforces the main themes (nostalgia for a lost love, the unavoidable death...). It's a wonderful 'last film' and very personal, even though every element of the plot comes from the short story.

    As for bad movies based on short stories.. there probably are a lot of them, too.

  • Comment number 29.

    Where The Wild Things Are - fewest words?

  • Comment number 30.

    Short stories produce good ideas that tend to work best in sci-fi/ fantasy type films... AI, Memento, minority report, etc..

  • Comment number 31.

    100% have to include Memento by Chris Nolan from Memento Mori by his brother. A truly fantasic pair of filmmakers.

  • Comment number 32.

    Where the Wild things Are as randomword mentioned hangs on about 10 sentances. The tricky part is ploughing up adequate subtext from those 10 sentances to make it featurelength, which is both a blessing in terms of creative licence and a curse as it it seldom results in the book everyone remembers. I admire Spike Jones for being bold with it, but felt it had lost some of its innocence towards the end.
    Gilliam's Jabberwocky is based on a page of Lewis Carroll nonsense poetry but more or less abandons all but the basic scenario of Dragon vv dragonslayer at the climax. Gilliam pads the rest out with his own take on a medieval 'carry on' movie though I do have a soft spot for the lush Bruegel-inspired cinematography.
    And the other one which springs to mind is "Company of Wolves" where Angela Carter's original tale is like the 3 page plot synopsis. Each major setpiece is more or less a 5 line paragraph in the short story. I liked this one quite a bit as it plays on the surreal freudian themes of the original to great effect.

  • Comment number 33.

    The Beast Must Die, werewolf whodunnit based on James Blish's There Shall Be No Darkness. The only movie with a Werewolf Break!
    Asylum, Amicus portmanteau movie with tales adapted by Robert Bloch from his own short stories.
    Short Cuts based on Raymond Carver's short stories.
    & special mention to The Set-Up, Robert Wise's classic boxing movie 'inspired by' Joseph Moncure March's poem.

    As for the worst, Paycheck

  • Comment number 34.

    I think Robert Altman's Short Cuts is a brilliant example of a film that takes a short story, in this case of bunch of Raymond Carver's shorts, and turns them into something extraordinary by piecing them together in a brilliant way with arguably the best cast of any movie ever.

    The worst is probably Johnny Mnemonic, based on the William Gibson short and adapted by himself, which is a terrible, terrible movie.

  • Comment number 35.

    Two key adaptations for me are both from the works of Clive Barker: Hellraiser and Candyman, adapted from The Hellbound Heart and The Forbidden respectively. Hellraiser switches Kirsty from smitten friend to Larry's (Rory in the book) daughter which creates an extra emotional dynamic lost in the novella and Candyman adds an entirely new sub-plot not found in the short story in which Helen is framed for the Candyman's murders. This in turn also creates a hefty human element whilst fleshing out the characters and the Candyman's motivations more thoroughly than the short story allowed.

  • Comment number 36.

    Two minor films of note, I think, are...

    I am Legend


    Amy Foster

    I think everyone knows the former, and I have to say I was really miffed with the film version. At this point it is probably best to mention that I love film and literature equally. Amy Foster I thought was better as a short story too (Conrad). General narrative is so much better in word-form.
    I may get hanged for this, but I was really impressed with the Lord of the Rings films. Although not my favourite films of all time, versus the books, I thought they were great. Don't get me wrong, the books were great; but I was not overly fond of the writing-style.

  • Comment number 37.

    All of Roger Corman's adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe's short stories - The Fall of the House of Usher, Pit and the Pendulum, The Raven, and my personal favourite, Masque of the Red Death.

  • Comment number 38.

    Here's a question : should comics and graphic novels be counted as short stories? The amount of actual text will obviously be less than a novel, but because that only forms part of the storytelling, should the sheer amount of visuals count towards a kind of equivalent word count? (Hopefully that rationalisation allows fans to take their pick of big screen superhero adaptations.)

  • Comment number 39.

    Hey, 2001 A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick was based on a short story, Arthur C Clarke's The Sentinel, which is a first-person rumination from the point of view of a geologist who discovers some thing on the moon, perhaps left there by aliens eons ago, and who goes on to worry about the future human race.

    Kubrick kept the moon thing, sort of, but abandoned the rest and expanded his own ruminations, finally producing a film that manages to encapsulate the entire history of human evolution and accomplishment, and looks ahead with a kind of crazy imagination and optimism.

    Overall, in my view, this is a good example of the benefits of adapting and expanding short stories into film, because The Sentinel is a rather forgettable piece of nothing in particular, and 2001 is a perfect film (and I'm stating that as a fact).

  • Comment number 40.

    One of my favourite classic Westerns is Delmar Daves 3:10 to Yuma taken from Elmore Leonard's short story whereas James Mangold's remake is atrocious. For me short stories and novellas provide more apt adapatation material than novels as there is far less to cut down and more to elaborate on, Papillon is a great movie but only because it is not faithful to the bulk of the novel - classics such as Jack Clayton's The Innocents based on Henry James Turn of the Screw, Kipling's The Man who Would Be King, not to mention the countless Jeckyll and Hyde based movies are all great elaborations on short stories. Richard Matheson's I Am Legend has been adapted many times, none completely great, and Hemmingway has provided The Killers for both Siodmack and Siegel and John Sturges' not entirley successful Old Man and the Sea. Two early nineties examples, both films that I love and both starring Brad Pitt are from novellas: the first, although villified by many, is Legends of the Fall, based on Jim Harrison's story from a book that also gave us Tony Scott's terrible Revenge, and the second Robert Redford's A River Runs Through It, which takes Norman Maclane's prose as it's heart. A great subject for a blog Mr K.

  • Comment number 41.

    I don't necessarily know that short stories make better long films. I suppose the case could be made that the short story and novella format offers film authors the ability to really expand upon the source and inject it with their own original viewpoint, but at the same time there are just as many movies that have been "loosely based" off of full length novels as "loosely based" off of short stories. Or poems.

On the subject of good vs. bad "short story" movies, I don't think you could go very wrong with the AIP/Roger Corman/Vincent Price/Edgar Allan Poe films. Obviously, many of them were loosely based on the poetry of the prolific author, but I think that even at their most loose retelling these films manage to invoke the precise kind of encroaching macabre that Poe intended with his stories. Of course, at the same time, these movies could just as easily prove to be hokey exercises in scenery-chewing. Sometimes both occur in the same film. Personal favorites of mine include "Masque of the Red Death" and "The Fall of the House of Usher", two films that still manage to scare me as much as they did when I was just a kid. "Tales of Terror" and "Twice Told Tales" (the latter being based on Nathaniel Hawthorne stories) are a pitch perfect double feature, the first one especially, since it contains a Vincent Price/Peter Lorre segment that begins as an adaptation of "The Cask of Amantillado" and ends as "The Black Cat". The interesting case being that those films are anthology pictures; essentially multiple short subjects strung together into feature length, which, of course, begs another question. In what instances is short film a better mode for adaptation than feature length?

  • Comment number 42.

    Of course Philip K.Dick wrote loads of fantastic short stories that were turned into films, most notably for me Total Recall which Verhoeven brazenly went about making it extremely dark, violent and heaps of fun.
    But then there was Pay Check. I am a John Woo fan, but not a deluded one. that film was beyond terrible.
    A.I. developed from Brian Aldriss or Aldiss short story was a poor film, as was the self indulgent, mind-numbing Eyes Wide Shut.
    After discussing this with a friend i did not realise that Brokeback Mountain and Apocalypse Now(maybe i should have with the latter) were based on short stories. Was Brokeback originally called '2 cowboys in a tent'? ;-)

  • Comment number 43.

    My favourite's are; Who Goes There, the novella that inspired John Carpenter's masterful 'remake' of The Thing.

    Memento Mori by Jonathan Nolan, which inspired the amazing Memento.

    Another one is the somewhat underrated Tony Scott film Revenge, which was based on a short story by Jim Harrison.

    Another example are the Bond films, and in this case The Living Daylights. The short story, also known as The Living Daylights, inspired the post credits opening and gave way for one of the best Bond films.

  • Comment number 44.

    An interesting take on an old debate, nice. However for a much broader look Jonathan Coe had a great essay in the Guardian recently about the whole novel v movie subject and its well worth looking up.

  • Comment number 45.

    i think Performance, Walkabout and The Man who fell to Earth are far superior films in Nic Roeg's canon of films.

  • Comment number 46.

    I think The Box (the film) expanded the short story which is lame morality play and makes it's into a very interesting alien conspiracy flick.

  • Comment number 47.

    Stephen King's 'The Mist' has already been mentioned but its a film I never hesitate to recommend, its a little beauty and a little under appreciated!

  • Comment number 48.

    I can't believe no one has mentioned "The Fly".

    There is pretty simple reason why short stories often make for more interesting adaptations than novels. As I think your blog itself implied, the creative process is the key here, not the formats. Short stories rarely carry the kind of status where a film studio will commission an adaption, and therefore it should be that a short story adaptation is more likely to born out of a spark of inspiration on the part of a writer or director.

    As for examples, "Re-Animator" the film is certainly an improvement over H.P. Lovecrafts original short story, "Herbert West – Reanimator". The film takes the pulpy potential of one of Lovecraft's weaker short stories and runs with it. The result is great horror comedy. Meanwhile, any other Lovecraft adaptation is an exception that proves the rule, as many other of Lovecraft's short stories and novellas have been adapted, and none of them successfully.

  • Comment number 49.

    I've read through about thirty short stories by Edgar Allan Poe, and I think there's only a handful of them that would work or be enhanced with visual application, let alone needing a cinematic release. However, compared to the stories by Franz Kafka, directors would have stylistic pleasure adapting Poe's work to the screen, as long as the production possessed the spirit of Vincent Price and Roger Corman.
    It's cool the way "The Simpsons" reference Poe and other writers like Ernest Hemmingway and John Steinbeck. Incidentally, some short story-based films might fare better being in animation, like George Orwell's "Animal Farm."
    As for my favourites:
    Christopher Nolan's "Memento"
    John Carpenter's "The Thing" (I love horror movies.)

  • Comment number 50.

    I can't think of any short story-based films off the top of my head (although it's worth repeating that "Benjamin Button" was rubbish) but I did sit through the end credits of Duncan Jones' excellent "Moon" because I was certain that it must have been based on a short story of some kind. With its straightforward but mysterious premise, Sam's minimal but effective characterization, and the fact that its philosophical questions took precedent over it's futuristic setting, it feels as though the entire movie could have been written by Philip K Dick or Ray Bradbury.

  • Comment number 51.

    You'll kick yourselves... Groundhog Day was arguably "inspired," read stolen, from Richard Lupoff's short story 12:01PM.

    This adds another little twist to the theory, does a film based on a short story become even better (more creative) when it keeps the basic idea but attempts disguise the source material as much as possible...

  • Comment number 52.

    Myerla, The Third Man is a great film, though it's interesting to read Greene's perspective on the screenplay, it was only actually written by Greene as an aide to create the screenplay and published only hesitently on the back of the film's huge success. So I'm not sure if that one strictly counts as an adaptation.

    What does count is the previous years screen adaptation of Greene's "The Basement Room" - "The Fallen Idol", despite the plot being radically altered to suit the 1940's demand for happy endings, Carol Reed's direction does still convey the tone of the book (an innocent getting lost in an adult world of lies and deceit that he cannot understand) very well. Having said that reading the source material after falling in love with the film as a child left me feeling very much like the protagonist at the end of the book version. Sucker-Punch.

    Another thought, don't short stories tend to make much better films than novels? Films of novels all too often end up suffering from the weight of the source material, don't get me wrong there are a lot of "OK" film adaptations, but very few "great" ones. Dr. Zhivago is one notable exception, but the amount of material from the novel that is omitted is staggering.

  • Comment number 53.

    One of the all time greats, Stagecoach, was based on the short story by Ernest Hayycox called "Stage of Lordsburg" which in turn was probably based on the wonderful short story "Boule de Suif" by Guy de Maupassant.

  • Comment number 54.

    IN THE BEDROOM based on the short story by Andre Dubus. The story only suggests the final movement of the film and was expanded into an almost entirely original work with inspired, haunting music, dialogue designed to tear at the hearts of the characters, and two unbelievable performances from Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek. I'm sorry, but against Spacek, Halle Berry did not deserve her Oscar that year. Todd Field directed a small masterpiece.

  • Comment number 55.

    I would fly the flag for the first twenty-30 minutes of the original "When A Stranger Calls" based on a short urban legend, it managed to stay up there in the greatest horror moments. Clealy a forerunner to Wes Craven's "Scream" and phone murders to come.

  • Comment number 56.

    'The Thing'.
    'They Live'.
    'The Mist'.
    '2001: A Space Odyssey'.

    All of which have been listed, all of which are great examples of the adaptability of short fiction, particularly genre ideas. Numerous Stephen King short/novellas have been adapted but, for every 'The Mist' and 'The Shawshank Redemption', there's a 'Night Shift' or 'Creepshow 2'. Ouch!

  • Comment number 57.

    ...or was it 'Graveyard Shift'? You know, that god awful rubbish with rats in a mill??

  • Comment number 58.

    Best and worse at the same time

    Maximum Overdrive, based on Stephen King's 'Trucks'
    Worse because, well, it is really bad
    Best because it has a soundtrack by AC/DC, which does work very well

  • Comment number 59.

    If we are talking about short stories, are we talking about novellas instead of just novels? In that case A Clockwork Orange certainly has to be up there as not only one of the all time great films, but also a film where the director gave his own interpretations, such as the infamous 'Singing In The Rain' section.

    You also can't talk about Kubrick's interpretation without talking about the ommission of the final chapter. Controversially to most people I know who have read the book and seen the movie, I have always prefered the Kubrick ending. The ending the book to me always always seemed a too easy change in persona and under the assumption that growing up means growing out of violence, which just simply isn't true. The ending in the Kubrick version, whilst not neccessarily sticking with the author's vision, just seemed to be more in tone with the rest of the movie.

  • Comment number 60.

    One of my favorite films "stand by me" is adapted from a short story by Stephen King called "the body" (this is my review of that incidentally... A bit of self-promoting never hurt anyone...).
    The book was included in the book Different Seasons, which also included the short story which inspired "Shawshank Redemption".

  • Comment number 61.

    How about Henry James' masterpiece - The Turn of the Screw? Great black and white version with Debra Kerr (The Innocents), is said to have been the inspiration behind The Others? And there was a recent BBC version (2009?) which altered many of the major elements but I thought was rather good...

    There is also all of the fairytales which were re-written in The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter which helped create The Company of Wolves.

    Wasn't Dicken's A Christmas Carol also a short story?

    There are also some great short stories that I can't imagine making good movies - for example the American classic The Awakening, by Kate Chopin. Or for that matter the short stories by Jane Austen.

  • Comment number 62.

    The first thing that came to mind was the quickly forgotten 1995 TV movie "Harrison Bergeron", based on the Kurt Vonnegut story. The film assumes the viewers have read the text, and completely expands the universe it takes place in, adding layers of emotional and physical depth that were absent in the original story. The filmmakers brazenly expected the audience to be intelligent enough to play along without having to spell anything out; this is what made this so memorable for me.

  • Comment number 63.

    Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is a full length novel not a short story but Bladerunner is the only Dick adaptation where the protagonist remains the somewhat more mature age of the characters in the stories (Tom Cruise was nowhere near over 50 for Minority Report)
    Likewise Heart of Darkness is a novella.
    I suspect they prefer short stories as you get the associated name and a relatively short plot that can be padded out without accusations of major rewrites or despoiling a major work by that author.

  • Comment number 64.

    @ Charles Oh. Right, I guess I should do more research. I was wondering, how much of a difference would it make if you read the book after watching the film? I enjoyed the film of The Exorcist just as much as I enjoyed the book; I read the book a few weeks ago, ages after viewing the film. To pick a quite recent version, The Golden Compass, I loved the book, hated the film and I read the book first. Or was the film just rubbish anyway?

    On another note I have just got Don't Look Now for my birthday. Digitally remastered.

  • Comment number 65.

    '2001: A Space Odyssey' is my all time favourite science fiction film but intriguingly it was adapted from a short novel before it was published.

  • Comment number 66.

    I think one of the best horror films of the last 20 years is Bernard Rose's Candyman, based on "The Forrbidden" by Clive Barker, which I have yet to read. It features a Gothic score by Philip Glass (which stands with The Illusionist and The Thin Blue Line as one of his best), beautiful cinematography, a hypnotic performance from Virginia Madsen, a wonderfully creepy, but also attractive one by Tony Todd, and such classic lines as "be my victim," and "what's blood for, if not for shedding?" It is also one of the only films I know of that can make someone afraid of their medicine cabinet.

  • Comment number 67.

    "12 Monkeys" must be worth a shout. Based on the short film "La Jetee", it's got to be one of Terry Gilliam's finest. But I would say that, wouldn't I.

  • Comment number 68.

    Akira Kurosawa's 'Rashomon' is one of my favourite films and fits quite neatly into this conversation. It is based on a series of very elegant short stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa and itself is a story about people telling short stories. What Kurosawa explores is the role of the storyteller - the cinema screen allows the portrayal of the witnesses of the murder in the film to be set pieced, something not present in Akutagawa's literature.

  • Comment number 69.

    Apocalypse Now, based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is one of my favourites. The film moves away from Conrad’s 1902 novella by have its setting during the Vietnam War and also by deviating substantially from the plot of Heart of Darkness. However, it retains some of the key lines of speech, most notably, “The horror, the horror!” An interesting film that draws not only on Conrad’s text but a range of literary sources, but which somehow manages to find its own voice.

  • Comment number 70.

    Surprised nobody has mentioned the James Bond films, A lot of the James Bond films were based on short stories by Ian Fleming? films like A View To A Kill, The Living Daylights & Octopussy, Even some of the films were just named after his short stories like Quantum of Solace for one.

    Plus I think Heart of Darkness was a short story so ergo Apocalypse Now is another film and lastly, I'm not sure if it is a short story or not, but The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is based on the book of the same (long) name

  • Comment number 71.

    A lot of SCI-FI is short story based, and indeed should remain that way. 2001 was not even a novel (that was after the fact, bit like Alien). It was based upon the short story called "The Sentinel", a really good Clarke short story. 2001 is not a particularly good movie (however, it is one of my favourite realisations of SCI FI!?) and the end demonstrates that they were effectively making it up as they went along and indeed, ran out of time and budget... So, in short, short stories do not make good movies as they have the tendency to loose their way and be subject to too much "interpretation".

  • Comment number 72.

    In addition it may be worth keeping in mind the difference between a short story and a couple of ideas thrown down on a piece of paper. There is an art to short story writing.

  • Comment number 73.

    "As for the real stinkers among short story adaptations, "I, Robot" is a depressingly watered down and mainstream adaptation of Isaac Asimov's brilliant collection of short stories."

    No No No No.

    The film I,Robot has NOTHING to do with the short story collection.

    The original script was called Hardwired and would have featured many of the same plot lines you saw in the film. The producers later got hold of the IP for I,Robot and shoehorned it into the film script.

    And I don't think that I,Robot is that bad. I quite enjoy it if I am honest - but not as an Asimov piece of work.

    Apart from Shia Lebeouf.

  • Comment number 74.

    One of my favourite short story adaptations is The Duellists. Based on the Joeseph Conrad short story. Excellent stuff.

    As is The Thing based on Who Goes there by John W Campbell.

    And The Thing is also one of those rare beasts in being a remake that's possible superior to the original (but still excellent) Howard Hawk's The Thing From Another World.

  • Comment number 75.

    Although already mentioned, I must say the one film that came straight to mind would be The Thing based on John W Campbell's novella Who Goes There? One of the best examples in my mind as it was transfered to film not once but twice and is even the inspiration for the yet to be released 'prequel' The Thing. Too much of a good thing? I am aprehensive about this new film for the 'new' generation of which i am part of (Im 23)

  • Comment number 76.

    My favourite adaptation would have to be Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall. Twisting the original short story in to a full blown action film made for great viewing, and a film that I love now as much as I did when I first saw it as an Arnie obsessed child. Naturally though, there are far more of the intricacies that I now enjoy which I didn't pick up on as a youngling.
    It will be interesting to see how the new adaptation of the story will come out, and I appreciate that it is just that, a re-adaptation rather than a straight remake. However, I can't imagine it will be as much fun without Michael Ironside.

  • Comment number 77.

    I love Truman Capote's novella Breakfast at Tiffany's but I HATE the film. As well as being painfully racist it takes everything that is interesting about the character of Holly Golightly in the story (she is a prostitute in all but name, a kleptomaniac and at best someone who may have undiagnosed mental health problems) and replaces it with someone is at worst a naive socialite. I don't understand the enduring appeal of the film. I find it completely uninteresting and even Capote himself felt he been betrayed by the filmmakers.

  • Comment number 78.

    Tony Takitani, a adapation of the short story by Haruki Murakami with the same name. Visually breathtaking and wonderfully melancholic. I highly recommend this one hour cinema gem!

  • Comment number 79.

    Sin City is based on several short graphic novels and come together to make a very good film.
    However there are several terrible short story adaptations, with the likes of Benjamin Button and all the rest. I still feel that with titles such as: Coraline, I am Legend, Memento, Million Dollar Baby and plenty more, there is certainly a strong backbone to short film adaptation upon the big screen.

  • Comment number 80.

    Don't Look Now is one of the best film ever made.

  • Comment number 81.

    Am I the only person who quite liked Benjamin Button then? :S

  • Comment number 82.

    I would have to say Brokeback Mountain as well. The disctinction you make in your clip is this: short stories imply whereas novels expose.

    The 'implicit' means that the reader/director/producer of the work has an opportunity to imagine their own world, thus it immediately becomes more engaging when reading a book. This in turn means that the producer is actually forced to engage in, and produce something which requires a greater creative leap. In essence, the short story demands creativity. Hence, Ang Lee can create this ever changing canvass through many decades of an America in flux (the bit that stuck in my mind is that the tent modernises every time they stay together).

    The novel on the other hand, can create a better resolution of image, a more robust universe, and a more compelling feeling of depth (cf there is little difference of opnion over Lord of the Rings' visual accuracy), but at the same time its weakness is that it does not necessarily require creativity and can just end up as imaginative as a re-make of another film.

  • Comment number 83.

    How about the cult classic Hardware? Based on a 6 paged Future shock story from 2000AD comic.

  • Comment number 84.

    How about 'Jindabyne', starring the ever-excellent Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney - also based, like Short Cuts, on a Raymond Carver short story, but expanded even more than the segment in SC to become a strong character drama and a morality tale of sorts, covering such diverse topics as racism, friendship, marriage etc.

  • Comment number 85.

    I did quite enjoy Argento and Keitel's The Black Dog from the Allen Poe short story. However, I don't think either Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep or Heart of Darkness qualify as short stories, they are simply great novels that aren't especially long. The former for instance is no shorter than say Trainspotting or Fahrenheit 451.

    Short stories seem to have scope for a healthy balance between loyalty to the source material and directorial licence to explore their ideas. There's an excellent interview with Michael Haneke on the Piano Teacher DVD in which he states that even a novel of 250 pages cannot be fully explored in a two hour film, which was a reason he cut all the flashback sequences from the book. This was also a fundamental reason Synder was fighting a losing battle with his thoroughly forgetable Watchmen adaptation.

  • Comment number 86.

    Not really a short story but I loved the adaptation of The Luck of Barry Lyndon made by Stanley Kubrick.

    Two examples of short stories that were turned into bad films that I can think of are first Tim Burton's adaptation of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow which looked good but turned a simple short story about two people who loved the same woman with an implyed supernatural hint which might have been nothing more than local folklore into a film about magic and revenge but that might have been more the fault of the screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker.

    The worst example I can think of of bad adaptation is I. Robot which gave me the feeling that the screen writters didn't even bother to read Asimov's work they just read the Wikipedia entry for the book.

  • Comment number 87.

    Several blogs mention the Will Smith "I am Legend" adaptation of the novel, but what about Charlton Heston's "The Omega Man"?

  • Comment number 88.

    Will watch the vid later and possibly come back with more. Three words: Stand By Me

  • Comment number 89.

    Nice one Matth Stil for highlighting Duel. Superb filmmaking.

    Although made for tv - and not feature-length - I'm a huge fan of the BBC's 1976 adaptation of the Charles Dickens ghost story,The Signalman, starring the wonderful Denholm Elliot.

  • Comment number 90.

    Couldn't wait to see what you had to say Dr K and I see you beat me to it with Stand By Me!
    Maybe I could add The Man Who Would Be King based on Rudyard Kipling's story of the same name. It's a cracking boy's own adventure with a fine double act from Connery and Caine. I remember first seeing it when I was quite young and being so disturbed and shocked by the ending, but it has remained a firm favourite despite that!
    I would have thought that it was logical that short stories translate well to film, simply because of their length. You get a beginning, a middle and an end in a nice neat package. Some of your blog followers may be surprised to know (as was I) that It's a Wonderful Life is based on a short story written by Phillip Van Doren Stern called The Greatest Gift. Everybody loves It's a Wonderful Life, and if you don't then there's something wrong with you!
    Of course the fantastic Apocalypse Now is loosely based on Joseph Conrad's novella (a slight tome that could be considered a short story) The Heart of Darkness.
    One more great one although there are many more is Enemy Mine based on the novella of the same name by Hugo award winning author Barry Longyear, directed by Wolfgang Petersen of "Das Boot" fame no less, and starring Lou Gossett Jnr and Dennis Quaid on the cusp of his full on 80s stardom. It's a simple tale based on the classic idea that your enemy is no different from you. I have fond memories of this movie, but I may be remembering it through rose tinted glasses (I don't think so!).
    I honestly can't think of any bad ones that I have seen other than the one you mentioned Dr K. It is a stinker! Poooeeee!

  • Comment number 91.

    Please look out for:
    Talihina Sky: The Story of Kings of Leon

    Currently unrated on IMDb - The documentary and accompanying Q&A amounted to THE BEST cinematic experience of my 37 year life.


  • Comment number 92.

    A novel has to be compressed whereas a short story is expanded into a film.

  • Comment number 93.

    Am I alone in thinking that Eye's Wide Shut is a strong film. The post movie talkabout between myself and girlfriend at the time lasted for days and almost threatened the relationship. However we decided to engage in the movies final word instead.

    'The Innocents' is a wonderful adaptation of Henry James Turn of the Screw and why, oh why has Richard Matheson's 'I Am Legend' failed to reap worthwhile silver screen rewards ?

  • Comment number 94.

    @ Black-Fandango

    If you like Candyman, did you ever see Paperhouse, a neglected minor masterpiece also by Bernard Rose. If you haven't I think you should.

    Upon reflection I'm inclined to believe that the reason Stand By Me and Shawshank were above par is due more to the fact that they were based on Kings mainstream fiction rather than horror. King is at his best when situation collides with character, the supernatural stuff often weakened a perfectly good story, as with Rose Madder.

  • Comment number 95.

    Duel's superb indeed, bloodysam. It's 18-wheeled antagonist was Spielberg's incipient movie leviathan, preceeding the likes of "Bruce", Raiders' booby trap ball and T-Rex... if one discounts the self-painted mountain used to herald a Playmount Productions (his first company) production!

  • Comment number 96.

    It has to be John carpenters The Thing, based on the short story: Who goes There? by John.W.Campbell.Jr. A brilliantly tense film, one of the best horror films ever, in my opinion. Fabulous.

  • Comment number 97.

    Well if you can accommodate a novella as a short story then both the original source heart of darkness and apocalypse now are tremendous, even or despite the fact that there is very little that they share. The third man was also either a novella or short story where the book was only so-so whilst the film vastly superior. The excellent short story flowers for Algernon became a pretty dire tv movie although I understand there may be a remake in the offing. I think you may be onto something here as with a starting shorter good text the film maker has to create more to expand to the film, whilst with most good novel to film transitions so much that was loved in the novel gets lost. Cheers

  • Comment number 98.

    Absoluetly Matth Stil. I really think Spielberg was at his best in the period between Duel and E.T.

  • Comment number 99.

    ...Although Temple of Doom was the best of the Jones trilogy. Yes, TRILOGY!! Crystal Skull was him at his worst I'm afraid, which was a shame because Munich was great.

  • Comment number 100.

    Well, bloodysam, for those in favour of KotCS (I'm in two minds about it), the Indy series is a tetralogy and not *rolls eyes* quadrilogy (?!).


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