The 14 most famous films adapted from literary works of the twenty-first century

Weaving ties extending through time linked cinema and literature, which has always been an inexhaustible source for stories. Cinema came to transform imagination from written words into a moving picture, and then into a picture and sound. Sometimes the medium of cinema manages to convey feelings and thoughts at their best to the screen, but other times it remains helpless in the face of the limitless power of words.

We will probably never be able to come to any real certainty about the first film adapted from a literary work, given that about 75% of the legacy of silent films made before 1930 has been lost. Perhaps the oldest of these attempts is the 1896-inspired Trilby and Little Billee. A novel published the year before its production. Perhaps the oldest that we have come to is the movie “Cinderella” by Georges Méliès, which dates back to 1898, and his other movie “A Trip to the Moon” produced in 1902 and is considered the first science fiction movie inspired by the two novels “About Moon” and “From Earth to Moon” by Jules Verne.

Arab cinema has also been known for quoting literary works since its beginnings, and the Egyptian movie “Zainab”, which was shown in 1930, is considered one of the first silent fiction films, and it is adapted from a novel of the same name by writer Muhammad Hussein Heikal and directed by Muhammad Karim.

Even today, fictional works are still one of the most important sources of cinematic stories, especially after many critical schools have gone beyond the idea of ​​comparing the literary text and cinematography to a more broad vision. The view of cinema is no longer limited as a mere literal transfer of the novels it quotes, as much as it is an open and reciprocal dialogue between two mediators, each of which has its own vocabulary and momentum that cannot be ignored.

  • Production: 2007
  • Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano

The film won two Oscars, and received wide critical acclaim, placing it third in the list of the 100 greatest films of the twenty-first century in a poll of critics conducted by the BBC. The film is based on the novel “Oil!” For the American writer Upton Sinclair, in which he presented a picture of the development of the oil industry in Southern California by tracing the tale of the hero and his son, reviewing class wars, competition for oil production, and the dominance of American oil industry magnates.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson delivers the unforgettable tale of miner Daniel Blanview, who moves to oil extraction in pursuit of fortune, with an unforgettable performance by Daniel Day-Lewis in one of his best roles ever. The film presents the journey of Plainview, his complex relationships with his adopted son HW, his murdering brother Henry, and the simmering animosity between him and the clergyman Eli Sunday, who represents pseudo-religion in a struggle between pseudo-religion and predatory capitalism.

  • Production: 2021
  • Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
  • Starring: Javier Bardem, Rebecca Ferguson, Stellan Skarsgård, Zendaya


One of the most recent films on this list, based on the novel series of the same name by author Frank Herbert, was released in 1965, and has won many literary awards, been translated into several languages, and occupied a leading position as one of the best-selling science fiction novels. This was not the first time that the events of the series turned into a visual work, as it had a number of previous attempts, the first of which was a film directed by David Lynch in 1984, and it was re-presented in three television episodes in 2000 directed by John Harrison.

The latest version directed by Denis Villeneuve is considered the most successful of them. Through his film, he was able to present a brilliant visual show, through which he presented the fictional world of the novel in the distant future by tracing the journey of Paul Atreides, who travels to the most dangerous planets in order to save the future of his family and people. In addition to the huge public success it achieved, the film managed to win six Oscars: Best Production, Best Editing, Best Score and Sound, Best Photography, and Best Visual Effects.

  • Production: 2016
  • Directed by: Tate Taylor
  • Starring: Rebecca Ferguson, Emily Blanc

the girl on the train

The novel by the English writer Paula Hawkins with the same title was published in 2015 and achieved great success, and soon occupied the best-selling list, and was translated into a number of languages, including Arabic under the title “The Train Girl”.

The film and the novel belong to the theme of psychological thriller, and the events revolve around Rachel, who rides the train daily, and every day when the train stops at one of the signs, she watches a couple on the balcony of a house, and through her imagination she begins to fill in the blanks of the story and imagine the lives of the couple to paint an ideal life for them. But her fantasies collapse when she witnesses something shocking, and her memory does not help her to understand what happened. The events reveal her addiction to alcohol, and the events mix between fact and fiction. It is worth noting that the film was re-produced and shown at the end of February of last year 2021 on “Netflix” in an Indian version directed by Reibo Dasgupta and starring Parniti Chopra.

  • Production: 2002
  • Directed by: Stephen Daldry
  • Starring: Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman

The hours

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Michael Cunningham, the film and novel follow a day in the lives of three women in different time periods who do not know each other. The first is the famous writer Virginia Woolf during the twenties, while she was planning to write a novel called “The Hours”, which was later published under another title, “Mrs. Dalloway”, and later became one of the most important novels of the twentieth century. The second is Laura Brown, who is followed one day in 1949 by an avid reader and frustrated housewife who spends her hours reading Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and one day decides to abandon the monotonous domestic life of her husband and only child. The third and final is 1990s Clarissa Vaughan, and the film follows her as she plans a party in honor of her AIDS-stricken poet friend, who have a complicated relationship. The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Nicole Kidman for her stunning performance as Virginia Woolf.

  • Production: 2007
  • Directed by: Mike Noel
  • Starring: Javier Bardem, Benjamin Bratt

Love in the Time of Cholera

Inspired by the famous Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez’s novel “Love in the Time of Cholera,” the producer spent nearly three years persuading Marquez to buy the production rights and turn them into a movie. The novel and the film revolve around a love story between a young Florentino Ariza and a teenage girl, Fermina Daza, who vow to love forever, but she marries another person. Late nineteenth century to early twentieth century. The feelings of love continue in Florentino Ariza’s heart for more than fifty years, until they meet again after Fermina is over seventy years old.

  • Production series: 2001, 2002, 2003
  • Directed by: Peter Jackson
  • Starring Cate Blanchett, Sean Astin, John Reese Davis

The lord of the rings

The list certainly cannot be without its epic ‘Lord of the Rings’ movie series, based on the novel by British writer J. R. R. Tolkien. The film achieved record revenues, and the number of Academy Awards for which it was nominated for the three parts reached 30 awards, of which it won 17 awards.

The events revolve around fantasy adventures in a fictional world called Middle-earth, and tell the story of a young hobbit trying to return the ring that he accidentally got to the mountain of death to eliminate the evil forces lurking in it. The film establishes the prehistory of this world, where there were 20 rings; Three elves, seven dwarves, nine men, and one owned by the lord of darkness Sauron of Mordor, the most powerful ring that controls all the other rings, the three films have great visual effects, and the total length of the three parts is over eleven hours. The series was first released in 1954, becoming one of the classics of the fantasy series, and one of the best-selling series around the world.

  • Production: 2001-2011
  • Directed by: Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuarón, Mike Newell, David Yates
  • Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint

Harry Potter

The eight films in this series are based on a series of novels with the same titles by the writer J. K. Rowling, which is directed primarily at young people, but has achieved unprecedented mass success since the publication of the first book in 1998, and has been translated into most languages, including Arabic. The series revolves around the boy Harry Potter who lives with his aunt after the death of his parents. Harry Potter discovers his magical powers at the age of eleven, and transfers to a school of magic, where he meets a group of unforgettable characters.

  • Production: 2012
  • Directed by: Tom Hooper
  • Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Heathway

Les Misérables

A lyrical film inspired by the novel of the French writer Victor Hugo published in 1862, which became one of the most famous novels of the nineteenth century, and criticized the unjust social conditions in France in the period from the fall of Napoleon to the failed revolution against King Louis Philippe in 1832. It is the novel that was the source of Inspiration for many works for cinema, theater and television, including an Egyptian movie called “Les Miserables” in 1978 directed by Atef Salem, starring Farid Shawqi, Adel Adham and Ferdous Abdel Hamid. In an epic lyric setting, the events revolve around prisoner Jean Valjean who is released on parole in 1815 after spending 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread.

Valjean decides to escape and start a new life with a new name. After years, he manages to become a factory owner and mayor. He adopts the young daughter of a female worker in his factory after she dies, and decides to take care of the little Cosette all these times. Getting to know him, the years go by and Jean Valjean, Cosette and the rest of the secondary characters get involved in the events of the doomed revolution against King Louis-Philippe in 1832. The film was a huge critical and audience success, winning 85 awards, including three Oscars.

  • Production: 2007
  • Directed by: Joel, Ethan Coen
  • Starring: Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin

No country for old men

The film was nominated for eight Oscars, winning four of them. The film is based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name. The events revolve around Léolyn Moss, who finds a truck with drugs and a suitcase of two million dollars, and decides to take the money and escape with it, but the owners of the money hire a killer named Anton Chigurh, played by Javier Bardem. A mysterious killer who kills everyone he meets except for the lucky ones who win their lives by throwing a coin that determines the fate of his victims, while being chased by an honorable policeman on the verge of retirement, Bill.

  • Production: 2009
  • Directed by: John Hillcott
  • Starring Viggo Mortensen, Charles Theron

The road

Another film based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006, this time presents a science fiction film, and the film revolves around a father and his son trying to survive after their journey to a devastated and depopulated South America, During their journey in search of warmth and shelter, they encounter various dangers between cannibals and bandits.

Arab cinema:

  • Production: 2004
  • Directed by: Yousry Nasrallah
  • Casting: Hiam Abbas, Fadi Abi Samra, Bassem Samra, Basil Khayat, Hala Omran, Reem Turki

gate of the sun

Despite the large number of titles quoted from literary works in Arab cinema during the twentieth century, the twenty-first century witnessed a shrinkage in this regard, but there are still some distinct titles, among which we mention “Bab Al Shams”, an epic film in two parts, “The Departure” and “The Return.” It revolves around the Palestinian struggle against the occupation, and it is taken from the novel “Bab Al Shams” by the Lebanese writer Elias Khoury. In his village in the Galilee. After the Nakba and throughout the fifties, he sneaks out of Lebanon to meet his wife in a cave they called “Bab al-Shams”, then travels again and again to the resistance. The second part focuses on Dr. Khalil, who was abandoned by his mother in refugee camps, and who rescued Younes in a deep coma. During his coma, he tells him the tragic story of Shams, who was executed by his comrades-in-arms.

  • Production: 2009
  • Directed by: Ismail Murad
  • Casting: Ashraf Abdel Baqi, Ola Ghanem, Basma

dove hunter

The film is taken from the novel “The Fisherman and the Dove” by the Egyptian writer Ibrahim Abdel Meguid, published in 2006. The events revolve around Ali, who is born into a poor family, his father dies, his mother marries his uncle and then disappears. Ali travels to Alexandria and moves between several jobs until he learns to hunt doves, which becomes his only passion. During his journey, he meets many characters with different human dimensions.

  • Production: 2006
  • Directed by: Marwan Hamed
  • Casting: Nour El Sherif, Yousra, Adel Imam, Hend Sabry, Bassem Samra, Khaled Saleh, Khaled El Sawy

Yacoubian's Building:

The film is taken from the novel by the Egyptian writer Alaa Al Aswany, which was released in 2002, to become one of the best-selling Arabic novels, to be presented by director Waheed Hamed after he wrote the script, and he used his son Marwan Hamed to become this first directorial work.

The events of the film take place within the framework of a well-known building on Talaat Harb Street in downtown Cairo, built in the twenties, dealing with a wide range of different personalities, and sheds light on the transformations of the Egyptian social reality through different personalities, such as the shoe scanner who turns into a corrupt merchant who finds protection through his alliance With a corrupt member of the authority, a young man who fails to enter the police college because of his simple social status, which leads him to religious extremism, a gay French newspaper editor, and a group of marginalized, which led to widespread controversy when presented.