The Best Plays Based on Books

Over 100 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of The Best Plays Based on Books
Voting Rules
Vote up the best stage plays that were originally based on a book.

There are a lot of famous movies that were made from plays, but there are a lot of amazing plays that have been based on books. These days, everything seems to be based (even loosely) on something else. But this isn't always a bad thing. Many books lend themselves well to the stage, as evidence by the plays on this list. What are the best plays based on books?

The plays on this list span genres and production styles. They include dramas, comedies, and romances. Did you know that some of the most famous plays in history were based on novels, autobiographies, or other books? It’s no wonder they're on this list since they’re based on stories we all know and love – stories that have actually made a significant impact on the literary world as well as the world of the stage.

The plays listed here have been ranked by the community as the best. This list features the best plays based on books including, Les Miserables, Ben Hur, A Christmas Carol, Young Frankenstein, Kite Runner, Albert Speer, and War Horse. Vote up the best plays based on books below and see where the plays you think are the best rank!
Most divisive: Girl With a Pearl Earring
Ranked by
  • Les Misérables
    Claude-Michel Schönberg, Jean-Marc Natel, Herbert Kretzmer
    44 votes
    • Characters: Jean Valjean, Javert, Fantine, Éponine, Monsieur Thénardier
    Based on the book of the same name by Victor Hugo.
    Les Misérables, colloquially known as Les Mis or Les Miz is a sung-through musical based on the novel Les Misérables by French poet and novelist Victor Hugo. It has music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, original French lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, with an English-language libretto by Herbert Kretzmer. Set in early 19th-century France, it is the story of Jean Valjean, a French peasant, and his quest for redemption after serving nineteen years in jail for having stolen a loaf of bread for his sister's starving child. Valjean decides to break his parole and start his life anew after a kindly bishop inspires him by a tremendous act of mercy, but he is relentlessly tracked down by a police inspector named Javert. Along the way, Valjean and a slew of characters are swept into a revolutionary period in France, where a group of young idealists make their last stand at a street barricade.
  • Cabaret
    Fred Ebb , John Kander, Joe Masteroff
    12 votes
    • Characters: Fräulein Schneider, Sally Bowles, Fraulein Kost, Emcee, Clifford Bradshaw
    Based on the novel "Goodbye to Berlin" by Christopher Isherwood
  • A Christmas Carol

    A Christmas Carol

    Patrick Stewart
    29 votes
    Based on the book of the same name by Charles Dickens.
  • Into the Woods
    James Lapine , Stephen Sondheim
    20 votes
    • Characters: Rapunzel, Snow White, Princess Aurora, Cinderella, Big Bad Wolf

    Based on the fairy tales of the Brother's Grimm

    Into the Woods is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. The musical intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault fairy tales, exploring the consequences of the characters' wishes and quests. The main characters are taken from "Little Red Riding Hood", "Jack and the Beanstalk", "Rapunzel", and "Cinderella", as well as several others. The musical is tied together by a story involving a childless baker and his wife and their quest to begin a family (the original beginning of The Grimm Brothers' "Rapunzel"), their interaction with a witch who has placed a curse on them, and their interaction with other storybook characters during their journey. The musical debuted in San Diego at the Old Globe Theatre in 1986 and premiered on Broadway on November 5, 1987, where it won several Tony Awards, including Best Score, Best Book, and Best Actress in a Musical (Joanna Gleason), in a year dominated by The Phantom of the Opera (1988). The musical has since been produced many times, with a 1988 US national tour, a 1990 West End production, a 1997 tenth anniversary concert, a 2002 Broadway revival, a 2010 London revival, and in 2012 as part of New York City's outdoor Shakespeare in the Park series. A Disney film adaptation directed by Rob Marshall and starring Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski and Johnny Depp was released in 2014. The film grossed over $213 million worldwide, and received three Academy Award nominations and three Golden Globe Award nominations.
  • Fiddler on the Roof
    Sheldon Harnick , Jerry Bock, Joseph Stein
    25 votes
    • Characters: Tevye, Chava, Lazar Wolf, Tzeitel, Golde
    Based on the tales by Sholem Aleichem
    Fiddler on the Roof is a musical with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein, set in the Pale of Settlement of Imperial Russia in 1905. It is based on Tevye and his Daughters and other tales by Sholem Aleichem. The story centers on Tevye, the father of five daughters, and his attempts to maintain his Jewish religious and cultural traditions, as outside influences encroach upon the family's lives. He must cope both with the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters, who wish to marry for love – each one's choice of a husband moves further away from the customs of his faith – and with the edict of the Tsar that evicts the Jews from their village. The original Broadway production of the show, which opened in 1964, had the first musical theatre run in history to surpass 3,000 performances. Fiddler held the record for the longest-running Broadway musical for almost 10 years until Grease surpassed its run. It remains Broadway's sixteenth longest-running show in history. The production was extraordinarily profitable and highly acclaimed.
  • War Horse
    Adrian Sutton , Nick Stafford, John Tams
    17 votes
    • Characters: Captain James Nicholls, Albert Narracott, Ted Narracott, Major Jamie Stewart, Sergeant Sam Perkins
    Based on the book of the same name by Michael Morpurgo.
    War Horse is a play based on the book of the same name by children's writer Michael Morpurgo, adapted for stage by Nick Stafford. Originally Morpurgo thought "they must be mad" to try to make a play from his best-selling 1982 novel; nonetheless, the play was a success. The play's West End and Broadway productions are directed by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris; it features life-size horse puppets by the Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa, with "horse choreography" by Toby Sedgwick.