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18 Great Movies Based On Obscure Short Stories

List Rules
Vote up the movies that turned short stories into classics.

Everyone knows Hollywood is happy to turn every kind of media under the sun into full-blown blockbusters time after time after time. From video games to novels, from comic books to television shows, Tinseltown can't help but adapt any intellectual property that could earn a few bucks. But there are some films you might not know were based on short stories, because, well, it's just not common knowledge.

Christopher Nolan took a short story by his own brother, Jonathan, and turned it into the screenplay for MementoIt's a Wonderful Life, one of the most iconic films ever made, was based on a self-published short story from 1943. And how about Candyman being based on a short story from Clive Barker himself? There's plenty more where that came from, so scroll on down and vote up your favorite short story adaptations from Hollywood.

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  • If Prisoners and Sicario introduced the filmgoing public to Denis Villeneuve as an upcoming name to watch, then Arrival formally announced his, ahem, arrival as a genuine, big-name director. Based on Ted Chiang's "Story of Your Life," Arrival became a box-office hit in 2016 and earned eight Academy Award nominations, which is essentially unheard of for a sci-fi film that isn't the original Star Wars. And unlike the majority of alien-based films released by major film distributors, Arrival proved to be sci-fi for the thinking person instead of stereotypical bombastic fare.

    The film follows Amy Adams as a linguist who is tasked with figuring out how to communicate with extraterrestrials who unexpectedly land on Earth. Of course, the film ruminates on more than just a first-contact situation, with huge questions about love and loss being asked throughout the picture. And with an ending that just begs viewers to go back to the beginning and watch it all over again, Arrival proved to Hollywood that major sci-fi stories can lack action and still make money.

    23 votes
  • Back when Tom Cruise ruled the world, circa the turn of the new millennium, the A-lister teamed with the legendary Steven Spielberg to bring a big-budget sci-fi thriller to theaters. The Hollywood heavy-hitters paired up to bring us a vision of the future based on the 1956 short story "The Minority Report" by Philip K. Dick. Set in a 2054 that isn't all that much more technologically advanced than the modern day, Minority Report gives viewers a reality where crimes are predicted before they happen by a trio of clairvoyants known as the "Precogs."

    Though Minority Report differs from the Philip K. Dick story it was inspired by, that doesn't make the film any less enjoyable. Released to nearly universal acclaim by both audiences and critics, this 2002 flick is an often-overlooked member of Spielberg's incredible early-2000s oeuvre that included Catch Me If You Can and Munich. Oh, and it gave Cruise the sci-fi bug that would eventually see him show up in Edge of Tomorrow, so that's pretty good, too.

    26 votes

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  • Say what you want about Tim Burton's filmography overall or Johnny Depp in general, but there is no doubting the duo had a penchant for making above-average pictures when they came together... except for whatever was happening in Dark Shadows. Their collaborative efforts range from Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, but there might not be a Burton/Depp film as visually arresting as Sleepy Hollow.

    Taking loose inspiration from Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," the 1999 film sees Depp's New York City policeman sent to the eponymous small village to investigate a series of murders. Not so odd, you say? Well, these murders are being committed by a mystical "headless" person riding a horse. You didn't think Burton and Depp were going to make a normal movie, did you? Come for a gothic reinterpretation of the classic story of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman; stay for the incredible art direction and Danny Elfman score.

    23 votes

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  • Never forget that Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life was an unsuccessful box-office flop when it was released in 1946. It seems impossible to even think that nowadays, but it's true. Yes, the Christmas classic your grandfather falls asleep to every year could've just been another forgotten film if it didn't accidentally fall into the public domain, making it exceedingly cheap for television networks to play on repeat each and every holiday season.

    It isn't hard to see how It's a Wonderful Life - based on Philip Van Doren Stern's "The Greatest Gift" - eventually worked its way into classic status. It's directed by the legendary Frank Capra. It features one of the biggest film stars of all time in Jimmy Stewart. It's got an inventive and inspirational storyline. What's not to like? It may fall out of vogue eventually, but it continues to be a holiday staple decades and decades after its original debut. Talk about longevity. 

    26 votes

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  • From 1976 to 1988, John Carpenter had a directing run most filmmakers can only dream about. Seriously, it's astonishing. Halloween. Escape from New YorkThe ThingBig Trouble in Little China. Even his less iconic pictures during that 12-year span (like The FogChristine, and Starman) are cult hits in their own right. But there is no film in Carpenter's impressive career as worthy of the title "cult classic" than They Live

    Based on Ray Nelson's "Eight O'Clock in the Morning," They Live is about a drifter who discovers aliens are controlling humanity through subliminal messages thanks to a pair of sunglasses that reveal said messages as well as the aliens living among the unsuspecting humans. It is a delightfully witty satire bouyed by the performance of "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. The wrestler is genuinely great in the movie, foreshadowing the crossover appeal Dwayne Johnson and John Cena would have decades later. 

    19 votes

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  • A.I. Artificial Intelligence had a tormented journey to the big screen. Pre-production started on the film way back in the 1970s when Stanley Kubrick decided he wanted to bring Brian Aldiss's "Supertoys Last All Summer Long" to theaters around the world. Kubrick spent the better part of two decades trying to figure out the script, and by the time a workable treatment began to come into focus in the mid-1990s, the famous director handed the project over to his friend, Steven Spielberg.

    By the time the finished product came out in 2001, A.I. Artificial Intelligence felt like a melding of both Kubrick and Spielberg's sensibilities. The story, which follows a childlike android programmed with the questionable ability to love, proved to be both exceedingly dark and undeniably hopeful. With a score from John Williams and a cast packed to the gills with talent (Jude Law, Frances O'Connor, Brendan Gleeson, William Hurt, Meryl Streep, and Robin Williams), A.I. Artificial Intelligence continues to be a delightful sci-fi drama two decades after its release.

    20 votes