16 Underrated Movies Based On Banned Books

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Vote up the best movies made from forbidden source material.

Book banning has been a problem for a long time. It brings up several fundamental questions. Who gets to decide what is or isn't offensive? Is it fair to withhold a book from people just because a small percentage don't like what's in it? And, perhaps most importantly, doesn't that threaten to start a landslide in which everything that someone objects to gets banned? The simple fact is that some people are afraid of certain ideas, so they try to shield their children from those ideas by demanding certain books get pulled from schools' library shelves. Sometimes, though, those scary ideas are important to expose children to, because the world can be a tough place.

If you don't have a lot of time to read banned books, you can always pop in their cinematic adaptations. The following films based on controversial novels are all underrated. They're known, yet could certainly benefit from being acknowledged more for their level of quality. None of them generated the outrage that their print counterparts did. Maybe moviegoers are just generally more accepting of challenging material. Whatever the reason, these pictures successfully translate hot-button material from the page to the screen.

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  • 1
    719 VOTES
    The Dead Zone
    Photo: The Dead Zone / Paramount Pictures

    When Stephen King's book The Dead Zone was pulled off library shelves in a Florida middle school in 1992, the author had a response for students everywhere. He said, "Hustle down to your public library, where these frightened people's reach must fall short in a democracy, or to your local bookstore, and get a copy of what has been banned. Read it carefully and discover what it is your elders don't want you to know." He'd been through this book banning enough times to conclude that young people shouldn't waste time getting the books put back - they should just go and read what the adults were so afraid of. 

    The novel came to the big screen in 1983. The Dead Zone stars Christopher Walken as Johnny Smith, a guy who discovers he has psychic powers after coming out of a coma. One day he shakes the hand of an aspiring politician and gets a vision of the terrible things this guy will do if he's elected. They're so bad that Johnny determines he has to kill the man. King's premise, which is full of political cynicism, is timeless, and director David Cronenberg wrings every last drop of poignance from it. The movie also has one of Walken's best performances, packed with eeriness and intensity. It's a genuine chiller from start to finish. 

    719 votes

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  • 2
    626 VOTES

    George Orwell's 1984 has repeatedly been banned by people who think it's "pro-communist." That's interesting, given that the book has been viewed by others as a criticism of Joseph Stalin. An anti-authority message hasn't been popular in some quarters, either. The story imagines a future - which is now a past for us - where there are very few freedoms in society. An entity known as "Big Brother" constantly watches over everybody, making sure they stay in line. 

    Michael Radford's film version, which was appropriately released in 1984, stars John Hurt as government employee Winston Smith. His job is literally to rewrite history. Winston finds himself in big trouble when the powers that be discover he's having an unapproved relationship with a woman named Julia (Suzanna Hamilton). 1984 didn't make much of an impression at the box office, as it hit theaters when Beverly Hills Cop, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Witness were sucking up moviegoers' attention. It's fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, though, and critics have praised the film for the suitably eerie dystopian world Radford creates. The visualization of Orwell's future is highly unsettling. John Hurt's note-perfect performance is another highlight.

    626 votes

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  • 3
    391 VOTES

    Truman Capote's In Cold Blood has been banned because of its violent content. In fairness, though, it's a true story. Capote investigated the 1959 murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, KS, by Perry Edward Smith and his accomplice, Richard Hickock. He spared no detail in describing the actions of the killer. Because of his immense talents as a writer, those descriptions are harrowing, leaving many parents worried that the book is too intense for young readers. 

    The 1967 movie version casts Robert Blake as Perry - an eerie bit of foreshadowing, given that the actor was tried and acquitted of killing his wife in 2005. He's terrifying in the role, setting you on edge whenever he's on screen. Director Richard Brooks uses stark black-and-white photography to accentuate the evil of Perry and Hickock and their actions. In Cold Blood offers an insightful, psychologically riveting look at a sociopath whose slayings rocked a small town and, by extension of Capote's book, the entire country.

    391 votes

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  • 4
    637 VOTES

    S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders was one of the most banned books of the 1990s, although it generated controversy ever since it was published in 1967. It's about a teen gang, the Greasers, in rural Oklahoma. Two of its members have to go into hiding after accidentally killing a member of a rival gang. The incident stirs up tensions between the gangs, which ends up having consequences for all the Greasers. Some parents were outraged by the book's portrayal of gang violence, in addition to some adult language and characters who smoke and drink. They conveniently overlook how the story de-glamorizes gang life, inferring that it ultimately leads to trouble and tragedy.

    Francis Ford Coppola released his take on The Outsiders in 1983, and it was a modest hit. What people mostly remember it for now is the cast. Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Ralph Macchio, C. Thomas Howell, and some guy named Tom Cruise all went on to become stars. Go back and give the movie another look and you can see that it's way more than just a casting curiosity. Coppola guides his young actors to strong performances, while simultaneously capturing the dead-end feel of their Oklahoma town. The Outsiders is a portrait of bored youth, coming from broken homes and struggling to find a sense of purpose. It deserves to be considered one of the top teen flicks of the '80s.

    637 votes

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  • Lord of the Flies, written by William Golding, puts readers among a group of boys who are stranded on an island after a plane crash. With no adults around to guide them, they have to essentially set the rules of their own society. Disagreements quickly flare into violence, including murder. It has been one of the most banned books in history, due to language, brutality, and a nihilistic point of view. The original version also contained some racial slurs, although recent printings have altered such language. 

    Golding's novel has been transferred to the movies twice - once in 1963 and again in 1990. The '63 version is the one to see. The film dramatizes the book's events in suitably disturbing fashion, allowing the survival-of-the-fittest theme to ring loud and clear. Performances from the young actors are thoroughly credible. That adds exponentially to the impact. Golding wrote the screenplay himself, so this is a case where the movie version remains very faithful to the source material. A book intended to rattle has been turned into a feature with the same impact.

    438 votes

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  • Given that Bridge to Terabithia is a book for children, you might be surprised to learn that it's been banned multiple times. In some states, parents have objected to what they perceive as offensive language or an unflattering portrayal of parents. In other cases, though, the book has been accused of being satanic and promoting witchcraft, for reasons that don't make much sense in terms of the plot. In reality, it's a touching tale about two young kids who express their imagination by creating a fictional world where they serve as king and queen. It's their escape from real-world problems. That pretend utopia is shattered when one of them perishes in a tragic accident.

    Disney released a movie version of Bridge to Terabithia in 2007, with Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb in the lead roles. It works because the two young actors are outstanding. We really believe their friendship, and the story takes great care to develop it, so that the eventual calamity impacts us deeply. The movie also does a superb job addressing grief in an age-appropriate way. Even though it's sad at times, there's a wonderful message about how young people can cope with loss in a positive, constructive manner. 

    349 votes

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