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11 Books to Read if You Loved the Movies

There are movie adaptations of books that we love—ones that actually outshine their source material—and there are movies made from books we didn’t even know existed; movies that many of us think are original works.

books to read if you loved the movies

Loved the movies? Now read the books!

Here, we’ll cover the books that you may or may not know exist, and which you absolutely must read, as well as the ones you probably know about but never read because their film adaptations are such beloved classics (but you should still read the novels).

Read More: How to Read More Books (And Faster)

2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

This one has a weird and interesting history. Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi movie 2001: A Space Odyssey is a boundary-pushing classic of the genre, and many don’t know that there is also a novel by science fiction storyteller Arthur C. Clarke.

What’s interesting about it, however, is that the movie technically came first. Kubrick had the initial idea, and asked Clarke to work with him on the screenplay, which he did. But Clarke also wanted to turn the screenplay into a novel, which he did, and it was published the same year.

Clarke’s novel is an outstanding work of fiction which arguably improves upon the movie. The film omits so much exposition, opting for minimal dialogue and a lot of vagueness in its storytelling, but the novel clarifies so much of the film’s strangeness without being dull or patronising. It is a must-read for fans of the movie.

Buy a copy of 2001 here!

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

the lord of the rings books

Everyone and their mum knows that Peter Jackson’s beloved The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy was adapted from Tolkien’s original book(s). The Lord of the Rings was, after all, the first true work of fantasy fiction. But so many of us never get around to reading the books because of their length, their density, their age, or some other excuse.

While the films are undeniable masterpieces of cinema, the same is true for Tolkien’s novel. All by himself, this one man created an expansive mythology that rivals those of Greece and Scandinavia. Within that mythology, he told an epic tale of adventure, war, love, and magic. If you’ve always felt daunted by The Lord of the Rings, take the plunge. It’s worth it.

Buy a copy of The Lord of the Rings here!

Poor Things by Alasdair Gray

poor things by alasdair gray

Yanis Varoufakis’ Poor Things is his finest work as a filmmaker. The Greek director has made many incredible movies, but Poor Things is his masterpiece. But Poor Things was based on the novel of the same name by 20th century Scottish author Alasdair Gray.

Gray was widely considered to be the greatest Scottish writer of his time, and Poor Things is, on the surface, a blend of Frankenstein, Lolita, and Flowers for Algernon. But it is also a wildly clever, satirical, and strange novel embedded with intense and important themes of socialism and feminism.

Framed as a true story, uncovered and republished a century after its events by Gray himself, Poor Things shifts its perspective and its form, moving from prose to epistolary letters, finally ending with a long letter from Bella herself, telling her version of events. Fans of Varoufakis’ phenomenal film have to read Gray’s original novel; it is a masterpiece of Scottish fiction.

Buy a copy of Poor Things here!

Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune by Frank Herbert

As is the case with The Lord of the Rings, the vast majority of Dune fans know that Denis Villeneuve’s epic masterpiece is based on a space opera by American author Frank Herbert (and that there was also a 1984 film directed by David Lynch). But Dune is another hefty, intimidating novel that many never find the courage to dive into.

Doing so is incredibly rewarding, however, in part because Herbert wrote two sequels which vary wildly in tone, but mostly because this was a sci-fi novel that altered the landscape and the trajectory of the genre. Science fiction was never the same after the publication of Dune, and reading it makes apparent why that is the case.

Buy a copy of Dune here!

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

One of Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki’s greatest achievements was his 2004 animated film Howl’s Moving Castle, a favourite among many Studio Ghibli fans. And whether you know that it was based on a children’s novel by Welsh author Diana Wynn Jones or not, this is another book that deserves to be read by fantasy fans of all ages.

While the movie remains a perfect adaptation, there are important and interesting differences between it and its source material. Jones also deserves far more love and attention than she gets; her Chrestomanci series is widely and criminally overlooked as an influential piece of children’s fantasy fiction.

Buy a copy of Howl’s Moving Castle here!

I Am Legend by Richard Mattheson

i am legend

The 2007 I Am Legend movie isn’t very good. This is not a hot take; a lot of people feel this way. However, what is an enormous shame is that the movie is based on a phenomenal horror novel by Richard Mattheson, and too many people don’t know that or ignore it.

Mattheson’s novel is very different from director Francis Lawrence’s film, and far smarter as well. It is set in a version of the modern day where almost all of the human race has succumbed to a vampire virus. We follow a man who assumes he is the only human left. He hides away in his home and defends it from the vampire scourge.

But society is shifting, changing, and adapting. He is the outlier; he is the dangerous one; he is legend. It’s a wonderfully imaginative, intense, and frightening novel that puts the film to shame.

Buy a copy of I Am Legend here!

Misery by Stephen King

misery stephen king

Misery is an excellent horror movie, for which Cathy Bates won an Oscar, and it came hot off the heels of Stephen King’s original novel, which was published only three years earlier. Fans of the movie often ignore the book because the film is such an excellent adaptation. We’re all guilty of doing this, but King’s original novel should not be so readily ignored.

While Rob Reiner’s 1990 film is one of the best adaptations of King’s fiction, the original novel is still its own kind of excellent. Unlike the film, the book manages to double its sense of isolation by locking the reader in the mind of its protagonist. He is unlikeable and difficult, and that makes the tension even more palpable.

This is one of those rare instances where it’s hard to choose a favourite between the original novel and the film adaptation; both are truly excellent realisations of King’s vision, and both should be enjoyed by horror fans everywhere.

Buy a copy of Misery here!

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy

It’s not a bold claim to say that Douglas Adams’ sci-fi comedy masterpiece is better than its very mid 2005 movie adaptation, directed by Garth Jennings. One thing the film really has going for it is its cast. Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox and Alan Rickman as Marvin were especially inspired and flawless casting choices.

Beyond the casting, however, the movie really is nothing special and not a patch on the original novel. Adams’ original Hitchhiker’s Guide remains a timeless and flawless work of satirical sci-fi. It’s also the first book in a five-part “trilogy”, all of which are excellent.

Buy a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy here!

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

No Country for Old Men, like Misery, is another great example of a fantastic film adapted from a fantastic novel. Directed by the Coen Brothers, with a screenplay that they adapted from McCarthy’s novel, No Country for Old Men is a really amazing movie. Its direction, tone, style, and performances are all top-tier.

It is a well-loved and admired movie, and the same can be said for Cormac McCarthy’s original novel. While his novel The Road is incomparably better than its average movie adaptation, No Country for Old Men is a far closer call. Both the book and the film are perfect works of fiction. And if you’ve only ever seen the movie, you owe it to yourself to read the book, too.

Buy a copy of No Country for Old Men here!

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

northern lights

Better known as The Golden Compass in the US, Philip Pullman’s inspiring and illuminating YA novel has been adapted twice: first into a very average 2007 movie which wrung out all the thematic depth and nuance from Pullman’s novel (though it is a well-cast and beautiful film), and then into a very good BBC series which adapted the full trilogy of novels.

That trilogy is called His Dark Materials, and its first book Northern Lights is an ambitious and, some might argue, radical work of young adult urban fantasy fiction. Radical because Northern Lights is a humanist novel which criticises the Church and organised religion through its themes and events, all of which were ignored by the movie.

Pullman popularised the YA genre of fantasy fiction; and his world and characters have had a transformative and lasting effect on generations of young people, just as the works of Tolkien and Lewis did before him. These are must-read books that their movie adaptation failed to do any justice to at all.

Buy a copy of His Dark Materials here!

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer


Alex Garland’s 2018 movie adaptation of Annihilation, starring an excellent Natalie Portman, is really great. And Garland himself is also a novelist; his book The Beach was adapted to film by Danny Boyle long before Garland himself ever took a shot at direction. All of that said, Jeff Vandermeer’s original novel is a wildly original sci-fi novel that should be read.

Annihilation is the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy, and while Garland’s movie is great, it makes some considerable alterations which justify a read of the novels for any moviegoer who enjoyed the film adaptation. This is a strange, unique, and thought-provoking novel that has to be read to be believed.

Buy a copy of Annihilation here!

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