When Short Stories Become Films: 7 Quality Adaptations

Ben Stiller will direct and star (with Kristen Wiig and Adam Scott! The people at Fox have been reading my dream journal) in a film adaptation of James Thurber's 1939 short story, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," in theaters at Christmas. Here is the trailer (it looks pretty lovely). It all adds up to a promising film, but how does one adapt a short piece of fiction into a feature-length movie? Here are 6 other examples of how it's been done.

'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty'

Ben Stiller will direct and star (with Kristen Wiig and Adam Scott! The people at Fox have been reading my dream journal) in a film adaptation of James Thurber's 1939 short story, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," in theaters at Christmas. Here is the trailer (it looks pretty lovely). It all adds up to a promising film, but how does one adapt a short piece of fiction into a feature-length movie? Here are 6 other examples of how it's been done.

Click here to watch.

'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'

The movie version of Benjamin Button is magic, because Brad Pitt gets progressively more attractive as the movie goes on. But besides the whole concept of a baby born old, the movie has very little in common with F. Fitzgerald's short story. None of the stuff that happens to Fitzgerald's character happens to Brad Pitt. But the movie still gives us a beautiful, dreamy, and very quotable story, and though it may overly sentimentalize the plot, I don't care — I love me a good sentimental Pitt/Blanchett tale.

Click here to watch.

'Brokeback Mountain'

Ahhhh, man! How is one to pick the better version? Annie Proulx's short story, originally published in The New Yorker in 1997, is equal parts literarily beauty and agonizing love story. And then you've got the visual beauty (and I'm not just talking about Heath) and stirring subject matter of Ang Lee's 2005 film. The screenwriters of the film version stayed incredibly faithful to the text of the short story in the adaptation — Proulx herself praised the movie, and all the dialogue and action of the story were included in the cinematic version. Which wins? It is a total toss-up.

Click here to watch.

'The Shawshank Redemption'

Little known fact: This film is an adaptation of a Stephen King story! King wrote "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" in 1962. The 1994 Morgan Freeman/Tim Robbins movie is very faithful to King's plot, depicting the same characters and themes of integrity, hope, and forgiveness amid desolation. A feel-good Stephen King story! Who knew.

Click here to watch.

'It's A Wonderful Life'

The 1946 classic Jimmy Stewart flick takes its story of Yuletide gratitude from Philip Van Doren Stern's 1945 short story, "The Greatest Gift." In both versions, George is a troubled, unhappy man who learns to open his eyes to the great gift of life and be kind and loving. And while the Stewart film is only a loose adaptation of the original story, its delivery of that same moral is what makes it such a classic.

Click here to watch.

'The Snows of Kilimanjaro'

Ernest Hemingway first published "Kilimanjaro" in Esquire in 1936. In 1952, Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner starred in the film adaptation, and as with Benjamin and Brokeback, when good-looking stars play the lead roles, an adaptation can't do too much wrong. The film was very successful, but not at displaying Hemingway's tale: the ending of the film is entirely different than the short story.

Click here to watch.

'The Birds'

Daphne du Maurier's very short novel "The Birds" inspired Hitchcock's terrifying 1963 film of the same name. In both, huge flocks of birds violently attack humans, which is such a weird and terrifying concept that it automatically renders them similar enough.

Click here to watch.