stand by me
The famous film "Stand By Me" was based on a short story by Stephen KIng titled "The Body" (Image via Trapworld)

8 Short Story-to-Movie Adaptations That Are Actually Good

The shorter the book, the easier the adaptation.
January 31, 2018
7 mins read

Countless movies have been adapted from novels, but what most people probably didn’t know was that some of the most critically-acclaimed films were adapted from short stories. Though they don’t receive the same level of recognition that novels do, short stories themselves are truly an art form.

The challenges are myriad: creating a world that ropes in the reader, writing compelling characters and establishing an interesting plot. To top it off, the writer must do all of that with a limited word count.

A short story tells the reader what is happening, but the screenplay must show the viewer what is taking place. As a result, directors take liberties with the story while adapting it to the screen, which is inevitable and usually necessary. For instance, screenwriters sometimes change character names and alter plots and endings. But most of the time, the best page-to-screen adaptations have one thing in common: they stay true to each story’s core messages.

Unlike the film variations of novels, short stories and their screenplays are surprisingly similar. Both have a limited amount of time to catch the attention of the audience, so the authors and screenwriters can’t waste a single scene; they must effectively utilize the space to move the story forward. With that being said, many screenwriters have succeeded in creating compelling film adaptations of short stories that deserve recognition.

1. “Rear Window (1954)

Based on the short story titled “It Had to be Murder” by Cornell Woolrich, this cinematic classic takes Woolrich’s story to a whole new level. Screenwriter John Michael Hayes did a magnificent job adapting the literary work, and though the short story is worth reading, the screen adaptation is much more entertaining.

As Jeffries sits in his wheelchair, spying on the neighbor’s possible nefarious activities, the audience gets to see the reactions of his girlfriend and nurse. In the short story, however, we only have the main character’s point of view. Hayes proved to his audience that visual representations can work just as well as, if not better than, written descriptions.

2. “Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Based on the Annie Proulx short story of the same title, the Academy Award-winning film stays very close to the short story. The love affair between two cowboys, set in the 1960s amidst the backdrop of a harsh yet beautiful Wyoming, is both entertaining and moving. The legendary performance by Heath Ledger and the beautiful cinematography will preserve the film’s popularity for years to come.

3. “The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Some significant changes were implemented in this film that were not found in the Stephen King short story titled “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.” However, the central theme of undying hope and friendship remains in both mediums, and the movie conveys the message with a dignified subtlety. 

shawshank redemption
Premiering in 1994, ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ has left its mark on many audiences (Image via Yadkin Arts Council)

Though some events are far-fetched, the film is worth watching for the amazing performances by Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. Despite some glaring inconsistencies, the cinematic adaptation is able to tell the story of a budding friendship. The pair experiences a number of challenges in prison, but the screenwriter manages to tell their story with both grittiness and dignity. The motion picture is beautifully executed, and it will inspire you to read the short story.

4. “Stand By Me (1986)

“Stand By Me” is based on a Stephen King short story titled “The Body.” Long before “Stranger Things,” the movie used kids, friendship, kick-ass rock-n-roll and a dead body to forge together an unforgettable cinematic experience.

Set in 1959, the film follows four 12-year-old boys as they spend the last weekend of summer searching for the body of a missing boy. The friends hope their small town will deem them heroes if they “discover” him. During their journey, the four outcasts talk about girls, sports and comic books.

They worry about losing touch in high school, but the consoling narrator says, “We knew exactly who we were and where we were going.” Throughout the movie, there is the nuanced display of the perceived invincibility of youth, but the darkness of things to come lingers in the background. The film is memorable because it highlights our tendency to long for the innocence and simplicity of the past, and it portrays King’s “Stand By Me” in a creative light.

5. “Memento (2000)

Based on “Memento Mori” by Jonathan Nolan, this film provided an interesting way to start off the 21st century, as the movie is a mind-bender. Directed by Jonathon Nolan’s brother, Christopher Nolan, who also directed “Dunkirk” and the “Batman” trilogies, the movie takes the audience on a disturbing romp through Leonard’s hapless attempts to solve his wife’s murder. His anterograde amnesia puts many obstacles in his way, but it gives both mediums an intriguing psychological twist that will leave your head spinning!

6. “3:10 to Yuma (2007)

This eerie film is based on the short story of the same name by Elmore Leonard. Most fans know Leonard for his pulp and crime novels. However, he wrote some wonderful westerns as well, such as “Joe Kidd” and “Hombre.

“3:10 to Yuma” is arguably his most famous western adaptation. The remake starring Russel Crowe, Christian Bale and Ben Foster is nothing short of magnificent acting and directing. The next time you’re having a boring day, try passing the time with “3:10 to Yuma” — you won’t regret it.

7. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008)  

Adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story of the same name, the film follows Benjamin Button, who arrives into the world as an elderly man and subsequently ages in reverse. He eventually falls in love with Daisy and hopes they can be together when their ages coincide.

Directed by David Fincher, who is known for his work on “Se7en,” “Mindhunter” and “House of Cards,” the film is strange, yet captivating. If you watch it, however, you may want to keep a tissue box nearby.

8. “The Call of Cthulhu (2005)

“The Call of Cthulhu” by H.P. Lovecraft was adapted into a movie in 2005. This movie strives to be an authentic black-and-white silent film. Though it has received mixed reviews, it is absolutely worth viewing.

The story follows the nephew of a distinguished professor who discovers documents that describe a mysterious cult. The cult members believe there is an age-old deity living under the ocean who’s counting the days until he can rule the earth.

If the Cthulu’s summons anyone, his victim will go mad. It’s an essential addition to add to one’s Halloween movie-watching marathon or on any cold, stormy night. To make it more fun, watch it alone and in the dark!

Miranda Maples, University of Tennessee

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Miranda Maples

University of Tennessee Knoxville

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