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7 classic films adapted from books

Tales of espionage, mystery and one very big monster.

Featuring tales of espionage, monsters, and disappearing train passengers, did you know that these classic blockbusters were all originally based on books?


Book cover for Jaws

First published in 1974, Peter Benchley’s Jaws inspired one of the greatest disaster movies of all time and taught a generation of swimmers that ‘it’s never safe to go back in the water’. 

Read more about the history of Jaws here.

The Lost World

by Arthur Conan Doyle

Book cover for The Lost World

Best known for creating master detective Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle also dabbled in writing what we now call speculative fiction. His most famous novel in this genre, The Lost World was first published in 1912 and 85 years later formed part of the inspiration for Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster Jurassic Park.

Born Free

Book cover for Born Free

Joy Adamson’s Born Free introduced the world to Elsa the lioness - the orphaned cub Adamson and her husband raised in their home in Kenya. The memoir was adapted into an Academy-award winning film of the same name starring Virginia McKenna and Geoffrey Keen in 1966.

The Lady Vanishes

Book cover for The Lady Vanishes

The final British film that Alfred Hitchcock made before his move from London to Hollywood, The Lady Vanishes is the unsettling story of the seemingly impossible disappearance of a passenger on a cross-Europe train, based on Ethel Lina White’s 1936 novel of the same name.

The Thirty-Nine Steps

Book cover for The Thirty-Nine Steps

Following British spy Richard Hannay as he is pursued by enemies unknown whilst searching for the mysterious ‘thirty-nine steps’, the first novel in John Buchan’s pre-WWI espionage series has inspired numerous film and theatre adaptations. The most celebrated was Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 adaptation, which was ranked as the fourth best British film of the twentieth century by the British Film Institute. 

The Dam Busters

Book cover for The Dam Busters

Telling the true story of their bouncing bombs, enduring courage and honed flying techniques, the 1943 ‘dam-busting’ campaign of the 617 Squadron Lancashire bombers was immortalised in film in 1955. Published in 1951, Paul Brickhill’s The Dam Busters, which inspired the movie, was the first paperback book to sell over a million copies in Britain.

Looking for more book adaptations? Take a look at this Book Break episode for even more great suggestions...