Classic Short Stories Made Into Great Movies

Many readers…many, many readers…get annoyed when films don’t follow books on which they were based. Books are long, my friends. That’s why the really great literary adaptations are from classic short stories.



You know The Birds is part of the culture when the drag queens in New Orleans are satirizing it. February 1989 via Wikimedia Commons
You know The Birds is part of the culture when the drag queens in New Orleans are satirizing it. February 1989 via Wikimedia Commons

You know The Birds is part of the culture when the drag queens in New Orleans are satirizing it. February 1989 via Wikimedia Commons


In reality, a film’s closely following a long, complex novel is a logistical impossibility. There simply isn’t enough “time” in a two hour movie to include every character and every subplot in a novel. For times’ sake, some things must be cut. Think about it.

Films that are based on classic short stories are follow the original much more closely. The reason for this is obvious: there is simply the temporal “space” to do so. In fact, so much character and background is implied in short stories that often details need to be filled in rather than the reverse.

You might be surprised to discover that another good source for narrative (non documentary) movies are magazine articles. In the “new journalism” style of reporting, the goal is to provide immerse the reader in the subject’s life, so in this case the setting and the background of the characters might be there, it’s the main conflict that needs development.

The film that results from both types of source material is often much more similar to the original than a novel, so if you are the type of person who gets annoyed at a lot of changes, try out the source material for these movies, which are all favorites of mine.

Links to all the source works are provided, which in some cases are FREE!

The Shawshank Redemption

Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is also included in the collection below, Different Seasons. This very thick paperback has a novella for each season, and includes two other novellas that became movies: Apt Pupil and The Body, which was made into Stand By Me.

2. Vacation and Christmas Vacation

National Lampoon’s Vacation and Christmas Vacation have long been two of my favorite movies. Vacation in particular reminds me of a cross country trip my family took in about 1977. We had that giant station wagon, that we also got immediately prior to the trip although ours came back in better condition.

My grandma even rode back with us.

Come to find out, both movies are based on articles that John Hughes wrote in National Lampoon: “Vacation ‘58” and “Christmas ‘59”.

If anything, the “Vacation ‘58” is wilder than the film…there are some things they couldn’t show on film even in the 80’s, which is the reason you need to read this.

“Christmas ‘59” has been changed even more. There are a lot of relatives, but no Cousin Eddie. You will find a Taiwanese character who apparently ended up in the Hughes film Sixteen Candles as Long Duck Dong, but you won’t be sorry. LDD is more likable and funnier than this character, and what would Christmas Vacation be without Cousin Eddie!

And now you also know the point of the scene in which Chevy Chase watches old Christmas movies in the attic, labelled Christmas ‘59. It’s a reference to this story.

Both of the original stories are floating around on the Internet. You can read these classic short stories, “Vacation ‘58” here and “Christmas ‘59” here.

In “Christmas ‘59” you might notice a character that was not in 1989’s Christmas Vacation that had turned up in 1984’s Sixteen Candles. I have to say that Sixteen Candles was my favorite of all the John Hughes movies in the 80’s, but I do cringe now at both the treatment of the sexual assault and the racism…turns out, Hughes had actually toned DOWN that character in the movie. Different times…a friend group of guys I hung out with sometimes in college called one of their Asian members “Buddha” and the other one “Donger”, after this movies, but I guess I know where we learned it

(Full disclosure: even then, I must say, I was a little shocked at both nicknames, but I went to rewatch Sixteen Candles at the campus theater with everyone and yelled just as loud during the movie “Donger’s” scenes. Different times.)

In case you missed it, an update was made in 2015 when the second generation of Griswolds decides to head cross country to Walley World.

And is that where Wal-Mart got its nickname?

3. The Birds

You may know Daphne du Maurier as the author of Rebecca, but one of her classic short stories was the basis for the film, The Birds, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Both are knockouts.



By Daphne Du Maurier

Buy on Amazon


4. All About Eve

Many people think that All About Eve is based on Tallulah Bankhead, but it is actually based on a short story called “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr, who wrote the based on the experiences of a completely different actress.

You can find the original story in the collection below, Adaptations.

For more about this amazing film, read All About “All About Eve”.

5. Urban Cowboy

When it was first released, Urban Cowboy was known as the “country music Saturday Night Fever”. Saturday Night Fever was HUGE, but when I watch it now, it seems very late 1970’s with its cynicism. It’s a great movie, and of course I get it now in a way I didn’t when I was in middle school, but I have always been more partial to Urban Cowboy, which was much less popular when it was released.

What can I say? I enjoyed John Travolta more as a “cowboy”. Also, both of the female characters in Saturday Night Fever are really annoying, and Urban Cowboy has both Debra Winger, who worked as an auto mechanic when she wasn’t two stepping to the Charlie Daniels Band (both movies have great soundtracks even if you hate both country and “disco”), and the rich bitch who tries tries to steal John Travolta has things to admire. The lady is polished and rich, and she goes after what she wants. And the movie gives you room to forgive her at the end.

The original article in Esquire was not exactly a short story. It was based on an article (so not exactly one of our classic short stories) by Aaron Latham about who reported on the lifestyle of Dew Westbrook (Bud) and his wife Betty (Sissy) in an article called “The Ballad of the Urban Cowboy: American’s Search for True Grit” in 1978.

Esquire will ask you to create an account to read the article (linked above), but you don’t have to pay anything. Be sure to click on the pages of the original article to see the photos. The truck and the trailer are exactly like the movie, and Gilley’s is real too.

If you’ve watched the Netflix series The Ranch, the “family photos” in the opening credits show Debra Winger as Sissy, which is apt since her character in The Ranch is exactly where you could imagine Sissy ending up in life.

Add your favorite adapted short stories and novellas below!



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