The 10 Best Books Used in Movies

The Ten Best Books Used in Movies

Books have been around far longer than movies have, and in many ways, they are a superior form of fiction.  Our imagination is vastly efficient at scaring, enamoring, thrilling, tickling, and saddening us more than any movie.  When a filmmaker adapts a novel in a way that either match what the audience had read and felt or exceeds their expectations (Jaws, The Exorcist), it is truly magical.  The written word has the unique ability to transport us, through our mind’s eye, to other worlds, other times, and other lives.  This ability gives books an almost mythical quality in our society, and therefore a mythical place within our art.

Because of this mythicism, Hollywood has always used books, real or fictional.  They have been used as MacGuffins, props, or even the fulcrums on which an entire film’s plot rests. Books hold power, mystery, and knowledge within their bindings.  It makes them perfect objects for a film’s focus. These are the top 10 cinematic books that we would all love on our bookshelf.

The Handbook for the Recently Deceased in Beetlejuice

Beetlejuice, maybe more than any other of Tim Burton’s vast filmography, is an amazingly creative, absolutely bonkers movie.  The afterlife that Burton conceived of in this film is one of the most fun visions in the history of cinema. It was a masterstroke to put in this book as a clever little plot device.  Only a few words are read allowed, so the book is shrouded in mystery.   Also, a flyer falls out of it advertising Betelgeuse. However, the idea that those who have just died need a book that reads like stereo instructions to acclimate them to their new reality is great.

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Love in the Time of Cholera in Serendipity

Serendipity is an adorable romantic comedy starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale.  It follows a meet-cute by two people, one of which, Sara, is enormously superstitious.  When a gust of wind causes her number to fly from poor Jonathan’s grasp, she takes it as a sign.  So in order to prove they are supposed to be together, she buys Love in the Time of Cholera from a used bookstore.  She proceeds to write her name and number in it and tells Jonathan she will sell it to another bookshop.  When he finds it, they will be together. Well, this plan causes him to search through every copy of the book he can find for years to come.  What unfolds is sweet, exciting, and interesting romantic adventure. That climax though will have you choking back tears.  It is so perfect.

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Grays Sports Almanac in Back to the Future Part II

The entire second film in the vastly popular Back to the Future franchise hinges on this almanac.  When Marty McFly is taken to 2015 to help save his son from being sent to jail, he comes up with the idea of bringing back some future knowledge in order to monetarily benefit in 1985.  Doc is mortified by the idea, but old Biff Tannen isn’t. Tannen takes the book back to himself in 1955, and, well, you know the rest. It is a great focal point for the film because that kind of futuristic information in the brain of Biff Tannen can certainly change the future.  Or the past.  Whatever!!

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The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows in The Ninth Gate

Few people saw Roman Polanski’s Johnny Depp vehicle, The Ninth Gate.   Even fewer people enjoyed it.  It is a shame because it is a clever, interesting, detective story reminiscent of the 40s and 50s film noirs.  Johnny Depp is out to investigate a trio of books purportedly written by the Devil. Through gorgeous European settings, creepy music, and ethereal appearances of a femme fatale, the power and mysticism behind the book are palpable.  It is as if just holding it in your hands is controlling your fate.  The movie never quite pays off the way you would like it too, but the use of the pentagram-wielding tome is perfect. 

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The Orchid Thief in Adaptation

Spike Jones, Charlie Kaufman, and Nicholas Cage made a ridiculously meta-film back in 2001 called Adaptation.  Nicholas Cage plays Charlie Kaufman and his fictional twin brother Donald.  He is having a difficult time adapting Susan Orlean’s actual novel, The Orchid Thief (which is actually adapted with Meryl Streep as Orlean and Chris Cooper as the titular thief).  The movie is somehow simultaneously about The Orchid Thief, about Kaufman’s difficulty in adapting it, and the difficulty of screenwriting in general.  Adaptation is a convoluted masterpiece has to be seen to be believed.  

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The Naturan Demanto in The Evil Dead

Also known as The Book of the Dead in ancient Egyptian, this book has a colorful history as outlined in the Evil Dead Wiki.  It is full of spells for controlling both demons and the dead. However, audiences were introduced to this grotesque book bound in human skin in Sam Raimi’s original The Evil Dead.  The book was found in the basement of a cabin in the woods, and nothing good ever comes from that scenario. The film is a wonderfully fun horror romp with cheesy acting and corny special effects.  Though, the Naturan Demanto is incredibly creepy and effectively sets the film’s otherworldly horrors in motion.

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The Princess Bride in The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride is beloved but it is close to being a flat-out parody of the medieval fairy tale.   However, since its grasps onto a hint of seriousness, it makes the whole experience magical.  Cary Elwes is a joy of swashbuckling sarcasm.  Mandy Patinkin as the Spanish swordsman hellbent on revenge is an incredible presence.  Also, how can you not like a movie where Andre the Giant is in the cast?  The whole thing plays out exactly like a child’s bedtime story, so witnessing Peter Falk actually reading the story to his sick grandchild makes the whole movie that much more nostalgic and exciting.

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Jane Eyre in Definitely, Maybe

Definitely, Maybe is a wonderful film that follows three stories, about three different women.  Ryan Reynolds’s Will is telling these stories to his daughter at bedtime.  She doesn’t know which one of her dad’s romance stories involves her mother.  One of the stories involves Will and his friendship with April, played by Isla Fisher.  April buys every copy of Jane Eyre she can find as long as it is inscribed.  He father inscribed a copy for her right before his death, but unfortunately, that copy has been lost.  This scenario pays off incredibly well later on and brings such poignancy to an already great romantic comedy.

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The Grail Diary in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The Grail Diary is chock full of purpose in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  It is the object of Henry Jones Sr.’s affection which led to his son’s resentment.  Dr. Jones’s kidnapping was because he sent the diary home to his son for safekeeping.  It serves as the treasure map to the Holy Grail’s resting place.  Finally, it holds the secrets one must know in order to obtain the holy chalice.  All it is is a small, leather-bound journal with personal notes and drawings in it.  But the Nazi’s want it, Elsa wants it, Donavan wants it, and even Adolf Hitler gets his hands on it.

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The Neverending Story in The Neverending Story

That’s what I am talking about.  The books you read, are safe.

It is the ominous warning Mr. Coreander gives Bastian about the ornate tome in their presence.   Bastian steals the book and spends the school day in the attic reading the enigmatic book.  What follows is an amazing adventure through Fantasia as the young Atreyu looks for a cure for the Childlike Empress.  More than any other book on the list, this serves as an allegory as to how powerful books can be.  As we read them, we become active participants in the story.  We create worlds, faces, and scenarios as we read the words…bringing it all to life.  Bastian is a bibliophile and reads all the time.  He just wasn’t prepared for how much of a participant in the story he would become.

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