Some of the best, and most celebrated, films of all time have been taken from short stories. We’re surveying some of the most notable adaptations…

45 Years

Adapted from a short story by David Constantine, this is one of the most esteemed British films of recent years, and no wonder.

Few films have such insight into long-term relationships and their discontents.

Stir in two magnificent performances by Tom Courtney and an Oscar-nominated Charlotte Rampling and you have something that looks suspiciously like a future classic.
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Total Recall

Total Recall
Image via Duck Feed TV

Arnold Schwarzenegger stars but don't be too judgemental. Total Recall is based on a characteristically mind-bending yarn by that great discombobulater Philip K Dick (called We Can Remember it for You Wholesale).

Although certain accommodations were made on Arnold's behalf (gunfights galore, basically), it's an unusually satisfying slice of hard science fiction, and one whose secrets won't be revealed in a single viewing.
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Memento

Christopher Nolan had something of a head start when procuring the film rights to the short story Memento Mori. It was written by his younger brother Jonathan.

The film was the director's ticket to the big time, to Batman and beyond. And yet for all the scale of his later work, this ingenious thriller remains his signature achievement, showing an intelligence uncompromised by the constraints of studio filmmaking.
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Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain
Image via Hitflix

E. Annie Proulx's story of forbidden romance between ranch-hands is one of the most celebrated short stories of the past quarter century.

The film adaptation, written by Larry McMurtry and directed by Ang Lee, won similar plaudits in its own field, winning every award going, except—somewhat strangely, the best picture Oscar, which was stolen—sorry, won—by race-relations soap opera Crash.

You may draw your own conclusions why the Academy turned its nose up at this gay love story, just as long as that conclusion isn't 'because Crash was the better film'.
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The Duellists

The Duellists
Image via YouTube

“Where is Apocalypse Now?” I hear you cry. “Isn't that adapted from a short story?”

Well, not really. Heart of Darkness is technically a novella but if you're in the mood for a film based on a Joseph Conrad short story, what about this adaptation of his story The Duel?

It is, after all, a dashed good movie: Keith Carradine is a French officer who seems fated to lock swords (literally) with Harvey Keitel at every turn.

It was Ridley Scott’s debut and shows just why he would soon be in such demand.

 

 

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey
Image via Blastr

If we're being pedantic, the script for 2001 actually came from a novel, written by Arthur C Clark in collaboration with (and at the behest of) the film's director Stanley Kubrick.

However, that novel grew out of a story by Clark called The Sentinel. Given the film's interest in evolution, it's entirely appropriate that 2001 could trace its line of descent back to a primitive ancestor.
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Don't Look Now

Don't Look Now
Image via Film 4

In addition to her talents as a novelist (see Rebecca for proof of that) Daphne du Maurier was a mean short story writer too.

We might have gone for The Birds (which Hitchcock plucked from her pages) but instead, let's go for this devastating film.

It's often said to be a ghost story, or even a thriller (just what is that figure in red?). In fact, it is a study of loss and grief, and one of the most acute there is.
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The Killers (1946)

The Killers
Image via Ava the Venus

The whole point of Ernest Hemingway is that neither its narrator, nor its readership, ever discovered just why two mysterious gunmen ride into town, nor why their victim—'The Swede’—is so fatalistic about his death.

That wasn't good enough for Hollywood, a place where ambiguity is seldom welcome. The whole point of this film adaptation is to explain why 'The Swede' (played by Burt Lancaster in his debut film) met his end.

Luckily, director Robert Siodmak—a minor master, as it happens—was on the case. So while Hemingway purists can mutter and moan, the rest of us can enjoy a top-flight film noir.
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Rear Window

Alfred Hitchcock knew a good idea when he heard one, and Cornell Woolrich's story of a man who begins to suspect that his neighbour has murdered his wife caught his attention straight away.

It became one of Hitch's essential films. The academic crowd love it because it gives them free rein to witter on about 'voyeurism' and 'the male gaze', while more casual viewers love it more because it's such a supremely well-made thriller.

Either way, it's a win/win.
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The Man Who Would Be King

The Man Who Would Be King
Image via Doctor Macro 

While Rudyard Kipling is a contentious figure due to his perceived celebration of British imperialism, this adaptation of one of his best stories offers a much more ambivalent reading.

Directed by John Huston, it gives a stern critique of the empire and those who built it.

It’s also a rousing boy's own adventure, anchored by one of the great movie partnerships: Sean Connery and Michael Caine, both on peak form.

It is the sort of movie that will get you saying, “Ah! They don't make 'em like that anymore!” And then, a second or so later, realising, sadly, that they really don't.
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Feature image via Universal Pictures

 

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