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10 Must-Watch Thriller Movies Based On Best-Selling Novels


Novels remain one of the most significant sources of cinematic inspiration, and it takes a particular type of film to stay faithful to a story. From the bone-chilling adaptation of Thomas Harris‘s thriller, The Silence of the Lambs, to the intelligent and masterful novel of author Stieg Larsson‘s, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, there have been many successful adaptations of incredible books.


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Popular novels turned into movies create an exciting opportunity for viewers to see the story play out visually, many of which have become some of the greatest thrillers ever to hit the big screen. While some thrillers remain loyal to the author’s original novel, others carry the source material into previously unforeseen places. There have been many book-to-screen thriller adaptations, but certain ones stand out as cinematic masterpieces.

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‘Children of Men’ (2006)

Theo and Kee walk amongst soldiers in Children of Men

Children of Men is a dystopian action thriller that works on many levels, including as a cautionary story and a trailblazing human drama about society’s struggle for survival. The film unfolds in 2027 London, where humanity is on the verge of extinction, and worldwide chaos ensues. When a woman falls pregnant, cynical bureaucrat Theo Faron (Clive Owen) and his ex-wife Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore) help secretly transport a pregnant refugee to safety. At the same time fighting to protect the world’s last remaining hope from danger.

Directed by Alfonso CuarĂ³n and based on the 1992 novel The Children of Men by author P.D. James, the film received overwhelming critical acclaim but no box-office success. However, the powerful thriller has recently enjoyed a remarkable resurgence with glowing reappraisals on both sociopolitical and artistic grounds. The movie and novel contain general similarities, including a dystopian setting, developed main characters, and a strong plot that remains relevant with each passing year.

‘The Girl on the Train’ (2016)

The Girl on the Train 2x1

The psychological thriller The Girl on the Train follows divorced alcoholic Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), who obsessively watches the house belonging to her ex-husband and his new wife on her morning train commute. Along the route, she catches glimpses of their neighbors, a seemingly perfect young couple, Scott and Megan. However, when Megan suddenly goes missing, Rachel is caught between helping to investigate the disappearance and becoming a murder suspect.

Directed by Tate Taylor and based on the bestselling novel by Paula Hawkins, the movie The Girl on the Train is an excellent example of a great mystery. The book-to-movie adaptation stays primarily loyal to its original material with only a few key changes, including the film’s location switching from London to New York City and the original pair of detectives in the novel becoming one complicated character. The movie unfolds in diverse, compelling ways as it plays with the timeline and the narrator while keeping viewers guessing until the end.

‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ (2011)

the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo-social-feature-rooney-mara
Image via Sony Pictures Releasing

In the movie The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) hires brilliant computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) to help solve the 40-year-old murder of Henrik Vanger’s (Christopher Plummer) niece. As the two main protagonists uncover the truth, they discover more than they bargained for about the powerful Vanger family secrets.

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Masterfully directed by David Fincher and based on the novel by Swedish author Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo film is a compelling psychological thriller. In the second book-to-movie adaptation, Fincher created a masterful neo-noir thriller that unravels a genuinely captivating story and remains faithful to the novel’s intricate plot.

‘Crash’ (1996)

Crash

The erotic thriller Crash is one of director David Cronenberg‘s most controversial and provocative films. The movie follows film producer James Ballard (James Spader) and his wife Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger), who are looking to spice up their sex life. Following a car crash, they are lured into a strange subculture and underground community of sadomasochistic car-crash fetishists.

Cronenberg adapted J.G. Ballard‘s highly controversial future-shock novel into an immaculately directed, vivid depiction of graphic sexual acts instigated by violence. Both the movie and book present disturbing and equally profound inquiries into human desire. With its twisted and erotic portrayal of eroticism, this drama/thriller will grip its viewers entirely.

‘American Psycho’ (2000)

American Psycho's Christian Bale

Set in New York City in the 1980s, American Psycho follows investment banker Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), an egotistical psychopath consumed by the social politics of the upper-class circle. By nightfall, Bateman’s corporate illusion drastically changes as his sadistic desires take full effect, shifting towards a double life as a serial killer.

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Filmmaker Mary Harron‘s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis‘s American Psycho is the epitome of cult cinema. While Ellis’s novel is a satire of greed and heartlessness that consumed parts of America during the 1980s, Harron’s film investigates similar themes but with the addition of dark humor. Both novel and film have polarized their audiences with horrifying brutality as they examine the elements that make a man a monster.

‘Shutter Island’ (2010)

'Shutter Island' blurs the line between what is real and what isn't
Image via Paramount Pictures

The psychological thriller Shutter Island follows troubled U.S. Marshall Edward “Teddy” Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he investigates the disappearance of a woman who has escaped an asylum for the criminally insane. As the investigation deepens, Daniels, while dealing with his haunting past, begins to realize things are not as they appear.

The film Shutter Island is arguably one of the most popular thrillers of all time and a haunting adaptation of Dennis Lehane‘s pulpy gothic novel. Director Martin Scorsese brilliantly uses visceral horror imagery to convey the despair of Daniel’s tortured psyche. The psychological components detailed in both the book and movie continue to keep audiences guessing as to what is fact and what is fiction.

‘Gone Girl’ (2014)

Amy Dunne taking a bath in Gone Girl.

In the movie Gone Girl, New York-based writer Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) appear to be the perfect couple. However, when Amy suddenly disappears under suspicious circumstances, Nick becomes the prime suspect. The resulting media frenzy causes the couple’s image of a blissful union to fade quickly, leading to compelling questions regarding who is the real Nick and Amy.

Director David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn‘s Gone Girl resulted in a dark and intelligent psychological thriller, receiving widespread critical acclaim. While the film appears to be a straightforward mystery, it becomes much more complex with its jaw-dropping twists and turns. The book-to-film adaptation has successfully managed to remain faithful to the novel while also introducing its own creative style.

‘Fight Club’ (1999)

fight club brad pitt narrator edward norton
Image via 20th Century Fox

The movie Fight Club observes a depressed office worker (Edward Norton) and a soap salesman named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) forming an underground fight club. The club attracts other individuals who also lead monotonous lives as they turn to express their inner anger by beating each other senselessly. However, as the group continues to grow, soon enough, anarchy reigns.

Acclaimed filmmaker David Fincher’s adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk‘s 1996 novel is an insightful satire of masculinity and consumerism and observes how both can be equally toxic to society. While Fincher’s brilliant adaptation of Palahniuk’s acclaimed novel is dark and unorthodox in many ways, the cult classic proved remarkably faithful to the book.

‘No Country for Old Men’ (2007)

no country for old men feature

The 2007 thriller No Country For Old Men tells the story of Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), who discovers the gruesome aftermath of a drug deal. Unable to resist temptation, Moss takes off with the cash left behind. However, it is not long before a tense game of cat and mouse ensues, as merciless killer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) begins to pursue Moss.

The Coen brothers adaptation of Cormac McCarthy‘s brilliant novel is a true masterpiece in which the filmmakers have crafted their most suspenseful and terrifying film to date. At the same time, the film adaptation has remained highly faithful to the novel regarding its primary elements, namely tone, twists and surprises.

‘The Silence of the Lambs’ (1991)

Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs

The cinematic masterpiece The Silence of the Lambs is an intoxicating and absorbing thriller. The film follows young FBI cadet Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) as she seeks advice from Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), an incarcerated cannibalistic serial killer, to track down another serial killer.

Jonathan Demme‘s adaptation of Thomas Harris’s compelling novel The Silence of the Lambs is considered one of the most horrifying and iconic thrillers of all time. In the book-to-movie adaptation, Demme has successfully created a thrilling, thought-provoking pop-culture phenomenon close to Harris’s novel in most aspects, including story and dialogue.

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