Sunday, December 5, 2010

Based on the Short Story By…

Short stories don’t get enough credit.

Back in college, one of the best classes I took (okay, the best class I took) was a short stories class. But not just any short stories. No, this one focused on stories turned into movies. I was surprised how many short stories became movies that were, in many cases, vastly different than their source material. In other cases, I was just surprised that there was source material.

Here, let me show you what I mean. Movies that have been made based on short stories. Warning this list contains spoilers and is full of my own opinions:

The Sentinel -> 2001: A Space Odyssey; Arthur C. Clark also wrote a novel at the same time as the screenplay for 2001 but the original idea came from a short story about astronauts finding a strange artifact of alien origin on the moon. Once they crack the force field, the narrator wonders if whoever placed it there will return to see who broke the device and whether or not they will be benevolent. Both novel and movie expand on this brief scene with monoliths that may or may not spurn advances in humanity.

The Birds -> The Birds; by Daphne Du Maurier. The short story is, on the surface, different from its source. The best you can say is Alfred Hitchcock read the story and took the idea of attacking birds from it, brought it to California and made up his own cast. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a good movie! But the short story has its own charm, one the lovers of the movie might not recognize.

It Had to be Murder -> Rear Window; by Cornell Woolrich. Yes, another adaption by Hitchcock. Unlike the above, this one is very close to the source material. The major difference is the addition of the love story angle, not surprising considering even now Hollywood likes, well, Hollywood endings. In the story, we learn the specifics (okay, Jeffries’ theories) on the why and how of the murder. Things in the movie seem a little glossed over, and there’s a lot more build up.

Memento Mori -> Memento; by Jonathan Nolan. This is interesting because the short story and film were written simultaneously and done by the Nolan brothers. However, Jonathan, not Christopher, came up with the main story idea and so I consider the movie derived from the story. Both contained the same basic premise: a man has anterograde amnesia, the result of an attack where his wife was murdered. In order to function, he has to write notes to himself and the notes convince him to seek out and kill the murderer. Obviously, the movie has more details. But it’s more about the search, whereas the story is about overcoming the no-short-term-memory enough to do it. In both cases, the main character uses it to trick himself into doing something (murder/escape).

The Minority Report -> Minority Report; by Philip K. Dick. Like The Birds, this one is taking the idea of the story and running in another direction with it. Can one really be punished for a crime they haven’t committed yet? The question is part of both movie and story, although the former is based around revenge and justice. I find the movie to be a little trite and a lot preachy (I mean, I get it; he’s been future-framed and that means Precrime is a lie). The story however, ends with the total opposite. Anderton commits the murder in order to save what he worked so hard to build up! He doesn’t really have anything against the man he kills. It’s just what he thinks is the moral thing to do, which makes me wonder about the shift of ethics over time.

And there are many, many more. I’m only going into detail here because I haven’t seen the movie, read the story, or don’t remember it well enough to discuss.

Anyway, my final word is this: short stories are great inspirations. They’re also great on their own.


  1. Interesting, well-documented post. I guess I never knew so many other films were made from short stories besides my all-time favorite short "Inventing the Abbotts."

  2. Great Post!
    I wouldn't put my shorts in the same category as the one's you've listed above, but I love writing short stories.
    They can be every bit as challenging as their full length counterparts.

  3. I've never tried to write a short story but I LOVE a collection of short stories titled The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.

    My favorite short story turned into a movie is Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. I didn't know that Minority Report was based on a short story.

  4. Seems short stories would be a great source for movies. Great post! :D

  5. Gale: there are tons more!

    MJA: Don't worry. Being made into a movie doesn't mean it's a good story (and vice versa).

    Jennifer: Another great one. King has more short stories to movies I can count. Some of them are even as good as Shawshank.

    M Pax: They are! I could list a hundred more (and I'm not even exaggerating)!


Please validate me.