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If you didn’t know short stories have been the basis for Oscar-winning, commercially successful movies—now you do! So add “write a great short story for future movie adaptation” to your bucket list, and find your inspiration in these ten noteworthy examples:
- “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. Jim Carrey, Bill Murray, Patrick Stewart, and George C. Scott all have one thing in common: each put his unique spin on the character of Ebenezer Scrooge. Moreover, there has been a film adaptation of this holiday favorite in each decade since the 1920s. Pretty good for a story that took about a month to write!
- “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Nominated for Best Picture and winner of three Oscars, this 2008 movie was based on a short story a mere 25 pages long. That’s because screenwriter Eric Roth liberally applied a romantic plot to Fitzgerald’s short story. It was directed by David Fincher, best known for Fight Club, Gone Girl, and The Social Network.
- “Children Of The Corn” by Stephen King. The nine-movie franchise began with King’s collection of short stories titled Night Shift. The story revolves around a cult of children convinced that anyone over eighteen years old must be killed. Let the nightmares begin!
- “Opera Hat” by Clarence Budington Kelland. This heart-melting short story was the basis for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town in 1936 and the 2002 remake with Adam Sandler. Director Frank Capra won an Academy Award for Best Director for the original adaptation. The story follows the adventures of a greeting card writer who inherits $20 million. Hilarity, chaos, and heartbreak ensue.
- “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren Stern. The movie synonymous with Christmas, It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) is based on this short story. The story was actually turned down by publishers until Cary Grant bought the rights to it. Directed by Frank Capra, the movie was nominated for Academy Awards but surprisingly took home none.
- “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber. Penned by a New Yorker magazine cartoonist and anthologized in 20th Century American short story collections, “Mitty” served as the foundation for the 1947 and 2013 films. The 1939 story and 1947 film differ vastly from each other—but hold onto the central idea of a man with a larger-than-life imagination.
- “The Sentinel” by Arthur C. Clarke. Originally printed as a short read in 1950—Clarke and Stanley Kubrick teamed up to write a screenplay based on Clarke’s story. The result was 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The success of the film heightened Clarke’s status to beloved science fiction writer and international celebrity. Clarke later turned the movie into a full-length novel three months after the film’s release.
- “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick. About a man whose memories have been tampered with, this short story served as the basis for the film Total Recall (1990 and 2012). Ironically, critics prefer the 1990 adaptation over the truer-to-story 2012 version. Dick was an industrious writer who penned a short story or novella every two weeks. His stories that have been adapted into film include Blade Runner (1982), Minority Report (2002), A Scanner Darkly (2006), and The Adjustment Bureau (2011).
- “Memento Mori” by Jonathan Nolan. One brother’s short story turned into another’s movie. First featured in Esquire in 1996, the film adaptation was released in 2000. Though it was produced on a $5 million budget, the movie roped in $39.7 million in worldwide gross. Both Jonathan and Christopher Nolan earned Oscar nominations for Original Screenplay. The phrase “memento mori” is Latin for “remember (that you have) to die,” a reminder of man’s frailty and eventual death.
- “The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving. Usually associated with Halloween, this classic story was adapted by Tim Burton in Sleepy Hollow (1999). Burton took liberties with the story, such as changing Ichabod Crane’s profession from school teacher to detective.
In short—no pun intended—a short story has all the elements necessary to become the basis for a full-length blockbuster movie. One definite advantage is that authors don’t have to agonizingly cut details from their novels to match a movie’s pace or budget.