20 Sci-Fi Novel Adaptations That Were Even Better Than The Book

Literature has had a long history of being adapted into cinema, creating some of the greatest and most influential stories ever put to film.

The popularity of such films also makes their source material more well-known as a result. However, many great sci-fi films have actually been based on novels you might not have even known about.


20.World War Z

Gerry in "World War Z"

Currently the highest-grossing zombie film ever, World War Z was originally a novel by author Max Brooks, who's actually the son of the great comedian, Mel Brooks. The film follows Brad Pitt's protagonist as he struggles to put an end to the zombie apocalypse. Though the film was received well, it still gained some criticism for its ending, its CGI, and how much it deviated from Brooks's novel. On top of all that, the film's entire third act ended up being reshot in one of the most troubled and expensive productions in cinema history.

Paramount / Via youtube.com

19.War of the Worlds (1953 & 2005)

A crashed airplane in "War of the Worlds"

The War of the Worlds is most famous for being the focus of Orson Welles's panic-inducing radio broadcast, but some might know it best from its 1953 and 2005 adaptations from Byron Haskin and Steven Spielberg respectively. Born from the novel by revolutionary writer H.G. Wells, the story tells of a group of people trying to survive the Martians' invasion of Earth. While both films were critically acclaimed, Spielberg's version was more divisive due to its ending, which couldn't even sway disappointed viewers with Morgan Freeman narrating.

Paramount / Via youtube.com

18.Ready Player One

Wade at the Distracted Globe in "Read Player One"

Described as "Willy Wonka meets The Matrix" by USA Today, Ready Player One takes place in a dystopian future where Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) explores the popular virtual reality world, The OASIS, in a quest to win a contest and gain ownership of it. A holy grail of pop culture, this film was originally a novel created by author Ernest Cline, who hit the jackpot when Steven Spielberg chose to adapt his book. Though the film didn't focus much on the global crisis elaborated in the book, it's still a rocking good story that explores people's dependence on technology and the way they escape into nostalgia. Member berries, anyone?

Warner Bros. / Via youtube.com

17.The Hunger Games films

Katniss with Caesar Flickerman in "The Hunger Games"

Arguably the most successful young adult franchise ever, The Hungers Games series was conceived from the trilogy of novels written by Suzanne Collins. We all know the story by now. A young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) living in a dystopian society joins other teens in a fight to the death for the people's amusement, leading to a rebellion against the corrupt system. While there have been multiple copycats over the years, none have been able to replicate the allure and success of The Hunger Games.

Lionsgate / Via youtube.com

16.Minority Report

John and co. in "Minority Report"

Loosely based on a shorty story by Philip K. Dick, Minority Report follows a cop (Tom Cruise) in the year 2054 working in the PreCrime department, which arrests people before they commit crimes foreseen by psychic "precogs." While presenting a thrilling, sci-fi murder mystery, this Spielberg film takes a deep look into the concept of free will and questions if it can exist if the future is known beforehand, as well as government intervention and the ethics of arresting someone before they're guilty.

20th Century Studios / Via youtube.com

15.The Iron Giant

Closeup of the Iron Giant in "The Iron Giant"

Long before he blessed the world with Ratatouille and The Incredibles, director Brad Bird made a surprising debut with his adaptation of Ted Hughes's novel, The Iron Man (nope, not that Iron Man). In this animated classic, a young boy living during the height of the Cold War befriends a giant alien robot and attempts to hide it from the U.S. military. Though it failed at the box office, the film opened to rave reviews, eventually gaining a cult following and winning nine out of 15 Annie awards.

Warner Bros. / Via youtube.com


The alien spacecraft in "Arrival"

Also directed by Denis Villeneuve, this story follows linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) when she is tasked with communicating with aliens that have arrived on Earth in a massive, black spacecraft. Based on Ted Chiang's novella, "Story of Your Life," the story accurately depicts linguistics as the protagonist tries to translate the aliens' language while exploring themes of war, communication, and our own free will. Overall, the film is a moving and mind-bending tale that will catch you completely off guard with its shocking twist.

Paramount/Sony / Via youtube.com


Lena and the mutant beat in "Annihilation"

The story follows a group of women exploring an area known as "The Shimmer," where all plant and animal life are being mutated by an alien entity that arrived on Earth. Originally a novel by Jeff VanderMeer, this Lovecraftian horror was brought to the big screen by Ex-Machina director Alex Garland. Although the film bombed at the box office, Annihilation still received glowing reviews for its acting and its creative and thought-provoking story. That bear scene alone was enough to cement this film in the annals of cinema history.

Paramount / Via youtube.com

12.Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Matthew dozing off in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"

Jack Finney's novel, The Body Snatchers, has been adapted for the big screen multiple times, but the film from 1978 is chosen for this entry. The story depicts a group of aliens arriving on Earth, kidnapping everyone in the nearby city and creating duplicate "pod people." While the book presents a more optimistic ending, the film itself is still a frightening depiction of an alien invasion that effectively captures America's paranoia during the Red Scare. By the end of this film, the haunting shriek emitted by the pod people will be burned into your minds forever.

United Artists / Via youtube.com


The Maschinenmensch in "Metropolis"

Adapted by director Fritz Lang from the novel with the same name, Metropolis became a landmark in cinema for its groundbreaking visuals. The film's aesthetic even inspired George Lucas's iconic design for C-3PO. Though controversial for its supposed political message, it is now regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. Although it doesn't help that the film was praised by Hitler.

UFA / Via youtube.com

10.The Martian

Mark sitting on a rock on Mars in "The Martian"

In this modern classic, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left stranded on Mars after he is presumed dead during a dust storm. Originally a novel by Andy Weir, director Ridley Scott successfully brings Watney's thrilling and comedic story to life on film. Gaining numerous award nominations, as well as a Golden Globe for Best Comedic Actor for Damon, The Martian has proven itself to be a sci-fi masterpiece that will keep you watching until the very end. It'll also make you want to dig up your old disco music.

20th Century Studios / Via youtube.com

9.Frankenstein (1931)

Closeup of the monster in "Frankenstein"

One of the most beloved tales in all of cinema, Frankenstein was based on Mary Shelley's 19th-century novel (also known as The Modern Prometheus). This well-known story follows the titular scientist when he creates a living being out of dead body parts, inadvertently creating the iconic monster we all know today. Though there are multiple differences between the film and the book, the former arguably elevates the story while remaining true to its source material. With multiple sequels, reboots, and remakes under its belt, Frankenstein has arguably become one of the most successful sci-fi/horror franchises ever.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

8.The Thing (1982)

MacReady staring at the screen in "The Thing"

Though a reboot of the film, The Thing from Another World, the story itself is based on the novel, Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell. This John Carpenter classic follows a research team that discovers a shape-shifting alien in the Arctic. Like Body Snatchers, this film effectively depicts Cold War paranoia, as the researchers turn against each other out of fear that any one of them could be the enemy. Along with that, the practical effects used to bring the eponymous alien to life still hold up today, serving as a testament to how terrifying this film is.

Universal / Via youtube.com

7.A Clockwork Orange

Closeup of Alex staring at the screen in "A Clockwork Orange"

Based on Anthony Burgess's novel of the same name, this film follows Alex DeLarge, a young delinquent who spends his nights in futuristic London with his fellow "droogs" engaging in a bit of the old "ultra-violence." Widely controversial when it was released, director Stanley Kubrick goes all out with the source material in painting a disturbing picture of rape, murder, and violence, all to the tune of Ludwig van Beethoven. Though the book's ending was more uplifting, Kubrick's film still came out as a cult classic with four Academy Award nominations and a surprising cameo in Space Jam: A New Legacy. I know, right?

Warner Bros. / Via youtube.com

6.Dune (2021)

Paul and Chani with blue eyes in "Dune"

Though this film has yet to be released in theaters, this adaptation of Frank Herbert's sci-fi epic has already premiered to positive reviews at the Venice International Film Festival. When Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his family are betrayed by the evil House Harkonnen, he must lead the natives of the planet Arrakis as their messiah and fight to end the Harkonnens' reign of terror. Audiences can expect a new sci-fi classic with this one, as it has already been dubbed the next Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Avatar by Forbes Magazine. That's high praise.

Warner Bros. / Via youtube.com

5.Planet of the Apes (1968)

Taylor and Nova in a tunnel in "Planet of the Apes"

This classic film centers around a group of astronauts who crash-land on a planet ruled by sentient apes who enslave primitive humans. A benchmark of science fiction, this film was based on the French novel La Planète des Singes, with a screenplay initially written by the late great Rod Serling. Like The Twilight Zone, this movie deals with real-world issues of race, civil rights, and nuclear war while featuring the now-iconic twist that most of us are familiar with. But I wouldn't dare spoil it for anyone who hasn't experienced this sci-fi juggernaut.

United Archives / FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

4.Children of Men

John looking at Kee in "Children of Men"

Brought to life by Gravity and Roma director Alfonso Cuarón, this adaptation of P.D. James's novel depicts a world where war and infertility have left humanity on the brink of extinction. In this dystopian world, we follow a man (Clive Owen) tasked with bringing a pregnant refugee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) to safety and preserve the last hope for human existence. Emotional and chaotic, Children of Men deals with themes of depression, immigration, xenophobia, and the sense of impending doom in the modern age, something that feels more and more relevant as time goes by.

Universal Pictures / Via youtube.com

3.Jurassic Park

A T-Rex staring at a car in "Jurassic Park"

Amazingly, this book was picked for a movie deal while it was still being written. Originally conceived as a screenplay, legendary writer Michael Crichton caught the attention of Hollywood king Steven Spielberg, and another great blockbuster was born. Breaking global box-office records set by Spielberg himself, Jurassic Park once again proved to the world that he was the greatest director of all time. Of course, it also gave us that shot of Jeff Goldblum shirtless, so win-win.

Murray Close / Sygma via Getty Images

2.Blade Runner

Rick Deckard in "Blade Runner"

Based on Philip K. Dick's book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner follows Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the titular cop assigned to hunt down a fugitive group of android "replicants" seeking to extend their life span. Though reviews were mixed upon release, director Ridley Scott's film eventually attained a massive cult following for its complex themes and futuristic visuals. And with the release of its Final Cut, Blade Runner has fully established itself as one of the all-time greatest sci-fi films in cinema.

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1.2001: A Space Odyssey

Dr. Heywood Floyd touching the monolith in "2001: A Space Odyssey"

For this film, legendary storytellers Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke teamed up to give the world this glorious magnum opus. Though the movie and book were written simultaneously, Clarke based them off his 1951 short story, "The Sentinel." This sci-fi epic follows a group of astronauts trying to understand the source of mysterious black monoliths that have played a part in humanity's evolution. Tackling themes of alien life, technology, artificial intelligence, and existentialism, Kubrick and Clarke succeeded in presenting a beautiful but frightening odyssey into the unknown, and the visual effects are so spectacular and realistic that one still can't believe this film was made in 1968.

MGM / Via youtube.com

Do you agree with this list? Were there any sci-fi adaptations that we missed? Please let us know in the comments section below!