25 best movies about books

With the London Book Fair in full swing, we’ve compiled a compendium of cinema’s best celebrations of the original physical media

The Hours (2002)

An intergenerational story of three women connected through the novel Mrs Dalloway. It juxtaposes Virginia Woolf writing the novel, a 1950s housewife who finds escape in its pages, and a modern day Manhattanite who – like Mrs Dalloway – is getting ready for a fancy gala. Itself based on a Pulitzer-winning novel, The Hours is stuffed with party-planning and suicide, like a less depressing episode of Come Dine With Me. 

Wonder Boys (2000)

Michael Douglas plays Grady Tripp, a novelist struggling to finish his second novel. Ironically, the blocked writer spends his days teaching creative writing at a university. Watching the Professor smoke weed and mentor his class of pert young weirdos, Wonder Boys is both a demonstration of the central humanity in literature, and a reminder that you should have become a teacher.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

Trapped inside his body, only able to move one eye, a journalist painstakingly writes a book about his experience, letter by letter, blink by blink. Based on the memoirs of Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered from locked-in syndrome after a stroke, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a powerful, shattering film. The definitive weepy. 

Finding Forrester (2000)

A by-the-book mentor movie, Finding Forrester doesn’t tread any genre ground not previously trampled by Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society (or Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds), only this time the teacher is a reclusive Sean Connery, hiding from the success of his magnum opus. However, there’s no standing on desks or rap music in the classroom and the denoument is spared too much sickly closur

Naked Lunch (1991)

William Burroughs’ classic 1959 hallucinatory paranoia novel was helmed to the big screen by David Cronenberg. The resulting film suggests DC uncovered Burroughs’ stash of narcotics during production. Giant bugs are in much evidence, an accusation that is unlikely to be levelled at a coherent plot.

Capote (2005)

Although Capote is a biopic of the titular author at heart, its focus lies distinctly with the research of In Cold Blood and Truman Capote’s writerly relationship with To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener head up the dramatis personae.

Julie & Julia (2009)

In 1950s Paris, legendary chef Julia Childes struggles in the male dominated world of the professional kitchen. In present day New York, blogger Julie Powell decides to cook every recipe from Childes’ cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Meryl Streep is exceptional as the deep-voiced cook, triumphing over scoffing Escoffiers, although the modern romance subplot does somewhat over-egg the pudding.

The Name of the Rose (1986)

Reasons not to read Aristotle. 1. It’s really hard work. 2. You might die, especially if you’re a 14th century monk. Sean Connery and Christian Slater are the unlikely alliance trying to find out what’s causing the deaths (not boredom, apparently) in this good adaptation of Umberto Eco’s novel.

Deconstructing Harry (1997)

Harry Block (Woody Allen) is a writer. But his creations on the page have upset some of their real-life counterparts, and that’s before his fictional characters start appearing to set him straight with a few home truths. Did someone say metadrama?

The Neverending Story (1984)

The worst case of false advertising ever to grace a child’s Christmas list, but a brilliant fantasy film based on the German novel by Michael Ende. The Neverending Story is about a boy pulled into a book to save The Childlike Empress and her dying world of Fantasia. With flying dragons, a land built on imaginative creativity and a heart-wrenching dose of death this isn’t just a film for children – it’s also a nod to the imaginative advantage the written word has over celluloid.

Stranger than Fiction (2006)

Will Ferrell plays a relatively muted role as a tax auditor who hears a narrative to his life. Why? Because he’s a character from a book. Or is he? And if he is, then who is writing his fate? Stranger than Fiction manages to avoid bogging itself down in pseudo-philosophy and concentrate on being a light-hearted, intelligent comedy. And there aren’t many Will Ferrell films you could say that about.

Adaptation (2002)

Films: they’re never as good as the original books, are they? Adaptation shows you why. Ostensibly an adaptation of the non-fiction book The Orchid Thief, this metacomedy is really an adaptation of the adaptation itself. It follows writer Charlie Kaufman’s attempts to get the source material on screen, while battling with his identical twin and the irresistible pull of cliché. Like The Hours and Julie & Julia, Adaptation also features Meryl Streep playing an author. She’s clearly a muse for bibliographic cinema.

More after the break...

The Notebook (2004)

Yes, the titular notebook is a narrative device. Yes, it’s written by the old man reading from it in a nursing home. Yes, it’s about how he met the senile old woman he’s reading it to. A then-unknown Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams star in this touching romance. The former prepared for the role by building a kitchen table. Because, er…

Finding Neverland (2004)

JM Barrie’s best known work – Peter Pan – gets its backstory in Finding Neverland, with Johnny Depp playing the down-on-his-luck playwright who discovers his muse for success when he befriends a widow and her young family. History mixes with magic in this big screen adaptation of Allan Knee’s The Man Who was Peter Pan.

Educating Rita (1983)

What can bring Michael Caine’s alcoholic, underinspired academic and Julie Walters’ zesty, undereducated student (the eponymous Rita) together in a mutually beneficial meeting of minds? Books, of course. And lots of musing on the supposed link between class and happiness.

The Princess Bride (1987)

This Is Spinal Tap director Rob Reiner gleefuly subverts the traditional fairytale in this endlessly quotable '80s classic. As Peter Falk's irascible old man narrates the ripping yarn to his grandson, Reiner cheerfully chucks Dread Pirates, Pits of Despair and postmodern commentary on narrative conventions into the mix. Watch it again? As you wish. 

The Evil Dead (1981)

When you find a tome with the less-than-promising title of The Book of the Dead, bound in human skin in the basement of a deserted cabin, it's probably not the wisest idea to go flicking through it. And, sure enough, when the text of the book is read aloud (rather cleverly, through the mechanism of a tape recorder) all hell breaks loose. Literally. Fortunately, Bruce Campbell and his chin are on hand to save the day, in Sam Raimi's low-budget horror classic.  

The Shining (1980)

Truth be told, The Shining is more a film about the absence of a book, rather than an actual tome – Jack Nicholson's troubled writer Jack Torrance decamps with his family to the ill-fated Overlook Hotel to overcome a case of writer's block. Fortunately, his sabbatical is very productive, with Jack churning out page after page – though the fruit of his labours is a bit repetitive…

Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

François Truffaut's first English-language picture may have suffered from a troubled production, but its chillingly banal future in which firemen burn books – "all the books", as one points out, pointedly waving a copy of Mein Kampf – is all too real. Adapting Ray Bradbury's sci-fi novel for the screen, Truffaut tweaked some elements of the story – notably the fate of a major character, which Bradbury liked so much he pinched for his own stage adaptation.

The Ghost (2010)

Roman Polanski's thriller pits Ewan McGregor's hack journalist against the man whose memoirs he's writing; former Prime Minister Adam Lang, played with Blair-a-like smarm by Pierce Brosnan. It's a better gig than ghostwritten celebrity memoirs, for sure – but it soon becomes clear, as he beavers away on the manuscript, that Lang's hiding some dark secrets.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

If we suddenly started following the scrawled instructions of a bloke called the 'Half Blood Prince' in a potions textbook, we'd be in a padded room before long. Harry Potter takes his chances though, and his potions grades shoot through the roof. Though he'll probably regret trying out some of the mysterious spells. Remember kids, don't touch homemade incantations without adult wizard supervision.

The Pagemaster (1994)

This live-action-come-animated-adventure sees Macaulay Culkin plunged into a fantasy world in which three anthropomorphic books help him on his journey home. Christopher Lloyd, Patrick Stewart and Leonard Nimoy are all present and accounted for, and despite being a box office bomb, we still look back on it with rose-tinted admiration. We haven't seen it for nearly 20 years, mind.

Notting Hill (1999)

Four Weddings and a Funeral director Richard Curtis orchestrates the chance meeting of world-famous actress Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) and the befuddled Will Thacker (Hugh Grant), a travel bookshop owner who stutters and befuddles his way into a fling with an A-list celebrity. If only life were that easy...

Misery (1990)

About as cheerful as its name suggests, Misery is a screen adaptation of a Stephen King novel which focuses on novelist Paul Sheldon's nightmare plight to escape the confines of a crazed fan. Trapped as her prisoner and abused until he writes a novel worthy of her approval, it offers a chilling insight into a situation we hope never to find ourselves in. Not that we have anything to fear from our beloved Stuff readers. Do we?

84 Charing Cross Road (1987)

84 Charing Cross Road revolves around a touching long-distance friendship, nurtured by a mutual passion for obscure classics and correspondence. A refreshing change from clinically robotic Facebook likes and pointless retweets.

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