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21 Best Adapted Screenplays of All Time

Explore a curated list of the all-time greatest adapted screenplays, showcasing cinematic translations that have left an indelible mark on film history.

Whether you’re a film buff or just looking for a great movie to watch, this guide will walk you through the best adapted screenplays to watch.

We all love to watch movies with original screenplays, as they offer a completely new narrative along with fresh perspectives and ideas.

However, some adapted movies with masterful screenwriting capture the essence of their source material while also bringing something new to the table.

In today’s guide, you’ll find a curated list of the most beloved and critically acclaimed adaptations you need to watch.

If you’re looking for more inspiration, be sure to watch these movies about photography too.

Best Adapted Screenplays to Watch Right Now

“Best Adapted Screenplay” is an award category often seen at film ceremonies, including the Oscars.

It’s for writers who transform existing works like books or plays into movie scripts.

The challenge is capturing the original’s essence while making it fit for cinema. Many notable scripts have won this award over time.

Here’s a selection of the most popular adapted screenplays to watch.

1. No Country for Old Men (2007)

No country for old men movie poster.

No Country for Old Men is a neo-Western crime thriller film written and directed by the Coen brothers (Joel Coen & Ethan Coen).

The screenplay stars Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, and Josh Brolin, and is based on the 2005 novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy.

The movie follows a war veteran “Llewelyn Moss” who stumbles across a drug deal that went wrong and ends up taking the money left behind.


He is then hunted by a psychopathic hitman, hired to recover that money. Meanwhile, the town’s sheriff tries to protect Moss while investigating the case.

Besides being a commercial success, it actually won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, among plenty of other awards, including Best Supporting Actor and Director.

2. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The shawshank redemption poster.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994) is a critically acclaimed American drama film directed by Frank Darabont.

The screenplay is adapted from Stephen King’s novella “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption”.

It tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a banker who is sentenced to life in Shawshank State Penitentiary for killing his wife and her lover, despite claiming innocence.


Over the course of 28 years in prison, he becomes a close friend with another prisoner, Ellis Redding, whose also the prison’s contraband smuggler.

The unconventional prisoner also becomes a critical part of the money laundering operation led by the prison warden Samuel Norton.

The award-winning Warner Bros. screenplay adaptation stars Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, and Bob Gunton in an impactful plot.

3. Mystic River (2003)

The movie poster for mystic river.

Mystic River is an Academy Award-winning crime/drama screenplay directed by Clint Eastwood and adapted from a 2001 novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane.

It tells the story of three childhood friends Jimmy Marcus (Sean Penn), Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins), and Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon).

The Three are reunited when Jimmy’s daughter is murdered. Jimmy suspects Dave of the crime, while Sean, a police officer, investigates the case.


As Sean digs deeper into the case, he uncovers a web of secrets and lies that have been hidden for over 25 years.

Mystic River is a powerful and moving film that explores themes of grief, loss, and the dark side of human nature. It is a testament to Eastwood’s skill as a director besides being a great actor.

4. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

To kill a mockingbird movie poster.

To Kill a Mockingbird is an all-time classic drama directed by Robert Mulligan and stars Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, and Brock Peters.

The movie is adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Harper Lee, also considered one of the greatest American novels in history.

It tells the story of Atticus Finch and his family, who face prejudice and hatred from their community for defending a black man who’s falsely accused of rape.


Like the novel, the adapted film explores themes of racism, injustice, and the courage to stand up for what’s right, even if it’s incredibly difficult.

5. Gone with the Wind (1939)

Gone with the wind movie poster.

Gone with the Wind is another staple in Hollywood history, adapted from the 1936 novel of the same name by Margaret Mitchell.

The screenplay is directed by Victor Fleming and stars Vivien Leigh, Clarke Gable, and Olivia de Havilland.

The motion picture depicts the story of Scarlett O’Hara, a beautiful young woman from the South who survives the Civil War and sets out to rebuild her life and escape financial ruin.

O’Hara uses her charm and determination to reach her goals, but her journey is not without challenges. In her journey, she engages in a turbulent love affair with Rhett Butler.

The movie features a complex and character-driven story that explores themes of love, loss, survival, and resilience.

6. Casablanca (1942)

A movie poster for casablanca.

Casablanca is one of the most critically acclaimed romantic movies of all time. The drama film is adapted from the stage play Everybody Comes to Rick’s and directed by Michael Curtiz.

It tells the story of Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a cynical expatriate who owns a nightclub in Casablanca, Morocco.

Blaine’s life turns upside down when he meets his former lover Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), who’s a leader of the Czech resistance.

Despite losing faith in love and humanity, he agrees to help them, only for Ilsa’s old feelings to resurface again.

Over the years, Casablanca was nominated and won a plethora of awards, including the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.

7. Paper Moon (1973)

A movie poster for paper moon with two people sitting on the moon.

Paper Moon is a dark comedy-drama movie directed by Peter Bogdanovich and stars real-life daughter and father Tatum and Ryan O’Neal along with Madeline Kahn and P.J. Johnson.

The Paramount Pictures film tells the story of Moses “Moze” Pray, a con artist traveling across the Midwest during the Great Depression.

He gets unexpectedly tasked with getting a young orphan to her family in Missouri after her mother’s death.

The film is a heartwarming and humorous tale about two unlikely companions who find solace in each other’s company.

Paper Moon is adapted from the 1971 novel “Addie Pray” by Joe David Brown. However, the novel is a more serious and somber story than the film.

8. 12 Angry Men (1957)

12 angry men movie poster.

12 Angry Men is a classic courtroom drama movie directed by Sidney Lumet and adapted from Reginald Rose’s television play called “Twelve Angry Men” in 1954.

The film tells the story of a New York jury of twelve men, deliberating the case of a young man accused of murdering his father.

The jury is initially divided on the accused’s guilt, but as they deliberate, they begin to reveal their own biases and prejudices.

The character-driven drama features some of the finest acting ever seen on screen, with a great cast of excellent actors like Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, and Joseph Sweeny.

9. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

The wolf of wall street poster.

The Wolf of Wall Street is a biographical comedy-drama directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Terence Winter, based on Jordan Belfort’s memoir of the same name.

The fast-paced movie tells the story of Jordan Belfort, an incredibly talented yet morally corrupt stockbroker who is not afraid to bend any rules to get what he wants.

Belfort surrounds himself with a team of equally ambitious individuals, and together they build an empire based on fraud and deception. But eventually, his corruption meets its end.

The movie is also known for casting a range of high-profile Hollywood stars, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, and even Jordan Belfort himself.

The Wolf of Wall Street is a cautionary tale about the dangers of greed and ambition. But it also features a lot of Scorsese’s signature dark comedy.

The engaging movie was nominated for several Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.

10. The Shining

The shining movie poster.

The Shining is a classic psychological horror film that is considered a pioneer of the genre and one of the scariest films ever made.

The movie is directed by Stanley Kubrick and based on Stephen King’s “The Shining” novel. It stars Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and Danny Lloyd.

The original tells the story of Jack Torrance, a tormented writer who accepts a winter job as the off-season caretaker of the secluded Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies.

The isolation of the hotel, combined with its dark and violent history, descends Torrance into insanity and madness, which takes a toll on his family.

One thing you should know here is that “The Shining” isn’t for everyone, as it’s a long slow burn that can feel a bit boring if you’re expecting a lot of action throughout the movie.

11. Forrest Gump (1994)

A poster for tom hanks'forest gummy.

Forrest Gump is a comedy-drama movie directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Eric Roth. the film is adapted from Winston Groom’s 1986 novel, also called “Forrest Gump”.

It tells the story of Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks), a man with an IQ of 75 who experiences some of the most important events in American history through his simple and innocent perspective.

Throughout the movie, Forrest recounts the journey that took him from his childhood in Alabama to the frontlines of the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and beyond.

Along the way, he meets and influences a variety of iconic figures, but all he really wants is to be reunited with his childhood love, Jenny, played by Robin Wright.

12. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The poster for el silencio de los corderos.

The Silence of the Lambs is a psychological horror movie directed by Jonathan Demme, adapted from Thomas Harris’s “Silence of the Lambs” novel, released in 1988.

The movie stars Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, a young FBI trainee who is hunting a serial killer named “Buffalo Bill” (Ted Levine), who skins his female victims.

To catch him, she seeks the advice of the imprisoned Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer.

Lecter offers Starling a twisted deal: he would help her catch Buffalo Bill, but only if she tells him stories about her childhood trauma.

As Starling delves deeper into the case, she finds herself drawn to Lecter’s brilliant and twisted mind.

13. Raging Bull (1980)

A poster with the words raging bull on it.

Another must-watch Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece is Raging Bull, which is a biographical sports drama adapted from Jake LaMotta’s memoirs “Raging Bull: My Story”.

In the movie, Robert De Niro plays the role of LaMotta, a middleweight boxer who is driven to professional success by his insatiable rage and aggression.

However, his deteriorating personal life spirals out of control and has him completely consumed by paranoia and jealousy.

The movie includes an appearance of real-life Jake LaMotta along with various actors who made a successful pair-up with De Niro over the years, such as Joe Pesci and Frank Vincent.

14. Fight Club (1999)

A poster for the movie fight club.

Fight Club is a visually stunning cult classic that is both entertaining and thought-provoking with complex and unforgettable characters.

In fact, the brilliant psychological thriller features some incredible scenes and quotes that are popular to this day.

The screenplay is directed by David Fincher and adapted from Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel “Fight Club”.

The movie stars a variety of Hollywood superstars, including Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter.

The movie tells the story of an unnamed insomniac who is bored with his mundane life and decides to team up with the mysterious soap salesman to form an underground fight club.

The fight club quickly becomes popular, but it soon spirals out of control, and the insomniac finds himself caught up in a dangerous game of violence and power.

15. Schindler’s List (1993)

The poster for schnidler's list.

Schindler’s List is directed by Steven Spielberg and adapted from Thomas Keneally’s historical fiction “Schindler’s Ark”.

The movie depicts the story of the German humanitarian, Oskar Schindler, and how he managed to save the lives of over 1,200 during the rise of Nazi Germany.

It is a powerful and disturbing film that explores the dark side of human nature. However, it’s also a movie about hope and the difference a dedicated person can make to save others.

Spielberg’s direction and choice of frames are masterful, and the performances from Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes are superb.

The film is shot in black and white, except for a few scenes in which a young girl in a red coat is seen.

This limited use of color is incredibly effective, as it highlights the girl’s innocence and vulnerability in the midst of the darkness that surrounds her.

16. The Godfather (1972)

The godfather movie poster.

The Godfather is a classic crime film directed and co-written by Francis Ford Coppola along with Mario Puzo, adapted from Puzo’s “The Godfather” novel, written in 1969.

Although the original work is a fictionalized account of the Mafia, it’s widely accepted as one of the most important and influential novels about organized crime in history.

The movie, along with its sequels, tells the story of the Corleone family, a powerful Mafia family based in New York City and headed by Don Vito Corleone as its patriarch.

The Godfather follows the rise and fall of the Corleone family as it struggles to maintain its power in the face of both law enforcement and rival gangs.

The movie also stars an equally epic group of superstars, including Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, and Diane Keaton.

17. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Edge of tomorrow movie poster.

Edge of Tomorrow is a unique and exhilarating sci-fi action film directed by Doug Liman and written by Christopher McQuarrie.

The movie stars Tom Cruise as Bill Cage and Emily Blunt as Rita Vrataski, and it’s loosely based on the 2004 Japanese light novel “All You Need is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka.

The adapted screenplay takes place in the near future Earth where the planet is under attack by a powerful alien race.

Major William Cage, a public relations officer, finds himself trapped in a combat zone with no prior military experience.

As expected, he was killed within minutes, but he finds himself waking up at the start of the day again, reliving the same battle over and over again.

The film’s unique premise of a character reliving the same day over and over again is used to explore themes of redemption and self-discovery.

18. V for Vendetta (2005)

The poster for v for vendetta.

In a future dystopian world where freedom is a distant memory, a masked vigilante named “V” (played by Hugo Weaving) rises up to challenge the totalitarian government.

With his iconic Guy Fawkes mask and theatrical flair, V inspires a revolution and ignites the flame of hope in the hearts of the oppressed people.

Natalie Portman co-stars as “Evey Hammond”, a young woman who is rescued by V and becomes his apprentice.

The political thriller movie is directed by James McTeigue and is adapted from a novel series of the same name by Alan Moore.

19. Field of Dreams (1989)

Field of dreams movie poster.

Field of Dreams is a heartwarming and inspiring drama-fantasy movie adaptation of the “Shoeless Joe” novel by W.P. Kinsella.

The movie is written and directed by Phil Alden Robinson and casts Kevin Costner as Ray Kinsella.

The movie tells the story of an Iowa farmer who builds a baseball field in his cornfield, obeying a mysterious voice that he keeps hearing.

After following the voice’s instructions, he soon finds himself hosting the ghosts of baseball legends such as Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) and Babe Ruth (Frank Whaley).

Through this extraordinary experience, Kinsella learns that his fantasy has much deeper meanings that he needs to come to terms with.

20. The Lord of the Rings (2001 – 2003)

The lord of the rings movie poster.

The Lord of the Rings is an epic fantasy trilogy directed by Peter Jackson and based on the J.R.R. Tolkien novel of the same name.

The screenplay of the trilogy was co-written by Peter Jackson and his wife Fran Walsh along with Philippa Boyens.

The team also reunited to write and direct The Hobbit trilogy between 2013 and 2014. If you enjoyed the Lord of the Rings, the spinoff trilogy should be a must-watch for you!

The trilogy follows Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) as he sets out on a journey to destroy the One Ring, an evil artifact created by the Dark Lord Sauron to rule over all other rings of power.

Frodo is joined by a fellowship of companions, including the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), the elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), the dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen).

Each movie is also an action-packed ride, with creative and exciting combat sequences and epic fight scenes carried out by the cast.

21. The Departed (2006)

The depart movie poster with three men.

The Departed is a neo-noir crime thriller film directed by Martin Scorsese and written by William Monahan, adapted from the 2002 Hong Kong film “Infernal Affairs”.

The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Billy Costigan, a Massachusetts State Police mole planted within the Irish Mob led by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson).

Besides these names, the movie also includes a cast of brilliant actors, such as Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, and Martin Sheen.

The undercover agent engages in a thrilling high-stakes game of cat and mouse with the mob mole, vying to infiltrate the notorious gang.

The Hong Kong film is a more complex and morally ambiguous story than the American film, although they share a lot of themes, so I recommend that you watch it and its sequel as well.

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