Hollywood and the literary world have always had a sort of symbiotic relationship: filmmakers often get their stories from books, while authors often find new audiences when readers have seen a movie adaptation of a book and then go out to buy said book to see if it’s better than the movie. In fact, the world’s bestselling authors – people like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling – may not have been so famous at all if it weren’t for movies based on their writings. But how well do book-to-film adaptations actually do at the box office? The answer is: pretty good, actually. We’ve looked at the movies that made the most money in history, according to Box Office Mojo, and then adapted the amounts to 2021 values to account for inflation. With that, we bring you the top grossing book-to-film adaptations. All figures are in US dollars.
20. Goldfinger (1964)
Lifetime gross adjusted for 2021:$623,988,644
The third Bond movie was 1964’s Goldfinger, based on Ian Fleming’s 1959 novel, which was actually the seventh installment in the book series. It features an iconic scene where Bond discovers the body of a young woman who died from so-called skin suffocation after having been completely covered in gold paint. Goldfinger was the Bond movie that introduced the features we’ve come to expect from the franchise: long opening sequences, exotic locales, high-tech gadgets, double entendres and the famous martini – shaken, not stirred. It was also the first Bond movie to win an Oscar.
19. Cleopatra (1963)
Lifetime gross adjusted for 2021:$632,303,787
Elizabeth Taylor may have been the owner of some fabulous pieces of bling, including one of the most expensive celebrity engagement rings of all time, but she was also one of the greatest actresses of her generation. Cleopatra, released in 1963, was one of her most famous roles. The movie was adapted from The Life and Times of Cleopatra, a 1957 book by Carlo Maria Franzero. It also used the writings of Plutarch, Suetonius and Appian as source material. The production famously went way over budget and almost bankrupted film studio 20th Century Fox, so it’s definitely a good thing that it went on to become the year’s top grossing film. It also won four Oscars.
18. Pinocchio (1940)
Lifetime gross adjusted for 2021:$634,372,455
Pinocchio was released in 1940 and was based on the Italian children’s book The Adventures of Pinocchio, written by Carlo Collodi and first published in 1883. It was Walt Disney’s second animated feature. The movie, which tells the story of a wooden puppet who wants to become a real boy and be adopted by the woodcarver who made him, initially bombed at the box office because the Second World War was in full swing. However, it won two Oscars: the first animated movie to win in any of the competitive categories. After the war, Pinocchio was re-released and over the years has become a commercial success that’s also regarded as one of the greatest animated movies of all time.
17. Sleeping Beauty (1959)
Lifetime gross adjusted for 2021:$683,996,964
Sleeping Beauty, the 1959 Disney classic, was based on Charles Perrault’s 1697 version of a tale that dates back to the first half of the 14th century. It was one of the stories published in his collection Histoires ou contes du temps passé. The original score for this tale about a princess cursed into a long sleep was nominated for an Oscar.
16. The Jungle Book (1967)
Lifetime gross adjusted for 2021:$693,445,263
The Jungle Book was the last movie Walt Disney ever produced. It was released in 1967, almost a year after his death. It was based on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, a collection of stories published in 1894. The movie tells the story of Mowgli, an Indian orphan raised by animals in the jungle. Not quite as dark as the original Kipling stories – where abandonment and fostering are a major theme – the movie also features songs like "The Bare Necessities."
15. Thunderball (1964)
Lifetime gross adjusted for 2021:$703,987,188
Thunderball, released in 1964, was the fourth James bond movie. It was based on Ian Fleming’s 1961 novel, which was the ninth James Bond book in the series. The movie stars Sean Connery as the slick spy and is set mainly in the Bahamas, where 007 has to recover two stolen atomic bombs. The book was adapted into another Bond movie in 1983: Never Say Never Again, once again starring Connery, as well as Kim Basinger in her breakout role.
14. Mary Poppins (1964)
Lifetime gross adjusted for 2021:$735,815,315
The 1964 musical Mary Poppins was based on a book series by P.L. Travers, the first of which was published in 1934 and formed the main basis for the storyline. It’s a combined live action and animated movie about a nanny with magical powers in Edwardian England and stars Julie Andrews in her first movie. Like later movie musicals featuring Andrews, Mary Poppins introduced us to some enduring songs, like "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." The movie was nominated for a whopping 13 Oscars, winning five, including Best Actress for Andrews.
13. Forrest Gump (1994)
Lifetime gross adjusted to 2021:$740,100,414
Based on Winston Groom’s 1986 novel, Forrest Gump was 1994’s biggest box office hit. It chronicles the story of Forrest Gump, a man with a below-average IQ but a heart of gold and a talent for running. It spans three decades, from 1951 to 1981, and places Forrest at several pivotal turning points in history. The movie won six Oscars, including for Best Adapted Screenplay and a second Best Actor Oscar for Tom Hanks. It also earned Hanks one of the biggest movie star paydays of all time because the actor had negotiated for a share of the profits.
12. The Godfather (1972)
Lifetime gross adjusted to 2021:$742,786,482
Francis Ford Coppola co-wrote the screenplay for his 1972 masterpiece The Godfather with Mario Puzo, author of the 1969 novel. It tells the story of the Corleone crime family and was the first in a trilogy. The movie stars, among others, Al Pacino in his breakout role, James Caan, Robert Duvall and a fresh-faced Diane Keaton. It won three Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Marlon Brando won the award for Best Actor, but refused it, sending Apache activist and actress Sacheen Littlefeather to make a speech on his behalf and creating one of the most iconic Oscar moments.
11. The Graduate (1967)
Lifetime gross adjusted to 2021:$805,414,049
The Graduate, released in 1967, was based on the 1963 novel by Charles Webb. It follows a love triangle between a recent college grad, an older woman and her daughter. The movie made Dustin Hoffman a star and earned its lead actors three Oscar nominations. Mike Nichols won Best Director. In the late 60s, relationships between older women and younger men were still very much taboo. Anne Bancroft as the older woman – in reality she was actually only six years older than Hoffman – helped pave the way for couples with big age gaps where the woman is the older partner. Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson.
10. Jurassic Park (1993)
Lifetime gross adjusted to 2021:$863,981,453
Jurassic Park, released in 1993, was based on Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel of the same name and helped make him one of the richest authors of all time. He helped adapt the book for the big screen. The movie famously chronicles all the things that go very wrong in a dino-themed park inhabited by real dinosaurs. In true Steven Spielberg fashion, it features animatronics alongside digital effects. It won three Oscars in technical categories, including for Best Visual Effects, and led to five sequels, one of which hasn’t been released yet.
9. Ben-Hur (1959)
Lifetime gross adjusted to 2021:$922,777,560
The 1959 epic Ben-Hur is actually a remake of a silent movie from 1925, which was adapted from the 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by American general and politician Lew Wallace. The movie cut out a large part of the book and Jesus only really features towards the end. Instead, the focus is on the titular character, who goes from being a Jewish prince to becoming a slave and then a champion charioteer. At the time, the movie had a record-breaking budget, but it also broke box office records and won 11 Oscars: a record that lasted until 1998, when Canadian director James Cameron’s Titanic won 11 Oscars too.
8. 101 Dalmations (1961)
Lifetime gross adjusted to 2021:$940,381,004
101 Dalmatians is still one of the cutest Disney movies ever made, even though it was first released all the way back in 1961. It was based on Dodie Smith’s 1956 children’s book The Hundred and One Dalmatians and tells the story of a pair of Dalmatians on a mission to rescue their puppies, who were kidnapped by Cruella De Vil, an heiress who wants to use their fur for a coat. The movie caused a massive surge in demand for Dalmatian pups, but also led to many of these pups ending up in shelters because owners weren’t always prepared for their high energy levels.
7. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Lifetime gross adjusted to 2021:$1,025,863,684
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs isn’t technically adapted from a book but rather from part of a book: tale number 53 of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, first published in 1812, to be exact. The 1937 movie was Disney’s first full-length animated feature and earned Walt Disney an honorary Oscar, which consisted of a regular-sized statuette and seven miniature ones. More than eight decades on, Snow White is still one of the most endearing Disney princesses.
6. The Exorcist (1973)
Lifetime gross adjusted to 2021:$1,040,914,704
Looking for scary date night ideas? You can’t go wrong with an Ouija board and streaming of The Exorcist. The 1973 horror classic was based on William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel. It was the first horror movie to be nominated for an Oscar and while it didn’t win Best Picture, it did win in two other categories, including Best Adapted Screenplay. Despite reports of audience members vomiting, suffering heart attacks and even suffering miscarriages, people braved long lines in winter temperatures to see this movie about a girl who becomes demonically possessed.
5. Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Lifetime gross adjusted to 2021:$1,168,312,856
Boris Pasternak’s 1957 novel Doctor Zhivago was made into a 1965 movie that became one of cinema’s greatest love stories. Set in Russia from the First World War to the early 1950s, the movie stars Omar Sharif and Julie Christie as the star-crossed lovers separated by war, revolution and the fact that they’re both married to other people. The book was banned in the Soviet Union, but a year after its publication Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The movie was filmed mainly in Spain, with Finland and Canada providing the winter scenery. Doctor Zhivago won five Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay.
4. Jaws (1975)
Lifetime gross adjusted to 2021:$1,206,186,990
It was the movie that made everyone afraid to go into the water and it wasn’t even because of the outdated bathing suit styles. Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic was based on Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel about a small seaside town being terrorized by a huge shark. Jaws had a huge cultural impact: 1975 saw fewer people going to the beach than usual and the movie has been largely responsible for the negative way in which we see sharks and their important role in the ecosystem. It won three Oscars: one of them for its dramatic, instantly iconic score.
3. The Ten Commandments (1956)
Lifetime gross adjusted to 2021:$1,232,918,740
Cecil B. DeMille’s four-hour 1956 epic The Ten Commandments is adapted from not one book but four: the Biblical Book of Exodus, J.H. Ingraham’s 1859 novel Pillar of Fire, A.E. Southon’s 1937 novel On Eagle’s Wings and Dorothy Clarke Wilson’s 1949 novel Prince of Egypt. It tells the story of Moses and how he led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, receiving the commandments that would go on to form the foundation of Judaism and Christianity. Starring Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner, the film was nominated for seven Oscars – mainly in the technical categories, but also for Best Picture – and won one for its special effects.
2. The Sound of Music (1965)
Lifetime gross adjusted to 2021:$1,341,012,773
The Sound of Music, first released in 1965, was adapted from a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, which in turn was adapted from Maria von Trapp’s 1949 memoir, The Story of the Von Trapp Family Singers. Set in Austria in the late 1930s, it starts out light-hearted and fun, but takes a suddenly dark turn when the family has to flee the Nazis. The movie gave us iconic songs like “Do-Re-Mi” and the simple pinafore dress Julie Andrews wears in the opening scene has become one of the most expensive dresses of all time.
1. Gone with the Wind (1939)
Lifetime gross adjusted to 2021:$1,903,835,471
Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel became a 1939 movie that not only broke box office records, but also won eight of the 13 Oscars it was nominated for: including an historic Best Supporting Actress win for Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American to take home the statuette. Much has been written about the film’s problematic treatment of racial stereotypes and slavery and it’s worth remembering that McDaniel had to sit at a separate table at the back of the room during the Oscars ceremony. Still, audiences have been flocking to see Gone with the Wind for more than 80 years, while Clark Gable's last line in the movie is still considered one of the most famous movie quotes of all time.