Ever since people have been putting words on paper other people have been getting offended by those words. While there are many understandable reasons to be upset by a certain book or particular world views, more often than not books are challenged for more minor reasons.
Things like language and disrespect towards religion are often cited as arguments when certain books are in the process of being banned, but at the end of the day the first amendment protects books from challenges like that. The Handmaid’s Tale, the dystopian story that made Hulu the first streaming service to win an Emmy for best drama series, was even based on a contentious book by author Margaret Atwood.
No matter how much uproar certain citizens may try to cause, sometimes a book that is undergoing challenges has already found a loving fan base. With a dedicated fan base comes a lot of people who may spend money to see an adaption on the big-screen. At the end of the day, the film industry is still a business and movies will only be made if producers think there’s an audience for certain projects.
With that said, come learn more about 17 Banned Books That Were Made Into Movies!
17. Harry Potter
It may be hard to believe now considering the fact that Harry Potter is a global phenomenon matched only by Star Wars, but the story of a young wizard trying to find his place in the world has sparked a lot of controversy over the years.
In a world guided by religion and spirituality, it seems a lot of people are still uncomfortable by the idea of witchcraft and considered it scandalous or even downright sinful. The Harry Potter franchise has a spot at the top of the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books.
Despite the uproar caused over the books, the movie series became one of the most successful franchises of all time, grossing over $8.5 billion in the theaters alone. In fact, JK Rowling, the writer who started it all, is the first author to become a billionaire.
There aren’t too many horror books available for children, but R.L. Stine’s classic Goosebumps series has earned a spot in the heart of millennials everywhere. Despite being sold around the world in more than 30 languages and hitting various best seller lists, the series was still challenged in school districts across America.
While the movie wasn’t a direct adaptation of any of Stine’s books, it included an assortment of different monsters and plot points from the series. Jack Black turns in a solid performance as the author as he tries to survive and figure out what’s going on all around him.
This wasn’t even the first time the franchise was turned put on a screen. In the mid-nineties, there was a Goosebumps TV series that lasted for five years and introduced countless new readers to the books.
15. Fifty Shades of Grey
The self-published Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James sparked a renewed interest in erotic-romance stories that has brought them back into the mainstream instead of stuck in the back of the bookstore.
The story follows Anastasia Steele, a recent college grad, as she is introduced and slowly indoctrinated into a kinky, BDSM dominated lifestyle by Christian Grey, a successful, young businessman. The U.S. may claim to love freedom of speech, but when that speech includes a young girl slowly being indoctrinated into a “sinful,” sexual lifestyle, the pitchforks are never too far behind.
The movies have been critically panned, but the dedicated fan base has no problem supporting the adaptations. The second and third installments in the franchise were filmed back-to-back in 2016.
14. The Perks of Being a Wall Flower
The Perks of Being a Wall Flower is an incredibly personal look at growing up with depression and abuse.
Set in the early ’90s, the book follows a young man named Charlie as he begins his freshman year in high school after being discharged from a mental health ward. Based on the experiences of the author, Stephen Chbosky, Charlie eventually finds a group of senior friends and does his best to figure out exactly who he is. Ultimately, it was banned in schools across the country for its look at depression, drugs, and homosexuality.
The film, which came out in 2012 and was both directed and written by Chbosky, had a small box-office growth but pleased fans of the book. Starring both Hermione, Percy Jackson, and The Flash, the movie did a great job of adapting the introverted nature of the book and might have one of the best uses of a David Bowie song ever.
Released in 1955, Lolita is the most famous novel released by Russian-American author Vladimir Nabokov. The book follows a middle-aged English professor, who also serves as an unreliable narrator for the readers, as he obsesses over a 12 year-old named Dolores Haze. Over a stretch of time, the two strike up a sexual relationship that quickly turns into a power trip for Professor Humbert as he manipulates and uses the young girl. For obvious reasons, the book has been challenged ever since its publication.
Despite all the controversy, there have been two major adaptations of Lolita. The first came out in 1962 and was directed by Stanley Kubrick with a screenplay form Nabokov. James Mason, one of the biggest stars in the ’60s starred as Prof. Humbert while Jeremy Irons – Alfred himself- took over the role in the 1997 film directed by Adrian Lyne.
12. Where the Wild Things Are
The classic children’s picture book about a boy who becomes king of a mysterious place filled with monsters. Written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are only has 338 words but speaks to the importance of family and feelings of loneliness in children.
Since the story talked about ideas of punishment and fear, it was challenged for being too scary for young kids. Despite this, the book has sold over 19 million copies since it was released in 1963.
A film adaption finally came out in 2009 from director Spike Jonze. Max Records played the title kid, Max, while everyone from James Gandolfini to Forest Whitaker provided their voices to bring the Wild Things to life.
11. The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s magnum opus, The Great Gatsby looks at the illustrious life on Long Island after the Great War. In the middle of the Jazz Age, readers are introduced to the mysterious Gatsby, a man who throws excessive parties and has a mysterious past. As his life becomes more clear to his new friend Nick, Gatsby undergoes a deeply personal journey that talks about the emptiness of the luxurious lifestyle.
Due to loose language and a few sexual references, the book has been challenged in schools across the country.
The Great Gatsby has had numerous adaptations, with the most recent one coming out in 2013. While Baz Luhrmann did a wonderful job showing the world’s extravagance and the cast were all great, especially Leonardo DiCaprio as the titular Gatsby, the film didn’t quite connect with audiences in the same way. At the Academy Awards, Gatsby won awards for production and costume design, two of the film’s major strengths.
10. Captain Underpants
It may be hard to imagine, but Captain Underpants, the beloved children’s book about a principal who gets hypnotized into fighting as a goofy superhero has been challenged for years. There may be a lot of potty jokes, but the book is a lot of fun and has been helping teach children to read for years.
Dav Pilkey, the writer and illustrator on the series, spun out an empire that includes 12 books in the core series and even a few spin-offs like Super Diaper Baby. Despite the fact it was the most challenged book in 2012 according to the American Library Association, Pilkely has sold over 70 million copies and even won a Disney Children’s award.
9. A Wrinkle In Time
The first in a series of books by Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time was first released in 1963. Readers follow Meg Murry, a “troublesome” 13 year old among a family of geniuses. Her father is a scientist who suddenly disappears and she even has a five year old brother who is sometimes able to read her mind.
The book, which is heavy in religious symbols, landed the 22nd spot on the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books Between 1990-2000 according to the American Library Association. Despite all the challenges, there was a 2003 version of the film that the author herself thought was bad.
There’s a new adaptation directed by Ava DuVernay coming out from Disney Pictures currently in post-production. Starring Amandla Stenberg, Chris Pine, Reese Witherspoon, and Oprah, among others, the movie comes out on March 9th next year.
8. Bridge to Terebithia
Bridge to Terabithia story about two lonely children who end up changing each other’s lives and exploring a magical land in a forest. It follows Jesse Aarons, a lower-class child who deals with depression at the beginning of the book, and Leslie Burke, a smart, outgoing individual who comes from a rich family. On the American Library Association’s list of top 100 most frequently challenged book between 1990 and 2000, Bridge to Terabithia topped off at number eight.
Since its release in 1977, there have been two adaptations made. The first one was in 1985 in the form of a PBS TV movie while the second came in 2007 from Disney starring Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Rob in the two lead roles.
Persepolis is a coming of age tale set in Iran both before and after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. An autobiographical graphic novel, Persepolis follows Marjane Satrapi as she deals with things like the Iran-Iraq war and the introduction of rock-and-roll to Iran. In the second volume, she moves to Austria and experiences a period of intense inner growth as she goes through high school and turns into a young adult in an unfamiliar setting.
Despite reaching number 2 on the American Library Association’s most challenged book list in 2014, an animated film was made in 2007. Satrapi and artist Vincent Paronnaud even co-directed the film.
6. Brave New World
Released in 1932, Brave New World looks at a futuristic London that is overrun by eugenics and technological innovation. A satirical novel, the book takes place in 2540 AF – meaning “After Ford”, to signify how important technology and assembly lines have become in the new society.
People are made in artificial wombs and children essentially have their whole lives pre-programmed before them before they’re even born. The book follows how someone tries to develop and maintain an individual identity in a society like this. It is one of the most challenged books of all time, and has been called out for its language and anti-religious stance.
The film version came out in 1998 and starred Peter Gallagher and Leonard Nimoy. Despite the book’s societal significance, it was only released as a TV movie on NBC and never reached theaters. Currently, Steven Spielberg is producing a TV adaption for SyFy.
5. The Color Purple
A look at the life of African-American women during the 20th century, The Color Purple is a brutal tale about domestic violence, racism, and sexism. Written by Alice Walker and released in 1982, the book looks at the subjugated position some people found themselves incapable of escaping in the south.
Despite the fact it won a Pulitzer in 1983, it has gone on to receive numerous challenges, ranking 17th on the ALA’s list of most challenged books between 1990 and 2000.
The film only came out three years later and was directed by Steven Spielberg. This was his eighth film but it was the first one that broke the summer action pattern that films like Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Raiders of the Lost Ark established for him.
Originally published as Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell’s 1949 novel about a dystopian society cemented him as a literary giant. Following a fascist society where a superstate engages in constant war and tries to control the thoughts of the public, 1984 is famous for making the phrase “Big Brother” a staple in modern society. It has been banned and challenged under the guise of being ideologically corrupting and anti government.
In 1984, Virgin Films released an adaption of the book starring John Hurt with cinematography by Roger Deakins, who just did Blade Runner 2049. Since the recent election, sales of the book have spiked on Amazon.
There’s even an adaption on Broadway right now starring Tom Sturridge and Olivia Wilde that is gaining wide critical acclaim and attention for making audiences feel drained and uncomfortable. No matter how much people wanted to hide Orwell’s work, his vision of dystopia keeps pulling in new readers.
3. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is an autobiography written by Maya Angelou about her rough childhood in Arkansas. It follows her on her journey as she transforms from a child victim of racism into a strong, young woman who has no problem standing up to prejudice when it enters her life.
The idea of the caged bird comes from a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar and symbolizes a chained slave, a frequent image in Angelou’s work. Due to how it approaches rape and racism among other things, the book has been challenged ever since it was first published in 1969.
2. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of the most important American novels of the 20th century. Set inside a psychiatric hospital in Oregon, the book is a critique on the mental health system and how it often treats patients unfairly. Author Ken Kesey based a lot of the characters and emotions from his own experiences talking to mental health patients during his time working as a graveyard shift orderly at a health facility in California.
This book has been removed from required reading lists and challenged for decades due to the way it looks at mental health and displays criminal activity.
The film, meanwhile, has become a modern classic. Released in 1975 and directed by Milos Forman, it starred Jack Nicholson as well as younger versions of Danny Devito and Christopher Lloyd. At the moment Netflix is currently developing a two-season prequel series called Ratched starring Sarah Paulson as a younger Nurse Ratched written by Ryan Murphy.
1. Fahrenheit 451
Another story about a dystopian future, Fahrenheit 451 is Ray Bradbury’s vision of a world where all books are outlawed. Here, firefighters light fires to burn books instead of putting them out. At its core, this is a story about how book burning and other methods of suppressing people’s ideas leads to a more easily controlled society. Similar to the present, everyone stays inside all night plugged into watching their televisions instead of walking around and exploring.
The classic story has a 1966 adaption and is currently being developed by HBO for a TV movie, starring Michael B. Jordon as the main character Montag while Michael Shannon plays Beatty, his boss at the Fire Department.
As political debate becomes increasingly contentious, the lessons in Fahrenheit 451 have become more important than ever.
What other banned books have been made into movies? Share in the comments!
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