What do a boy wizard, brooding vampires, and a BDSM-obsessed billionaire have in common? Well, they all star in some of the highest-grossing film adaptations in history, of course. We've all heard the phrase, "I'll just wait for the movie." Honestly, it's something I've been guilty of saying when a book seemed too long or daunting to read. But there's something cosmic that happens when the worlds of bookworms (opens in new tab) and movie geeks collide. I mean, it's one thing to top the bestseller list, but it's another to smash the box office charts. When a title manages to succeed at both, it's a true mark of rich storylines and captivating characters.
Here, we've gathered a list of the 15 highest-grossing book-to-film adaptations based on the cumulative box office figures for each franchise. If the list were full of selects based on individual box office grosses (opens in new tab), it would consist mostly of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings titles. Also notably absent from this list is one thing that is currently conquering the box office (opens in new tab): superheroes. While one could argue that caped crusaders, like Batman, Superman, and Captain America, are also book-to-movie adaptations, they technically hail from comic book strips. So, we've decided to focus on properties that began as novels. Ahead, the most successful book-to-film adaptations of all time.
The Films: Director Steven Spielberg has been adapting beloved novels for the big screen since the early days of his career, beginning with Jaws. But it's his adaptation of "Jurassic Park" in 1993 that makes the cut here. The film launched an entire franchise, consisting of two direct sequels and a rebooted Jurassic World trilogy. It turns out dinosaurs equal big box office numbers because the five Jurassic films have grossed a combined $4.8 billion. A third Jurassic World film is currently in production (opens in new tab), and upon its release will surely push the cumulative box office past the $5 billion mark.
Based On: Twilight (opens in new tab) by Stephenie Meyer, published in 2005 and followed by five novels.
The Films: Let's run down the checklist on this one. Hot teen stars? Check. A gushing romance? Yep. Fantasy elements? Of course. This one has all the makings of a hit. When the first film launched in 2008, it was unsure whether or not it would be a hit, but it turns out that the vampire romance film was exactly what audiences were craving. The original film launched Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson into the global spotlight. The first four novels (Meyer recently released Midnight Sun) were adapted into five films, splitting the then-final novel into two films. The film series concluded in 2012 with a final tally of $3.3 billion at the box office.
'The Hunger Games'
Based On: The Hunger Games (opens in new tab) by Suzanne Collins, published in 2008 and followed by two novels.
The Films: The big-screen adaptation of the dystopian Hunger Games saga introduced the world to Jennifer Lawrence. Although it wasn't the star's first film role, it was, at the time, her largest. The big-screen series bowed in theaters in 2012. All three books were adapted—splitting the third book into two films. The Hunger Games saga grossed $2.9 billion across four films.
'The Lord of the Rings'
Based On: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (opens in new tab) by J. R. R. Tolkien, published in 1954 and followed by two novels.
The Films: Peter Jackson's entire trilogy of fantasy epics were filmed over the course of a single year, wrapping up production in December 2000. The first film was released in 2001 to a massive box office intake of $833 million. Combined, the trilogy grossed has over $2.9 billion at the global box office.
Based On: The Hobbit (opens in new tab) by J. R. R. Tolkien, published in 1937.
The Films: The Lord of the Rings prequel trilogy, which debuted in cinemas in 2012, was a welcomed trip back to the shire. There is technically only one Hobbit book, but Peter Jackson's adaptation split the story into three films, which proved to be the right choice. The films grossed a combined $2.9 billion, with part one kicking-off the trilogy with a series-high tally of $1 billion.
Based On: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (opens in new tab) by J. K. Rowling, published in 1997 and followed by six novels.
The Films: It should come as no surprise that the boy wizard conjures the top spot on this list. The eight films based on Rowling's seven fantasy novels have grossed a combined $7.7 billion at the global box office. That'll buy a lot of magic wands. The eighth film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, which grossed $1.3 billion in 2011, is the highest-grossing book-to-movie adaptation in history.
'The Chronicles of Narnia'
Based On: TheChronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (opens in new tab) by C. S. Lewis, published in 1950 and followed by six novels.
The Films: The literary children's saga, which boasts seven books, has been revived many times over the years. In 2005, a big-budget retelling of Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe hit cinemas and grossed $745 million. Two sequels followed, adaptations of the second and third books, in 2008 and 2010, respectively. Combined, the trilogy has grossed $1.5 billion. The journey to Narnia will soon make the leap (opens in new tab) from the big screen to Netflix for the adaptation of the fourth book, The Silver Chair.
Based On: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (opens in new tab)by J. K. Rowling, published in 2001.
The Films: Amid the insanity that was the Harry Potter phenomenon, Rowling published a spin-off wizardry guidebook that has now been launched into a film franchise of its own. Thus far, there have been two entries in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, and they've grossed a combined $1.4 billion at the global box office. A third film is currently in production, with fourth and fifth installments already in the works. While it's unlikely that Beasts will best Potter's total at the end of its run, the series will likely stack on a few billion, adding that much more magic to the Potter cache.
'The Da Vinci Code'
Based On: The Da Vinci Code (opens in new tab) by Dan Brown, published in 2003, followed by three novels and preceded by one.
The Films: The Robert Langdon mystery thriller saga includes The Da Vinci Code, released in 2003, followed by adaptations of Angels & Demons in 2009 and Inferno in 2016. The second film in the trilogy, Angels & Demons, is actually the first novel of the series, but it was retooled as a sequel for the big screen. The series, helmed by Ron Howard, has grossed over $1.4 billion, with the first film's $760 million haul being the largest of the three.
'Fifty Shades of Grey'
Based On: Fifty Shades of Grey (opens in new tab) by E.L. James, published in 2011 and followed by two novels.
The Films: The world was quickly seduced by suave billionaire Christian Grey in the steamy book trilogy, so it's no surprise that the big-screen adaptations tied up a combined $1.3 billion at the global box office. The first film, released in 2015, grossed a series-high of $571 million, and is the highest-grossing erotic romance of all time.
'The Maze Runner'
Based On: The Maze Runner (opens in new tab) by James Dashner, published in 2009 and followed by four novels.
The Films: Following the young adult dystopian adaptation trend, kicked off by 2012's The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner raced to movie theaters in 2014. However, only three of the five Maze Runner books made it to the big screen. Star Dylan O'Brien suffered an on-set injury during the production of the third film, delaying the completion of the project by nearly a year. In total, The Maze Runner trilogy grossed $1.2 billion at the global box office.
Based On: IT (opens in new tab) by Stephen King, published in 1986.
The Films: Although Stephen King's literary classic was adapted previously by way of the 1990 miniseries, 2017's IT: Chapter One was the first time that Pennywise haunted the big screen. The film went on to become the highest-grossing horror movie in history, raking in $701.8 million at the box office. King's novel is so long—23 chapters, to be exact—that is was split into two films. Combined with the 2019 sequel, the IT saga has grossed a scary-good $1.1 billion.
'Alice in Wonderland'
Based On: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (opens in new tab) by Lewis Carroll, published in 1865.
The Films: Adaptations of Lewis Carroll's classic tale have come alive on the big screen since Hollywood's silent film era. In fact, there were four silent Alice films before sound came into play. Audiences have visited Wonderland in more than 20 separate films (!!), with the highest-grossing being 2010's Alice in Wonderland. The Tim Burton retelling starred Johnny Depp and grossed $1.025 billion at the global box office.
'The Jungle Book'
Based On: The Jungle Book (opens in new tab) by Rudyard Kipling, published in 1894.
The Films: The classic children's story has been adapted for the screen several times. The first arrived in 1942 and was followed up with several more versions, which came in 1976, 1994, 1998, and 2003. But it was the 2016 live-action remake that took home the highest gross—an astounding $966.6 million. Director Jon Favreau received praise from PETA, as the film featured all CGI animals. Yay, for animal-free productions.
Based On: Forrest Gump (opens in new tab) by Winston Groom, published in 1986.
The Film: While this movie adaptation starring Tom Hanks is a cinematic classic in its own right, many people might be surprised to learn that it is actually based on a novel of the same name. The film made $678.2 million at the box office and took home Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Actor, among many other accolades.
Alex is an entertainment and lifestyle writer who has a penchant for pineapple pizza, paranormal podcasts, paddleboarding, and alliteration.
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