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The 27 Best Movies Based on Books to Catch in 2021

Now's the perfect time to read the 900-page Dune!

peter rabbit, white tiger, dune
Warner Bros and Netflix

Who says no one reads anymore?? Whether you just enjoy a good page-turner or love seeing an excellent adaptation, there are a ton of 2021 films to look forward to that draw inspiration from really good stories. Among the many offerings this year, we've got films about Cruella De Vil's backstory (yes please, Emma Stone), a firsthand account of a prisoner from Guantánamo Bay, an exploration of India's caste system, and the inner life of Marilyn Monroe. One thing that's great about this list: It features a number of books I was less familiar with, which means there might be some new literature on here that you can get and read before the film comes out. That way, you can be prepared when you head to the movie theater (or maybe stay home and watch it on your TV, given the current circumstances). So grab your Kindle—or even go all the way and get an actual book! The luxury!—and pull up these riveting reads, then get ready to love, loathe, or otherwise pass judgment on these on-screen adaptations. It's like having a book club from the comfort of your own couch!

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1 'Cruella'

We just got our first glimpse of the highly anticipated Disney prequel, based on the character from 101 Dalmatians before she becomes the puppy-coat-wearing villain we all know. I'm still not totally sure how they're going to get the character to "wearing dog fur makes sense!" but at least they're not doing what prequels sometimes do—tone down her evil. Cruella says it best herself: "I was born brilliant, born bad, and a little bit mad." Set your calendar for the release date—May 28.

2 'The White Tiger'

An adaptation of Aravind Adiga's Booker Prize-winning book of the same name, Balram Halwai (played by Adarsh Gourav) is the titular "white tiger" born once every generation. He's brilliant and ambitious—and his work for a wealthy Indian family leads to fascinating, tragic consequences.


3 'The Mauritanian'

Mohamedou Ould Slahi wrote this 2015 memoir while he was being imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay as a suspected 9/11 terrorist, despite never being formally charged with any crime. Definitely read the gripping best-seller before you watch the film, which stars Tahar Rahim, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Jodie Foster. The movie was released in theaters on February 12 but should be available for streaming soon.

4 'The United States vs. Billie Holliday'

Johann Hari's Chasing the Scream is a fascinating look at some of the most horrific stories from the War on Drugs, undermining everything we think we know about that campaign. One of those stories comes to life in this biographical drama about Billie Holliday as she's targeted by the Federal Department of Narcotics. With the amazing Andra Day as Holliday, it's a riveting, honest, and devastating watch.


5 'To All the Boys: Always and Forever'

I mean. The first two movies are just so cute, and so beloved, that watching the final movie was never in question. Lara Jean and Peter navigate "together forever" in the face of college and the potential of a long-distance relationship. (Ah, the problems of youth!) It's worth noting that Always and Forever, Lara Jean has a few key differences, if you're a fan of the book series.


6 'Those Who Wish Me Dead'

Michael Koryta's book, about a 14-year-old on the run after he witnesses a horrific murder, comes to the big screen in May 2021. Directed by Sicario's Taylor Sheridan, it also features the return of Angelina Jolie as a mysterious, isolated ex-firefighter. The book goes quickly and is absolutely worth it as you wait for the film.

7 'Without Remorse'

One of the most anticipated movies of 2021 (which is also a spinoff of the film series), Without Remorse is based on the 1993 Tom Clancy book of the same name. All of Clancy's books are page-turners, but even by that standard this is an intense rollercoaster of a read. Michael B. Jordan, the best in everything, will grace our TV screens as the iconic Mr. Clark via Amazon Prime in April.

8 'Dune'

It's not just an old, cult-favorite movie: Dune started life as a classic novel sometimes considered to be the best sci-fi epic ever written. Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049) is the perfect director to bring this trippy, terrifying, totally unique vision to life. It's headed to theaters and streaming in October.

9 'Cherry'

The story of an unnamed soldier-turned-addict-turned-bank robber became a national bestseller that's now a Russo brothers film starring Tom Holland. It's also, incredibly, based on the experiences of the author Nico Walker, who (spoiler alert) wrote the novel while he was in prison for bank robbery. It's riveting to read.

10 'Death on the Nile'

Agatha Christie fans unite: Death on the Nile, arguably one of her most compelling mystery novels, is getting the superstar treatment. The film is a follow-up to 2017's Murder on the Orient Express with Kenneth Branagh reprising his role as Hercule Poirot. It's the story of a deadly love triangle: A woman steals her BFF's boyfriend. Someone dies. And everyone has a motive. If you absolutely can't wait to figure out who did it (it's such a cool twist), read the novel first.

11 'The Dig'

The book is a fictionalized telling of the Sutton Hoo dig, a critically important excavation of Anglo-Saxon artifacts. The film looks like it's a pretty faithful telling of the real-life participants involved, and we might see it make the rounds in upcoming awards circuits. If archaeology is your thing, the book is terrific.


12 'Chaos Walking'

Another Tom Holland movie, this is based off of the first book in Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking series: The Knife of Never Letting Go. The premise is so compelling—Todd lives on a planet of only men, where are their thoughts can be heard and seen out loud. Then he meets a girl who's apparently crash-landed on his home (Daisy Ridley, post-Star Wars). This film has gone through a number of delays, but the books are apparently pretty riveting if the idea interests you.

13 'French Exit'

In a darkly comedic novel by famed author Patrick deWitt, widow Frances Price escapes her New York pennilessness to live in Paris with her son. The film is garnering positive reviews thus far, particularly for Michelle Pfeiffer bringing the caustic Frances to life. The film's out in March, so snag the book before that happens.

14 'Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway'

Technically, this is only loosely based on the beloved children's Peter Rabbit series, and it's a direct sequel to the first Peter Rabbit (2018). But, if you love bunnies and cute antics and Rose Byrne as Beatrix Potter, give the film a watch when it's released in June. And if you have kids, definitely get the books.

15 'The Last Duel'
cahir, ireland   september 29  jodie comer leaving the set of the film the last duel on september 29, 2020 in cahir, cotipperary photo by debbie hickeygc images
Debbie HickeyGetty Images

Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are teaming up again to adapt this fascinating nonfiction book about the last judicial duel held in France, a.k.a. "the duel to end all duels." Adam Driver and Jodie Comer also star, so I'm definitely watching. But the real event's just as interesting, so the book's worth the read regardless of whether you plan on watching the film.

16 'Infinite'
mark wahlberg spenser confidential, storm reid the invisible man, and musical guest goody grace feat blink 182 randy holmes via getty images
mark wahlberg
Randy HolmesGetty Images

The Reincarnationist Papers centers around a secret society that can recall their past lives, and the young man who discovers them. This upcoming film by director Antoine Fuqua reimagines the premise as a man (Wahlberg) begins to realize he's hallucinating his past lives. Both sound equally compelling, TBH.

17 'Fatherhood'
kevin hart jumanji the next level, julia fox uncut gems, and musical guest finneas randy holmesabc via getty images
kevin hart
Randy HolmesGetty Images

The book by Matthew Logelin, titled Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss & Love, tells the story of losing his wife to a pulmonary embolism...27 hours after she gave birth to their daughter. So both the book and the movie, with Kevin Hart in the lead role, promise to be absolute tearjerkers.

18 'The Nightingale'
hollywood, california   april 02 elle fanning l and dakota fanning pose at the after party for a special screening of bleeker streets teen spirit at the highlight room on april 02, 2019 in hollywood, california photo by kevin wintergetty images
Kevin WinterGetty Images

Apparently inspired by true events, Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale tells the story of two French sisters who get caught up, in different ways, in World War II. The Goodreads Best Historical Novel of the Year was bound to be adapted—and real-life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning are playing the lead roles. It's not coming out until December, so familiarize yourself with the subject matter now.

19 'Monster'
new york, new york   february 11 kelvin harrison jr attends the world premiere of the photograph world at sva theater on february 11, 2020 in new york city photo by steven ferdmangetty images
Steven FerdmanGetty Images

If you've never read the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Walter Dean Myers, go rent or buy it now: A 17-year-old teenager is charged with felony murder, and a terrifying trial ensues that has much to say about race in America. Netflix acquired the rights to the film in November 2020, after it originally debuted at Sundance in 2018. Kelvin Harrison Jr., Jennifer Hudson, Jeffrey Wright, Jharrel Jerome, John David Washington, and Jennifer Ehle are among the stars.

20 'Deep Water'
los angeles, ca   july 01 ben affleck and ana de armas are seen on july 01, 2020 in los angeles, california  photo by bg004bauer griffingc images
BG004/Bauer-GriffinGetty Images

Deep Water has most recently made headlines for its stars, Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, briefly becoming an IRL couple (they met on set, apparently!). But the fictional story is some Gone Girl-level stuff. Author Patricia Highsmith (who also brought the talented Mr. Ripley to life) writes a story about a miserable married couple. One of the wife's lovers disappears—did her jealous husband do it?

21 'Blonde'
los angeles, california   january 03  ana de armas attends the 20th annual afi awards at four seasons hotel los angeles at beverly hills on january 03, 2020 in los angeles, california photo by jon kopalofffilmmagic
Jon KopaloffGetty Images

And that's not the only film based on a book de Armas is starring in. Blonde, the adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates' novel about Marilyn Monroe, is the film icon at her most vulnerable. This is the perfect work for adaptation: an imagining of Monroe's rich inner life and a retelling of her impressive accomplishments in a male-dominated film industry.

22 'Clifford the Big Red Dog'
new york, new york   january 21 david alan grier poses at the opening night of a soldiers play on broadway at the american airlines theatre on january 21, 2020 in new york city photo by bruce glikaswireimage
Bruce GlikasGetty Images

Everyone's favorite enormous pooch will be voiced by none other than David Alan Grier in this live-action adaptation of the book series. Expect for the story to go through some modernizing for today's young audience, with Darby Camp to star as the misfit teen who needs help from her brightly colored canine pal.

23 'Finding You'
los angeles, ca   july 11  actor jedidiah goodacre attends the premiere of descendants 2 at the cinerama dome on july 11, 2017 in los angeles, california  photo by jason laverisfilmmagic
Jason LaVerisGetty Images

This one will hopefully translate into rom-com gold: There You'll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones follows teen Finley (Rose Reid) who's headed to Ireland after her brother's death. At the same time, film star Beckett (Jedidiah Goodacre) is also in Ireland filming a movie. Sparks fly, naturally. What happens?? Read the book, so you'll be ready for this on-screen romance!

24 'The Last Letter From Your Lover'
british actress felicity jones arrives for the new york premiere of the aeronauts at the sva theatre in new york on december 4, 2019 photo by angela weiss  afp photo by angela weissafp via getty images

This one also sounds like a fascinating read/watch: A journalist stumbles upon old letters between two star-crossed lovers, and becomes obsessed with finding out what happened between the pair. Felicity Jones, Shailene Woodley, and (Mr. Taylor Swift himself) Joe Alwyn star in what will likely be a passionate romantic drama, with plenty of period-appropriate fashion to ogle as well. If you're dying to know how it ends, here's the novel.

25 'The Stars at Noon'
paris, france   january 17 robert pattinson attends the dior homme menswear fallwinter 2020 2021 show as part of paris fashion week on january 17, 2020 in paris, france photo by stephane cardinale   corbiscorbis via getty images
Stephane Cardinale - CorbisGetty Images

Nicaragua in the 1980s is the setting for The Stars at Noon, which details the relationship between an American woman and an Englishman. Neither of them are exactly as they seem at first glance, and they become involved in "sinister plots." Claire Denis directs, and Robert Pattinson (who worked with Denis on High Life) and Margaret Qualley are set to star.

26 'Mothering Sunday'
london, england   december 02  presenter josh oconnor l and winner of the best actress award for the favourite, olivia colman in the winners room at the 21st british independent film awards at old billingsgate on december 02, 2018 in london, england photo by dave j hogandave j hogangetty images
Dave J HoganGetty Images

Olivia Colman and Josh O'Connor—yes, the Queen and Prince Charles themselves—are back at it with Colin Firth and Odessa Young in this adaptation. Mothering Sunday is a short read about English maid Jane Fairchild meeting with her upper-class lover on what might be the most important day of her life. No spoilers!

27 'The Power of the Dog'
benedict cumberbatch the current war directors cut, kelly ripa, and musical guest david byrne with brooklyn youth chorus randy holmesabc via getty images
benedict cumberbatch
Randy HolmesGetty Images

Kristen Dunst and Jesse Plemons join Benedict Cumberbatch in this tale of love and revenge. Two brothers work on a farm, barely tolerating each other—until one of them gets married, and the other one decides to burn their relationship to the ground. Thomas Savage's story has been compared to a modern-day Greek tragedy.

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