Good Minds Suggest—Cary Elwes’s Favorite Books that Became Movies

October, 2014
Cary Elwes

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The Man in Black thought, "No one would surrender to the Dread Pirate Westley," yet legions of fans have surrendered to the charms of The Princess Bride, both William Goldman's beloved novel and Rob Reiner's film adaptation, which, after a modest opening box office, went on to become an infinitely quotable cult film classic. Westley himself, Cary Elwes, beguiled millions with his magnetic performance as a sweet farm boy turned swashbuckling masked hero.

Twenty-seven years later, the English actor shares behind-the-scenes stories in his new memoir, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride. A relative unknown at the time, he reveals how he got cast and how the movie almost didn't get made, and includes anecdotes about costars Robin Wright, Andre the Giant, Mandy Patinkin, and Billy Crystal. Here Elwes recommends his top-five-favorite books that became movies...but what we really want to know is, Are any of these "kissing books"? Ewww!

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
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"Well, I have to pick this one, as I don't think there has been a book to rival it in terms of combining sheer fairy tale, comedy, adventure, romance, and action. I read it when I was just 13 and was immediately taken with it, especially the sections in which the author discusses his fictional private life. I had simply never read anything like it. I found out later Goldman had written the book for his two daughters. When he asked them what it should be about, one said 'princesses' and the other said 'brides.' It just so happens that I was fortunate enough to be cast as the hero in the movie version over a decade later, when it was faithfully adapted for the screen by its author and directed by Rob Reiner."


Papillon by Henri Charrière
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"I think this was one of the best adaptations of an autobiography into a film, where you had Franklin Schaffner (Planet of the Apes, Patton) directing and starring two of the hottest movie stars who happened to be wonderful character actors, Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. That Charrière was able to discover a talent for writing after he escaped Devil's Island is extraordinary. His descriptions of the harshness of the French penal colony system alone is breathtaking. I was so enamored of the book and the film, I actually traveled to one of Charrière's escape routes in Colombia."


All the President's Men by Carl Bernstein & Bob Woodward
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"William Goldman won an Academy Award for adapting this nonfictional, riveting account of how two young reporters covering the Metro section at The Washington Post uncovered the Watergate break-in that led to the resignation of President Nixon. I became fascinated with this book after watching the movie, which focused primarily on the investigation by the two reporters, played brilliantly by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. Redford chose Goldman to adapt the book, as the two had already worked together on Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid. Redford would eventually try to direct a version of The Princess Bride but was unable to get any major studios interested in financing the project."


Jaws by Peter Benchley
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"I was so excited to see Mr. Spielberg's blockbuster movie in 1975, but since I was only 13 at the time, my parents considered it too adult for me. So the closest I could get to actually experiencing the film was to find this book, which wasn't easy, as it was sold out at most stores, along with Carl Gottlieb's wonderful account of the making of the film, Jaws Log, which I read repeatedly. What is also interesting is that Benchley is British and was able to capture the idyllic little [New England] fishing hamlet of Amity and its inhabitants with great detail. But his talent for making the shark an unforgettable character in the book was groundbreaking, as was the subsequent movie."


Midnight Express by Billy Hayes (Goodreads Author)
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"I was absolutely captivated by this novel. It is a harrowing first-person account of a young American (Hayes) who was sent to prison for trying to smuggle drugs out of Turkey and a very disturbing exposé of the harshness of that country's prison system. In the book the 'Midnight Express' is an actual train that Hayes has to catch to make it across the border to Turkey. Oliver Stone, who brilliantly adapted the book for the screen, turned it into a metaphor for escape. The film was directed by the talented Alan Parker a year after the book's release."





Comments Showing 1-50 of 60 (60 new)


message 1: by Mr. Kovach (new)

Mr. Kovach I like this topic; may I add two other terrific books made into terrific movies? Deliverance (this wonderful book is unfortunately overshadowed by the wonderful movie) and True Grit [even though the book is about the girl and the movie is about John Wayne :)].


message 2: by Selkie (new)

Selkie Lee yes, excellent choices indeed! I agree with Mr. Kovach about Deliverance, and like to add some books myself: Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice (starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet is easily my favorite)First Blood, Children of Men and Stardust.


message 3: by Scott (new)

Scott Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Shining, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Fight Club and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly come to mind.


message 4: by Anna (new)

Anna Giabanidis I never knew that Midnight Express was from a novel, despite my keen interest in movie-based books! That is definitely going on my 'to-read' list! I also agree the Fight Club is fantastic (I adore Palahniuk), as well as Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind, V for Vendetta by Steve Moore and I, Robot by Asimov.


message 5: by Karin (new)

Karin Shawshank Redemption, A River Runs Through It...


message 6: by Austin (new)

Austin Fay Mr. Kovach wrote: "True Grit [even though the book is about the girl and the movie is about John Wayne :)]."

The more recent movie was pretty good, and refocused on the girl. The book definitely sounds worth checking out though.


message 7: by Shelly (last edited Oct 10, 2014 05:49AM) (new)

Shelly Rebecca - made faithfully into a brilliant Hitchcock film. One of my favorites of all time (book and movie).


message 8: by Tim (new)

Tim Goostree Hard to leave The Shawshank Redemption off any list. Adapted from the Steven King short story Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption.


message 9: by Tracy (new)

Tracy Murphy Out of Africa....amazing book, and film (and film soundtrack might add).


message 10: by Paul (new)

Paul Grogan Cary, as The Princess Bride is one of my favorite films, I was delighted to see Papillon and Jaws in your selection, as they're also in mine. Undoubtedly, the chances of you reading my comment are slim, but if you do, please add Trainspotting to the list as an incredible adaption and please read The Light by Richard Slater - not a film currently, but someone, please make it into one!


message 11: by Julie (new)

Julie Castle Anna wrote: "I never knew that Midnight Express was from a novel, despite my keen interest in movie-based books! That is definitely going on my 'to-read' list! I also agree the Fight Club is fantastic (I adore ..."

Actually, not a novel!


message 12: by Philip (new)

Philip Absolute Power - The book was better than the movie but both are great


message 13: by Keri (new)

Keri Dylan wrote: "yes, excellent choices indeed! I agree with Mr. Kovach about Deliverance, and like to add some books myself: Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice (starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winsl..."

That would be Sense and Sensibility that you're thinking of there, not P&P. Also an excellent adaptation, though! :)


message 14: by Claire (new)

Claire Fess Midnight Express is a true story. It's a must-read !! Very harrowing.


message 15: by Norman (new)

Norman Ham Surprised no one has mentioned The Godfather. I loved the novel and was pleasantly surprised that the film remained so true to the book. The first movie I remember that followed' the novel so closely. Lonesome Dove is another, although it wasn't released in theaters, airing as a mini-series on TV. Forrest Gump.


message 16: by Royle (new)

Royle Rogers My favorite and one of the most faithful is To Kill a Mockingbi


message 17: by Henry (new)

Henry Bailey Scott wrote: "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Shining, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Fight Club and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly come to mind."

I had to see "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" college psychology assignment It turned out that I thoroughly enjoyed it.


message 18: by Robert (new)

Robert Still gotta read Jaws, the original novel....hope i can find it!!!?


message 19: by Smitty (new)

Smitty I would add Gone With the Wind - stunning movie and glorious book.


message 20: by Jerome (new)

Jerome Austin wrote: "Mr. Kovach wrote: "True Grit [even though the book is about the girl and the movie is about John Wayne :)]."

The more recent movie was pretty good, and refocused on the girl. The book definitely ..."

I liked the Cohen Bros. the best even though is strayed off the book version at times.


message 21: by Jerome (new)

Jerome Robert wrote: "Still gotta read Jaws, the original novel....hope i can find it!!!?"

As good as the movie was, the book is even better.


message 22: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Cattini Some great shouts there particularly "to kill a mockingbird". Such a difficult feat to transfer a perfect book into a perfect film. The two are not easily achieved("Bonfire of the vanities" anyone).

One other book I would heartily reccomend (the book being exceptional, the film simply very, very good, but not quite as amazing as the book) is Scott Smith's "A Simple Plan".

One of the best thrillers I have ever read.

I would also reccomend "The Prestige" by Christopher Priest if memory serves me. A great achievement by Christopher Nolan to make such a great film of it too.


message 23: by Maggy (new)

Maggy Simony My two favorites were derived from short novels I came across in a collection of short novels -- The Bridge over the River Kwai and The Third Man. Short novels seem particularly good for a great director to take the plot and then add his genius, because they have far less detail and atmospherics than long novels. That whole Colonel Bogie march sequence, and the ragged men coming thru the jungle determined to make as dignified entry into that Japanese prison camp as they can (it's a stunning opening) is all from the imagination of the director, from what I remember.

Both plots, on the other hand, were interesting in that in both cases the script was re-written (from the short novel) to make an AMERICAN the anti-hero in the film. In both cases (the western writer in Third Man, and the kind of laggard who escapes camp in Kwai pretending he's an officer not an enlisted man) were Brits not Americans!! I guess whoever bought the script was an Anglophile or something.


message 24: by Lorac625 (new)

Lorac625 Have to agree with Smitty- GWTW. ( which I have seen full length in the theatre 4 times!) is an amazing movie,though the book-which,alas is nearly always true ( with the exception of The Princess Bride and Ender's Game(which was just as good as the book,though different)- was much better. Good thing I am not a writer! Such a sentence would drive an editor insane!


message 25: by Shelley (new)

Shelley Loved Dr. Zhivago, both the film and the book.


message 26: by Maggy (new)

Maggy Simony I couldn't disagree more with Lorac 625, GWTW was far better than the book. I'm 94, actually attended the opening of GWTW at the Capitol theatre in NY at age 20 -- I was as intensely involved in all the pre-film broohoo choosing Scarlett, etc. as anybody. I have to admit back then I thought GWTW and book I'd read at about 16 or 17, were equally good. Years later--still loving that movie--tried to re-read GWTW? Could hardly bear to finish it and don't understand now how it ever won a Pulitzer Prize. The essential characters she created of course are marvelous--but the writing?? I realized how MUCH the GWTW script writer did to improve the whole plot line -- eliminated two husbands from Scarlett's life for one thing -- to make the movie, all 3 plus hours, never boring.

I'm sure has something to do with AGE, all you (I assume) young things see movies differently than old ladies like me. I think most re-makes are dreadful, partly because they seem unable not to resist (as say in Little Women) to make things more PC when it comes to women. Pride and Prejudice the supposedly enchanting sister of the heroine is barely pretty compared to Maureen O'Sullivan in the original with Greer Garson. Oh well!! Thank heaven for TMC and ability still to SEE all these old movies of my youth AND their re-makes.


message 27: by Ramona (new)

Ramona I liked Where the Red Fern Grows, Like Water for Chocolate, Slaughterhouse 5, and James and the Giant Peach.


message 28: by Mr. Kovach (new)

Mr. Kovach Shelley wrote: "Loved Dr. Zhivago, both the film and the book."

How did I forget that one - excellent example.


message 29: by Raven (new)

Raven Dylan wrote: "yes, excellent choices indeed! I agree with Mr. Kovach about Deliverance, and like to add some books myself: Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice (starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winsl..."

Do you mean Sense & Sensibility?


message 30: by Margaret (new)

Margaret Has anyone mentioned "Marathon Man" ??
Great book, great movie


message 31: by Liz (last edited Oct 13, 2014 05:23PM) (new)

Liz Some great suggestions. Can I add: The English Patient and The Hours. Both very difficult books to film - so much internal thought and emotion - and yet both Anthony Mingella & Stephen Daldry managed to translate the poetry of the language into breath-taking visual story.


message 32: by Selkie (new)

Selkie Lee Raven wrote: "Do you mean Sense&Sensibility?"

yes, I do. embarrasingly enough. never write anything before coffee. thanks for telling!


message 33: by Raven (new)

Raven Dylan wrote: "Raven wrote: "Do you mean Sense&Sensibility?"

yes, I do. embarrasingly enough. never write anything before coffee. thanks for telling!"


I support you either way. Both Ang Lee's Sense & Sensibility and Langton's Pride & Prejudice are phenomenal text-to-screen adaptations.


message 34: by Andy (new)

Andy Frankly, I thought "The Princess Bride" was a good example of the movie not measuring up to the book, which I loved so much I once bought 10 remaindered copies to give away. I regretted that the desperate, worldly narrator was replaced by folksy Grandpa Peter Falk, and the whole point of life not being fair was lost (as I recall; I haven't seen the movie in a long time). Also the casting--Mr. Elwes aside--was not great. (Wallace Shawn? Come on!) I think Goldman kind of blew it.

In "Palm Sunday," Kurt Vonnegut recounts being cornered at a party by Susan Sontag, "at that time, the most feared woman in New York intellectual circles" (I'm paraphrasing from memory). She asked him what he thought of the movie version of "Slaughterhouse Five." He stammered, "I thought it was one of the best adaptations of a novel into a movie I've ever seen." "So did I!" she said, to his vast relief. And--not to equate myself with Susan Sontag, certainly--so do I.


message 35: by Maggy (new)

Maggy Simony Two more I don't believe have been mentioned -- they both fall into the "movie very different from book but both great in their own way" -- The Accidental Tourist and Ephron's Heartburn. Both have serious under-themes but the books at the same time are very funny to read. I don't remember much humor in either movie because the humor was more the author's commentary on the characters -- as I remember.


message 36: by Ramona (new)

Ramona Tyler is one of my favorite authors. Was surprised (but shouldn't have been) that the characters in the movie were so much better-looking than what I imagined from the descriptions in the book. Oh well, that's Hollywood.


message 37: by Cathy (new)

Cathy O'brien I would like to add A Prayer for Owen Meany (Irving), made into a movie that did not do it justice, "Simon Birch". I agree that Lonesome Dove was great reading. I also just finished The Green Mile (Stephen King). Never saw the movie (I feel like I'm the only one) but loved the book.


message 38: by Maggy (new)

Maggy Simony And the dog-walker lady in Accidental Tourist was really more appealin in the movie -- again as I remember. I'm so old I swear I can't remember details of my last book club book! think I will use all these comments to 1) re-read favorites 2) find a place on internet where I can see them once again. I've done that with the 2 I first commented on -- Third Man and Bridge over Kwai, but I don't have that collection of short fiction anymore -- my grandson asked for it and I gave it away.


message 39: by Licha (new)

Licha Agree with Deliverance and adding Stephen King's Carrie to the list.


message 40: by Karen (new)

Karen Sweeney Adaptation comes to mind as a favorite movie based on a book. I loved its meta approach to bringing The Orchid Thief to the screen.


message 41: by Nikki "The Crazie Betty" V. (last edited Oct 24, 2014 09:49AM) (new)

Nikki "The Crazie Betty" V. Shawshank Redemption, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Bladerunner), and Diving Bell and the Butterfly


message 42: by Mr. Kovach (new)

Mr. Kovach Linda wrote: "I hate that this intruded into my updates feed."

Click edit right below the last response and you can remove it from your updates feed. :)


message 43: by Janey (new)

Janey Dylan wrote: "yes, excellent choices indeed! I agree with Mr. Kovach about Deliverance, and like to add some books myself: Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice (starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winsl..."

You mean 'Sense and Sensibility'...


message 44: by Janey (new)

Janey Definitely The Hours and The English Patient, Mockingbird, Grapes of Wrath, Gone With the Wind. Jane Austen usually BETTER on film (SO boring to read...)


message 45: by Alexandra (new)

Alexandra Linda wrote: "Nope, doesn't work, because it's a new Goodreads "FEATURE" that has invaded my personal updates. I was NEVER following this discussion. I never knew it existed. I CAME here to protest Goodreads'..."

I also protest. I have no interest in what GR staff wishes to promote for whatever reason. I will add any books that show up in my feed in this fashion to a shelf indicating my disinterest.


message 46: by Sandi (new)

Sandi Why does this show up in my updates feed? Recommendations from goodreads is unchecked and I don't wish to receive any.


message 47: by Alexandra (new)

Alexandra Sandi wrote: "Why does this show up in my updates feed? Recommendations from goodreads is unchecked and I don't wish to receive any."

I don't want it either, but GR has decided it's going to show us this "feature" spammage with no ability to opt out.

This book when straight to my SPAM - DON'T WANT list, as will any others GR spams unwanted onto my feed.


message 48: by Nirman (new)

Nirman Kendra In this book would fall soon.
Plastic Molded Parts Manufacturers


message 49: by Erica (new)

Erica Braun Norman wrote: "Surprised no one has mentioned The Godfather. I loved the novel and was pleasantly surprised that the film remained so true to the book. The first movie I remember that followed' the novel so clos..."

Yes definitely good movie and book. The father was played really well too.


message 50: by Andrewlamb (new)

Andrewlamb i dont like this book


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