We all know that some of the best science fiction movies are based on works of literature – just look at Blade Runner and Dune. But some of the most popular movies in the genre are based on novels and short stories you might never have heard of. You’ll be surprised to hear the origins of these seven sci-fi movies.
Following linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) as she deciphers the language of an alien species who mysteriously arrive on earth, Arrival was considered one of the best films of 2016. The critically-acclaimed film was nominated for eight Oscars but only won one for sound editing.
With director and writer Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049) at the helm, you might have thought Arrival was his original screenplay – but it’s actually an adaptation of Ted Chiang’s 1998 novella Story of Your Life. Chiang is something of a superstar in the world of science fiction short stories, with a heap of awards to his name, but so far this is the only one to hit the big screen. Hollywood, take note!
Children of Men (2006)
In a future where humanity faces extinction, the first woman to fall pregnant in nearly 20 years is in grave danger. Painting an unsettling picture of a post-apocalyptic world, Children of Men was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay.
The film was based on the 1992 dystopian novel The Children of Men, written by bestselling crime author PD James in a surprise departure from her usual genre. Although there are quite a few differences (most noticeably, that a different character entirely is pregnant in the book), PD James said she was proud of the film. If you can’t wait for the next series of The Handmaid’s Tale, you should check this out.
The Thing (1982)
Time magazine named The Thing From Another World as the greatest science fiction film of the 1950s. Featuring a group of scientists in Antarctica who unwisely defrost a bloodthirsty alien, you might have thought John Carpenter’s The Thing was a remake of this black-and-white classic. However, both films are adaptations of John W Campbell Jr’s 1938 science fiction novella Who Goes There?
In The Thing From Another World, the alien is a humanoid lifeform with a plant-like cellular structure that handily renders it immune to bullets. Carpenter’s version is much closer to the original story, with an alien that can imitate any living thing – making it pretty hard to tell who goes there.
The Martian (2015)
The Martian was self-published by debut novelist Andy Weir in 2011. Sold for just 99 cents on the Amazon Kindle store, it quickly became Amazon’s top-selling science fiction title. When publisher Crown picked it up, the novel became a New York Times bestseller and 20th Century Fox snapped up the film rights. With Weir’s latest novel Artemis set to become a film soon, now is a great time to check out his work.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Believe it or not, Arthur C Clarke’s 1951 short story The Sentinel was the starting point for the sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the original story, an ancient artifact left by aliens is discovered on the surface of the moon. Described as a glittering, jewel-like pyramid, the artifact eventually became the famous black monolith of the movie after early prototypes of the set piece didn’t look good on camera. Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick adapted and expanded on The Sentinel, co-writing the screenplay and its companion novel at the same time.
Total Recall (1990)
Cult classic Total Recall might seem like its own brand of campy fun, but it’s actually loosely based on the Philip K Dick short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. Alien writers Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shushett bought the film rights to the story while Dick was alive, but it got stuck in development hell. By the time Schwarzenegger got the project back on track, the script had gone through over 40 drafts.
The movie was a hit, and a sequel was written based on another Philip K Dick story, The Minority Report. But it wasn’t to be. After more development hell, it eventually became – you guessed it – the Steven Spielberg thriller Minority Report. Maybe it’s just as well.
Dr Eleanor Arroway (Jodie Foster) and her quest to make contact with extra-terrestrial life made Contact one of the most iconic sci-fi films of the ’90s. But the film started life as a Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan screenplay back in 1979. When development on the film screeched to a halt, Sagan didn’t want their hard work to go to waste, so he converted it into a novel. When Contact was published in 1985, interest in the film picked up again, but progress was slow and Sagan died during production. The film was finally released in 1997 and dedicated to its visionary author.