Hollywood loves to make movies based on books. Adapting a best-selling book almost always equals a guaranteed hit because the story is already a proven success with audiences. Not to mention, if a reader enjoyed the book, they’ll check out the movie. The 1990s produced many great movies based on books and, particularly, in the thriller genre.
Adapting a thriller is hard because, most of the time, audience members already know what is going to happen having read the book. So, filmmakers still need to find a way to thrill them. Several of these highly respected novels became not only box-office successes, but also saw Oscar glory. The material combined with great filmmakers produced gripping films that quickened the heartbeat of audiences who bought a ticket, pleasing those familiar with the source material and those who weren’t.
10 Kiss The Girls
Based on the novel by James Patterson, Kiss The Girls concerns detective Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman), who teams up with a serial killer’s former captive (Ashley Judd), in order to track him down and save his niece.
Released to negative reviews and deemed as an attempt at cashing in on Silence of The Lambs’ popularity, the movie was a modest hit. However, Morgan Freeman’s performance as Cross was popular enough with audiences to warrant a sequel with Along Came A Spider, released a few years later.
9 Presumed Innocent
Based on the book by Scott Turow, Harrison Ford plays a prosecutor charged with the murder of his colleague and former mistress, for which he then has to spend the movie trying to prove his innocence. A good companion to The Fugitive, as that film also finds Ford accused of murder, however, this time there is a shocking twist.
The movie was released to rave reviews and became one of the highest-grossing movies of 1990, an example of a different time in Hollywood when legal thrillers could be blockbusters and not just superhero or spectacle films.
After having success adapting Stephen King’s non-thriller Stand By Me, director Rob Reiner, fresh off When Harry Met Sally, tackled one of King’s most terrifying stories, Misery. James Caan stars as Paul, a famous writer, who is rescued after a car accident by his most avid reader, Annie, played by a then-unknown Kathy Bates, who ends up being violently possessive and terrifying.
Despite Reiner’s comedy background, he crafts a taut thriller that’s gripping even with just two characters, with one being confined to a bed for most of the movie. Misery shocked audiences upon release, most notably for its infamous hobbling scene. Released to critical and commercial success, Misery is the only King film to have won an Oscar – Best Actress for Bates. It also happens to be one of King’s favorite adaptations of his work.
7 Sleeping With The Enemy
Based on the book by Nancy Price and produced at the very beginning of Julia Roberts’ time as a superstar, Sleeping With The Enemy tells the story of a woman in an abusive relationship who fakes her own death and starts a new life. However, her dangerous ex-husband has discovered she’s still alive and becomes determined to track her down.
While the film received predominantly negative reviews, it was a big box-office success, solidifying Roberts’ career as a bonafide movie star, breaking the, at the time, record for a female-centric film opening. Since its release in 1991, it has been remade several times in India.
6 Single White Female
Based on the book “SWF Seeks Same” by John Lutz, the acclaimed director of Barfly and Reversal Of Fortune, Barbet Schroeder, directs a thrilling story that many people consider their worst nightmare. Bridget Fonda plays Allie who gets more than she bargained for by renting a room to Hedy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who begins copying everything about her from her clothes to her hair, and starts exhibiting dangerous and clingy behavior.
While the movie received mixed reviews, Single White Female was a box office hit with acclaim aimed at the two leads, especially for Leigh who gives a chilling performance, but also for Fonda who demonstrated her star power and makes audiences wish she would return from retirement.
5 The Silence Of The Lambs
Directed by Jonathan Demme, then mostly known for comedies like Married To The Mob, Silence Of The Lambs is the thrilling and at times horrifying adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel. Jodie Foster plays Clarice Starling, an FBI trainee who, in order to catch a serial killer, gets advice from imprisoned cannibal Hannibal Lecter, a legendary character brilliantly brought to life by Anthony Hopkins.
Up until then, serial killer movies were mostly dominated by the likes of Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, but what made Silence of The Lambs so terrifying is that the killers were portrayed as everyday people. Not only was the movie a hit but brought home Oscar gold, rare for a thriller that borders on horror, winning Best Picture, Director, Actress, and of course, actor for Hopkins. The film spawned several sequels based on Harris’ other Hannibal books, also starring Hopkins.
After the massive success of Jurassic Park, Hollywood mined other works by author Michael Crichton that saw varying success with movies like Congo and The 13th Warrior. Hollywood was also looking for more erotic thrillers like Basic Instinct and saw Crichton’s novel Disclosure as the next big hit movie.
Disclosure stars Michael Douglas as a tech company employee who accuses his new boss (Demi Moore) of sexual harassment. Hollywood’s plan of combining the two movie formulas worked and Disclosure was a massive hit, but only a modest hit with critics who critiqued several aspects of the film but noted it for its take on workplace power structure and sexual harassment.
3 A Simple Plan
Based on the novel by Scott B. Smith, A Simple Plan is probably the most underrated movie on this list. Directed by Sam Raimi, without his usual visual flair but instead with raw intensity, A Simple Plan stars Bill Paxton, Bridget Fonda, and Billy Bob Thornton, who gives a memorable performance coming off Sling Blade.
The story concerns three friends who find a downed plane filled with cash in the Minnesota woods and decide to keep it. However, preserving their secret ultimately causes their lives to unravel in gruesome and tragic ways. While the movie received universal acclaim from critics as well as Oscar nominations for the script and for Thornton, A Simple Plan bombed financially, not being able to make back its production budget. However, over the years, it has gained a strong cult following as one of Raimi’s best and overlooked gems.
2 The Talented Mr. Ripley
Based on Patricia Highsmith’s classic novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley stars post-Good Willing Hunting star Matt Damon as Tom Ripley, a liar and impersonator who attaches himself to a beautiful woman and her wealthy boyfriend whose life he desires for his own.
The movie was a critical and commercial success, receiving five Oscar nominations including for screenplay and Supporting Actor for then up-and-comer Jude Law. Matt Damon’s performance was singled out for being unsettling, as well as for Anthony Minghella’s tense direction. Two more adaptations of Highsmith’s Ripley books were produced, however, Damon did not return to the role.
1 The Firm
In the 1990s, author John Grisham was king, with movies released based on his popular books like The Pelican Brief and A Time To Kill, but perhaps the most popular was The Firm starring Tom Cruise. The story concerns a young lawyer who joins a corrupt law firm and has to choose between his life and turning them in.
The immense popularity of Grisham’s novel combined with Tom Cruise’s popularity made The Firm a massive success. The movie took liberties with the source material but critics and audiences still gave the film great reviews, and it was nominated for several Oscars including Best Score and Best Supporting Actress for Holly Hunter.
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