War Movies Based on Novels – A Thursday Thirteen

A common feature on blogs is the so-called Thursday Thirteen in which you can share a list of thirteen things, books, movies and what not. I’ve never done this so far but since I’ve hit a dry movie-watching patch and don’t want to stop blogging entirely I thought, why not?

While a great many war movies are based on original screenplays, many, and even some of the best and most famous, are based on novels. Here are thirteen war movies based on novels:

  1. The Thin Red Line (1998) – based on the novel by James Jones
  2. Catch 22 (1970) – based on the novel by Joseph Heller
  3. 300 (2006) – based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller
  4. Ben Hur (1959) – based on the novel by Lewis Wallace
  5. Enigma (20019 – based on the novel by Robert Harris
  6. Behind the Lines aka Regeneration (1997) – based on the novel by Pat Barker
  7. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) – based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque
  8. Schindler’s List (1993) – based on the novel by Thomas Keneally
  9. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) – based on the novel by Pierre Boulle
  10. Dances with Wolves (1990) – based on the novel by Michael Blake
  11. Cold Mountain (2003) based on the novel by Charles Frazier
  12. War Horse (2011) – based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo
  13. Slaughterhouse Five (1972) based on the novel by Kurt Vonnegut

I have only read three of the books (Regeneration aka Behind the Lines, All Quiet on the Western Front and Cold Mountain) but seen almost all of the movies. Is there a book among my thirteen I shouldn’t miss or another novel/movie pair which is worth mentioning?


12 thoughts on “War Movies Based on Novels – A Thursday Thirteen

  1. Bogong Jack says:

    Some suggestions….

    A Farewell to Arms
    For Whom the Bell Tolls
    From Here to Eternity
    The Cruel Sea
    The Purple Plain
    The Four Feathers
    A Town Like Alice
    Ice Cold in Alex
    A Taxi to Tobruk
    The Young Lions
    The Guns of Navarone
    King Rat
    The Virgin Soldiers
    Slaughterhouse Five
    Shout At the Devil
    The Eagle Has Landed
    An Indecent Obsession
    The Empire of the Sun
    Charlotte Gray

  2. nem baj says:

    Freshly nobelized:

    Mo Yan’s Hong gao liang jia zu (Red Sorghum, 1987, imdb)

    Other works by Nobel laureates:

    Henryk Sienkiewicz’s Ogniem i mieczem (ibid., 1999, imdb)
    Pearl Buck’s China Sky (ibid., 1945, imdb)
    Ernest Hemingway see Jack’s listing, plus To Have and Have Not (ibid., 1944, imdb)
    Boris Pasternak’s Doktor Zhivago (Doctor Zhivago, 1965, imdb)
    John Steinbeck’s The Moon is Down (ibid., 1943, imdb)
    Michail Aleksandrovich Sokholov’s Tikhiy Don (ibid., 1958, imdb)
    Günther Grass’ Die Blechtrommel (ibid., 1979, imdb) and Katz und Maus (ibid., 1967, imdb)
    Imre Kertész’ Sorstalanság (ibid., 2005, imdb)
    Mario Vargas Llosa’s La ciudad y los perros (ibid., 1985, imdb)


    Pierre Boulle’s Le pont de la rivière Kwaï (The Bridge on the River Kwaï, 1957, imdb)
    Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (Apocalypse Now, 1979, imdb)

    Reviewed here:

    Nigel Balchin’s The Small Back Room (ibid., 1949, review)
    Joseph Kessel’s L’Armée des ombres (ibid., 1969, review)
    Marc Dugain’s La Chambre des officiers (ibid., 2001, review)

    And others:

    Arnold Zweig’s Der Streit um den Sergeanten Grischa (The Case of Sergeant Grisha, 1930, imdb)
    Roland Dorgelès’ Les Croix de bois (ibid., 1932, imdb)
    Francis Yeats-Brown’s The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (ibid., 1935, imdb)
    P.C. Wren’s Beau Geste (ibid., 1939, imdb)
    Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage (ibid., 1951, imdb)
    Ooka Shohei’s Nobi (Fires on the Plain, 1959, imdb)
    Gomikawa Jumpei’s Ningen no jôken (ibid., 1959, imdb)
    Cornelius Ryan’s The Longest Day (ibid., 1962, imdb)
    Robert Merle’s Weekend à Zuydcoote (ibid., 1964, imdb)
    Richard Hooker’s MASH (ibid., 1968, imdb)
    Emilio Lussu’s Uomini contro (ibid., 1970, imdb)
    Marc Dugain’s La Chambre des officiers (ibid., 2001, review)
    Geling Yan’s Jinling shi san chai (The Flowers of War, 2011, imdb)

    + There’s a huge list of lists on wikipedia.

    • I wanted to limit it to 13 but I’m glad for all the additions. Thank you so much.
      I’m still looking for the one or the other book for next year’s Literature and War Readalong.
      I bought La chambre des officiers but after having watched the movie and been sick for hours afterwards I refrained from reading it. I need to check the page counts for Geling Yan and Mo Yan. They tempt me the most.
      Some really nice choices I had totally not thought about as well and some that are somewhere here still unread.

      • nem baj says:

        Sorry for the River Kwaï, you had already mentioned it. I think Heart of Darkness, though a novella, deserves to make the 13, as well as Kertész’s Sorstalanság (in French: Être sans destin) but this one surely won’t cheer you up either…

        As far as the rest of my list is concerned, just like you I’ve seen most movies but have only read a handful of the source books.

      • My choices included quite a few which are probably not as good as some on yours. I had the Dugain on mine first but kicked it out for the more famous children’s novel War Horse.
        I have read Conrad but never Heart of Darkness although I’ve got it and should get to it.

  3. the war movie buff says:

    I have read a few of the 13.
    The Thin Red Line – the movie leaves out a few characters; slight edge to the movie
    300 – faithful rendering of the graphic novel; movie is better than the book
    All Quiet – book is superior, although both are great
    Dances With Wolves – movie is very close to the book; movie is better
    Cold Mountain – the movie is good, but the book has more depth; a good case for watching the movie first

    If you want which 100 Greatest are based on novels, let me know.

    • No, that’s too much effort, I think you mention it at the beginning of your posts. I can have a look.
      I certianly agree on All Quiet… the book is better but the movie did a decent job as well. Cold Mountain is better in book form.

  4. I’m going to be a bit controversial….I thought the Thin Red Line sucked.

    No wait! Hear me out 😉

    Every time I sit down to watch it its an effort to watch. It constantly makes me think – this is how an Arts student would do a war movie. Full of cardboard cut out characters, dialogue that alternates between comic book stereotypes and arthouse wank. Visually its stunning but its a let down overall.

  5. Björn says:

    “Cross of Iron” by Willi Heinrich
    “The Unknown Soldier” by Väinö Linna (filmed in 1955 and 1985)

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