It’s one thing to have a movie that is based on a book. It happens all the time. It’s more rare to have an entire franchise of films based on a book or set of books. Over the last two decades, it seems like we have been seeing more and more franchises emerge that are based on books. This seems to be happening for a few reasons. First, Hollywood is more than ever looking for established properties on which to base films. Book, have been and always will be one of the best established properties for a movie to be based upon. Second, if the books have a big following, chances are that the fans will continue to want to see additional movies. Finally, the success of certain book-to-movie franchises in recent years has convinced studios that spending more money to create a franchise is a good business move.
To make this list, a movie franchise has to meet a few different criteria. First, it has to be a movie franchise – 2 or more movies. The more movies in the franchise the better, this indicates audience and studio interest in the property. If a franchise isn’t any good, more movies would not have been made. Only one of these movies has to be based on a book as the original source material, and comics or graphic novels do not count. To come up with the final ranking, I considered success at the box office, awards, general popularity and pop culture influence, filmmaking influence, and the number of films adapted from different books. Taking all of this together, here’s the ranking I came up with:
10. Hannibal Lecter
# of Films so far: 5
Years Active: 1986-2007
Book(s) on Which it is Based: Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, and Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris
The Hannibal Lecter franchise may not be the most popular book-to-movie franchise, and it hasn’t always been successful in theaters. So why does it make the top ten? Simple. These are 5 films based around one of the most frightening and memorable characters ever to grace the big screen. The most famous performance of the bunch is, of course, Sir Anthony Hopkins’ Oscar-winning performance in 1991’s Silence of the Lambs. Also, that film won Best Picture as well as being one of the highest grossing films in theaters that year – showing how well received it was by audiences as well as critics. That’s the definition of a successful film. Only one other film in this list has accomplished both of those fetes, and that’s why I had to put the Hannibal Lecter series in the top ten.
9. Die Hard
# of Films so far: 5
Years Active: 1988-2013
Book(s) on Which it is Based: Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp
When you think of great movie franchises based on a book, Die Hard probably doesn’t come to mind, but it’s true. The first film was based on a novel of another title. Of course Die Hard went on to become one of the most influential and memorable movies ever made, but the novel on which it was based never really found the same popularity. Nonetheless, the formula that the book came up with made for an classic action movie set-up, and as a result they were able to expand upon it for 4 more films. The longevity of the franchise, as well as its timeless popularity and influence on modern action films all helped to earn this franchise the number 9 spot.
8. Jurassic Park
# of Films so far: 4
Years Active: 1993 to present
Book(s) on Which it is Based: Jurassic Park, and The Lost World by Michael Crichton
The Jurassic Park franchise may have the least number of films to its name so far, but it makes up for that lack of movies with the size and scope of its films. The first film in the series is highly regarded not only for its special effects achievements, but also because it was an enjoyable and adventurous take on Crichton’s book. The second film was another fun adaptation that took the series in a different direction, yet kept the tone and thrills. The third film is easily the weakest of the bunch, but its stripped-down survival plot used the premise in a new, and interesting way. Finally, the newest film managed to echo the size and entertainment of the original film, and was extremely popular in theaters. Throughout the ups and downs of the series, the focus and inspiration from Crichton’s original novel was never lost.
# of Films so far: 5
Years Active: 2008-2012
Book(s) on Which it is Based: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
If you’re not a fan of the books, and vampire-human-werewolf love triangles aren’t really your thing, the Twilight films might engage some sort of gag reflex. However, you can’t deny how much of an impact these films had on both pop culture and movie production. All five films went on to have a lot of success in theaters, especially New Moon, which broke the record for biggest opening day ever. You also can’t deny that the connection between the books and the films is a strong one here, such that the films made Meyer’s book series into a genuine pop culture phenomenon. Along with Harry Potter, the Twilight films helped to convince studios that adapting YA novels into films was something that would resonate with audiences. It’s no surprise then that a number of different new YA book-to-film franchises popped up soon afterward, including:
6. The Hunger Games
# of Films so far: 4
Years Active: 2012-2015
Book(s) on Which it is Based: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.
The Hunger Games makes this list as a representation of the second wave of YA movie franchises that followed in the wake of Harry Potter (and to a lesser extent, Twilight). Those franchises, including The Divergent and Maze Runner series often took place in futuristic dystopian settings with young protagonists taking on older, established values. These films also featured a new generation of young actors coming of age. For these reasons, it’s no wonder that these films resonated well with younger audiences. Hunger Games is so far the most successful of these dystopian franchises, thanks in part to some excellent acting, great multi-generational casts, and well-made films. Besides Harry Potter, it also remains as one of the most consistent book-to-movie franchises on this list.
5. Jason Bourne
# of Films so far: 5
Years Active: 2002 to present.
Book(s) on Which it is Based: The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum by Robert Ludlum, The Bourne Legacy by Eric Van Lustbader.
The Bourne Identity novel might not seem like the type of book that would translate to a successful film franchise (as I previously discussed here), but the filmmakers nonetheless persevered. The first Bourne film entertained audiences with its quick pacing, constant action, stylistic direction, and thrilling plot. It also didn’t hurt to have a popular A-list actor in his prime as the centerpiece. The original trilogy of Bourne films maintained the quality and excitement of that first film, and were popular enough to warrant a spin off and a delayed sequel. What really helped the success of the series, and helped to earn its spot on this list, was its stripped-down approach to the action film. In an era of CGI-heavy action blockbusters, Bourne was refreshingly stunt-heavy and hard-hitting. Audiences appreciated that type of film, and consistently solid box office proceeds means more Bourne films could still be on their way.
4. Planet of the Apes
# of Films so far: 9
Years Active: 1968 to present.
Book(s) on Which it is Based: La Planete des Singes by Pierre Boulle
The Planet of the Apes film franchise is unique on this list because it has made it through not one, but two reboots (ok, ok, Tim Burton says “reimagining”). The original film was a hit, based on a somewhat obscure novel. That film managed to be entertaining in its worldbuilding and poignant in its prophesy, becoming a classic science fiction piece at a time when science fiction was typically relegated to B-movie territory played for cheap thrills. It was also popular enough to warrant four direct sequels. Although the production values and film quality suffered in those sequels, the premise of the franchise nonetheless stuck and hence the additional attempts to resurrect the franchise. The latest films, Rupert Wyatt and Matt Reeve’s reboot trilogy did just that. All three films were well received by audiences and critics alike, and maintained a consistent quality and entertainment factor that the franchise previously lacked.
3. Harry Potter
# of Films so far: 9
Years Active: 2001 to present
Book(s) on Which it is Based: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling.
The Harry Potter books are perhaps the most popular set of books ever made. They made their author the first writer to become a billionaire due to the sale/rights of their writings alone. They broke sales records, and single-handedly caused The New York Times to create a separate best-seller’s list for children’s novels, where a Harry Potter book remained listed for 72 straight weeks starting in 2000. The final book in the series was the fastest-selling book in recorded history. With all this success in print, it was only a matter of time before a film adaptation came out. Like the books, the films have also been incredibly popular, profitable, and appreciated by both critics and fans. Also, just like the books, the films found a way to be entertaining for both kids and adults. The only reason the Harry Potter franchise didn’t make it any higher on this list is that the next two franchises have a greater history (one is more well-known for its books, the other for its films).
2. Lord of the Rings
# of Films so far: 6
Years Active: 2001-2014
Book(s) on Which it is Based: The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien
When it comes to book series, very few are as revered as J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy masterpiece. His writings have had an immense impact on many facets of pop culture, and to this day they are still enjoyed by readers old and young. However, the density of Tolkein’s novels and the complexity of the world in which they take place in has made it difficult for a film adaptation to get off the ground despite the immense popularity of his work. In 2001, Peter Jackson released his first Lord of the Rings film, proving those doubters wrong that called the books unfilmable. Each of the films in the original LOTR trilogy found tremendous success at the box office and with critics. This was culminated in Return of the King wining the Oscar for Best Picture. Peter Jackson went on to turn the prequel novel, The Hobbit into its own trilogy of films. Although those last three LOTR films are not nearly as highly regarded as the first three, they can still be appreciated as fun and adventurous adaptations.
1. James Bond
# of Films so far: 26 (24 by Eon Productions, 1 by Warner Brothers, 1 spoof)
Years Active: 1962 to present
Book(s) on Which it is Based: Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Moonraker, Diamonds are Forever, From Russia With Love, Dr. No, Goldfinger, For Your Eyes Only, Thunderball, The Spy Who Loved Me, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, You Only Live Twice, The Man With the Golden Gun, Octopussy and the Living Daylights, and many other short stories by Ian Fleming.
The franchise with the most movies also has the most movies based off of books and is among the longest-running franchises in all of cinema. More importantly than all of that is the fact that James Bond has remained relevant throughout. What started as a simple spy movie adapted from a novel became a pop-culture phenomenon before it became a cinematic staple. The Bond films are known not only for their entertaining adventures, but also for the consistency in which new films have been released. Although there have been a few hiatuses, the Bond franchise commonly released a new film every 2 to 3 years for its entire existence. It’s never been though a hard reboot, but it has had 6 actors (7 if you count the spoof) play the main character during its run, each bringing something unique to the role. It has adapted to audience tastes and modern events, it’s actors and actresses have become well-revered, and the music has become as eagerly anticipated and treasured as the films themselves. Bond films have also never made as much money in theaters as the last few have, a clear sign that audiences are no closer to being tired of the character or the series than 50 years ago. In the world of cinema, that is quite the accomplishment, and a big reason I had to make James Bond the number one book-based movie franchise.