The 15 Greatest Movies Based On Banned Books
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The 15 Greatest Movies Based On Banned Books

By Joanna Robinson | Seriously Random Lists | October 2, 2012 | Comments ()


Lolita: It’s no mystery at all why Nabokov’s book about pedophilia has been banned from its very first publication. You can swim around in the seaminess of Humbert Humbert and his nymphets with either the 1962 Kubrick film or the 1997 TV version with Jeremy Irons. My preference is for the Kubrick not just because of James Mason’s worn yet eager performance, but because of Peter Sellers’ unforgettable turn as Humbert shadow, Quilty. This exploration of dark psychic pain is exactly the kind of material Kubrick thrived on and its no wonder he shows up again on this list.

Gone With the Wind: Margaret Mitchell’s bestseller was initially banned for “racy” language that would seem positively tame by today’s standards. This particular ban is extra fun because of the delightful names of the groups so dedicated to its eradication. The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice disdained Scarlett’s multiple marriages and The Watch and Ward Society expressed shock over Belle Watling’s madam character. Accusations of racial insensitivity are still landing Mitchell’s Civil War saga on banned and challenged lists.
Gone with the Wind 24b+.jpeg

Catch-22: One reason Joseph Heller’s searing war novel was challenged was the frequent use of the word “whore.” Mike Nichols’ darkly comic adaptation didn’t enjoy much success upon release (as opposed to the runaway hit M*A*S*H*). But it holds up over time mostly because of Alan Arkin’s standout performance.

The Lord of the Rings: It’s hard to believe that such a benign book was ever on a banned list, but some fundamentalists consider Tolkien’s work to be “irreligious.” Which is odd given Tolkien’s devout Catholicism and his friendship with renowned Christian author C.S. Lewis. Point of fact, Tolkein once told Lewis that The Lord of the Rings was a “fundamentally religious and Christian work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.” It may not surprise anyone to know that the Powers That Be in New Mexico actually burned a heap of Tolkien’s work outside the Christ Community Church as recently as 2001. Weirdly, that burning coincided with the release of Peter Jackson’s first film in the trilogy (sextology?), The Fellowship of the Rings.

James and the Giant Peach: Beloved yarn-spinner, Roald Dahl, appears several times on the banned books list and you may, if you like, substitute the Anjelica Huston version of his fabulously creepy The Witches for this stop-motion delight. My favorite (read “most idiotic”) reason for banning a Dahl book has to do with a certain scene involving the Spider in James And The Giant Peach. A town in Wisconsin claimed the spider licking her lips could be “taken in two ways, including sexual.” Balderdash.
James Peach .jpeg

From Here to Eternity: James Jones’ book was censored by the publisher when it was first released to eliminate all references to homosexuality and most of the profanity. The censored version went on to win the National Book Award and inspired the much lauded film starring Burt Lancaster, Donna Reed, Deborah Kerr, Montgomery Clift and Frank Sinatra. However, despite the fact that the film also shies away from any homosexual content, the now famous beach kiss scene was edited down in many theatrical releases for being too erotic. You can watch it yourself and see how it stacks up in this post-50 Shades Of Grey world. In the words of James Jones about his own experience with censorship: “The things we change in this book for propriety’s sake will in five years, or ten years, come in someone else’s book anyway.”

The Grapes of Wrath: In his classic novel of a depression-era family, Steinbeck took the powers that be in California firmly to task for their treatment of the poverty stricken and homeless. As a result, those in charge (e.g. the Board of Supervisors) banned and burned Steinbeck’s novel. Henry Fonda is worth a watch, though, in John Ford’s classic version.

Beloved: Ten years after its publication, Kentucky high schools banned Morrison’s modern classic citing “bestiality, racism and sex.” Oprah Winfrey’s film version falls fairly short of the masterful magical spell Morrison cast in her strange, gripping ghost story, but it’s stocked with some fine performances, particularly that of the luminous and frightening Thandie Newton.

Harry Potter: Everyone knows that J.K. Rowling’s juggernaut series was challenged on the grounds that it promoted witchcraft. You can take your pick of any of the right film adaptations but my personal favorite is Alfonso Cuaron’s Prisoner Of Azkaban. By letting go of any desire to adhere slavishly to the original text, Cuaron is the only director in the series to really capture the spirit of the books.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest: Oftentimes I’m convinced the people calling for a ban have not actually read the book they want eliminated. In this case, detractors of Ken Kesey’s novel claim it glorifies criminal activity and has a tendency to corrupt juveniles. Au contraire. Just because you condemn the asylum, doesn’t mean you glorify the inmates. Miloš Forman’s 1975 adaptation with Jack Nicholson in the firebrand lead role is, however, as anti-establishment as they come.

The Great Gatsby: You’ll have to wait until next Spring to enjoy Baz Luhrman’s new version of Fitzgerald’s classic (which was banned for language, sexual references, and the over reliance on the color Green as metaphor). In the meantime, you can catch Robert Redford at his golden haired best in the solidly brilliant adaptation from 1974.

Of Mice and Men: Another Steinbeck enters the fray. “Of Mice and Men” is challenged to this day by those who believe it is “derogatory towards African Americans, women, and the developmentally disabled.” But nothing will quite satisfy your Malkovich Malkovich fix like this Sinise-directed version from 1992.

The Color Purple: Everything I know about lesbianism I learned from Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple.” If you’re into that sort of thing (and stirring tales of feminism and racial identity), then I seriously suggest you check out the book. You won’t find more than a hint of that relationship in Speilberg’s adaptation. You will, however, find some incendiary performances.

A Clockwork Orange: Burgess’s book did not get banned until after the release of Kubrick’s film in 1971. But the reactions against both the film and the novel were so strong that in 1973 a bookseller was arrested for selling the novel. Kubrick’s film was banned in the UK for 27 years following its release and wasn’t aired there in full until 2001.

To Kill A Mockingbird: When Harper Lee found out her book had been put on the banned book list in Hanover, Virginia in 1966, she sent $10 to The Richmond News Leader suggesting it to be used toward the enrollment of “the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice.” That’s a proper book burn. More recently, the book has been called into question for its “too tame” condemnation of racism. Most still consider the book and film to be classics in both mediums and if you haven’t worshipped at the alter of Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch, you’ve got some catching up to do.

You can, if you like, peruse the complete list of the ALA’s Banned and Challenged Classics. For more information on why certain books were banned, you can visit The Banned Books Awareness Project.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • PimpDaddyWiteBoy

    Clockwork Orange is one of THE most overrated movies of all time...

  • badkittyuno

    Just finished reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest actually--still need to watch the movie. Fantastic book, although I can how it pushed a few buttons for The Man!

  • Tammy

    Telling me a book has been banned is the quickest way to ensure I read it.
    Except for "A Clockwork Orange." It's not that I don't get what he's doing; it's just that sitting through that film was the most oppressively unpleasant, sickening experience I have ever had in a theater. Intellectually, I absolutely understand what the "ultraviolence" thing is about, but viscerally, it was nearly impossible for me to sit through that volume of visualized misogyny and not become ill. While I FIRMLY believe that depiction =/= endorsement.... in THAT moment, I wasn't entirely convinced that it *didn't*.

    I absoluetly want to read the uncensored "From Here to Eternity" now, though.

  • Haystacks

    The author agreed, He was horrified when 'Alex' became an icon. It was his interpretation of the worst that humanity could become.

  • zeke_the_pig

    Continuing my habit of being grossly over-pleased with certain sentences on Pajiba - this:
    'nothing says “f*ck you” like Nicholson’s McMurphy', makes me gloriously happy.

  • zeke_the_pig

    'The Great Gatsby, which was banned for language, sexual references, and the over reliance on the color Green as metaphor'Made me laugh more than it perhaps should.

  • Pawesl

    Ahh To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite movie of all time

  • BierceAmbrose

    /Soap Box

    This. This. THIS is the bedrock of the Western (Classical) Liberal tradition and an infinite number of fundamentalist-monkeys banning, rioting or burning can kiss whatever part of me most offends their particular obsession. I don't care which god, spirit, messenger, insight, holy-dude or thoughtful, inevitable cultural evolution they follow. True believers of any ilk shutting up competing thoughts by force suck like third-installment movies about stomp-y robot-cars.

    I will shout it into the wind ... here in Western Civilization, somebody is gonna say something that offends you, do something that offends you, declare as high art something that offends you, your church, your community, your ancestors for 7 generations and your dog. Get over it. Celebrate it, because you might just learn something. Worship it if you must worship something because the freedom to offend allows us the batshit that makes us free.

    If you can't do that, at least shut up because that's our mutual defense of offense pact - I get to rant my insane ramblings, and you get to speak your profound truth, with neither of us being beaten into shutting up. We compete with ideas not fists. (And BTW, if your ideas need fists to prop them up, maybe your brain's broken.) This convention got started when some folks noted that the people with the most beat-y fists didn't usually have the best ideas. It's a pretty good strategy. Civilizations that use this one tend to outperform the ones that don't.

    And if it ain't religion got you screeching "Shut up!",but rather your particular comfortable ox being gored, that's even better. Hoodwink the mind and you don't need to bother with the body, so screech all you want about your particular rake-off being assaulted. The louder you complain the more I think there's something you've been getting away with. I've met very few people as *sincerely* interested in my well-being as the folks who want to protect me from dangerous ideas. Surprisingly, the ideas dangerous to me always seem to cost them something. I don't mind self-interest, BTW. Actually I'm a fan. BUT, let's work that one out without the hoodwinking, thank you very much.

    Then there's the uncomfortable truth books, to which I say, if Lolita makes you too uncomfortable, maybe you should stay away from playgrounds - mmmm-kay?

    So, books - sacred, magical, mystery books - are protected here. Get over it. Stupid movies are protected here, including for example, Michael Moore's entire catalog, every single Chuck Norris movie, and the parade of bad superhero adaptations emitted in a decade's profoundly incompetent attempts to cash out and cash in. We put up with Flash *and* Green Lantern. Of course we're gonna put up with Lolita, or *shudder* self-serving autobiographies & policy pieces from every single national candidate wanna-be. (Have you read that dreck? Makes me want to vote not just for "none of the above" but "anybody but these.")

    Also, if someone could get really offended and insist on burning one of my books, that would be grand. I could use the sales and the ideas will still be out there, now with a giant, flaming beacon drawing people in.


  • Quatermain

    This deserves way more 'yea' votes than it has.

  • LibraryChick

    Ah, but this is the internet. People reward brevity here.

  • BierceAmbrose

    Still working on that.

  • Semilitterate

    Nothing rong ith having a thought longer than what might comfortably fit on a bumper sticker, imho

  • Quatermain

    I'm always a little mystified by the books that seem to show up on 'Banned Books' lists. Hell, even Shakespeare and The Bible have shown up on banned lists(as well as had stellar movies made from them). Maybe it's because I'm incurably lazy, but it seems like a whole mess of trouble to go through for no real results

  • TheOriginalMRod

    "I was to be a ham."

  • BierceAmbrose

    That "banned" list is more like "must reads."

    Good Godtopus, the banner-people are dumb. I learned as a mere sprout to read the stuff that ticks people off.(*) It's so convenient to have them do the scouting for me.

    (*) Except "The Satanic Verses." So tedious, which is hard to do with those characters when you think about it.

  • zeke_the_pig

    Are you my soul mate?

  • BierceAmbrose

    Of course. That's why we snipe sometimes, you and I.

    People only sincerely fight with others *almost* exactly like themselves.

  • Carlito

    "The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice"?

    Talk about pushing a debauched boulder up a hill.

  • Archie Leach

    The garbage twilight crap "books" should've been banned for stupiding a not insignificant segment of humanity.

  • BWeaves

    I recently watched Redford's version of Gatsby, and Bruce Dern blew me away.

  • BWeaves

    Where's Huckleberry Finn?

  • JoannaRobinson

    Where's the great movie based on Huckleberry Finn? The Elijah one?

  • JoannaRobinson

    Yes, sorry, I should have been clearer. *I* love Grapes of Wrath. But I am not in the majority, I fear.

  • Lucas

    "Steinbeck’s novel that would go on to bore freshman English students for generations to come." my first reaction was to be utterly aghast at this accusation. but now that i've thought about it, i'm just sad at it's likely truth. Grapes of Wrath is one of the 3 finest american novels ever written (1 of the other 2 is on this list). The other one is Moby Dick.

    also, a good inclusion for this list would be The Last Temptation of Christ. Incredible film, and an even better book.

  • foolsage

    I absolutely agree about The Last Temptation of Christ; what an amazing book! It really pissed off a lot of people who never read it but had firm ideas about how their beloved religious character ought to be portrayed. It did make a great movie as well; Keitel and Dafoe are mesmerizing as Judas and Jesus. I remember the picket lines when the movie came out, and I remember how amused I was that they'd picket such a serious and thoughtful defense of Jesus' existence. Kazantzakis, the author, was Christian, lived as a monk for six years, converted to Buddhism, then converted back, and the book reflects a deeply Buddhist view of a soul striving for enlightenment mixed with a profound reverence for the idea of a man given an impossible task that he doesn't understand or fully desire, but follows anyhow.


    Also, I gotta say it: Frodo was probably asexual. There's no evidence that he was sexually attracted to anyone or anything. Sam was all about the ladies... well Rosie Cotton anyhow. Sam and Frodo's bromance wasn't in any sense sexual; it was inspired of course by the bonds soldiers form when in life-threatening situations far from home.

    Note: I'm not making any judgments! This is just the story as written.

  • Lucas

    Regarding Last Temptation (the book): I'm a believer, too, and I think Last Temptation is one of the best explorations of what it means to grapple with a personal spirituality, especially one defined by God, that I've ever read. a remarkable work.

  • tmoney

    I hate to say it, but my students absolutely hated Grapes of Wrath. They didn't like how Steinbeck wrote it, they didn't like the family, and they thought the ending was "so gross". I just don't know if they are ready to read it and understand it at 16-years-old.

  • Lucas

    that makes me sad.

    i do think, though, that it is best suited for an AP english class if it's taught at the high school level at all. i read it junior year of high school and liked it...but didn't love it till I read it the second and third times in college and later in life.

  • randomhookup

    I might have picked God's Little Acre, though I've never seen the film version.

  • Melody

    Good luck finding the film version. Every one of Erskine Caldwell's books has been banned at various points in history.

  • a) Burgess absolutely hated and disowned Kubrick's adaptation (because he missed the point) and b) Kael eviscerated Kubrick's film. It doesn't really belong on this list... but then I don't know if half the others do either (Rowling in the same league as Nabokov? You've got to be kidding me....).

    Here's Kael's review which, along with her 1969 essay in Harpers, titled "Trash, Art and the Movies". convinced me of Kubrick's mediocrity.

  • anon33

    The words "Kubrick" and "mediocrity" simply don't even go together. Does not compute.

  • causaubon

    here, here!

    while I wouldn't go so far as to call out Kubrick for mediocrity (Dr. Strangelove?) his track record when it comes to adaptations is pretty awful (Clockwork, Lolita, The Shinning. There are even quite a few problems with 2001).

  • causaubon

    *i meant - "hear, hear!"*


  • frank247

    You mean, "Hear here!".

  • gerta89

    I read an interview with McDowell that said something different-- that Burgess loved the adaptation at first, but after it got so much acclaim he got a little bitter that he didn't get any monetary compensation. Which, you know, is pretty valid for a complaint.
    Also, McDowell is always going to be the Water and Power guy from Tank Girl. I did a double take when I found out he was Alex!

  • Guest

    Fuck, I love Grapes of Wrath.

  • I liked the book but I felt John Ford took a revolutionary (or at least, left-leaning for the time) story and turns it into a patriotic, even conservative, film. Not saying one message has more value than the other, but after reading the book first it affected my viewing.

  • Guest

    Agreed. Not a fan of the film, personally, for several reasons.

  • Groundloop

    A classic to be sure, but sometimes I prefer SCTVs The Grapes of Mud, if only for it's brevity:

  • Guest

    Good cripes, I'd completely forgotten about this!

  • damnitjanet

    Malcolm McDowell is both terrifying, and terrifyingly hot in that photo.

  • AudioSuede

    I saw the headline and just straight-up assumed this was a Joanna article. Wasn't until I scrolled a bit reading it in a lady voice that I thought, "Wait, what if this was written by someone else?"

    It was not.

  • pajiba

    Back in my Arkansas high school where the parents bitched about everything (including the teaching of evolution), we were assigned Of Mice and Men, and the teacher told us that if our parents had a problem with it, we could read the alternate book, Moby Dick.

    Not a single parent complained.

  • zeke_the_pig

    Good Godtopus, Moby Dick! Seriously, Melville - loving the moody narrative, florid language, iconic characters and dripping symbolism, but fuck me, drop the interminable slogs through outdated whale lore, please!

  • Bert_McGurt

    Good lord - McMurphy's got Boyd Crowder's hair!

  • Hey, lay off Franklin & Bash. It's a fun show, in a USA network kinda way.

  • e jerry powell

    Except that it's not on USA. LOL

    And I'm more prone to hold Entourage against McDowell.

  • Green_Eggs_and_Hamster

    You can be a USA network kind of show without actually being on USA network. It's a state of being, not a physical location on the dial.

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