In honor of National Short Story Month, celebrated in May each year, we’ve taken a look at two of our favorite things: short stories and movies. There’s a long history of filmmakers using short stories as inspiration. Here we pulled together a list of seven short story adaptations that we think both readers and movie lovers will want to check out.
“Brokeback Mountain” by Annie Proulx
We don’t know about you, but ever since we first read Annie Proulx’s masterful short story “Brokeback Mountain” we have not been able to quit Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar. We can’t quit the slow burn of their love affair as rich and poignant as a night by a campfire. We can’t quit their agony and grief. Proulx brought these two men to life for us in her story and when it ended, we wanted to keep them with us always. Naturally, we cheered when Proulx’s story was adapted into a film of the same name. Released in 2005, the film was directed by Ang Lee, starred Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, with a screenplay written by Larry McMurtry. The film won many awards and even more hearts.
“In a Grove” by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
Though it is logical to assume that Akira Kurosawa’s film Rashōmon is based on Ryūnosuke Akutagawa story of the same name, it is only the title and the setting of the story that appear in the film. The film is actually based on another Akutagawa story entitled “In a Grove.” The film, like the short story, explores the idea that truth is often subjective through the differing eyewitness accounts of the same murder. Rashōmon won many awards upon its release in 1950, including the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and it remains beloved by movie lovers and critics alike.
“Lihaaf” by Ismat Chughtai
Published in 1942, Ismat Chughtai’s short story “Lihaaf” was a source of great controversy. Initially appearing in an Urdu literary journal, the story examined lesbianism and female oppression. Chughtai faced an obscenity trial and was asked to apologize for the story. She refused and won her case. Loosely based on Chughtai’s story, the 1996 film Fire, written and directed by Deepa Mehta, was one of the first Bollywood films to show homosexuality in an explicit way. The release of the film prompted riots and government censorship but it laid a path for later Indian films which explored queer identity and romance, including Abhishek Chaubey’s Dedh Ishqiya which was released in 2014.
“The Greatest Gift” by Philip van Doren Stern
There is no denying that Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life is a timeless classic film. The movie has become ubiquitous, and yet few know its origins which involve a man, a dream, and a Christmas card. One night, Philip van Doren Stern had a dream that would become his short story, “The Greatest Gift.” When Stern sent his story out with his yearly Christmas cards, the tale ended up in the hands of Frank Capra and the rest is history.
“Grave of Fireflies” by Akiyuki Nosaka
Published in 1967, “Grave of Fireflies” is a semi-autobiographical short story by Akiyuki Nosaka. It recounts the story of brother and sister Seita and Setsuko and their struggle to survive after the firebombing of Kobe. The 1988 anime film of the same name was written and directed by Isao Takahata and received enormous acclaim from viewers and critics, with Rolling Stone touting it as one of the “40 Greatest Animated Films Ever.” Though approached several times to have the story adapted to film, Nosaka was surprised when the offer came to make the film as anime. In an interview he said, “I thought animated features were a simple pleasure viewing for summer vacations. A boy’s adventure, or courage, that sort of thing… I never thought a sad story like this one would ever be animated.” Those who have seen the film are glad he agreed.
“The Bear Came Over the Mountain” by Alice Munro
There are few contemporary writers who can compare to Alice Munro, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature and a writer who has devoted her writing career to the short story. Several of Munro’s stories have been adapted to film, including “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” and three stories from her collection Runaway: “Chance,” “Soon,” and “Silence.” “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” became the critically acclaimed 2006 film Away from Her.
“The Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang
We’re cheating a bit on this last one. Ted Chiang’s “The Story of Your Life” is technically a novella, but since it’s published in a collection of short stories we’re sneaking it in here. The tale introduces readers to Dr. Louise Banks, who uses her linguistic skills to communicate with aliens. In 2016 Arrival, a film based on Chiang’s story, was released. The film was hailed as one of the best films of the year and nominated for several categories in the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, and was the winner of the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation. That his story was optioned at all surprised Chiang, who said about his work in an interview, “Actually, I never really thought of my work as being the sort of thing anyone would want to adapt for Hollywood. Most of my work is pretty internal. A lot of what’s happening is taking place inside someone’s head. It never really occurred to me that my work would be suitable for movies, and certainly ‘Story of Your Life’ was an extremely unlikely candidate.”