The controversial act of banning books has always sparked debate and intrigue. Surprisingly, even in recent years, there are individuals who lend support to this notion. However, a group of daring filmmakers has risen to challenge the criticism aimed at these forbidden novels. They fearlessly transform these tales into mesmerizing movies that are equally as thrilling, intense, or mind-bending as the original books. Yet, regrettably, these cinematic creations often encounter resistance from the same naysayers. Luckily, the opposition tends to be a small faction within the vast global audience, allowing most banned book adaptations to triumph at the box office.
What sets these movies apart and makes them triumphant? It’s the fact that the source material comes from literary gems of the past century, renowned as timeless classics. These stories provide an extraordinary foundation for captivating movies that captivate and enchant audiences worldwide. So, have you discovered a beloved banned book that has been skillfully brought to life on the silver screen?
1. To Kill a Mockingbird
Book: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
This classic novel has faced bans and challenges over the years, with reasons varying as time went on. In the ’60s, it was banned in a Virginia county for simply being deemed “immoral.” More recently, the book has faced challenges and bans in various cities across Virginia, California, and Mississippi due to the use of derogatory language.
Movie: To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch in the film adaptation has left a lasting impact, captivating audiences even today. Peck’s performance was so incredible that he won an Academy Award, and the movie received immense acclaim from both critics and moviegoers, becoming a huge success at the box office.
2. The Color Purple
Book: The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982)
The Color Purple by Alice Walker was highly acclaimed when it was published in 1982. It even won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. The book tells the story of Celie, a young African-American woman living in early 20th-century Georgia. However, some people took offense to the book because it addressed themes of homosexuality, racism, and sexual violence.
Even after 35 years, the book continues to face challenges. In 2017, it was banned from all Texas State Prisons due to its explicit language and graphic violence.
Movie: The Color Purple (1985)
The Color Purple movie, released in 1985, played a significant role in launching Whoopi Goldberg’s career. The film was well-received and received 11 Academy Award nominations.
Book: Carrie by Stephen King (1974)
Carrie, the novel that catapulted Stephen King to fame, was met with critical acclaim. However, some individuals expressed concerns regarding the violent tendencies of the protagonist. Additionally, references to menstruation and underage sexual activity made certain readers uncomfortable.
Over time, Carrie has faced bans in various states including Nevada, Vermont, Iowa, New York, Pennsylvania, and North Dakota.
Movie: Carrie (1976)
A mere two years following the release of King’s novel, Carrie made its way to the big screen, delivering one of the most memorable horror scenes in cinematic history: the infamous pig blood drenching Carrie during prom. The graphic and gruesome nature of the film divided the audience’s reactions.
4. Lord of the Flies
Book: Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954)
Lord of the Flies, a book about children governing themselves on an island, has been widely imitated since its release 70 years ago. However, this very concept has sparked controversy among some readers. The use of racial slurs, which has since been removed from newer editions, has been a particular cause for concern. Additionally, the presence of violence and bullying among the boys has led parents to argue that it is inappropriate for their children. Consequently, the book has become the 8th most challenged or banned book in America.
Movie: Lord of the Flies (1963)
Let’s take a look at the original ’60s film adaptation of Lord of the Flies. Despite being remade several times, the original film was well-received and did not generate significant controversy.
5. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Book: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume (1970)
This book has faced numerous bans over its 50 years of existence, even being banned from the primary school attended by Blume’s own children back in the ’70s.
Despite being a childhood classic for many, there is a lot of animosity surrounding it. Some people take issue with the subjects that Blume tackles, such as menstruation, developing breasts, and exploring one’s sexual urges. Moreover, the protagonist, Margaret, openly questions her understanding of God while being raised by a Christian mother and Jewish father.
Movie: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. (2023)
Similar to the book, the movie has faced criticism for addressing the realistic experiences of a sixth-grade girl. Starring Rachel McAdams and Kathy Bates, the film doesn’t shy away from these controversial topics and pays tribute to the original book.
When questioned about the criticism and banning of her books, 85-year-old Blume expressed her thoughts candidly:
“They’re trying to pass laws about what we can think, what our kids can think, what they can know, what they can talk about. There’s legislation going on right now that says that girls in elementary school are not allowed to speak about menstruation… I mean, where are we? What country is this?”
6. Sophie’s Choice
Book: Sophie’s Choice by William Styron (1979)
Sophie’s Choice, despite its ranking as number 96 on the Modern Library’s best 100 books, has faced opposition from book banners. The novel delves into the lives of a Southern American writer, a Jewish scientist, and Sophie, a Polish-Catholic survivor of World War II concentration camps.
The reasons behind the book’s banning vary. Some have criticized the sexual content within the text. However, in certain cases, such as the ban in South Africa in 1979, no specific explanation was provided.
Movie: Sophie’s Choice (1982)
The film is primarily remembered for Meryl Streep’s outstanding performance, which earned her an Academy Award. Streep skillfully portrayed the complex character of Sophie.
7. Gone with the Wind
Book: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)
Gone with the Wind, written by Margaret Mitchell in 1936, tells the story of Scarlett O’Hara, a spoiled protagonist who experiences the trials and tribulations of the Civil War on her father’s plantation. One major criticism of the book lies in its derogatory portrayal of Black characters.
Movie: Gone with the Wind (1939)
Considered an epic film, Gone with the Wind is often praised as one of the greatest movies of its era. Boasting a multitude of extras, grand sets, and the star power of Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable, this film has achieved classic status.
However, despite its enduring legacy, the movie also presents a negative depiction of Black Americans, which has faced backlash from more modern audiences.
Book: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
This book has faced numerous attempts to ban it due to its anti-war narrative, which follows an American soldier’s journey during World War II, including his time as a prisoner of war. The protagonist’s emotions are portrayed through strong language and the book tackles violent themes, which have been cited as reasons for its banishment.
Throughout the years, there have been at least 18 requests to ban Slaughterhouse-Five. Some even labeled it as “Anti-Christian.” In North Dakota, copies of the book were burned in the school’s coal burner, reflecting the controversy surrounding it.
Movie: Slaughterhouse-Five (1972)
Despite the book’s tumultuous reception, the film adaptation was marketed as a comedy-drama. It received an award at the Cannes Film Festival and was generally well-received by audiences.
9. A Clockwork Orange
Book: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)
This novel tells the story of a young man who leads a criminal life and eventually gets caught. To rehabilitate him, he undergoes an experimental treatment.
The book faced bans in Aurora, CO (1976), Westport, CT (1977), and Anniston, AL (1982) due to its depiction of violence and sexual violence. In 1973, a woman in Utah was even arrested for selling it as an obscene item.
Movie: A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick, this film has become a cult classic over the years.
Despite receiving critical acclaim, the explicit violence in the movie caused controversy upon its release. British theaters even pulled the film from screens when reports emerged of someone imitating the violent acts shown.
10. American Psycho
Book: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (1991)
American Psycho is notorious for its incredibly dark subject matter. Following a serial killer, the book delves into graphic detail about the gruesome acts committed by the main character.
The main argument for banning this book was its extreme violence, deemed unsuitable for young readers. This led to its distribution in Australia being limited to those over 18, with the book being shrink-wrapped in stores.
Movie: American Psycho (2000)
Considered a classic of American cinema, Christian Bale received immense praise for his portrayal of the unhinged Patrick Bateman.
The film did not shy away from portraying the gory details, which, similar to the book, divided moviegoers’ opinions.