7 Great Mystery Books Turned Into Movies

With the many films that are made each year it is not so easy to narrow it down to a list of  top 5, top 7 or top 10 mystery books turned into movies, and I’m sure all the movies listed below might not be everyone’s first choice. The list is based on my own favorites, it might be biased, but I hope you will find here something you haven’t read (or seen) yet that will leave you with a few extra hours of fun relaxing time.

To make the top list easier to manage, I left out all screenplays, and the movies talked about below are only in the thriller/mystery/crime/suspense genre. This should cut down a bit on the choices. For example while Harry Potter is an awesome series, it is fantasy not mystery (granted, it has lots of mystery in it, but its genre is not), so I left it out. I might do another post later on about general books made into movies, regardless of the book topic.

So here we go with my list of 7 great mystery books turned into movies

1. The Silence of the Lambs

The Silence of the Lambs movie

The Silence of the Lambs, released in 1991, is probably one of my favorite movies ever. I think this was the movie that made me realize just how good Anthony Hopkins really is as an actor. I’ve watched everyone of his movies ever since. Of course the fact that Jodie Foster played the FBI agent made it even better in my opinion. She was an excellent choice for the role.

So what book is Silence of the Lambs based on? The story follows the plot in the book The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, published in 1988, and one of the fact that I truly loved was that it followed the book story pretty faithfully. Where most movies depart too much from the book, here I really had a deja-vu feeling (have read the book several years before watching the movie).

Overall I enjoyed a lot both the novel and the movie as well. It was one of those rare occasions when I left both the book and my couch after watching the film on DVD extremely satisfied.

2. Kiss the Girls

Kiss the Girls movieKiss the Girls is another old favorite of mine, a movie (released in 1997) that not many others managed to trump it so far. It is based on the same-named James Patterson book in 1995 in his Alex Cross mystery series (one of my favorite series ever), and while so far I’ve seen 2 movies based on this series, Kiss the Girl I found to be the (much) better one of the two.

Morgan Freeman did a wonderful job playing Alex Cross giving an extra dimension and depth to the film that I think it wouldn’t have reached otherwise. Now granted, I did enjoy the book better than the movie, but it was by a small margin only. The book is part of a series, and it’s worth reading the Alex Cross books in order. However when it comes to the same named movie, I think it can be easily watched on its own. It is a standalone movie that anyone can watch it even if they’ve never read the books.

3. The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code movieI can see already a few sighs and raised eyebrows, but for me The Da Vinci Code was a great movie (released in 2006) well worth watching. And speaking of the same title book published in 2003, this was the the only book I’ve truly loved reading from all the 6 books so far written by Dan Brown, including his Robert Langdon series.

Sure both the book and the movie were heavily criticized about the fact that a lot of information is actually misinformation and has nothing to do with real fact, but when I really think about it – isn’t this a fictional story in the first place? And which fictional story comes really close to the true facts anyway?

Of course the fact that it is all about hidden symbols and secrets (one of my favorite types of books to read), gave me a bias about the book and the movie, where while Tom Hanks is not only top 10 of most favorite actors, I think he performed really well here (along with in the movie Forrest Gump). Overall a well worth watching film and if you haven’t checked out the book, it’s one that is worth reading, even if just to see what all the hype is about.

 4. The Bourne Trilogy

The Bourne TrilogyOk I’m cheating here because The Bourne Trilogy is not one movie, but 3, all featuring Jason Bourne, a phenomenal spy on the run. This is really one of those series where all the sequels were equally good, so it’s really well renting or buying the whole trilogy and watching it over a fun weekend with the family or friends.

Both the books written by Robert Ludlum and the movies are some of my most favorites ever, and when it comes to the films, Matt Damon played a really classy act here. I think this was one of his best performances ever, even topping The Talented Mister Ripley, another one of my favorite mysteries brought to screen.

If you noticed, I mentioned the Bourne trilogy, and I haven’t really added the 4th movie called The Bourne Legacy in the mix. I’ve seen it, liked it, but something was missing from it and I don’t think I’d love to watch it for a second time. Hm, maybe it was Matt Damon’s appeal missing, I don’t know, but it really didn’t leave on me such a lasting impression as the first 3 movies: The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum did.

5. Shutter Island

Shutter IslandShutter Island by Dennis Lehane (pubished in 2003) is a book I’ve read several years ago and really made me think for a long while after finishing with it. It’s one of those disturbing mystery novels that you can’t but keep in your head for a long time after. I was really glad when I saw that a movie was being made, which was released back in 2010 and I actually went to the cinema to see it.

The movie released in 2010 was played by Leonardo di Caprio, who literally became an overnight sensation after playing in Titanic. From a shyand skinny teen, it was fun watching him grow into a full fledged – full of confidence adult who played in awesome movies such as The Beach, Body of Lies and The Great Gatsby.

The story is set in 1954 when marshal Teddy Daniels has the job of investigating the disappearance of a criminal patient called Rachel Solando from the Ashecliffe Hospital. Once he gets there, things really become weird, scary and hairy. If the atmosphere in the book was really haunting, it was really well reproduced in the movie. I did feel the same chills when watching it as when reading the book a few years back. A seriously good book and movie recommendation, well worth checking out.

 6. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With the Dragon TattooThe Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (published in 2005 post-mortem) is the first in the Millenium series written by the Swedish author Stieg Larsson under the original tile Män som hatar kvinnor. This book series really took the world by storm, becoming well known and popular in every language that it was translated to.

When it comes to the movie, I watched both releases, the original Swedish one released 2009 and the new movie done in the US in 2011, and my favorite one is the original Swedish movie. It has an atmosphere that I could feel in the new American release, where I felt something was missing from it all. Maybe it got ‘lost in translation’, maybe it’s because I’ve already seen the first movie and this was nothing new, but based on watching both, I can high recommend the Swedish adaptation, it was simply sublime!

While you’re at it, you should read all the books in the Millenium series (I have them all in hardcover edition), they are well worth reading, I can promise you that. Also watch both movie versions and make your own mind about which one you prefer most. Suffice to say that since I read the Millenium series and watched this original movie, I’ve really started to enjoy Nordic mysteries.

7. The Hunt for Red October

The Hunt for Red OctoberThe Hunt For Red October published in 1984 is on my top 10 list of best books to read and best movies to watch (it was released as movie in 1990). There was a time when I literally ate up everything Tom Clancy wrote. While I moved on from this style of mystery, The Hunt for Red October somehow stayed with me, even before seeing the movie with Sean Connery (yet another favorite actor of mine).

It is just one of those rare novels that you can fondly remember of even years after reading it and can recall the entire story almost page by page (at least that how long it stayed with me).

The movie has been equally well done, and while it’s quite old (was released in 1990), it is well worth watching if you missed the chance earlier on, or maybe you were too young for watching it then.

Sean Connery always played great roles and he has a charisma that sweeps you off your feet no matter your age. He is simply a classy actor, one that will be remembered even centuries from now.

While these are my top 7 mystery books turned into movies that are equally great to watch as were the books to read, there are many more that I really enjoyed. Here are a few more notable movies made from mystery books:

  • Innocent, released in 2011 based on the mystery novel Presumed Innocent by Scott Turrow
  • The Bone Collector, a 1999 movie with Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie based on the same named book by Jeffery Deaver published in 1997
  • L.A. Confidential, a neo-noir style film made in 1997 based on the same titled book by James Elroy, published in 1990
  • Alex Cross, a movie with Tyler Perry released in 2012, based on another of James Patterson’s Alex Cross novels called Cross (published in 2006).
  • Jack Reacher, a 2012 movie starring Tom Cruise, based on the novel One Shot by Lee Child, published in 2005 (oh I already feel the controversy rising on this one as I know lots of people simply didn’t care about Tom Cruise as playing Jack Reacher – and while I mostly agree, I did enjoy the movie and I think it’s worth spending 2 hours of your time to be entertained with it)

Do you have any other favorite(s) that you’d like to add to this list?


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  1. I’ve seen all of these movies but never read the books. I’m going to add them to my TBR list

  2. I still have nightmares about shutter island! I love all the books on that list 🙂

  3. I’ve seen every one of these except for the third Bourne movie. I’ll be fixing that sooooon!

  4. I haven’t read any of those books but I have seen several of the movie versions. I always wish I had more time to actually sit down and read books.

  5. This is a great list! I’ve seen a few of these movies and would love to see some of the others.

  6. we LOVE the bourne movies in this house. lOVE. me maybe more for matt damon but still.

    i haven’t read silence of the lambs. i saw part o the movie like 20 years ago and didn’t sleep for weeks !!! LOL

  7. What a great list of books… my husband already asked me what books I want for my Christmas list and I think since I haven’t read any of these yet, will forward your list to him to pick… I bet I will have a great time. Thanks for sharing

  8. I’ve loved all the movies on this list that I’ve seen, so I should probably go back and watch the rest! I used to like horror, but not so much anymore. SInce I’ve had kids, I much prefer the thrill of a mystery to the gore and fright of scary movies.

  9. This is a really great list 🙂 I used to be a Jack Reacher fan and I must admit that I was horrified at the thought of Tom Cruise playing him, but I have to agree, the movie itself was good, I have it on DVD.

    I have not read Shutter Island, nor have I seen the movie – I will look into this one, thanks.

    Sean Connery – swoon worthy 🙂

  10. Love, love, love Silence of the Lambs. Have been thinking about watching Jack Reacher – and now that it’s made your “Honorable Mention” list I take the plunge and rent it this weekend. Thanks for the recommendations! I’m looking forward to reading your post on general books made into movies if you decide to write it! 🙂

  11. I loved The Silence of the Lambs! Of all you listed here, I think The Hunt For Red October is my favorite, only because I read both the book and saw the movie. I did, however, think Sean Connery was miscast as a Russian sub captain and Alec Baldwin missed a huge paycheck by not reprising his role.

    I think I’ll read One Shot.

    Peggy (from UBC)


    Peggy Nolan

    1. Yay Alec Baldwin is another of my favorite actors (interestingly enough, the only one from the Baldwin family), and you might be right there, you know…

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