Why Short Stories Make Great Movies

by ScreenCraft - updated on November 23, 2016

The Short Story Contest is now open for entries! Are you wondering why we're holding a competition for short stories? This is ScreenCraft, after all.

We launched the Short Story Contest last year to celebrate the cinematic stories that can be told through short fiction.

Novels, being a longer form, have the freedom to encompass sprawling timelines, multiple narrative through-lines, and large casts of characters or multiple main characters. Short stories, on the other hand, are often focused on one major event or transformation for a single main character.

If you're thinking that sounds a lot like a movie, you're right! Often, short stories are easier to adapt than novels.

And some great, iconic movies have come straight from the pages of short stories and novellas. Take a look at these inspiring adaptations:

The Grey (2011)


Based on the short story "Ghost Walker" by Ian MacKenzie Jeffers, who also co-wrote the screenplay with director Joe Carnahan. Critic Roger Ebert gave the film 3 and a half stars out of 4, and wrote that the unrelenting harshness of The Grey so affected him that he departed the screening of a different movie on the same day: “It was the first time I've ever walked out of a film because of the previous film.” That's powerful storytelling. Also, this was one of the first films that ScreenCraft co-founder John Rhodes worked on!  Additionally, one of the film's producers, Adi Shankar, is a ScreenCraft mentor for the Bootleg Universe short story and script contest!

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)


Loosely based on the 1922 short story of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the film went on to receive thirteen Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director for David Fincher, Best Actor for Brad Pitt and Best Supporting Actress for Taraji P. Henson. The screenplay was written by Eric Roth, with story credit also going to Robin Swicord.

Brokeback Mountain (2005)


Adapted from Annie Proulx’s 1997 short story of the same name, the screenplay was written by Diana Ossana (a ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship mentor!) and Larry McMurtry. The film was directed by Ang Lee and was nominated for eight Academy Awards, the most nominations that year. It won three Academy Awards, the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and Best Picture and Best Director at the British Academy Film Awards, among many more.

Secretary (2002)


Long before Gone Girl, screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson adapted this short story by Mary Gaitskill. The film was directed by Steven Shainberg and was nominated for a number of awards, winning several, including a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

In the Bedroom (2001)


Andre Dubus’s short story “Killings” is the source material for this movie, which was adapted by Robert Festinger and director Todd Field. It was the first official Sundance Film Festival film to get an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, and also received nominations for acting and adapted screenplay.

Memento (2000)


Based on the short story “Memento Mori” by Jonathan Nolan. The film was written and directed by Christopher Nolan, and it was praised by critics for its nonlinear narrative structure and motifs of memory, perception, grief, and self-deception. Interestingly, the short story and the screenplay were written simultaneously, with the development of each informing the other.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)


Adapted from the Stephen King novella “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,” the adaptation was written and directed by Frank Darabont. Although the film was a box office disappointment, it received multiple award nominations (including seven Oscar nominations) and highly positive reviews from critics. It is now considered to be one of the greatest films of the 1990s, and in 2015 the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Total Recall (1990)


Loosely based on the Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” Dick was an industrious writer who penned a short story or novella every two weeks. His stories that have been adapted into film include Blade Runner (1982), Minority Report (2002), A Scanner Darkly (2006), and The Adjustment Bureau (2011).

The 1990 Total Recall film was written by Ronald Shusett, Dan O'Bannon, Jon Povill, and Gary Goldman, and directed by Paul Verhoeven.

Rear Window (1954)


Based on Cornell Woolrich’s 1942 short story "It Had to Be Murder,” the film was written by John Michael Hayes and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It is considered to be one of Hitchcock's best. The film received four Academy Award nominations and was ranked No. 42 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies list. In 1997, Rear Window was added to the United States National Film Registry in the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)


Based on the short story “The Greatest Gift,” written by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1939. The film was directed by Frank Capra, from a screenplay by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett and Frank Capra. It is among the most popular in American cinema and has become traditional viewing during the Christmas season.

Short fiction has been the basis for feature films across genres and decades, and the Short Story Contest has proven to celebrate cinematic storytelling at its best. Read last year's finalists and winning stories here.

Feeling inspired? Enter your short story today!


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