The Must-Read Books Behind the Biggest Screen Adaptations of 2024

From big-momentum contemporary novels to great classics, these are the books that should be on your reading list if you're a fan of both literature and film and television.

A collage of book covers
Before you watch the movie (or show), why not read the book? Courtesy the publishers

Publishing and Hollywood are powerful allies. Both create worlds that toe the line between reality and fantasy and are capable of transporting the mind to unexpected places. It’s a creative collaboration that translates the most delightful pages into magical minutes on screens big and small.

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Many of the greatest film and television productions began as good books, and this year, a spate of released and forthcoming movies and shows offer even more proof that success is in the source material. Novels, especially, can become an inexhaustible source of inspiration—the same story can fuel totally different creative results on the screen.

Of course, adaptations can be contentious, generating intense feelings—particularly in readers. Is the book always better? And which should one consume first? The answers very much depend on whom you ask, but some adaptations exceed expectations while many others will fail to make true fans happy. Whether you’re on Team Adaptation or on the team that loves to hate them, put these books on your reading list so you know what you’re getting into.

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

A book cover with a blue pyramid under a sky with three suns
‘The Three-Body Problem’ by Cixin Liu. Courtesy the publisher

This visionary, unusual and ambitious novel about a secret military project that puts humanity at risk has sci-fi fans talking. The starting point, with a context during China’s Cultural Revolution, marks the imminent invasion of Earth by a technologically advanced race. The intricate world built by Cixin Liu connects through complex timelines a dense content that integrates political, social and philosophical issues, along with scientific concepts such as quantum physics, the speed of light and orbital mechanics. The book, winner of the Hugo Award in 2015, is now a 2024 adaptation for Netflix from the former showrunners of Game of Thrones.

Capote’s Women by Laurence Leamer

A book cover with a black and white photograph of a glamorous woman
‘Capote’s Women’ by Laurence Leamer. Courtesy the publisher

For Truman Capote, his close friends, New York socialites, became characters in his last unpublished novel, Answered Prayers, a story that banished him from that world permanently after a partial release. Laurence Leamer, acclaimed biographer, focuses on a key point related to the fictional narrative—a chronicle rife with scandalous gossip, betrayals, true stories and secrets about the women Capote called his swans. The story adapted into a miniseries, FEUD: Capote vs. The Swans, by Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story) recounts the details of the events surrounding what Capote considered his masterpiece.

The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard

A book cover with a cowboy holding a shotgun
‘The Walking Dead’ by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard. Courtesy the publisher

The popular horror comic about the world after an apocalyptic epidemic has one of the most acclaimed adaptations on television—even with the Walking Dead FCC complaints. In 2024 with The Ones Who Live, two central characters, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira), return to tell the final minutes of the story of survivors struggling to hold on to their humanity. The graphic novel chronicles life after the end of the world through the eyes of a recently-released-from-the-hospital Rick Grimes, the sheriff who takes his first steps into a chaotic world of death and soon becomes a determined, inflexible leader who sets out on a journey to keep his family safe.

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

A book cover with four apples on a tablecloth
‘Apples Never Fall’ by Liane Moriarty. Courtesy the publisher

Liane Moriarty is a consistent writer with prestigious adaptations in her career (Nine Perfect Strangers and Big Little Lies). Once again, family secrets and mysteries play a major role in this suspense novel that follows the seemingly perfect life of Joy and Stan Delaney, a married couple of former tennis players. Everything changes when Joy’s disappearance uncovers a series of secrets, causing poorly healed wounds to raise doubts about the father’s responsibility and threaten to fracture the foundations of the family. Moriarty slowly reveals a more subtle story about the betrayals and challenges of family life, which works very well in the Apples Never Fall Peacock limited series.

Shogun by James Clavell

A book cover with a photograph of a pagoda gate
‘Shogun’ by James Clavell. Courtesy the publisher

James Clavell uses an English sailor, John Blackthorne, to explore feudal Japan in the 1600s. When Blackthorne lands on the coast of the hermetic Japanese territory, he is not welcome in a society of violent samurai, political greed, tested loyalties and ruthless revenge. Before fulfilling his destiny as a samurai, he must adjust to the new reality while struggling between two cultures. FX’s adaptation of the book for television is one of the most talked about entertainment phenomena of 2024 thanks to a unique framing with new nuances that enrich the historical story.

It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover

A book cover with a photograph of a pink bough of cherry blossoms
‘It Ends with Us’ by Colleen Hoover. Courtesy the publisher

Blake Lively (Gossip Girl) and Justin Baldoni (Jane the Virgin) star in the film adaptation of one of best-selling author Colleen Hoover’s most popular works. It Ends with Us, a viral BookTok hit, is an unconventional love story, with more colors than just pink. It has profound messages, emotionally intense situations and complex issues such as domestic and sexual violence. The storyline follows Lily, an aspiring florist, who falls in love with a stubborn neurosurgeon, as she struggles to put away a past that left a painful scar.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

A book cover with the title overlapping a large orange squiggle
‘Turtles All the Way Down’ by John Green. Courtesy the publisher

Another author with works frequently brought to film is John Green, acclaimed for developing complex themes of interest to young adults. Turtles All the Way Down (which was adapted for the screen by Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker and is scheduled for release next month) focuses on Aza Holmes, a teenager with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. She embarks on a journey of love and growth with her best friend as she attempts to track down the location of a missing billionaire in hopes of getting the reward.

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

A book cover with a cartoon of a small boy wearing a blue onesie drawing
‘Harold and the Purple Crayon’ by Crockett Johnson. Courtesy the publisher

Of all the properties one might bring to the big screen, this is a surprising choice. Harold, a curious and imaginative 4-year-old boy, brings to life everything he draws with his little purple crayon. His path of fantastic nighttime adventures leads him through a sweet and magical world in a story originally published in 1955. Yes, it is a children’s book, but one so many of us remember fondly—and we adults can benefit from getting in touch with our inner child to rekindle a playful creative spirit. The new live-action, artistic adventure adaptation stars Zachary Levi (Shazam) and Zooey Deschanel (New Girl).

Dune by Frank Herbert

A book cover with the word DUNE in large vertically oriented letters
‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert. Courtesy the publisher

Dune: Part Two is one of the major cinematic releases of this year, brilliantly assembled by Denis Villeneuve (Arrival). The saga seemed too complicated to transition from book to film, but Villeneuve proved it wasn’t impossible—he made a big play by adapting the first volume into two films with visually intense results. Frank Herbert’s mind-challenging futuristic work follows Paul Atreides, the heir to an inhospitable planet where water is a scarce commodity. If you want to get lost in a large world, this saga is for you, the literary universe of Dune is vast, with two trilogies originally written by Herbert and an additional trilogy added by his son, Brian Herbert.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

A book cover with a large semi-abstract eye in the center
‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley. Courtesy the publisher

Frankenstein has inspired some outstanding cinematic adaptations, as evidenced by the numerous films made about the scientist and his controversial scientific masterpiece—known in the village as the monster or the demonic creature. In 2024, a loose adaptation written by Diablo Cody (Juno) focuses on a young Goth girl (Lisa Frankenstein) who reanimates a Victorian-era corpse in an ‘80s throwback horror comedy that Observer called ‘twisted, horny and bloody fun.’ This is not the only upcoming adaptation; director Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) is currently working on his version of the famous novel that tackles themes of human nature and scientific morality. Before that hits the big screen, why not read the story that inspired it and so many others before it?

The Must-Read Books Behind the Biggest Screen Adaptations of 2024