“The Lottery” and More Short Stories on the Big Screen

Last month, Paramount announced a feature-length adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” a famously chilling short story that featured a sacrificial lottery, children-on-children violence, and a cruel, opaque government 60 years before the The Hunger Games. This marks the fourth time the tale has been made into a movie; the penultimate time, NBC cast Keri Russell and Dan Cortese in the lead roles[Ed. note: !!!!!] 

Short stories don’t get full-length film adaptations as often as novels—maybe because short stories are, you know, short. The following films, with source material linked to their Booklist reviews when available, relied on the form.


Arrival (2016)

This celebrated film follows Amy Adams through her past, present, and future as she attempts to communicate with aliens and stave off an escalating global crisis. It’s  based on the title story of Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others (2002), a thought-provoking collection under-girded by rigorous attention to science—Chiang researched linguistics for five years before writing his Nebula Award-winning novella.


Brokeback Mountain (2005)

I wish I knew how to quit crying over this tragic romance starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. The movie closely follows Annie Proulx’s original short story from Close Range: Wyoming Stories (1999). Proulx lived most of her life in the Northeast, but a year spent in Wyoming formed the seed of three of her short story collections.


Certain Women (2016)

Kelly Reichardt based this much-lauded feature on not one but two of Maile Meloy’s story collections: Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It (2009) and Half in Love (2003).


Hateship Loveship (2015)

Alice Munro is known for her delicate, precise renderings of ordinary life. Kristen Wiig is more known for her hilarious SNL sketches, but I ship her in this star-studded film (which you can catch on Netflix), an adaptation of Munro’s classic 2002 collection, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage.”

Bonus Munro short-story adaptation: The 2015 compilation Family Furnishings (2015) includes “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” the quietly devastating source material for the movie Away from Her.


The Safety of Objects (2001)

This ensemble picture, based on A. M. Homes’ collection of the same name (1990), didn’t get the greatest reviews. But you can’t blame director Rose Troche for falling in love with Homes’ bleakly absurd vision of suburban malaise, which sometimes inspires people to develop special feelings for Barbie dolls.


Sea Oak (2017)

This Amazon original series based on George Saunders’ short story of the same name was unfortunately short-lived: After airing the pilot episode in a battle royale of comedies, Amazon Studios decided not to renew the show.

But “Sea Oak” and the rest of the short stories in Pastoralia (2000) are unparalleled—Saunders depicts zombies, self-help gurus and off-kilter amusement parks with mordant wit and deep humanity. Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman acquired the rights to his Booker Prize–winning Lincoln in the Bardo (2017), so hopefully the Aunt Bernie-sized hole in our hearts will soon be filled.


Short Cuts (1993)

Fun fact! Robert Altman wrote the introduction for a movie tie-in collection of the nine Raymond Carver stories upon which this classic American film is based.


The Swimmer (1968)

Watch as a shirtless Burt Lancaster swims through suburban yards in this camp classic, based on a 1964 John Cheever story of the same name, appearing in any number of the ten million editions of Cheever’s collected stories.

About the Author:

I'm a summer intern with Booklist and an MFA candidate at Bowling Green State University.

Post a Comment