Jon Land's 10 Best Bone Chilling Book-to-Film Thrillers

The bestselling author and father of the technothriller shares his favorite adaptations for creepy thrills.

  • Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

With the release of Stephen King’s It looming in the air and bringing us fright before the Halloween season, it is only customary to revisit some of the best book-to-screen adaptations of all time. From those that stunned us to those that gripped our hearts, we revisit these novels from many bestselling authors and the movies that lived up to their name.

Buy The Godfather at Amazon

The Godfather

By Mario Puzo

According to legend, producer Robert Evans bought the rights to the book before Mario Puzo had even finished it, and proceeded to shepherd a faithful adaptation that many consider to be the best film ever made. Francis Ford Coppola received the lion’s share of the credit for that, but everything he put on the screen is drawn straight out of the book. From the opening wedding reception to the blood-soaked finale, this cinema classic is chock full of the themes that turned a gangster story into a Shakespearean masterpiece.

Watch the movie here. 

Buy Jaws at Amazon


By Peter Benchley

Steven Spielberg diverted just enough from Peter Benchley’s huge bestseller to turn a simple monster movie into a blockbuster that changed film forever. The lack of a working mechanical shark taught audiences that less is more, the scenes shot from the shark’s POV (coupled with the steady beat of the John Williams score) perhaps the most imitated in film. This reinvention of Moby Dick at its heart is an exploration of machismo and the nature of heroism in the hands of a filmmaker discovering his own greatness.

Watch the movie here. 

Buy The Exorcist at Amazon

The Exorcist

By William Peter Blatty

Perhaps the most faithful adaptation ever, this is also rightfully considered the scariest film ever made. William Peter Blatty’s one-sitting, much-imitated horror tale was adapted by William Friedkin into a masterwork of elegantly paced terror. An exploration of faith set against an archetypal battle between good and evil and featuring some of the most famous scenes and one of the greatest openings in film history.

Watch the movie here. 

Buy Marathon Man at Amazon

Marathon Man

By William Goldman

The film was every bit the equal of William Goldman’s seminal thriller about Nazis in New York menacing grad student Babe Levy, as played by Dustin Hoffman so well that we forgot he was much too old for the role. We lose Goldman’s iconic portrayal of the deadly assassin Scylla from the book, but the torture scene played with Mephistophelean menace by the great Lawrence Oliver is a cinema tour de force that did for going to the dentist what Jaws did for swimming in the ocean.

Watch the movie here.

Buy The Boys from Brazil at Amazon

The Boys from Brazil

By Ira Levin

Ira Levin’s cutting edge thriller about Hitler clones running rampant across the globe gave us Lawrence Oliver (again) playing a Nazi hunter who comes to the shattering realization that the Fourth Reich is alive and well under the leadership of Josef Mengele as envisioned by Gregory Peck. An archetypal prologue opens the door to the unraveling of a monstrous mystery pealed back, in book and film, one magical layer at a time.

Watch the movie here. 

Buy Rosemary's Baby at Amazon

Rosemary's Baby

By Ira Levin

Speaking of Ira Levin, he rewrote the rules for the modern horror thriller in this classic that were similarly rewritten by Roman Polanski in the film version. Mia Farrow passed on joining then husband Frank Sinatra in The Detective to play the role that made her a star. She appears in every single scene of this terrifying treatise on urban paranoia where the neighbors next door are witches who want to steal your baby, only to learn it’s even worse than that. And that final scene, when Rosemary meets her baby for the first time, remains one of the most powerful in film history.

Watch the movie here. 

Buy The Silence of the Lambs at Amazon

The Silence of the Lambs

By Thomas Harris

Essentially a sequel to Red Dragon (made into the equally great Manhunter), this masterpiece of psychological horror features true star turns by both Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster faithfully playing Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling. A riveting cat-and-mouse game comprised of riveting moments of repartee and, oh man, that scene where Lecter stages his jaw-dropping escape.

Watch the movie here. 

Buy Six Days of the Condor at Amazon

Six Days of the Condor

By James Grady

One of the great political thrillers ever made chopped three days from a solid book by James Grady in fashioning the quintessential tale to emerge from the paranoia spurred by Watergate. Like Babe Levy, our hero is an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances he can’t control but ultimately does. How great is the movie? I’ve probably seen it a dozen times and still can’t make sense of everything. Worth watching just for the final encounter between Redford and Max Von Sydow’s deadly assassin Joubert, so memorable for what follows the line, “It will happen like this…”

Watch the movie here. 

Buy The Fury at Amazon

The Fury

By John Farris

John Farris’ taut, twisty paranormal thriller as reimagined by Brian DePalma, this might be the best Hitchcock film Hitchcock didn’t make. Blessed by a haunting score by John Williams, this perfectly paced shocker contains as many memorable scenes as any movie of its kind. Way ahead of its time and distinguished by a brilliantly villainous turn by the great John Cassavetes that will blow your mind (Pun intended!).

Watch the movie here. 

Buy Seven Days in May at Amazon

Seven Days in May

By Fletcher Knebel

A screenplay by the great Rod Serling from the novel by Fletcher Knebel, and star turns by Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas as antagonists, imagines a coup d’etat in Washington that remains shockingly credible to this day. This one spawned numerous lesser imitations that didn’t even come close to measuring up to an all-too plausible plot to realize the unthinkable.

Watch the movie here. 

Buy The Omega Command at Amazon

The Omega Command

By Jon Land

A space shuttle is destroyed during flight, and the CIA recalls disgraced agent Blaine McCracken to uncover the people responsible.

"Land is one of the best all-out action writers in the business." —Los Angeles Review of Books

Buy Pandora's Temple at Amazon

Pandora's Temple

By Jon Land

What if Pandora’s Box were real? Blaine McCracken finds himself facing this very question—and the greatest threat to mankind—in his long-awaited return to the page.

"Jon Land’s imagination is a wonder to behold. He’s a seasoned veteran whose characters seem like old friends, and Blaine McCracken—a man with grit and determination—is just that. This one should be mandatory reading for all thriller aficionados." —Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author

Buy The Tenth Circle at Amazon

The Tenth Circle

By Jon Land

Blaine McCracken races to stop terrorists from unleashing an ancient weapon of unimaginable power at the president’s State of the Union speech.

"A knockout thriller blending history, cutting-edge science, and nonstop action. Ancient mysteries, ghost ships, and a modern threat like no other...this is a novel that grips you by the throat and refuses to let go until the last page." —James Rollins, New York Times–bestselling author

This article originally appeared on BookTrib., “Where Readers Meet Writers,” is a network for readers and writers to make a connection and keep books alive in a distracted world. Created by Meryl Moss Media, a literary PR firm with a successful 25-year track record. 

Featured Still from "Marathon Man" via Paramount Pictures

Published on 12 Sep 2017