Welcome to the year ‘21, y’all. In the spirit, we’ve compiled this list of 21 short films based on short stories for your enlightenment and enjoyment. You can usually find a short film based on a short story near the beginning of your favorite directors’ filmography. Similarly, many famous authors cut their teeth on the short story format when they were first starting out. Some of these shorts are obscure, some won Oscars, all are literary adaptations for film and that’s what we’re about. Enjoy!
1. ‘An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge’ by Ambrose Bierce
This short story by famous American writer Ambrose Bierce was originally published in 1862, exactly 100 years before the film adaptation. A haunting tale set during the American Civil War about a southern civilian who escapes a hanging at the hands of Union soldiers. The story was adapted to film in 1962 by French director Robert Enrico with an all-French cast and very little dialogue. Here’s where it gets weird…Producers at The Twilight Zone picked it up and aired the short as an episode in 1964 as part of their 5th season. Rob Serling, in his usual style, introduces the French short and cites the awards its won, namely at Cannes. Licensing the short and airing it as an episode saved The Twilight Zone over half of its production budget per episode.
2. ‘New Boy’ by Roddy Doyle
Irish writer Roddy Doyle’s story New Boy saw screen success with this Oscar-nominated short film adaptation from director Steph Green. The film is about a young boy’s transition from Africa to Ireland. As he acclimates to a foreign land, he can’t stop thinking of the life he left behind.
3. ‘The Egg” by Andy Weir
No, this isn’t the guy from The Grateful Dead. Nor is he the guy who directed The Truman Show. Andy Weir is a pioneer of modern self-publishing success. He’s a former computer programmer and part-time novelist plucked out of obscurity with the viral success of his debut novel The Martian. Remember the blockbuster film adaptation directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon? Yeah, that one. Weir’s words have been turned into cinema once again, this time with the short film Re-Entry by Dutch director, Ben Brand. Based on the short story The Egg, this film explores the idea of humans being eternal souls having a human experience. Described by Film Nosis as “…a crash course in empathy,” this film is notable for pulling off the ambitious premise of showing us what it’s like to get the answer to life’s biggest question directly from God.
4. ‘The Lottery’ by Shirley Jackson
A strange ritual in a small town. This notorious horror story by Shirley Jackson had its 1969 film debut in this 18 minute short from director Larry Yust. This film was originally produced for screening in high school and college English classes. Check it out, it’s weird!
5. ‘The Sin Of Jesus’ by Isaac Babel
This shoddy but still amazing short is legendary director Robert Frank’s follow-up to the obscure beat masterpiece Pull My Daisy. You know the one starring Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, David Amram, and so many others? If not, you must see that one too. This short film adaptation is almost impossible to find, but check out this excerpt–a national treasure!
6. ‘Denis The Pirate’ by Denis Johnson
This animated short from filmmaker Sam Messer is based on an obscure short story from Jesus’ Son author Denis Johnson. According to family lore, one of Johnson’s distant relatives was a pirate. Sam Messer, Johnson’s old friend and now associate dean of Yale’s art school, was inspired to animate the story. Messer’s 6-year-old daughter was enthralled with the pirate who smoked mushrooms and spoke animal languages. Fans of Johnson’s writing will be too. Check out this animated short narrated by Liev Schreiber.
7. ‘Healthy Start’ by Etgar Keret
Looking for an intro to Etgar Keret? Here’s a healthy start. Heyo! The New York Times describes this writer of touchingly absurd short stories like this– “If Kafka were Israeli and wrote about talking goldfish.” That sums it up beautifully. Keret is a modern writer of short stories and screenplays whose work has been featured in every notable publication imaginable, from High Times to The New York Times. The short film A New Man from director Hughes William Thompson derives inspiration from Keret’s story Healthy Start. A man assumes the identities of strangers at a local coffee shop to avoid loneliness after his wife leaves him. Damn, that’s sad…but also kind of hilarious. We’ve all seen this guy at our favorite coffee places, too.
8. ‘This Jealous Earth’ by Scott Dominic Carpenter
Book trailers are short films, too. Especially this one for Scott Dominic Carpenter’s collection of short stories, This Jealous Earth. In this brilliant short, a boozer reads a letter to his future self written when he was 15 years old. Directed by Justin Duval and produced by Film 14. This one will send a shiver up your spine. Check it out!
9. A Good Man Is Hard To Find by Flannery O’Connor
Flannery O’Connor earned her place as queen of the short story. A Good Man Is Hard To Find is a southern gothic masterpiece about random evil–or maybe fate? If you haven’t read it, do so now, for your own enrichment. Here is a wildly obscure 1992 horror adaptation Black Hearts Bleed Red by director Jeri Cain Rossi. Filmmaker Rossi is also a musician, having shared the stage with greats like Sonic Youth and The Birthday Party. Her adaptation of A Good Man Is Hard To Find features artist Joe Colman as The Misfit.
10. ‘Two Soldiers’ by William Faulkner
Aaron Schneider directs this 2003 Oscar-winning short film adaption of Faulkner’s story about two Mississippi brother’s reactions to Pearl Harbor. Featuring Ron Perlman! Schneider also directed the quirky Bill Murray/Robert Duvall period flick Get Low and last year’s Tom Hanks vehicle Greyhound.
11. ‘To Build a Fire’ by Jack London
Here’s a fun fact about The Call Of The Wild author, Jack London. He was one of the first American novelists to gain international celebrity and to acquire a large fortune from writing. This animated short by Fx Goby is based on London’s short story of the same name. Stranded in the midwinter Yukon wilderness, a trapper attempts to build a fire for survival.
12. ‘Concerning The Bodyguard’ by Donald Barthelme
Director Kasara Farahani adapted Donald Barthelme’s story about dictatorship and overthrow, narrated by another literary giant, Salman Rushdie. Concerning The Bodyguard explores the thoughts and loyalties of a bodyguard whose job is to protect an important and dubious leader. The film was part of the Official Selection at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.
13. ‘The Slows’ by Gale Hareven
Here’s an anthropological investigation from the distant future. In a world where humans are “accelerated” past childhood, a woman risks her life by studying a group of wilderness outsiders who still procreate the “slow” way. The Slows by Israeli author Gail Hareven was originally published in a 2004 print edition of The New Yorker. In 2018, director Nicole Perlman adapted it for the screen as a short that went on to premiere at the New York and San Francisco Film Festivals. It’s a haunting portrait of the possible results of a species attempting to evolve beyond nature. Human beings are just too smart for their own good…
14. ‘The Garden Party’ by Katherine Mansfield
This 1973 PBS special based on Katherine Mansfield’s short story was directed by Jack Shoulder. Shoulder went on to direct Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and many others. Featuring Jessica Harper from the original Suspiria.
15. ‘Make Me Do Things’ By Victoria Redel
This ominous book trailer for Victoria Redel’s collection of stories Make Me Do Things is a short film in itself. A boy watches in judgment of his inebriated handlers doing “the dead man’s float” over in the deep end. Directed by Justin Duval and produced by Film 14.
16. ‘The Foster Portfoilo’ by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Kurt Vonnegut is the king of absurdly poignant and bittersweet stories. The Foster Portfolio is no exception. This short story originally appeared in Vonnegut’s collection Welcome To The Monkey House. In 2017, filmmaker Danielle Katvan boldly adapted the story with her distinct voice and visual style. True to the era in which the story takes place, Katvan harnesses the midcentury look and feel of the ‘50s in a touching and tasteful way. A young investment counselor finds out his broke client is hiding a million-dollar inheritance to conceal his double life. Katvan’s short premiered at Tribeca, won best short at the San Diego Film Fest, honorable mention at Woodstock, and was part of the official selection at several other renowned festivals. Check it out, it’s worth twenty minutes of your time.
17. ‘Frost and Fire’ by Ray Bradbury
This story was originally published as The Creatures that Time Forgot in Bradbury’s 1946 collection R Is For Rocket. The story later became a wonderful sci-fi rarity from Elaine and Saul Bass simply called Quest. Saul Bass is famous for designing titles for countless films from cinema giants like Hitchcock, Scorsese, and many more. But did you know he and his wife directed this strange little short?
18. ‘We Ate the Children Last’ by Yann Martel
Who can resist a title like that? Get ready for some seriously deranged concepts with this short by Andrew Cividino, based on a story by Canadian author Yann Martel. Let’s just say you’ll never look at bacon the same again. This satirical short shows us what can happen when we get too used to playing God. More poignant now than ever, this story holds up a mirror–or a crystal ball–and forces us to look at where we could be headed. To say it’s disturbing is an understatement.
19. ‘The Model’ by Bernard Malamud
Jonathan Brough’s 1994 adaptation of Malamud’s short story was part of the Official Selection at Cannes. This story follows an insecure, lonely, elderly artist who invites a young model over to his house for a sitting. You know the French love their nudes.
20. ‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?’ by Joyce Carol Oates
This story is simply enraging, which makes it a rich source for drama. Spoiler alert: a pedophile kidnaps, rapes, and murders a 15 year old girl, but it’s all implied at the end. We don’t really know what happens after this weird bastard somewhere in his 30’s coaxes a naive and terrified 15 year girl out of her home. The story, and the film adaptation by director Jacob Turrentine, focuses on the process by which Arnold Friend manipulates Connie to leave her home and get inside his gold Cadillac with him and his equally-odd buddy. Joyce Carol Oates says it’s inspired by the lyrics to “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” and she dedicates the story to Bob Dylan. Oates’ short story also inspired the 1985 feature film Smooth Talk starring Laura Dern, as well as Rose McGowan’s short film Dawn.
21. ‘The Secret Number’ by Igor Teper
Here’s some light viewing about the ultimate nature of reality and the interconnectedness of all things. Igor Teper’s story centers around a mathematician obsessed with proving his theory about a secret integer that exists between 3 and 4. This short film adaptation directed by Colin Levy, with a crew of filmmakers from the Savannah College of Art and Design, took two years to make. Fans of brain-breaking psychological thrillers like Darren Aronofsky’s Pi will enjoy this one.
We couldn’t leave this one out, because who doesn’t love Bukowski?
‘Bluebird’ by Charles Bukowski
What a badass poem to offer an homage to in a short film. Bluebird by Charles Bukowski gets its screen debut in this short directed by Oliver Ridge and starring Academy Award nominee, Eric Roberts. Ridge says the film is “a labor of love and is not for profit in any way, shape, or form.” Basically, he just loves Bukowski and wants to get more people to read his poems. A noble pursuit, indeed. Fun fact: the short features cameos from authors Jonathan Shaw drinking with Film 14’s Adam Cushman.
If you enjoyed this piece, check out The 14 Most Insane Book Trailers Ever!
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