#Movies & TV

15 Banned Books that Became Popular Movies

by Jennifer Lafferty

15 Banned Books that Became Popular Movies

It’s surprising how many hit movies have been based on books that were banned at some point. Ironically, labeling a book as scandalous usually makes us want to read it or see the film adaptation even more.


The Great Gatsby



Jazz Age romance The Great Gatsby (1925), was challenged by a Baptist college in 1987 for “language and sexual references“. Robert Redford starred in the popular 1974 adaptation. Leonardo DiCaprio played Gatsby in the hit 2013 remake.


Of Mice and Men



John Steinbeck’s Depression-era classic Of Mice and Men is frequently banned by schools, while countless others encourage students to read it. The memorable 1939 film adaptation starred Lon Chaney Jr. as mentally disabled migrant worker, Lennie.


Black Hawk Down



The compelling 2001 military drama Black Hawk Down, starring Josh Hartnett and Ewan McGregor was based on Mark Bowden’s book, depicting the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu. A Louisiana high school banned the book in 2008 for profanity.


The Color Purple



Banned for sexually explicit and offensive language and homosexuality, Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple, about struggling black women in the 1930s South, was the basis for Steven Spielberg’s film starring Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg.


Slaughterhouse Five



The 1972 sci-fi dramedy Slaughterhouse Five is based on Kurt Vonnegut’s acclaimed novel about a WWII soldier who uncontrollably travels back and forth through time, which was banned in multiple high schools for strong sexual content and profanity.


To Kill a Mockingbird



Harper Lee’s great American coming-of-age classic To Kill a Mockingbird was banned several times in the 2000’s for offensive language and racism. The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel became an equally popular 1962 film starring Gregory Peck.


The Hunger Games



Dystopian survival series The Hunger Games launched one of the most successful franchises of movies ever, but not everyone’s a fan. Some reasons the books were banned or challenged include: anti-family and anti-ethic themes, violence, offensive language, and occult/satanic influence.





While many books don’t stir controversy until years after publication, Lolita was being banned from the beginning. The famous 1962 film adaptation stars James Mason as a middle-aged man who has a sexual relationship with his adolescent stepdaughter.


From Here to Eternity



Not only was the passionate beach scene in 1953’s From Here to Eternity edited for many theaters due to its eroticism, but the book itself was censored by the publisher, who removed all references to homosexuality.


One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest



The groundbreaking 1975 hit One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, starring Jack Nicholson as a career criminal turned troublemaking mental patient, was based on Ken Kesey’s book and banned for the fear of corrupting minors by glorifying criminal activity.


The Grapes of Wrath



John Steinbeck novels were often lightning rods for controversy, including The Grapes of Wrath, adapted to the classic 1940 drama starring Henry Fonda, in one of his most famous roles. The book was banned and in some cases burned.


Gone With the Wind



Widely considered to be one of the greatest films ever made, this Oscar-winning Civil War romance saga was based on Margaret Mitchell’s runaway bestseller, which has been banned or challenged for language, depiction of prostitution and racial insensitivity.





Ironically, 1984, which forewarns readers of a society filled with totalitarian censorship, has itself been censored many times. George Orwell’s 1949 novel, which spawned the 1985 film adaptation, was challenged by parents in Jackson County, Florida for being pro-communist.


American Psycho



This dark satire featuring rape, torture and cannibalism, was very controversial and the Australian government “restricted” it, saying the novel could only be sold “in a sealed wrapper and to adults”. Christian Bale starred in the 2000 film adaptation.


Harry Potter series



The Harry Potter movies starring Daniel Radcliffe were enormously popular. But many parents were memorably outraged by J.K. Rowling’s novels, with one group trying to stage a book burning, saying the books promoted “violence, witchcraft and devil worship”.


Sophie’s Choice



One of Meryl Streep’s most powerful films is the 1982 Holocaust survivor drama Sophie’s Choice. In 2001 the novel by William Styron was pulled from a high school library in La Mirada, CA because of its “sexual content“.