Eleven crime thriller film adaptations everyone needs to see

Posted by CCA International on

Over the decades crime stories continue to keep bookworms page-turning and movie buffs nail-biting. And when the two forms combine, the results are thrilling. Delve into our selection of these fantastic crime novels that became great films…

Mystic River

Author: Dennis Lehane, 2001
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, who won Oscars for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively. Also starring Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden.

It's a must watch because:

Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon play childhood friends whose lives are shattered when Penn's daughter is brutally murdered. Heartbroken, he is hell bent on revenge. But, as police and family members conduct their own investigations, suspicion begins to fall close to home.

Detective thrillers don't come more suspenseful than this!


Brighton Rock

Author: Graham Greene, 1938 (who also adapted the screenplay)
Director: John Boulting
Cast: Richard Attenborough, Hermione Baddeley, William Hartnell and Carol Marsh

It's a must watch because:

A baby-faced gangster charms an impressionable waitress into giving him with an alibi for a murder. She falls madly in love with him, which ultimately leads to his downfall.

It's arguably one of the most sinister crime films ever made in Britain!



Strangers on a Train

Author: Patricia Highsmith
Director: Alfred Hitchcock

It's a must watch because:

Two men, an architect and a tennis champion, meet by chance on a train and their lives become entangled after one of them proposes they ‘trade’ murders. The fairground scene is as nail-biting as you can get!

A classic and much-mimicked psychological thriller by the mistress of the genre, Patricia Highsmith.


LA Confidential

Author: James Ellroy, 1990
Director: Curtis Hanson
Cast: Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger and Danny DeVito

It's a must watch because:

Three cops – an ambitious rookie, a hard-boiled veteran and a smooth operator more interested in being in the limelight than serving the law – investigate a murder massacre in a diner. Their hunt for the perpetrators unravel crime and corruption in the police force.

Slick neo-noir drama set in 1950s Hollywood.



To Kill a Mockingbird

Author: Harper Lee
Cast: Gregory Peck and Robert Duvall

It's a must watch because:

It's not a crime thriller in the traditional sense. But there are people who are wronged in this novel, and one man fights to right the wrongs.

Atticus Finch, a lawyer risks the wrath of his community in a racist Alabama town when he agrees to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman. As he tries to protect his curious children from the case's disturbing undertones, Jem and Scout also have to confront their fear of a local recluse, Boo Radley.

Universally loved Oscar winning Depression-era drama adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning novel.


No Country for Old Men

Author: Cormac McCarthy, 2005
Director: The Coen Brothers
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson and Javier Bardem, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor

It's a must watch because:

A Texan chancer who takes a stash of cash he finds abandoned at the site of a botched drug deal is pursued across the state by a relentless and unforgettable hitman who has no qualms about killing witnesses along the way. Tommy Lee Jones is the world-weary sheriff left to pick up the pieces and make sense of the chain of violence.

The cat-and-mouse Western-style thriller won four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.


Get Carter

Author: Originally titled Jack's Return Home by Ted Lewis, 1970
Director: Mike Hodges
Cast: Michael Caine, Ian Hendry, Britt Ekland, Glynn Edwards and John Osborne.

It's a must watch because:

London gangster Jack Carter returns to his native Newcastle to attend his brother's funeral and investigate the circumstances surrounding his suspicious death. As events unfold, he uncovers his teenage niece involved in a blue-movie racket, and finds himself on a collision-course with a criminal thug and his cronies.

A tough British thriller and a story of raw revenge, with a suitably hip soundtrack.


The Shawshank Redemption

Author: Adapted from the novella, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King, 1982
Director: Frank Darabont
Cast: Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman

It's a must watch because:

An innocent banker is wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover, and over the course of a life sentence he forms a close friendship with a fellow inmate. He also earns a position of trust as book-keeper to the corrupt prison governor – but faces danger as he tries to clear his name.

A good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth yarn about friendship, ignored when it was released in 1994, that's become a modern classic.


The Talented Mr Ripley

Author: Patricia Highsmith
Director: Anthony Minghella
Cast: Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Cate Blanchett

It's a must watch because:

Matt Damon plays Ripley, a young opportunist hired by a businessman to find and persuade his spoiled son to return home. Dickie Greenleaf is living up his carefree playboy lifestyle in Europe, amongst the fellow rich and beautiful. Ripley establishes a friendship with Dickie, and gradually comes to enjoy and envy the high life he shares with his glamorous girlfriend (Gwyneth Paltrow). And, it’s a lifestyle he'll take drastic measures to maintain.

The second adaptation by Patricia Highsmith! Like we said above, she's undoubtedly the godmother of the psychological thriller…


The Maltese Falcon

Author: Dashiell Hammett, 1930
Director: John Huston
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet

It's a must watch because:

Cynical private eye Sam Spade is drawn into a dangerous hunt for a mysterious statuette following his partner's murder.

Classic hard-boiled film noir crime drama, zinging with sharp dialogue, starring the inimitable Humphrey Bogart.

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

Author: Agatha Christie, 1934
Director: Sidney Lumet
Cast: Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York, John Gielgud and Ingrid Bergman, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

It's a must watch because:

It features Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and his little grey cells. It's by Agatha Christie. And it features a cast to light up the planet. What more do you want?

This version, it must be said, is considered to be the greatest adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel for the big screen – ever.

Take a look at our collection of Agatha Christie adaptations



Browse our extensive collection of crime adaptations – and take a look at all our classic and modern literary adaptations.

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