10 films based on Russian books that became Hollywood classics

Sophie Marceau, Audrey Hepburn, and Liv Tyler starred as famous Russian characters.

1. Anna Karenina (1997)

“All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This is the opening of one of the most emotional of Leo Tolstoy’s novel and the most screened Russian classic.  “Karenina” seems to have been written according to a classic Hollywood scenario: a beautiful 30-year-old woman breaks social taboos for the sake of love and gets what she wants, but ultimately pays with her life. The novel was screened many times, by Russian and foreign directors. The 1997 drama starred Sophie Marceau, was mostly filmed in St. Petersburg and partly produced by Mel Gibson’s company. Some scenes were also shot at locations in Moscow; for example, one scene was at the Novodevichy monastery, the spectacular medieval Moscow architectural ensemble.

2. War and Peace (1956)

“War and Peace” is an epic novel screened several times since 1913. “War and Peace” follows the interlocking stories of four aristocratic families in the periods before, during and after Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.

In 1956, Audrey Hepburn starred as Natasha Rostova, and the movie immediately was included in the must-see list of Hollywood films.

3. Onegin (1999)

This adaptation of the classic Russian novel written by Alexander Pushkin was shot in St. Petersburg. The plot is a loose interpretation of the original story, and the movie got mixed reviews. However, some might recall eye-catching performances by Ralph Fiennes as Onegin and Liv Tyler as Tatyana, especially the ice skating scene with both on the Neva River.

4. The Brothers Karamazov (1958)

This movie is based on the Fyodor Dostoevsky novel that shows tensions in the Karamazov family at the end of the 19th century. When Fyodor, the family head, tries to decide an heir, it starts a conflict between his sons. Acts of violence lead to the story's conclusion: trials of honor, conscience, forgiveness and redemption.

5. Two Lovers (2008)

This kind and touching drama inspired by Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s short story, “White Nights,” tells about a young man who falls in love with the girl next door. However, his parents want him to marry another woman, and he is torn between loyalty to his parents and to his true love.

6. Doctor Zhivago (1965)

This epic romance is set amid the backdrop of the Russian Revolution. Director David Lean’s “Doctor Zhivago” (1965), which stars Omar Sharif and iconic British actress Julie Christie, is one of cinema’s greatest love stories and won five Academy Awards.

Medical student Yuri Zhivago meets the beautiful Lara, setting in motion a fateful romance that turns their lives upside down. “Doctor Zhivago” portrays an intensely human and passionate relationship, challenged by the politics of tradition and war.

7. Lolita (1962)

This black and white movie directed by the legendary Stanley Kubrick is based on Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, but in fact, the author was also the screenwriter. The story is about the relationship between a middle-aged professor and a prepubescent girl. The director toned down the more provocative aspects of the novel, for example, increasing the age of the girl from 12 to 15. Also, Kubrick changed the order of some events. 

8. The Inspector General (1949)

This musical comedy directed by Henry Koster is based on Nikolai Gogol’s play. A young gypsy comes to a town, which is overwhelmed by corruption. The mayor and his administration believe the visitor to be the Inspector General and try to bribe him. Everything becomes clear in the end.

9. The Sea Gull (1968)

The film is considered the best foreign adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s play. The story is complicated: Medvedenko loves Masha, Masha likes Treplev, Treplev loves Nina, Nina loves Trigorin, and Trigorin loves no one. The world-famous story is one of love, indifference, and disintegration of the human soul.

10. Lover’s Prayer (2001)

The romantic drama with Kirsten Dunst is based on Ivan Turgenev’s novel, “First Love,” and the “Wife,” a story by Anton Chekhov. The young man falls in love with the girl next door, but she falls in love with his father. The movie was the last by leading cameraman David Watkin.

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