Entertainment

08.20.13

Elmore Leonard’s Best Movie and TV Adaptations: ‘Out of Sight,’ ‘Get Shorty,’ ‘Justified,’ and More

Novelist Elmore Leonard has passed away at 87. His pulpy brand of crime fiction will live on not only in paperback form, but also on the silver screen. Here are the finest movie—and TV—adaptations of Leonard’s celebrated literary canon.

Elmore Leonard, the acclaimed author of 45 novels, 9 screenplays, and 3 short stories, passed away this morning in the Detroit area from complications following a stroke. He was 87 years old.

The writer suffered a stroke back on July 29, and today his researcher wrote on Leonard’s official Facebook page, “The post I dreaded to write, and you dreaded to read. Elmore passed away at 7:15 this morning from complications from his stroke. He was at home surrounded by his loving family.”

Though he started out penning Westerns, Leonard was later regarded as a master in the genre of crime fiction, and his witty potboilers made for perfect movie fruit, leading to a diverse array of stellar film adaptations. Here are the best.

Out of Sight (1998)

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Steven Soderbergh’s neo-noir is based on Leonard’s novel of the same name, published in 1996. The crime comedy centered on Jack Foley (George Clooney), a suave bank robber and escaped convict, who becomes embroiled in a heist targeting his former prison mate, Ripley (Albert Brooks), a wealthy businessman. He’s being pursued—both personally and professionally—by U.S. marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez), as well as the vicious boxer-criminal Maurice Miller, played by Don Cheadle. Out of Sight is stylish, sexy, and clever as all hell. It was not only nominated for two Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay, but also took the relatively unproven Clooney and made him … Clooney. The actor still considers it his best film.

Get Shorty (1995)

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Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, and adapted from Leonard’s 1990 novel of the same name, this slick comedy caper followed Chili Palmer (John Travolta), a cool Miami-based loan shark—and movie buff—who, while attempting to get a movie made about one of his marks, bumps heads with a bumbling crime boss (the late Dennis Farina), an idiotic cult movie producer (Gene Hackman), his former flame/actress (Rene Russo), an A-list movie star (Danny DeVito), another thug (Delroy Lindo), and his clumsy bodyguard/a former stuntman (the late James Gandolfini). The hilarious satire on Hollywood is now regarded as a crime-comedy classic.

3:10 to Yuma (1957)

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Based on a 1953 short story by Leonard, this Delmer Daves Western is set in the 1880s Arizona Territory and follows Dan Evans (Van Heflin), a desperate rancher and family man, who accepts $200 to transport the notorious criminal-prisoner Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) on the 3:10 train to Yuma. He’s joined by the town drunk, Alex Potter (Henry Jones), and along the way, the trio exchanges bullets with Wade’s long list of enemies, as well as the members of his brutal gang. The film features crisp black-and-white cinematography, great suspense, and a winning turn by Ford, playing against type as the villain. James Mangold directed a remake of the film in 2007, starring Christian Bale as Evans and Russell Crowe as Wade.

Justified (2010–)

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One of the most underrated dramas on television, this F/X series is based on Leonard’s novels Pronto and Riding the Rap, as well as his short story “Fire in the Hole,” and centers on Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), a tough-as-nails, cowboy-esque U.S. marshal who exhibits his own, quick-draw brand of justice in his hometown in Harlan County, Kentucky. The series has received heaps of critical acclaim—including two Emmy wins—and Leonard, who served as an executive producer on the show, considered it one of the best adaptations of his work.

Jackie Brown (1997)

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Quentin Tarantino and Elmore Leonard, talk about a perfect union. This crime-comedy is based on Leonard’s 1992 novel Rum Punch, and centers on Jackie Brown (Pam Grier), a flight attendant who’s forced to smuggle money from Mexico to the U.S. for crime boss Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson). When she’s nabbed by an A.T.F. agent (Michael Keaton), Jackie cuts a deal with the authorities to help them capture Ordell, and convinces Ordell she’ll lead on the authorities and smuggle his money safely. However, Jackie’s real plan is to double-cross everybody with the help of her bail bondsman, Max Cherry (Robert Forster). This homage to Blaxploitation cinema also stars Robert De Niro, Bridget Fonda, and Chris Tucker, and the late Roger Ebert declared it one of the best movies of 1997.

Mr. Majestyk (1974)

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Richard Fleischer’s action film is based on an original screenplay by Leonard, who later wrote a novelization of the movie. The film follows Vince Majestyk (Charles Bronson), a former U.S. Army Ranger instructor and Vietnam veteran turned watermelon farmer who, during a botched prison escape, gets caught up with Frank Renda (Al Lettieri), a hit man for the mob, and tries to broker a deal to exchange Renda to the police for a reward. But Renda escapes and vows revenge on Majestyk, leading to the mother of all showdowns. This over-the-top genre film boasts a fine lead performance by Bronson, exhilarating action scenes, and some so-bad-it’s-good dialogue. Quentin Tarantino is a huge fan of the film, and referenced it in his screenplay to the 1993 film True Romance.