What Are Some Popular Book Titles That Are in the Public Domain?


This post is by Jason Hellerman from No Film School

When it comes to screenwriting and directing, sometimes I am envious of the people who get to write adaptations. You’re given so much material to play with. And you then can pick and choose what parts of the story make the best narrative.

Well, for many of us, it’s going to be impossible to get our hands on the next best seller, but what we have access to is just as valuable.

We can use the Public Domain, or stories that have fallen out of the protection of copyright.

Today, I want to go over some popular titles you can use to adapt into your own stories.

Let’s take a look.


What Are Some Popular Titles That Are in the Public Domain?

There are many popular stories that are in the public domain, meaning they are no longer under copyright protection and can be freely used and adapted by anyone.

Here are some examples of well-known stories that are in the public domain:

  1. “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll: This classic tale follows the adventures of Alice as she falls into a fantastical world filled with peculiar characters and bizarre events.
  2. “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen: Jane Austen’s beloved novel explores themes of love, class, and societal expectations through the romantic relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.
  3. “Dracula” by Bram Stoker: This iconic Gothic horror novel introduced the world to Count Dracula, the vampire who has become a cultural icon.
  4. “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley: Mary Shelley’s novel tells the story of Victor Frankenstein and his creation, the monster, and explores themes of science, morality, and human nature.
  5. “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” by Arthur Conan Doyle: These detective stories feature the brilliant detective Sherlock Holmes and his loyal friend Dr. John Watson as they solve a series of intriguing mysteries.
  6. “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde: This novel delves into themes of vanity and moral decay as it tells the story of Dorian Gray, a man who remains youthful while his portrait ages and reflects his sins.
  7. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving: This short story introduces the character of Ichabod Crane and the infamous Headless Horseman in a tale of supernatural terror.
  8. “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott: This classic novel follows the lives of the four March sisters as they grow up during the American Civil War and navigate the challenges of womanhood.
  9. “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London: This adventure novel tells the story of a dog named Buck who is thrust into the harsh wilderness of the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush.
  10. “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling: These stories about Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves in the Indian jungle, have captivated readers for generations.
  11. “Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville: This novel tells the epic tale of Captain Ahab’s obsessive quest to hunt down the white whale, Moby-Dick, and explores themes of vengeance and the human spirit.
  12. “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas: This adventure novel follows the story of Edmond Dantès, who seeks revenge against those who wronged him after being unjustly imprisoned.
  13. “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Set in 17th-century Puritan Massachusetts, this novel explores themes of sin, guilt, and redemption as it tells the story of Hester Prynne, who wears a scarlet letter “A” as a mark of shame.
  14. “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë: This classic novel follows the life of Jane Eyre, an orphan who becomes a governess and falls in love with her employer, Mr. Rochester, in a story of love, morality, and social class.
  15. “The War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells: This science fiction novel tells the story of an alien invasion of Earth and has been adapted into various media, including radio broadcasts and films.
  16. “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain: This novel follows the mischievous adventures of Tom Sawyer in the fictional town of St. Petersburg, Missouri.
  17. “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë: This novel is a dark and passionate tale of love and revenge on the Yorkshire moors, centered around the enigmatic Heathcliff and his love for Catherine Earnshaw.
  18. “The Hound of the Baskervilles” by Arthur Conan Doyle: Another Sherlock Holmes story, this novel involves a mysterious curse and a terrifying hound on the desolate moors of Devonshire.
  19. “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells: In this science fiction novella, a Victorian scientist invents a machine that allows him to travel through time and explores the distant future.
  20. “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum: The first book in the Oz series, this story follows the adventures of Dorothy Gale in the magical land of Oz as she seeks to return home.

These stories offer a diverse range of genres and themes for those interested in exploring classic literature that is in the public domain.

Why Should Filmmakers Use Public Domain Ideas?

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As I mentioned at the top, there are lots of reasons filmmakers should use public domain ideas in their work. Using public domain books for movies and TV is a smart idea because it provides cost savings, creative freedom, and access to timeless and culturally significant stories.

It allows filmmakers to tap into a vast pool of source material that can inspire fresh interpretations and engage both new and existing audiences.

  • They’re free to use. Public domain works are free. This can significantly reduce the cost of acquiring the rights to adapt a story, which is often one of the most expensive aspects of filmmaking.
  • You can reinterpret stories. Filmmakers have the creative freedom to adapt, modify, and reinterpret public domain works as they see fit. This flexibility allows for innovative storytelling and unique adaptations.
  • These are tried and true stories. Adapting public domain works can introduce classic literature to new generations of viewers who might not have otherwise encountered these stories.
  • The themes are timeless. Many public domain books explore universal themes and ideas that remain relevant today, making them adaptable to contemporary settings and issues.
  • The material is diverse. The public domain encompasses a wide range of genres, styles, and cultures, allowing filmmakers to explore diverse storytelling traditions and perspectives.

From the fantastical realms of Lewis Carroll and Jane Austen’s romantic sagas to the mysterious adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle and the thought-provoking works of classic authors, these narratives remain a wellspring of creativity for filmmakers.

The public domain offers a wealth of material waiting for you to adapt, reimagine, and bring to life on the silver screen.

Now, go get writing.