Here are some short stories that have inspired or been adapted into movies or films. For short stories that were made into TV episodes, see:
Short Stories Made Into Movies
“The Sentinel” by Arthur C. Clarke
Wilson relates his experiences from a lunar expedition. They were well prepared for any emergency. Everything was as expected until Wilson saw a glint on a far away mountain. He and his assistant, Garnett, decided to check it out.
This story, which inspired the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, can be read in the preview of Explorers: SF Adventures to Far Horizons. (12% into preview)
“Spurs” by Tod Robbins
Jacques is a dwarf employed by a circus. He has no friends. He becomes infatuated with a fellow performer, Jeanne, a bareback horse rider. One day, Jacques inherits an estate after his prosperous uncle dies. He uses this gain to attract Jeanne. (Freaks, 1932)
This story can be read in the preview of The Best American Noir of the Century.
“All You Zombies” by Robert A. Heinlein
A young man explains to a bartender that he was born a girl. He (she) gave birth to a child and there were complications. The doctors noticed he (she) was a hermaphrodite and performed an emergency sex-change operation. (Predestination, 2014)
A lot of this story can be read in the preview of “All You Zombies—”: Five Classic Stories.
“The Lady with the Dog” by Anton Chekhov
Dmitri is unhappily married, unfaithful to his wife, and has a low opinion of women. While on vacation he meets a young woman, also married, and they have an affair. After Dmitri returns to his routine he finds that he can’t stop thinking about her. (Adapted into the 1960 movie of the same name, and partly inspired the 1987 movie Dark Eyes)
This story can be read in the preview of Stories of Anton Chekhov.
“Johnny Mnemonic” by William Gibson
Johnny preps his shotgun and heads for the Drome bar. His last client, Ralfi, has put out a contract on him. Johnny has to settle it. It seems the information stored in his head was stolen from dangerous people. They want it gone. The presence of Ralfi’s bodyguard complicates things. (Johnny Mnemonic, 1995)
“Johnny Mnemonic” can be read in the preview of Cyberpunk: Stories of Hardware, Software, Wetware, Revolution and Evolution.
“The Gift of Cochise” by Louis L’Amour
Angie Lowe stands in her cabin doorway with a shotgun. A group of Apaches face the cabin, including Cochise, the leader. Angie has killed several of his men defending her property. They talk about her husband, her children, and her right to live there. (Hondo, 1953)
This story can be read in the preview of A Century of Great Western Short Stories. (22% in)
“Steel” by Richard Matheson
Kelly and Pole board a train with a large covered object. They get it to their seat with difficulty. They talk about getting their cargo new parts. It’s an old model, though, so it won’t be easy. Pole thinks it’s worn out, and won’t be able to take any hits. Kelly thinks there’s still plenty left in it. They’re headed for a bout. (Real Steel, 2011)
The beginning of “Steel” can be read in Steel: And Other Stories.
“Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” by Alice Munro
Johanna goes to the train station and arranges to send a load of furniture to Gdynia, and to buy a ticket for herself to the same place. Johanna is the housekeeper for Mr. McCauley and his granddaughter, Sabitha. Sabitha’s mother is dead and her father, Ken, lives elsewhere. Johanna and Ken have corresponded a bit through Sabitha’s letters. Johanna is making big plans although nothing definite has been agreed to. (Hateship, Loveship, 2014)
Some of this story can be read in the preview of Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. (20% into Kindle preview)
“Graveyard Shift” by Stephen King
It’s 2 a.m. on Friday. Hall is on a smoke break at the textile plant. It’s hot and the mill is rat-infested. He makes a decent wage and is a solitary person. Warwick, the foreman, comes up to the third floor, which is unusual. The mill is going to be shut down for Fourth of July week. Staff of less than a year, like Hall, will be laid off. Warwick offers Hall a spot on a cleanup crew. The basement has been neglected for years. It’s full of rats and filthy. The pay sounds good, so Hall accepts. (Graveyard Shift, 1990)
“Blow-Up” by Julio Cortazar
Roberto Michel ruminates over how and why he should tell his story. When he takes a walk along the river he sees a woman interacting with a teenage boy. As a photographer, he takes a picture of the scene, knowing what is going on. Later, he’s able to examine it more closely. (Blow-Up, 1966)
“The Fly” by George Langelaan
Hélène calls her brother-in-law one night and confesses to the murder of her husband. The police are called and they investigate. Hélène cooperates fully except for one thing—she won’t say why she did it. The dead man had recently invented a device that could teleport matter through space.
The 1986 movie The Fly is loosely based on this story.
“The Bear Came Over the Mountain” by Alice Munro
Fiona, seventy-years-old, is preparing to leave home for good. A little over a year ago, she started leaving little notes around the house identifying the contents of drawers. Her husband, Grant, takes her to the facility in January. Fiona remembers many things from her past so he wonders if she really needs to go. (Away from Her, 2006)
“Babylon Revisited” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Charlie Wales returns to Paris to get back his daughter, Honoria. She has been living with his sister, Marion. Charlie is financially secure and has abandoned the partying and drinking that contributed to the death of his wife and loss of his daughter. (Inspired the 1954 movie The Last Time I Saw Paris)
“The Swimmer” by John Cheever
On a summer Sunday, Neddy is hanging out at the Westerhazy’s pool. They’re talking about how they drank too much last night. He realizes he could make his way home by swimming the length of the pools in his neighborhood. (The basis for the 1968 movie The Swimmer)
“The Killers” by Ernest Hemingway
Two hit men, Max and Al, enter a diner to get some food and to wait for their target to arrive. They’re looking for a boxer, Ole Andreson, whom their employer has a grudge against. (Partial basis for the 1946 movie The Killers)
“Escape from Spiderhead” by George Saunders
Jeff is an inmate at Spiderhead, a research facility. Along with others, he tests drugs that affect his speech, perception, and feelings for people. He’s there because of a fateful day from his past. (Spiderhead, 2022)
“Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes
A mentally retarded man, Charlie, undergoes a procedure to vastly increase his intelligence. He’s thirty-seven and desperately wants to be smart. He keeps a diary of his progress and personal interactions. (Charly, 1968 & several TV productions)
“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates
A rebellious fifteen-year-old girl encounters an older man in a parking lot. He later shows up at her place when she’s home alone to ask her to go for a ride with him. (The 1985 movie Smooth Talk is loosely based on this story)
“In a Grove” by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
A woodcutter finds the body of a samurai in an out-of-the-way grove. It had a single sword cut to the chest, and the blood was dried. There was no weapon present, only a rope and a comb. The police commissioner receives testimony from several other sources in an attempt to get to the truth of the crime. (Adapted into the 1950 film Rashōmon)
Read “In a Grove”
“Cool Air” by H. P. Lovecraft
The narrator explains why he’s afraid of cool air. He lived in a New York boardinghouse. Above him lived Dr. Muñoz, a recluse. One day while writing, the narrator had a heart attack. He struggled to make it to the doctor’s door. When it opened, he was hit by a rush of cool air. (Cool Air, 1999)
“Minority Report” by Philip K. Dick
John Anderton is head of the pre-crime division. The operation centers around three precogs who get visions of the future. Future criminals are identified when their names are generated on a card. Anderton is shocked one day by the name that comes up. (Minority Report, 2002)
Read “Minority Report“