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The 10 Best Elmore Leonard Movies

The recently deceased author's novels inspired some of the best Westerns and crime thrillers of all time.

David Forsmark


September 20, 2013 - 5:00 pm
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Thriller writer Elmore Leonard died recently at the age of 87. He leaves a huge legacy, including perhaps the best crime show currently on television, Justified, and dozens of classic American suspense novels, a few of which were turned into classic movies— more of which were absolute disasters.

For his early career, Leonard wrote tough, gritty westerns like 3:10 to Yuma and Hombre, both turned into very good films.

But for years even Stephen King could not claim to have been as badly abused as Elmore Leonard when it came to his crime novels. His first, The Big Bounce, was also filmed starring Ryan O’Neal. He wryly said it was “at least the second worst movie ever made.” Then it was remade in 2004 with Owen Wilson and it was even worse.

Overall, I tend to enjoy Leonard’s tight first 25 books more than his talkier next 25. Book 25, Glitz, was his breakthrough bestseller, causing the author to joke he was an overnight success after 25 years.

Get Shorty was the first film to really capture Leonard’s style, and frankly I thought it was even better than the book. In the second half of his career, Leonard added about a hundred pages to the length of his books, mostly of dialogue. Admittedly, it could be great dialogue, but I like the early books that just had a bit less of it. Others disagree.

Out of Sight is a perfect example. The book is too long, and too talky, but still quite good. Cutting it down to film length helps a lot — so does the chemistry between George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez which helps sell the outlandish premise of the U.S. marshal and the bank robber’s mutual attraction.

He once called Freaky Deaky his favorite book, but the limp film adaptation of this send-up of the radical ’70s counterculture deservedly went straight to video in 2012.

Leonard was known around Metro Detroit as an unassuming guy. He didn’t play the big celebrity, and was known for his love of the Detroit Tigers and of blues clubs. He was gracious to writers who asked advice, skeptical of whether they would follow through on his emphasis on hard work and routine; and finally published a short book compiling his rules for writing.

Robert Ferrigno was a novelist who benefited from that generosity, and wrote a poignant piece in National Review Online in remembrance.

So here, submitted for your approval, are 10 good reasons to remember Elmore Leonard, even if you aren’t a fiction reader. Maybe I’ll get to his best 10 books in a future column.

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All Comments   (7)
All Comments   (7)
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Elmore Leonard is terrific. Freaky Deaky was the first novel of his that I read and I was hooked. As for the movies, I loved Jackie Brown, Get Shorty and Out of Sight. One that you missed that I thought was pretty good was John Frankenheimer's 52 Pickup. Roy Scheider is very good in it and what more can you say about the beautiful Ann-Margret?
With Leonard gone, Carl Hiassen is the man whose new books I most look forward to in the crime genre.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
“I got a question … how you gonna get back down that hill?”
- Paul Newman in Hombre
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It's Walton Goggins, not Googins, who plays Justified's Boyd Crowder to such perfection that I do not want to wait for late January for the new episodes.
Appalachian Shakespeare!

Does anyone know why Justified is ignored by all the awards? I can not get through ten seconds of Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones.

As for 3:10 to Yuma? I watched both, and prefer Bale/Crowe even though it is sad that the best actors playing real cowboys in film these days are all Australian or British.

Thanks for the list!

btw, Paul Newman was Jewish, so I thought his star turn in Exodus was perfect.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Re: Hombre, they were attacked by criminals, not indians. I mention this because Richard Boone in his usual laconic evil persona led them, assisted by a deeply corrupted Cameron Mitchell. I literally stumbled across Justified on Amazon Prime and spent the entire weekend watching all four seasons marathon style after being completely hooked from the first five minutes. At age fifty five I've read all of his crime genre novels, but had NO idea of his earlier western phase. To find out The Tall T, Joe Kidd, Hombre, and Yuma: all favorites, were his as well, was revelatory and deeply satisifying. He will be missed, deeply.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Great list of movies based on Elmore Leonard books. "Justified" has to be one of the best even though it is a TV serial and not a movie.

One mistake though, the character of John Russell (Hombre) was not a half breed Apache. He was raised by Apaches. His character might have been based on a real life white boy raised partially in Geronimo's band named Jimmy McKinn. His picture can be seen in the lead in to "Hombre" One of my favorite movies by the way.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Good choices.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I always recommend "Jackie Brown" as the best of Elmore
Leonard's crime movies, and it's the only QT movie I have ever been able to stomach.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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