Justified kicks off its fifth season on FX this week, bringing fans another round of 13 episodes featuring gunslinging lawman Raylan Givens. Raylan is one of the many unforgettable characters created by Elmore Leonard, who passed away last August after having written 45 novels, many of which saw adaptations on the big and small screens. As we head into this newest season of Justified, here’s a look at the ten best movies and TV shows adapted from Elmore Leonard’s works.
This sequel to Get Shorty brought back John Travolta as mobster turned movie mogul Chili Palmer and reunited him with Pulp Fiction co-stars Uma Thurman and Harvey Keitel. This time Chili is trying his hand at the music industry when he runs afoul of the Russian mob. Danny DeVito returned to produce after co-starring in Get Shorty.
Skeet Ulrich plays young faith healer Juvenal in this late ‘90s adaptation of the late ‘80s novel. Christopher Walken is Bill Hill, a shady evangelist looking to profit off Juvenal’s apparently supernatural talents, and he sends Lynn (Bridget Fonda) to lure the young man into his snare. Tom Arnold and Gina Gershon co-star.
Thomas Jane and Diane Lane star as a couple living in witness protection when they run afoul of a mob hitman played by Mickey Rourke. The supporting cast features a number of big names, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, and Hal Holbrook.
7. Karen Sisco (2003, based on Out of Sight from 1998)
Elmore Leonard’s fiction all populates a common universe, and characters from one book frequently rub elbows with characters from other books. Karen Sisco, U.S. Marshal, is one such character who got her origin in Out of Sight. Carla Gugino plays Sisco in the TV series adaptation, which only lasted for 10 episodes and was included in a TV Guide list of series that were canceled too soon. Gugino reprised the character for one episode in season three of Justified.
6. Mr. Majestyk (1974, inspired by 1969’s The Big Bounce and followed by 1974’s Mr. Majestyk)
Elmore Leonard borrowed the name Majestyk from one of the characters in his 1969 novel The Big Bounce and applied it to Charles Bronson’s character in the original screenplay for the movie Mr. Majestyk. He followed up by writing a novelization to the movie the same year the film released. That makes Mr. Majestyk something of a reverse adaptation when compared to the other titles on this list, but it still warrants including as a key action movie of the mid ‘70s.
5. Get Shorty (1995, based on Get Shorty from 1990)
Now we’re getting into the heavy hitters. Get Shorty is the movie that brought Elmore Leonard onto my personal radar and made me a huge fan. This skewering of Hollywood introduced Chili Palmer and his associates and ushered in a new decade of awesome Leonard adaptations. Barry Sonenfeld directed Travolta alongside Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, and Danny DeVito with appearances from James Gandolfini, Dennis Farina, Bette Midler, and Delroy Lindo.
4. Jackie Brown (1997, based on Rum Punch from 1992)
Quentin Tarantino is a big fan of Elmore Leonard’s writing, not surprising considering the similarities between their respective creations. Tarantino chose Rum Punch to adapt as his third film and switched the race of the main character to create a vehicle for reviving Pam Grier’s career. Robert Forster also benefitted from the excellent screenplay and appeared with Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton, Robert DeNiro, and Bridget Fonda in a film that would garner nominations for both Academy Awards and Golden Globes.
3. Justified (2010, inspired by Pronto from 1993, Riding the Rap from 1995, and “Fire in the Hole” from 2001)
Elmore Leonard has created a lot of memorable characters, but none have been as enduring as Raylan Givens. The old school U.S. Marshal debuted in Pronto and made a second appearance in Riding the Rap before showing up once again in the short story “Fire in the Hole.” That story became the basis for the first episode of the Justified TV show, and characters and events from the previous two books would show up during the course of the series. Leonard’s final novel published before his death was Raylan, a loose novelization of Justified’s second season.
2. 3.10 to Yuma (2007, based on “3.10 to Yuma” from 1953)
Prior to making a career out of crime and caper novels, Elmore Leonard was a Western writer. In 1953 he penned the short story “3.10 to Yuma,” which would get its first film adaptation in 1957 with a movie starring Glenn Ford, Van Heflin, and Felicia Farr. The story came back for another adaptation in 2007 with a new Oscar nominated film starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale with a score from Marco Beltrami. Geek genre favorites Alan Tudyk, Ben Foster, Gretchen Mol, and Kevin Durand co-star.
1. Out of Sight (1998, based on Out of Sight from 1996)
The best movie to spin out of an Elmore Leonard novel is Steven Soderbergh’s 1998 adaptation of Out of Sight, which pits U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) against bank robber Jack Foley (George Clooney). The result is a fantastically engrossing, suspenseful, and funny crime film that captures everything that makes Elmore Leonard’s writing shine. The supporting cast includes heavy hitters like Don Cheadle, Ving Rhames, and Albert Brooks.