From James Bond to 'The BFG': Roald Dahl at the Movies

3:23 PM 6/30/2016

by Mia Galuppo

British children's book author Roald Dahl has introduced moviegoers to homocidal candy tycoons, telekinetic 6-year-olds and kleptomaniac foxes. He has had a decades-long Hollywood career, from his time as a screenwiter to providing onscreen fodder for the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton and, now, Steven Spielberg.

Courtesy of Photofest; Courtesy of Disney
  • The BFG (2016)

    Courtesy of Storyteller Distributuion Co.

    The long in-development BFG adaptation marks the 30th feature film for Steven Spielberg, and his first collaboration with Disney. The BFG follows a little orphan girl who befriends a dream-catching giant who is comparatively small for his size. Screenwriter Melissa Mathison, who worked with Spielberg on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, adapted the book for the big screen. 

  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)


    Gene Wilder somersaulted onto the scene as the infantile candy tycoon, Willy Wonka, in the first feature film adaptation of Dahl’s books. The role, equal parts Peter Pan and Steve Jobs, garnered the actor a Golden Globe nomination for best lead actor in a comedy or musical. Despite lacking large commercial success, the film has since reached cult status as a classic children’s film, finding large success in the home video market.

  • James and the Giant Peach (1996)

    Dahl’s 1961 book about a boy who travels to New York City with a rag-tag group of anthropomorphic bugs by way of a large piece of magical produce was directed by stop-motion master Henry Selick. The movie reunited Selick with his Nightmare Before Christmas collaborator Tim Burton, who produced the film.
  • You Only Live Twice (1967)


    Dahl wrote the screenplay for the Sean Connery-starring James Bond film that finds the secret agent in the middle of Cold War-era tensions and the US-Soviet Space Race. James Bond novelist Ian Fleming and Dahl knew each other while serving as British intelligence officers during World War II, Fleming in the Navy and Dahl in the Air Force. After finishing You Only Live Twice, long-time James Bond producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli then asked Dahl if he would adapt another one of Fleming’s works that he was set to produce, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

  • Matilda (1996)


    The Danny Devito-directed fantasy family film follows a genius 6-year-old girl with telekinetic abilities, who goes up against her abusive parents and her school’s unseemly headmistress. The film was the first Dahl adaptation to be produced after the author’s death in 1990. Like many Dahl adaptations, Matilda was well received critically but had modest box office returns, grossing $33 million with a production budget of $36 million.

  • Danny, the Champion of the World (1989)


    Jeremy Irons starred in the British made-for-TV movie that centered on a widower and his son, Danny, who live in a Gypsy caravan and fix cars for a living. Dahl’s 1975 children’s book, on which the film is based, drew plot and characters from the author’s earlier writing, including an adult short story piece that the author published in The New Yorker, titled "Champion of the World."

  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)


    Tim Burton’s take on the candy-based action adventure saw the director re-team with many of his frequent collaborators like screenwriter John August and star Johnny Depp, filling Gene Wilder’s top hat as Willy Wonka. The movie featured an additional, ironic back story, which saw Christopher Lee playing Wonka’s dentist father. Unlike the Dahl adaptation that came before it, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory proved to be a box office hit, grossing $474 million at the international box office. 


  • Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)


    The second of Dahl’s film’s to be turned into a stop-motion animation, Fantastic Mr. Fox follows a wily fox who tries to pull one over on three evil farmers. It was the first that came from the master of muted color palettes, director Wes Anderson, and boasted the voice talent from many of Anderson’s mainstays, including Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman, as well as George Clooney and Meryl Streep. Henry Selick, who was responsible for the stop-motion adaptation of Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, was originally attached to direct the film along with Anderson, but exited to project to work on Coraline

  • Four Rooms (1995)


    The '90s anthology comedy film came from a quartet of directors — Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino — and follows the story of a bellhop who has four very different encounters with four guests staying at his hotel. The segment that was Tarantino directed, titled The Man From Hollywood, was based on Dahl’s 1948 adult short story "Man From the South."

  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)


    The children’s story was the second Ian Fleming book that Dahl adapted for the big screen, the first being the James Bond film You Only Live Twice. Dahl co-wrote the screenplay with Ken Hughes, who directed the fantasy film that featured songs by the Sherman Brothers. Dick Van Dyke stars as an eccentric inventor who turns a Grand Prix car into something far more magical and musical.

  • The Witches (1990)

    In the feature film based on Dahl’s 1983 book about witches that seek to turn children into mice, Anjelica Huston starred as the Grand High Witch (Cher was also in consideration for the part). The movie featured a large amount of puppeteering by the Jim Henson Company, and was the final feature film that Jim Henson worked on before his sudden death. The Witches was also the final of adaptation of Dahl's stories before the author's death in 1990.