Top Picks: Leonardo DiCaprio

One thing I love about Leonardo DiCaprio is that he is, and has been for some time, an outspoken activist for environmental issues, helping fund and contribute to documentaries such as The 11th Hour and Before the Flood, and is consistently found doing other outreach work through the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. It seems fitting to mention him during our One Book, One Chicago Season for Change

Did you know that almost all of the films DiCaprio has acted in were first works of really great literature? And he doesn't seem to be "selling out." He's beginning a new project on a film based on the popular book Killers of the Flower Moon. Let's take a look at his previous work.

The Basketball Diaries, based on Jim Carroll's autobiography of the same name (published 1978), provides a gritty picture of what growing up on the wrong side of the tracks in New York might've been like, while also mapping the pressures and problems of trying to survive an all-boys Catholic high school.

Shutter Island, adapted from Dennis Lehane's dark and brooding fictional novel by the same name (published 2003), follows a U.S. Marshal's descent into madness on an island holding the criminally insane in the 1950s. This one has the perfect atmosphere: thunderous and rainy outside, and rich, dark and gothic inside, mirroring the mind's psychology of confusion and puzzlement. 

The Revenant is based on the book of the same name by Michael Punke. The story is about a larger-than-life legendary French fur trapper trying to make it in the Americas. The difference is that director Alejandro González Iñárritu dramatizes this in such a way as to add a mesmerizing reflection on the violence of lands inhabited by clashing societies and the violence of nature itself, rather than a folktale retelling of brute masculinity.

Catch Me If You Can is based on a book on the life of a former con man, the author himself, Frank Abagnale. DiCaprio plays this main character, capturing all his odd nervous quirks and moral dilemmas with sensitivity and care, making this true story all the more believable and making us, the audience, all the more sympathetic. 

What's Eating Gilbert Grape, adapted from the moving novel of the same name by Peter Hedges (published 1999), recounts the tale of an oddball but extremely loving family in rural Iowa. Each character in this story has magnificent dreams. Even so, they don't lose sight of each other as they reach for them. 

These are just handful of DiCaprio's films that are based on literature. Don't forget to check out Romeo and Juliet, The Man in the Iron Mask, The Beach, This Boy's Life and Catching the Wolf of Wall Street, just to name some more.