Covert Adaptations: 7 Movies You Didn't Know Were Based on Books

It is no secret that Hollywood has a tendency to turn to books when they are on the quest for the next hot film project. And why shouldn't they? Book-based films offer movie producers the security of a built-in audience of fans who love the original story and are eager to see how a director applies his or her vision. These days, it's easy to trace the journey of popular books as they head to the silver screen; look no further than "The Hunger Games," "The Help," or "The Descendants" for confirmation. But what about popular movies that were, unbeknownst to most, originally based on books? Here are our top seven picks.

"How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days" (2003)
Though romantic comedies are not our go-to movie genre,we take exception when it comes to the likable flick "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days." Not to mention, the book that inspired the film is as funny as they get. Michele Alexander and Jeannie Long teamed up to produce fifty hilarious pages featuring stick figures illustrating the universal don'ts of dating. It's simple, effective, and utterly hilarious. Also, it's reassuring to note that director Donald Petrie consulted the original source material when casting his movie. Doesn't Kate Hudson bear a striking resemblance to the main stick figure with a flop of curly hair?

"Psycho" (1960)
Fresh off the success of "North by Northwest," Alfred Hitchcock found his next film project while thumbing through the New York Times Book Review. Knowing he had come across something truly compelling, Hitchcock promptly paid Psycho novelist Robert Bloch $9,000 for the rights, then proceeded to purchase as many copies as possible to keep the ending a secret. Inspired by the true story of notorious serial killer Ed Gein, Bloch's Psycho encountered only minor changes by the time Hitchcock's version was released to theaters. Most notably, Hitchcock changed the character of Norman Bates from a fat, middle-aged peeping tom to a handsome, charismatic young man that you can't help but feel empathic toward.

"Clueless" (1995)
Proving the timelessness of Jane Austen, '90s favorite "Clueless" is loosely based on the classic book about unlucky-in-love matchmaker, Emma. When Paramount studios requested that director Amy Heckerling write a movie about teenagers, she returned to one of her favorite books from high school for inspiration. Though there is a difference of nearly two hundred years between the two, "Clueless" remains very faithful to the plot of Jane Austen's original novel.

"10 Things I Hate About You " (1999)
William Shakespeare remains one of the most influential literary sources for film and television adaptations. We happen to much prefer his comedy over tragedy, especially when those comedies are re-imagined through the perspective of teenagers. Enter "10 Things I Hate About You," a wonderful retelling of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Despite the fact that "10 Things I Hate About You" is set in modern times, there are multiple references to Shakespeare sprinkled throughout the movie. Our favorite is English teacher Mr. Morgan's hip hop rendition of Sonnet 141, followed by the declaration that "I know that Shakespeare is a dead white guy, but he knows his sh*t."

"Die Hard" (1988)
Yippee ki yay, action movie fans. It surprised us to learn that Bruce Willis' magnum opus is, in fact, based on Roderick Thorp's 1979 novel, Nothing Lasts Forever. The framework of the plot remains consistent from book to film: federal agent (John McClane in the movie, Joe Leland in the book) fight terrorists when they take over an office building in Los Angeles during a corporate Christmas Party. Though the book is a thrilling read, we prefer the movie for one important reason: the character of Hans Gruber (brilliantly played by Alan Rickman) is considerably more charismatic on screen than on the page.

"Slumdog Millionaire" (2008)
In 2008, a little indie film that could called "Slumdog Millionaire" captured the hearts of moviegoers across the globe. Danny Boyle's tale of slumdog Jamal's unexpected success on India's version of "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire" was inspired by Vikas Swarup's 2005 novel, Q&A. Boyle retained the novel's basic framework, but drastically altered Jamal's (Ram in the book) motivations for getting on the quiz show. In Slumdog, the driving force behind many of his decisions is to reunite with lost love, Latika, hoping she will be watching him on the show. Ram's motivations in the book are more based on seeking fame and fortune.

"Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (1964)
Stanley Kubrick had a fondness for turning books into movies, as evident from his most popular projects like "Lolita," "The Shining," and "A Clockwork Orange." However, since his adaptations were so loosely based on the source material, authors were frequently upset with the finished product. Peter George's 1958 novel Red Alert, about the imposing threat of nuclear war, served as the inspiration for Kubrick's 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, though as was often the case, differed almost entirely from the book. The main distinction between the two is that George's book was not a comedy, and he was outraged that his serious novel was satirized.

Now it's your turn. Tell us about your favorite movie that you were surprised to learn was originally based on a book or short story.

  • joeyhegele

    This is slightly different, but most people probably do not know A History Of Violence and Road To Perdition are based on comic books. Also, Live Free Or Die Hard was adapted from an article on the dangers of cyber-terrorism.

  • Zoe

    Little known fact that The Graduate was actually based on a novel...

  • The four Die Hard films are based on completely unrelated source material. The first two are based on unrelated novels by different authors, and the last two are based on unrelated spec scripts. The script for Die Hard 3 was intended for Lethal Weapon 4, and the script for Die Hard 4 was intended for Enemy of the State 2. There was also another script intended for Die Hard 3, which was used for Speed 2. It's surprising how common sequels use scripts that the studio just had lying around. It also happened with Ocean's Twelve and Saw II. Pretty interesting stuff.

  • Clara

    Very true -- A History of Violence is the only movie based on something written (graphic novel) that I liked more than the written text. Everything else, I always like the book better.

  • When I heard that 'Slumdog Millionare' was based on a book I looked out for it in 2nd-hand bookshops. I got lucky, so now I have a copy of Q&A waiting for me to read in my TBR pile

  • Guest

    A lot of my favorite film adaptations are non-U.S. smashes but successful in the U.K. or elsewhere. V for Vendetta is one; I'm not much into the graphic novel fan-base, so I wasn't aware this one was originally based on a book. (Now it's a whole internet subculture with the Chanonymous phenomenon.)

    High Fidelity is another, and another of Nick Hornby's, Fever Pitch. AFAIK High Fidelity the book is closer to the film (Wikipedia quotes Hornby as saying "I felt as though John Cusack was reading the book aloud"). Fever Pitch is more different inasmuch as it's about British "football" (soccer) rather than the Red Sox, and AFAIK the ending of the movie itself was actually changed while still filming because the Red Sox had finally won the World Series, and the original ending had them losing but the main characters staying together anyway. Talk about life imitating art with a Hollywood ending. 🙂

    Nice to see Die Hard on here, though. Somehow I can bet a whole legion of Potter fans watching it nowadays are pleased to see Snape hurled out the window of a 30th-story skyscraper. That's what he gets for axing Dumbledore. 😉

  • I trudged through HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad, but am amazed at how perfectly its character Kurtz and its themes translate to Francis Ford Coppola's Viet Nam war epic APOCALYPSE NOW.

  • @McBrideStern

    Most people dont realize that fabulous movie THE THIN MAN with William Powell & Myrna Loy was based on Daschell Hammett's drawing room comedy of the same name. Yes, he did write a comedy. Nick & Nora are my favorite movie couples of all time.

  • Amanda

    While I have not read the book version yet, I know that the film Let the Right One In is based off of a book. I've heard it's quite different and very good.
    Also, of course, there's Battle Royale, which many people compare to the Hunger Games.

  • Sixty-one years ago, we seniors thrilled as alien ambassador Klaatu visited the earth with his interplanetary warning to our planet's war-happy inhabitants. The 1951 film, The Day the Earth Stood Still, was based on a 1940 story by Harry Bates, Farewell to the Master. The film lacked the surprise ending of the story, in which the 'master civilization' turned out to be that of the robot (Gnut in the story, Gort in the film). Klaatu barada nikto!

    • DMcCunney

      Having seen the film way back when, and read the Bates short story, they didn't differ that much. The story had a surprise ending, which was muted in the film, but still similar. At the end of the story, Gnut tells the human protagonist "You misunderstand. I am the master." but provides no details. In the film, Klaatu makes clear that his people created Gort and his fellows, and voluntarily ceded police powers to them to avoid the sort of disaster humanity was busily working up to in the film. Gnut might have had similar origins.

      More interesting is the fact that the film *was* based on a short story, and you can make a case that the most successful SF films were - the books simply didn't translate well.

  • I thought everyone knew 10 Things I Hate About you was based on The Taming of the Shrew? No?

    In fact I knew more of these than I didn't.

  • Punchy

    Strange Brew was based on Hamlet. Sorta.