Outside of the Harry Potters and Lord of the Ringses, more obscure books have been turned into famous movies. Here are 11 surprising ones.
There are thousands of movies that have been based on books; these days, they even find ways to split up books to squeeze multiple movies out of them. (I mean, come on. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part Two? Is that the first movie title ever to necessitate a colon and an em dash?)
I wanted to go the other direction, and find less popular books that became movies. It took some digging but I found 11 I really liked. Here are 11 movies surprisingly based on books…
1 | Forrest Gump (1994) based on Forrest Gump (1986)
Apparently, Winston Groom, the author of the book, originally liked the process of turning it into a movie — but wound up hating it. Groom even ended up suing because his deal entitled him to a share of the profits, but thanks to Hollywood’s hilarious bookkeeping, the studio said Forrest Gump (which did $677 million at the box office on a $55 million budget) ended up being a loss.
In 1995, Groom wrote a sequel called Gump & Co. but refused to sell the movie rights. In the book, Forrest plays in the NFL, develops New Coke, crashes the Exxon Valdez and attends the Oscars where Forrest Gump the movie won. However, the first line of the book is, “Don’t never let nobody make a movie of you life’s story. Whether they get it right or wrong, it don’t matter.”
2 | The Graduate (1967) based on The Graduate (1963)
The book was written by an author named Charles Webb. Like oh so many authors, he didn’t like the movie version of his book — even though it’s considered one of the best movies of all time. What WOULD’VE made him happy?
Anyway, he felt the movie hurt his standing as a “serious writer.” He ended up writing a sequel called Home School, but didn’t want it published because his initial $20,000 movie deal had guaranteed the studio all rights to sequels. Finally he had it published in 2007… and used the money he got from it to pay legal fees to get the movie rights back.
3 | Die Hard (1988) based on Nothing Lasts Forever (1979)
In Nothing Lasts Forever, a retired NYPD detective named Joe Leland visits an office building in L.A. on Christmas Eve where his daughter works. East German terrorists take over the building. Leland systematically takes them out (with the help of a Reginald VelJohnson-esque police officer on the outside) and saves the day.
The book was originally adapted into a movie role for Frank Sinatra, but he passed. So it was adapted for Arnold Schwarzenegger, but he passed. So finally it was turned into Die Hard for Bruce Willis and became the stuff of legend.
4 | Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) based on Who Censored Roger Rabbit? (1981)
The big differences between the book and movie are: (1) In the book, Roger and his ilk are comic strip, not animated cartoon, characters (2) Roger dies in the book and (3) I assume if I’d read the book it would not have given me a month’s worth of childhood nightmares like the movie did. It’s been more than a quarter of a century since I saw that movie and I still refuse to rewatch it.
5 | How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003) based on How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days: The Universal Don’ts of Dating (1988)
It’s important that we never forget the days before Matthew McConaughey inexplicably established credibility and was mired in a series of mediocre romantic comedies. This particular mediocre romantic comedy was based on a book that featured cartoon stick figures doin’ stuff. The authors of the book are two of the five credited writers on the movie (which is code for “at least a dozen people took shots at trying to save that script”).
6 | Silver Linings Playbook (2012) based on The Silver Linings Playbook (2008)
I feel like in all the hype about this movie, no one mentioned the book it was based on. It seems like the movie stuck fairly closely to the plot of the book — although apparently in the book the main character has a brain injury that causes memory loss. In the movie it focuses more on him being bipolar and less on memory loss. Or maybe it did focus on memory loss and I don’t remember? (Thank you. Thank you. You’re too kind.)
7 | Pitch Perfect (2012) based on Pitch Perfect: The Quest For Collegiate A Cappella Glory (2012)
Maybe the book does a better job explaining the rules of a riff-off, because I feel like the movie plays kind of fast and loose with it. Does good singing matter in one or just accurate singing? Should rapping technically be allowed? How come whenever one group interrupts another it’s seen as a good thing — when singing is the best way to get your team eliminated?
8 | O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000) based on Homer’s Odyssey (800 B.C.)
In a way, most Coen Brothers movies are based on the Odyssey, but O Brother REALLY was — even though it’s set in the 1930s Dust Bowl. In fact, when it was nominated for the Oscars, it was in the Best Adapted Screenplay category, since the Coens adapted Homer.
9 | King Ralph (1991) based on Headlong (1980)
I had to include this one because it’s such a random movie to have been based on… well, anything. And, apparently, the movie and book barely resemble each other. They both have the premise of a royal family dying in a freak accident and an unknown heir being plucked out of obscurity and brought to the throne — but that’s about it. The book is serious and derives any humor from satire… the movie is John Goodman doin’ stuff and being appalled by the notion of eating spotted dick.
10 | Rambo: First Blood (1982) based on First Blood (1972)
In the book — spoiler alert? — Rambo dies in the end. In the movie(s), Rambo can never die and will continue to be featured in sequels until Sylvester Stallone dies at age 134.
11 | Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) based on Alias Madame Doubtfire (1987)
The two biggest differences between the book and movie are (1) in the book, the kids immediately know it’s their dad and (2) while I haven’t read the book, I assume it’s not a 90-minute stream of consciousness improv show by Robin Williams in drag. Nary a run-by fruiting to be had.