5 Films You Didn’t Know Were Based on Books

by Alex Edge on September 3, 2021

Some books are more widely known than the films they inspired, whereas others let the film adaptation shine. The latter is true for these five adaptations. 

We're not talking about a popular series like The Hunger Games, which became a literary sensation before we ever saw Katniss on the big screen. We're talking about iconic films that many don't even realize are adaptations of lesser-known novels (and even self-help books).

Let’s see if any of the following adaptations surprise you!  

American Psycho

Novel: American Psycho, written by Bret Easton Ellis, published in 1991
Film: American Psycho, directed by Mary Harron, written by Harron and Guinevere Turner, released in 2000

American Psycho | American Psycho

The novel was very controversial from the minute it was published, due to the disturbing level of violence in the book. Bateman murders more than 50 people, whereas in American Psycho the film, there are only 23 victims -- but there is some hinting towards more victims. This is portrayed in the scene where Bateman’s assistant is reading a notebook with more names listed! 

A fun fact regarding Patrick Bateman’s precious Rolex Datejust 16013 watch is that because it was mentioned a total of 26 times, Rolex was allegedly none too pleased about their brand being associated with such a controversial story. This resulted in the producers having to change the line in the script to “don’t touch the watch!” 

Mean Girls

Novel: Queen Bees and Wannabes, written by Rosalind Wiseman, published in 2002
Film: Mean Girls, directed by Mark Waters, written by Tina Fey, released in 2004

Mean Girls | Queen Bees and Wannabes

Queen Bees and Wannabes is a sociology book that answers parents’ questions about navigating the tricky times their daughters may encounter, including forming high school cliques and dealing with aggressive teen girl behaviors. Tina Fey, who wrote the screenplay for the adaptation, says that she wanted the movie to show that if we recognize this behavior and find humor in it, then it will help people get past it and see the ridiculousness in some of these situations. 

The film is a dramatized version of the book. For example, the assembly scene where the students are asked if they have ever been personally victimized by Regina George actually takes place in the novel, however, the girls are asked to write down anonymously whether they have ever been victimized by a Queen Bee.  


Novel: Wise Guy, written by Nicholas Pileggi, published in 1985
Film: Goodfellas, written and directed by Martin Scorsese, released in 1990

Goodfellas | Wiseguy

There were lots of scenes removed from the film that were included in the book. A few examples of this are Paulie’s son, what happened to people who disrespected Paulie, and the details of various scams beyond theft and drug dealing.

Wiseguy delves more into the details of criminal life, and the scams Henry Hill ran, such as fixing the scores on college football games to ensure a safe bet or repeatedly cheating restaurants.

Forrest Gump

Novel: Forrest Gump, written by Winston Groom, published in 1986
Film: Forrest Gump, directed by Robert Zemeckis, written by Eric Roth, released in 1994

Forrest Gump | Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump is a film that is dear to the hearts of many. In the book, the titular character is considered an “idiot savant,” which means he has very focused brilliance, namely when it comes to math and physics. However, the film portrays Forrest as more childlike and innocent, and excelling at not only athletics but also at getting himself into the luckiest unlucky situations in which his kindness shines.

Unlike many films that are adapted from a novel, the film version of Forrest Gump includes extra lines of dialogue and features the side characters more than the novel. Normally we all know that things are cut from the book to prevent the feature-length from being 4 hours long! In the movie, Jenny and Forrest meet as young children on the bus, whereas in the book they don’t meet until high school. 

There are many adventures that Forrest goes on in the book, that are cut from the screenplay and some of these include Forrest getting employed by NASA and going to space with a chimpanzee -- and becoming a professional wrestler called “The Dunce.”

Mrs. Doubtfire

Novel: Alias Madame Doubtfire, written by Anne Fine, published in 1987
Film: Mrs. Doubtfire, directed by Chris Columbus, written by Randi Mayem Singer and Leslie Dixon, released in 1993

Mrs. Doubtfire | Alias Madame Doubtfire

Although the book is very similar to the film, there are always differences worth noting. In the book, the two eldest children spot that their new nanny is their father in disguise straight away, while the youngest sister and mother are the only ones duped by Madame Doubtfire's disguise.

Though Fine’s novel was short-listed for the Guardian Children's Fiction and the Whitbread Children's Book Award, it is hard to compete with Robin Williams’ iconic portrayal of a father willing to go to extreme lengths to keep his kids with him. The film also includes the famous scene where Robin Williams simultaneously plays two characters thanks to a face covered in cake frosting.


Countless novels have been adapted into films -- some of which started as very famous book series that have gone on to make very successful movie franchises. The Harry Potter films, Fifty Shades of Grey, The Lord of the Rings, and many more began as fantastic books and although amended to suit the cinema, all went on to succeed on the big screen! Hopefully you were surprised by the ones on this list.

Alex EdgeAlex Edge has worked for companies such as MTV, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central. His roles and specialties in these companies lie in production and script consultancy. He currently works at Screenwriters Network as a director. Reading and writing scripts whenever he can!


Get Our Newsletter!

Get weekly writing inspiration delivered to your inbox - including industry news, popular articles, and more!

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Developing Your Own Script?

We'll send you a list of our free eCourses when you subscribe to our newsletter. No strings attached.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

You Might Also Like

Your success is our #1 priority. We provide aspiring writers industry access, free resources and inspiration, and a community to support you through every step of your creative journey.

Writing Competitions

Success Stories