10 Movies You Didn’t Know Were Based on Books

10 Movies You Didn't Know Were Based on Books

There’s nothing students love more than a good, old-fashioned movie day. It’s a time to unwind and let their busy brains tune into a familiar storytelling structure, one associated with fun and entertainment.

Whether it’s a movie day or not, you can still incorporate movies into your curriculum and bring along all the excitement and joy that comes with turning off all the lights and cueing up the projector.

Whether you watch the whole movie with a lits of comprehension questions, show clips in class to compare scenes from the text, or turn the entire thing into a personal assignment in which students study the movie and book of their choice, your students will enjoy the chance of pace.

To get going, here’s a list of ten movies adapted from books that may shock your little film fanatics. This post includes affiliate links.


Although your students may only vaguely remember this Disney feature film, Holes was a smash hit, both as a movie and a book. In fact, many critics hold that the reason the film adaptation was so successful is because of its dedication to sticking to Louis Sachar’s source material. Both versions discuss racism, the treatment of incarcerated youth, the importance of literacy, and of course, carrying Madame Zeroni up the mountain. This movie is a title that is best for the middle school classroom.

Mrs. Doubtfire

This heartwarming film stands out in many people’s minds for the incredible facial prosthetics and comedic prowess of Robin Williams. However, at the heart of this film, and for that matter, of Anne Fine’s novel Alias Madame Doubtfire, lays the discussion of heavier topics like divorce, separation, and the true meaning of family. Ask your students whether the incorporation of physical comedy and slapstick in the film adaptation plays well with the darker themes or whether it detracts from the book’s original intentions.


It’s challenging to think about this animated icon in any other capacity than the off-beat fairytale telling with Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, and Eddie Murphy. Your students may be surprised to learn that Shrek’s conception first manifested in a children’s book called Shrek! by William Steig, in which Shrek can breathe fire and lives with his parents. One marked difference to discuss is how the movie develops the character of Princess Fiona, who, in the book, does not have a curse to break, or even a name!

The Princess Bride

This cult classic is another example of how sometimes sticking with the original material is the key to success. William Goldman, author of the novel The Princess Bride is also responsible for writing the film adaptation’s screenplay. Discuss with your students how Goldman’s role in the adaptation process affected the final product. For example: If Goldman had not written the screenplay, how might the material have been adapted differently? Would this have hurt the movie’s success?

Mean Girls

If any of your students wear pink on Wednesdays, they might be interested to know that the film Mean Girls found its basis in a self-help book entitled Queen Bees & Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. With mothers of teenage girls in mind, Wiseman’s book sets out to illuminate the terrifying world of high school cliques and “aggressive teen girl behavior.”

Classroom Note: This is probably not a book or movie I would assign or show in class, but it would be a great topic for a comparative analysis project.

Ella Enchanted

Another classic, quirky Disney feature! Ella Enchanted, a novel by Gail Carson Levine, is a loose retelling of Cinderella. The story follows Ella, a young maiden cursed to obey every order given to her. The film adaptation takes that premise and runs with it, blending camp with modern sensibilities. Starring Anne Hathaway as Ella, the movie turns Prince Charmont into a Justin Timberlake figure and includes jukebox numbers like Queen’s “Somebody to Love.” Ask your students to consider how the film uses gimmicks to satirize the traditional fairytale narrative.

How To Train Your Dragon

The movie How To Train Your Dragon takes several departures the eponymous book series by Cressida Cowell: Both feature an unusually clever, small Viking called Hiccup, and his dragon companion, Toothless. However, in the book, dragons and Vikings aren’t enemies, Toothless is about the size of a lizard, and he speaks Dragonese, the universal dragon language in which Hiccup is fluent. So why did Dreamworks decide to alter or leave these tidbits out? Discuss with your students how these decisions transform the story so much.

Pitch Perfect

The over-the-top, highly competitive world of collegiate acapella may seem like something that could only exist in fiction, but Pitch Perfect is based in reality. GQ editor Mickey Rapkin actually went behind the scenes and scoped out three famous collegiate acapella groups for his book Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate Acapella Glory, which served as the basis for the 2012 hit movie. When reading the book, students may be surprised to find that the reality is, in fact, even more ridiculous than the shenanigans of its on-screen counterpart.

Classroom Note: Like Mean Girls, this is also not a book or movie I would assign or show in class. Add this title to a list for comparative projects that are best suited for the high school student.

The Pursuit of Happyness

Yet another classic Will Smith film, this file also stars his son Jayden Smith. This harrowing and heartwarming film is an adaptation of Chris Gardner’s autobiography, also called The Pursuit of Happyness. Through telling his own story, Gardner tackles far-reaching issues like homelessness, alcoholism, domestic violence, child abuse, and illiteracy. The movie handles these issues as well but takes a few liberties for dramatic purposes to do with the narrative structure. If you pay attention to the scenes that were completely fabricated for the movie, you’ll have the basis for an excellent classroom discussion.

The Secret Life of Bees

Sue Monk Kidd’s novel The Secret Life of Bees sounds as if it might tell you the interworkings of a colony of honeybees, but what’s that saying about judging books by their covers? The Secret Life of Bees does, in reality, tackle themes about racism, segregation, domestic abuse, and community. Its film counterpart stays pretty accurate to form, and it may be interesting for students to explore how the movie visually handles the more mystical sequences, including “The Black Madonna.”

10 Movies You Didn't Know Were Based on Books



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