10 Movies that Flew under the Book-to-Film Adaptation Radar

Who doesn’t love book-to-film adaptations? We almost immediately find out once a popular book gets the go signal to be adapted into a movie. This then turns into a whole process of book fans watching out for casting news, keeping an eye out for behind-the-scenes shots, waiting for trailers, and finally, going to the movie premiere (sometimes, even in costume). In fact, films adapted from books have a leg up when it comes to promotion since they already have a following.

However, this is not always the case. Once in a while, some book-to-film adaptations make it to the silver screen and even become successful without many people knowing that they were books first. Here’s a list of movies that you probably didn’t know were actually based on books.


  1. Psycho (1960)

    One of Alfred Hitchcock’s most notable films, this thriller is about Marion Crane, who ends up in a motel owned by the disturbed Norman Bates. The film stars Anthony Perkins as Bates and Janet Leigh as Crane. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards at the time of its release and is still popular today. Psycho is considered the first example of the slasher genre. The film was adapted from Robert Bloch’s 1950 novel of the same name. It is said that the novel is based on the crimes of the serial killer Ed Gein.

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  1. Blade Runner (1982)

    Highly regarded as one of the greatest science fiction films of all time, Blade Runner is a film that tells the story of a future in which synthetic humans called replicants are being created outside of Earth by a powerful company. When a fugitive group of replicants escape to Earth, a cop named Rick Deckard agrees to hunt them down. The film stars Harrison Ford as Deckard and Rutger Hauer as the replicant who leads the fugitives. The film is based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

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  1. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

    One of the most popular comedy films of the ’90s and arguably one of Robin Williams’s best films, Mrs. Doubtfire is the story of Daniel Hillard, a recently divorced actor who disguises himself as a British housekeeper to be able to spend more time with his children. Other than Williams, the film also stars Sally Field, Pierce Brosnan, Harvey Fierstein, and Mara Wilson (who will later be the star of yet another book-to-film hit, Roald Dahl’s Matilda). Mrs. Doubtfire is actually based on Anne Fine’s Madame Doubtfire, a young adult novel published in 1987. One of the main differences is that in the novel, Daniel’s two eldest children immediately know it’s him.


  1. Forrest Gump (1997)

    This ’90s classic drama stars Tom Hanks as the eponymous Forrest Gump, a man who suffers mental retardation and influences important historical events without knowing it. The film was both a critical and commercial success, earning several Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The film is based Winston Groom’s novel of the same name published in 1986.

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  1. Legally Blonde (2001)

    This comedy follows the story of Elle Woods, a sorority girl who follows her ex-boyfriend to Harvard in the hopes of getting him back. Instead, Elle finds her calling in law and stops her pursuit of her ex. The film stars Reese Witherspoon as Woods, alongside Luke Wilson, Matthew Davis, Victor Garber, and Jennifer Coolidge. The film is based on Amanda Brown’s novel of the same name.


  1. Shrek (2001)

    Many would assume that this breakout animated film is just a clever satirical take on classic fairytales, but Shrek is actually based on a 1990 book of the same name by William Steig. For those not in the know, Shrek is an animated adventure fantasy comedy about the eponymous Shrek, an ogre living a quiet life in his swamp until it gets invaded by fairytale creatures. In order to restore his sanctuary, Shrek agrees to go on a journey to save Princess Fiona, who has a secret of her own.


  1. Mean Girls (2004)

    One of the most quotable, most memorable, and most lauded teen films of the 21st century, Mean Girls is a comedy written by Tina Fey and directed by Mark Waters. The film is about Cady Heron, a girl who enters high school for the first time after being homeschooled for most of her life. The movie chronicles Cady as she infiltrates the Plastics, a group composed of the school’s most popular girls. Though intended to be a satire, the film is lauded for its realistic albeit exaggerated portrayal of high school social classes. The film is partially based on the 2002 nonfiction book Queen Bees and Wannabesby Rosalind Wiseman, a book which describes high school cliques and how damaging they can be.


  1. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

    A Hayao Miyazaki film masterpiece, Howl’s Moving Castle is an animated fantasy set in a fictional 20th-century kingdom wherein both magic and technology are present. The film is about a young hatter named Sophie, who gets turned into an old woman because of a witch’s curse. She then meets a wizard named Howl, who resists fighting for the king. The film is adapted from Dianne Wynne Jones’s novel of the same name published in 1986 and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

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  1. Pitch Perfect (2012)

    Pitch Perfect, the breakout musical comedy of 2012, is the story of an all-girl college a cappella group looking to redeem the group’s reputation from a blunder the previous year. The story highly centers around Beca Mitchell, an aspiring music producer who joins the group as part of a deal with her father. The film stars Anna Kendrick as Beca, alongside Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, Ester Dean, and more. The film is loosely adapted from Mickey Rapkin’s self-help book Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory.


  1. Nerve (2016)

    This techno-thriller film starring Dave Franco and Emma Roberts tells the story of two teenagers who join an online game of dare which is controlled by a paying public. Vee (Roberts) and Ian (Franco) get paid for every dare they accomplish, which gets more and more dangerous as the story progresses. Eventually, they get themselves in way too deep. The film is based on the YA book of the same name by Jeanne Ryan.


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