Nine Movies You Didn’t Know Had Literary Origins


1. The Lion King (and its sequels)

Don’t be fooled by the fur—Disney only superficially disguised Shakespeare’s Hamlet with adorable lion cubs. Scar, a.k.a. Claudius, murders his brother on the sly and takes his throne, leaving young Hamlet—er, Simba—to travel the circle of life alone and conflicted. Fortunately for Simba, Walt apparently didn’t make it to the end of Shakespeare’s masterpiece.

The tensions lingering on Pride Rock in The Lion King 2 make an excellent stage for a furry version of Romeo and Juliet. And in the oddly delightful Lion King 1½, Timon and Pumbaa star in something a lot like Tom Stoppard’s absurd existentialist play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (minus the dead part).

915wix+8n4L._SL1500_2. The Exorcist

Did you know the scariest movie of all time was first the scariest book? The 1971 horror novel was adapted for the screen by its own author, William Peter Blatty. True to horror-writer form, Blatty says he based his famous story on real events and people. Father Merrin was a British archaeologist, and Regan was actually a boy living in DC in 1949. For details check out Blatty’s book on…well, his book: William Peter Blatty On The Exorcist From Novel To Film.

3. Forrest Gump81ipGKtGKML._SL1500_

This star-studded, award-winning 1994 movie was first a semi-popular 1986 novel by Winston Groom. The first Forrest wrote with grammatical errors, typos, and not infrequent (though generally goodnatured) swearwords. He also fit in a trip to space and a few years of forced residence with South American cannibals that Forrest 2.0 missed out on.

91bAKJ3lMVL._SL1500_4. Pitch Perfect

There are few movies that seem less likely to have been based on a book than Pitch Perfect, and fewer still you would bet were based on real events. You would have lost money, though, because the movie was inspired by GQ senior editor Mickey Rapkin’s Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory. True and hilarious story.

51kedGMRSdL5. Mrs. Doubtfire

Before Robin Williams brought the role to life in 1993, Mrs. Doubtfire was Madame Doubtfire, 1987 creation of British YA author Anne Fine. Unlike Mrs. Doubtfire, Madame Doubtfire never actually fooled any but the youngest child and Miranda; apparently makeup improved a lot in five years.

91ZYjoSbwOL._SL1500_6. V for Vendetta

The popular 2006 movie featuring a bald Natalie Portman and no visible part of Hugo Weaving was originally a graphic novel written by Alan Moore in the 1980s. Moore’s series was darker (yes, it’s possible) and favored an anarchist hero over a freedom-fighting one.

91N54uL27lL._SL1500_7. Clueless

Beverly Hills doesn’t look anything like the English countryside, and plaid-miniskirted Alicia Silverstone looks even less like an early nineteenth century miss. But that’s exactly who she is: Jane Austen’s beloved Emma. Wealthy, spoiled schemers with hearts of gold, Cher and Emma both use their social cache to help others—and learn a thing or two in the process.

71YhXBjCQeL._SL1500_8. Die Hard

What? John McClane is Bruce Willis. Bruce Willis is John McClane. One cannot exist without the other. Or can they? Apparently Die Hard isn’t even Die Hard, or at least it wasn’t in 1979 when author Roderick Thorp titled his thriller novel Nothing Lasts Forever picturing Frank Sinatra in the leading role. When Sinatra and Schwarzenegger both declined, Bruce Willis became Joe Leland—who in turn became John McClane.

51ROjdVz1uL9. Howl’s Moving Castle

Hayao Miyazaki’s gorgeous film about Sophie, a shy young hat-maker pitched by a curse into the vain, charismatic Howl’s magical and chaotic world, was one of the most successful movies in Japanese history. But did you know it was first a popular fantasy novel written by British author Diana Wynne Jones? Novel and movie are a little different (Sophie goes to Wales!?)—but both are classics in their own right.

*All images via