With the Academy Awards right around the corner, it’s not surprising that many beloved and award-winning movies are based on novels. But you may be shocked to realize just how many films are inspired by nonfiction books. From tales of true crime to riveting memoirs of astounding lives, this list features 12 of our favorite compelling nonfiction works that have inspired some truly great movies.
12 Great Movies You Didn’t Know Were Based on Nonfiction Books
In the book that inspired the award-winning movie The Theory of Everything—starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones—Stephen Hawking’s first wife, Jane Wilde Hawking, depicts the ups and downs of their marriage—from the high price of fame to the difficulties in being married to someone who requires 24-hour care. This is a moving and honest memoir that is resoundingly extraordinary.
This breathless and riveting saga is an in-depth depiction of the tragedy that later inspired Herman Melville’s MOBY-DICK. Following the catastrophic sinking of the Essex by a sperm whale, which left survivors to drift in the ocean for more than three months, this is a story of survival, endurance, and man versus nature. The epic film adaptation was directed by Ron Howard and stars Chris Hemsworth.
Based on the true events that inspired Moby Dick, Ron Howard’s latest project follows a sunken whale ship whose crew is stranded at sea for ninety days, in a story of incredible courage—and unthinkable sacrifice. Chris Hemsworth puts aside Thor to play a different kind of superhero: the ship’s captain who refuses to give up.
Release date: December 11, 2015
A bitingly original graphic novel, MY FRIEND DAHMER follows the author’s tentative friendship with his high school classmate Jeffrey Dahmer. Derf Backderf thoughtfully explores the darkness that was festering inside his friend even as a teenager. With stark illustrations and riveting prose, this is a true-crime book unlike any other. The recent adaptation stars Ross Lynch and Anne Heche.
Because he interviewed survivors, Walter Lord’s 1955 expert account of the Titanic’s sinking is still considered one of the most accurate depictions of the tragedy. Breathlessly written as a minute-by-minute account, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER brings the final hours of the ship vividly to life. A haunting and masterful work.
What happens when a seemingly healthy young woman wakes up in a hospital bed with no idea of how she got there? A medical memoir of grappling with an ultra-rare disease and the pain of misdiagnoses, BRAIN ON FIRE—and the film adaptation, starring Chloë Grace Moretz—will move, alarm, and ultimately inspire you.
Susannah Cahalan awakes in a hospital room, strapped to the bed. Crazy? Psychotic? Mental breakdown? BRAIN ON FIRE is her story of a devastating autoimmune disease misdiagnosed over and over—all while it appears she is losing her mind.
A gripping and often terrifying memoir from a key player in one of the tensest moments in the twentieth century—the Cuban Missile Crisis—THIRTEEN DAYS is an insider look at the Cold War. Robert F. Kennedy’s prose is stark and powerful, and though a short read, it will stay with you long after you finish it. It later inspired a suspenseful thriller, starring Kevin Costner.
Discover the astonishing true story of a woman who went from waitressing to running a private high-stakes poker game that attracted the ultra-famous and wealthy. From confronting the Russian mob and rubbing elbows with Hollywood titans to having to face the United States government, MOLLY’S GAME is a thrilling memoir of living life in the fast lane. The Aaron Sorkin–written film stars Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba.
Travel to the historic streets of Savannah in this novelesque true-crime story. When a male prostitute is found shot in the home of an antiques dealer, the subsequent trials and media circus turn the Old South upside down. Filled with eccentric characters and surprising twists, this is an unputdownable book. Clint Eastwood directed the adaptation, starring John Cusack, Jude Law, and Lady Chablis.
Shots rang out in Savannah’s grandest mansion in the early morning hours of May 2, 1981. For nearly a decade, the shooting and its aftermath reverberated throughout this beautiful and isolated remnant of the Old South. John Berendt’s sharply observed and suspenseful account of this landmark murder case is a sublime and seductive reading experience.
The ever-timely book that is famous for taking down a president, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN is often regarded as the pinnacle of investigative journalism. You may think you know the story of Watergate, but this book will take you behind the scenes and, with breathless pacing and in-depth research, along the many shocking twists and turns of the scandal. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman starred in the classic film.
Published just months before President Nixon’s resignation, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN revealed the full scope of the Watergate scandal and introduced for the first time the mysterious “Deep Throat.” Woodward and Bernstein’s explosive reports won a Pulitzer Prize for The Washington Post, toppled the president, and have since inspired generations of reporters.
A poignant and powerful biography of a complex and brilliant man, A BEAUTIFUL MIND follows the career of mathematician John Nash, his struggles with schizophrenia, and his eventual rise to win a Nobel Prize. More scholarly than merely dramatic, A BEAUTIFUL MIND nonetheless reads like an engaging novel—which inspired the award-winning film, starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly.
Nasar’s biography of mathematical genius John Nash is a drama about the mystery of the human mind and the power of love. By the age of thirty, Nash was a legend—and already suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Remarkably, Nash triumphed over adversity, won world acclaim and a Nobel Prize.
The book that inspired Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas—starring Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, and Lorraine Bracco—is the captivating and often shocking story of mafia gangster and eventual FBI informant Henry Hill. Combining hard-hitting journalism with extraordinarily mesmerizing prose, WISEGUY is a behind-the-scenes look at the power and corruption of the criminal world.
An enlightening exploration of a group of bitterly different men who helped change American history forever, TEAM OF RIVALS is so much more than just a biography of the sixteenth president. Expertly researched and completely absorbing, this book depicts the extraordinary difficulties Lincoln faced in his effort to save the country. It inspired Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, and Tommy Lee Jones.
The acclaimed political biography that helped inspired Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” Doris Kearns Goodwin provides a truly engaging and fresh exploration of not only Abraham Lincoln’s life but also his acumen in bringing out the best in his cabinet of rival Republicans. Brilliantly conceived and expertly written, this is a thrilling biography of the most momentous presidency. . . . Page Count: 754