11 Nonfiction Books That Became Movies

by Sadie Trombetta

Every year, including 2016, more and more books are being turned into blockbuster hits. From the Oscar-winning film The Revenant to the upcoming and highly anticipated The Girl on the Train , fictional stories are constantly being brought to life on the big screen, but if you ask me, the best adaptations are the nonfiction books that became movies.

Sure, thrillers, romances, and YA novels make for great entertainment, but movie adaptations of nonfiction books are always amazing. Whether it's originally published as an intimate memoir, a well-researched biography, or a true crime novel, real stories are wonderful on both paper and film. Nonfiction books have all the right components that make up a great film: emotion, conflict, action, tragedy, redemption, and yes, even love.

Can you think of a story with more heartbreak and perseverance than The Perfect Storm ? Is there a family story out there more inspiring than The Blind Side ? Some of the movies take a little piece of the book and run with it, and others recreate it quote for quote, but no matter how strict or loose the adaptation, the inspiration — nonfiction books — make the perfect original material.

From the familiar award winners to the films you didn't know were inspired by novels, here are 11 of the many nonfiction books that became movies worth watching. Save them for a rainy day, or, you know, this Friday night.

1. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilence, and Redemtion by Laura Hillenbrand

This 2010 bestselling biographical sports drama from the celebrated author of Seabiscuit tells the remarkable story of US Olympian Louie Zamperini who, while fighting in World War II, not only survived a plane crash, stayed alive for 47 on a raft at sea, but he also managed to survive over two and a half years in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. His story is an inspiring one, and the 2014 feature film adaptation, directed by Angelina Jolie, brings all of the bravery, perseverance, and hope that makes it so incredible to life on film. This book is a must-read, and the movie is worth a watch, too.


2. Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History by George Crile

History gets a bad reputation for being dull, but George Crile's Charlie Wilson's War has enough action, political intrigue, and suspense to keep even the most skeptical readers interested. The true story of US Senator Charlie Wilson's involvement in the Cold War and his covert mission to arm the new jihad freedom fighters in Afghanistan. Adapted into a 2007 film starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War , whether in book form or on film, will intrigue history buffs and and non-history buffs alike.


3. Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Wilde Hawking

In this moving memoir, Jane Wilde Hawking, the ex-wife of renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, shares an intimate look at her life with one of the most famous modern scientists and all of the struggles that came with it. From falling in love to dealing with her husband's crippling illness to the inevitable heartbreak she would suffer, Hawking doesn't pull any punches with in this deeply personal book. Both the book and the 2014 British film adaptation, The Theory of Everything , which won Eddie Redmayne Best Actor at both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes, are touching stories you need to experience for yourself.


4. Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles by Anthony Swofford

It's all action and emotion in this intimate memoir about Anthony Swofford, a US Marine who served in the Gulf War. But fighting the enemy abroad wasn't Swofford's only battle, and in his book, he describes the mental struggles that come with combat, the emotional toil of leaving your loved ones behind (and being betrayed by them), and the philosophical struggle of trying to find the balance between man, patriot, and soldier. Jarhead was turned into a 2005 biographical drama by the same name, starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Swofford. Trust me when I say it's a war movie unlike any other, and it is definitely worth watching, even the violent parts.


5. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Truman Capote's In Cold Blood is perhaps one of the most celebrated, and most interesting, modern true crime story, and it's unsurprising why. A suspenseful and intriguing story, the novel tells the story of a quiet community rocked by the brutal murders of the Clutter family, and while the police struggle to put the clues together to solve the crime, the remaining family members, friends, and fellow townspeople are left to pick up the pieces of their shattered realities. A true story that became Truman Capote's obsession, In Cold Blood also became the base of the 2005 Capote, a biographical film about the author, as played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, that focused on his time investigating and writing the book. Both are fascinating stories.


6. The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll

In this heartbreaking and very real coming-of-age story, author Jim Carrol shares the shocking stories of his drug-filled youth. The Basketball Diaries chronicles Carroll's teenage years, during which he enjoyed a promising high school basketball career, but later succumbed to heroin addiction, violence, and poverty. A raw, heartbreaking story about lost youth and redemption, the only thing harder than reading Carroll's story is watching it brought to life in the 1995 Leonardo DiCaprio-starring film.


7. Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand

In her second showing on this list, Laura Hillenbrand brings us an unlikely story of how an overnight millionaire, a new racehorse, a mustang breaker, and a crippled jockey came together to create one of the greatest legends in horse racing. An inspiring underdog story, Seabiscuit went on to become an Academy Award nominated film starring Tobey Macguire, Jeff Bridges, and Elizabeth Banks. If the plot isn't enough to entice you to watch it, then that cast certainly is.


8. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

There are few mental health memoirs as evocative and emotional as Susanna Kaysen's Girl, Interrupted. In it, Kaysen chronicles, in vivid detail, her years spent at the McLean Hospital, a psychiatric center famous for clients like Sylvia Plath and Ray Charles, and the doctors and patients she met there. An intimate study of sanity and recovery, both Kaysen's memoir and the 1999 film, starring Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder, are breathtaking stories you should familiarize yourself with ASAP.


9. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

When Christopher Johnson McCandless gave away his money, left behind all his possessions, including his car, and walked into the Alaskan wilderness to start a new life for himself, no one knew the tragedy that laid ahead. Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild examine McCandless life, including the years leading up to his decision to leave it all behind, and his time spent living off the land, in breathtaking detail and insight. A tragic story of a young man trying to find his own way in the world, Into the Wild , both in book form and in the 2007 Sean Penn-directed film, requires tissues. Lots and lots of tissues.


10. Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

This controversial memoir that recounts the strange childhood of author Augusten Burroughs is a one of a kind read, and a one of a kind movie. Starring a unique cast of characters so strange that they could only be real, circumstances so bizarre they could only be true, and insight so brutally honest, it could only be Burroughs. Running with Scissors should be on everyone's To Read and To Watch lists.


11. The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Kim Baker

Though the recent Tina Fey movie, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, shares a name with a fiction novel by David Shafer, it's actually based off of reporter Kim Baker's memoir, The Taliban Shuffle . Both the book and move recount Baker's time spent as a correspondent in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where she must navigate through the murky waters of the reality of war, the complications of politics, the implications of being a woman, and the struggles of not know what the hell she was doing. Hilarious and insightful, The Taliban Shuffle will make you laugh out loud, and, like everything Tina Fey does, so will the movie.


Image: Focus Features