When it comes to adapting stories for the big screen, novels and comic books aren’t the only things to get love from Hollywood (it just seems that way). Here are 17 examples of magazine and newspaper articles that inspired major feature films—some will probably surprise you.
Screenwriter Chris Terrio adapted Joshuah Bearman’s article, “How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans From Tehran,” from Wired and CIA operative Tony Mendez’s book, The Master of Disguise, to write the screenplay for Argo. The film went on to be one of the most profitable movies of 2012, and it received the Academy Award for Best Picture the following year.
“How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans From Tehran”[Wired]
2. The Fast and the Furious
While the Fast and the Furious film franchise has certainly grown and evolved over the past 13 years, it’s often forgotten that the first movie in the widely popular series was based on an article from a 1998 issue of Vibemagazine. Kenneth Li Rafael wrote the piece, “Racer X,” which chronicled the illegal street racing subculture of the late ’90s.
“Racer X” [Vibe]
3. Shattered Glass
Based on Buzz Bissinger’s article “Shattered Glass” from Vanity Fair’s September 1998 issue, writer/director Billy Ray’s film of the same name adapted the story of the rise and fall of Stephen Glass, a young journalist for The New Republic. Glass came to prominence in the ’90s before it was discovered that he fabricated a number of quotes, sources, and events in magazine articles he wrote over the span of three years.
“Shattered Glass” [Vanity Fair]
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street
Believe it or not, the horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street is based on a series of newspaper articles from the Los Angeles Times. The articles reported on a series of deaths in Southeast Asia where young men apparently died in the middle of terrifying nightmares. Wes Craven read these articles and was inspired to make A Nightmare on Elm Street.
“Medical Experts Seek Clues to ‘Nightmare Deaths’ That Strike Male Asian Refugees” [Los Angeles Times]*
*This is a 1988 Los Angeles Times article that summarizes some of the previous reporting
5. Bigger Than Life
Nicholas Ray’s 1956 masterpiece Bigger Than Life was based on Berton Roueché’s New Yorker article “Ten Feet Tall” from 1955. The piece chronicles a teacher’s descent into addiction after his doctor prescribes him the drug Cortisone.
“Ten Feet Tall” [New Yorker]
6. The Killing Fields
Based on Sydney H. Schanberg’s New York Times Magazine article “The Death and Life of Dith Pran,” The Killing Fields followed two journalists trapped in Cambodia during Pol Pot’s Year Zero takeover and genocide in 1975. The film went on to receive seven Academy Award nominations, and Haing S. Ngor won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Cambodian photojournalist Dith Pran, the centerpiece of Schanberg’s article.
“The Death and Life of Dith Pran” [New York Times Magazine]
7. The Perfect Storm
The Perfect Storm is based on “The Storm,” an Outside article from journalist Sebastian Junger published in 1994. The piece was eventually expanded into a book titled The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea in 1997. The film adaption starred George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane, John C. Reilly, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, William Fichtner, and Karen Allen.
“The Storm” [Outside]
8. American Gangster
For American Gangster, screenwriter Steve Zaillian and director Ridley Scott adapted Mark Jacobson’s New York Magazine article “The Return of Superfly,” which follows the rise and fall of ’70s drug kingpin Frank Lucas.
“The Return of Superfly” [New York Magazine]
9. Boogie Nights
Mike Sager’s 1989 Rolling Stone article, “The Devil and John Holmes,” was used by Paul Thomas Anderson as inspiration for his film on the adult film industry, Boogie Nights. The article chronicles porn star John Holmes’ descent into drug abuse and his involvement in the Wonderland murders of 1981.
“The Devil and John Holmes” [Rolling Stone]
10. Saturday Night Fever
British rock journalist Nik Cohn’s “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” was first published in the June 1976 issue of New York Magazine. It follows New York City’s disco subculture in the mid-’70s from the point of view of Vincent, a young man from Brooklyn who turns to the music to get away from his troubled life. While the article was the basis for the hit 1977 movie Saturday Night Fever, it was later revealed to be a complete fabrication.
Nik Cohn came out with the truth 20 years after his article was first published. “My story was a fraud,” he wrote. “I’d only recently arrived in New York. Far from being steeped in Brooklyn street life, I hardly knew the place. As for Vincent, my story’s hero, he was largely inspired by a Shepherd’s Bush mod whom I’d known in the Sixties, a one-time king of Goldhawk Road.”
“Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” [New York Magazine]
Adaptation was partly based on a New Yorker piece titled “The Orchid Thief” by Susan Orlean. Adaptation uses Orlean’s article (and subsequent book) as a framing device for a meta-story about the struggles of adapting non-fiction into fiction.
“The Orchid Thief” [New Yorker]
12. Almost Famous
Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical film Almost Famous is based on “The Allman Brothers Story,” an article he wrote for Rolling Stone in 1973 as a teenager.
“The Allman Brothers Story” [Rolling Stone]
13. Dog Day Afternoon
P.F. Kluge’s 1972 LIFE magazine article, “The Boys in the Bank,” tells the story of a bank robbery that turns into a media sensation. It eventually became the basis for Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon. Interestingly, Kluge describes the main bank robber John Wojtowicz as “a dark, thin fellow with the broken-faced good looks of an Al Pacino or Dustin Hoffman.” Al Pacino was cast as Sonny Wortzik, the film’s lead.
“The Boys in the Bank” [LIFE]
14. Live Free or Die Hard
The fourth installment in the Die Hard film franchise took its cues from a 1997 Wired article by John Carlin, “A Farewell to Arms.” The article surmises that cyber warfare is going to be the new form of terrorism in the future. Live Free or Die Hard follows John McClane on hot pursuit of the hacker responsible for a nationwide cyber attack on government and commercial computers.
“A Farewell to Arms” [Wired]
15. The Insider
Michael Man’s The Insider was adapted from Marie Brenner’s 1996 Vanity Fair article, “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” The article follows Jeffrey Wigand, played by Russell Crowe in the film, who is a whistleblower in the tobacco industry, and his journey from Capitol Hill to his TV appearance on CBS’ 60 Minutes.
“The Man Who Knew Too Much” [Vanity Fair]
16. The Bling Ring
Nancy Jo Sales’ “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” was first published on VanityFair.com in March 2010 and tells the story of a group of entitled teens who break into the homes of celebrities across the Hollywood Hills. Sofia Coppola turned Sales’ piece into The Bling Ring, a stylized crime movie about privilege in America.
“The Suspects Wore Louboutins” [Vanity Fair]
17. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Terry Gilliam’s film is based on Hunter S. Thompson’s two-part Rolling Stone epic “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream.” The articles were first published in 1971 and followed the drug-induced exploits of Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo, the fictionalized versions of Thompson and his attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta.