5 Great Comedies Based on Books

5 Great Comedies Based on Books

We constantly hear about the oversaturation of reboots and remakes in Hollywood. While the arguments are valid that original stories should be pushed first and foremost, some of the best movies in history have been based on other source material, particularly books — whether they’re fiction, nonfiction or even self-help in nature. Most of these literary adaptations tend to skew toward the dramatic, but more than a few have been turned into comedies, too. Here are five especially great ones…

American Psycho

If you find yourself confused as to why American Psycho is listed under the “comedy” category on Max, there are some deeper conversations you should be prepared to have with a trained professional. Either way, Bret Easton Ellis’ controversial novel became an equally polarizing film by Mary Harron. With a committed performance by Christian Bale as the titular psycho Patrick Bateman and an ensemble featuring the likes of Willem Dafoe, Chloë Sevigny and Reese Witherspoon, the film is the perfect union of horror and comedy and satirizes the brutal nature of consumerism and the rise of the yuppie.


The quintessential 1990s teen comedy has some pretty surprising roots for anyone who wasn’t paying attention in high school English class. The totally bitchin’ screenplay from writer-director Amy Heckerling loosely adapted Jane Austen’s Emma and brought the 19th century novel to Beverly Hills. With teen drinking, a makeover montage and a “virgin who can’t drive,” Clueless became the gold standard for later films like Mean Girls and Booksmart

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Another entry from Heckerling, as well as her directorial debut. It’s an adaptation of Cameron Crowe’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story, which detailed his year undercover at a San Diego high school and the students he befriended there. His experiences were brought to the screen by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Judge Reinhold, with support from the perpetually stoned Jeff Spicoli, played by Sean Penn. The film benefits from its carefully crafted source material to bring an authentic version of the American teenager to the screen. It does so convincingly enough that it was preserved by the Library of Congress in 2005 for its cultural, historic and aesthetic influence. 

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The Coen BrothersO Brother, Where Art Thou? is based on Homer’s The Odyssey and follows a triad of escaped convicts (George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson) who are on the hunt for hidden treasure, all while being chased through rural Mississippi by a ruthless sheriff. The modern epic has everything a good movie needs: good folk tunes, some social commentary and Holly Hunter. 


Picture this: a movie based on a book that is also about adapting said book into a movie. That’s the premise of Spike Jonze’s very aptly titled Adaptation. From a screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, the meta-comedy adapted Susan Orlean’s nonfiction book The Orchid Thief, a personal investigation of a South Florida horticulturist arrested for poaching rare orchids, and detailed Kaufman’s own personal struggles in overcoming a bout of writer’s block. The result is a mix of reality and fiction that features Nicolas Cage playing two very different twins and the usually refined Meryl Streep committing to every comedic beat the script asked of her — no matter how unhinged. 

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