These Netflix Shows And Films Were Based On Books

Sometimes it’s obvious when something has been adapted from literature, like the seven million versions of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. But often, we have no idea the storyline of our newest Netflix binge is ripped straight from the plot line of a book or play.

The story could be chosen from a relatively obscure piece of literature most viewers aren’t familiar with. Or, the setting and characters may be updated to the point that the original isn’t immediately recognizable—like Clueless (1995), which sets Jane Austen’s Emma in modern-day Beverly Hills.

So, because we love research, books, and, yes, Netflix, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite Netflix shows and movies that are actually inspired by works of literature. What we’ve found will probably surprise you—and maybe inspire you to pick up the original.

The Haunting

The supernatural horror show The Haunting of Hill House scared the bejeezus out of viewers when it came out in 2018. It tells the story of the troubled Crain family and their history in the mysterious Hill House.

This Netflix hit was inspired by the novel The Haunting of Hill House (1959) written by Shirley Jackson (of “The Lottery” fame), adapted into a 1963 film of the same name.

Though they both center on the Hill House, there are a lot of differences between the book and the show, notably that the Netflix show is set in the present day with flashbacks to the 1990s.

If you loved the first season, you’ll be glad to know that The Haunting is coming back in 2020 as The Haunting of Bly Manor—this one inspired by the classic ghost story The Turn of the Screw (1898) by Henry James.

Orange Is the New Black

Emmy-winning Orange Is the New Black was one of Netflix’s first smash TV hits when its first season premiered in 2013. Orange Is the New Black (often abbreviated as OITNB) tells the stories of a diverse cast of characters locked up for various offenses in a woman’s prison in upstate New York. The TV series begins with a particular focus on Piper, played by Taylor Schilling.

The initial focus on Piper makes sense because the show is based on a 2010 memoir by the real Piper Kerman called Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Woman’s Prison. The book tells the true story of the year Piper spent in a woman’s prison for money laundering and drug trafficking.

In later seasons of the show OITNB, Piper drops out of the foreground, in part to make room for storylines about Black, Latino, and immigrant inmates.

The Umbrella Academy

While everyone is familiar with the Marvel and DC movies and shows, it may surprise you to learn that the tragicomic Netflix show The Umbrella Academy is also based on a series of comic books.

Written by Gerard Way, illustrated by Gabriel Bá, and first published in 2007, The Umbrella Academy comic books tell the story of a dysfunctional family of superheroes brought together by eccentric millionaire Dr. Reginald Hargreeves. The series, published by Dark Horse Comics, got favorable critical responses and won a Will Eisner Comic Industry Award in 2008.

The show The Umbrella Academy has had mixed critical reviews, but that hasn’t stopped Netflix from renewing it for a second season.

Call the Midwife

Some people have lives that are so thrilling they just are begging to be put on the screen. That’s the case with the hit show Call the Midwife, first airing on the BBC in 2012 and available on Netflix for US viewing. It tells the story of midwives working in London in the late 1950s.

What viewers may not realize is that Call the Midwife is actually based on a trilogy of memoirs by Jennifer Worth (née Lee) about her life as a nurse in 1950s London. In fact, the first episode of the television show is dedicated to Worth, who died of esophageal cancer in 2011 at the age of 76.

While Call the Midwife features a version of “Jenny,” it sadly doesn’t show Worth’s later career as a successful musician.

Pretty Little Liars

Pretty Little Liars and its spin-off The Perfectionists is like Gossip Girl meets a mystery/crime thriller.

This popular teen show originally aired on ABC Family (Freeform) in 2010 and ran for 7 seasons. While the show’s run is over, it’s still available on Netflix, and in 2019 the spin-off The Perfectionists was released. The story features a group of teenage girls trying to find out who the mysterious, dangerous figure “A” is.

But, viewers of this hit show might not realize that Pretty Little Liars was actually based on a bestselling series (2006–14) of young adult novels of the same name by Sara Shepard. Admittedly, the TV show got well beyond the plot of the novels (like, ahem, Game of Thrones, based on the novels by George R. R. Martin).


You’re a lucky writer if your debut novel is turned into a film that is shown at Sundance (now available via, you guessed it, Netflix). You’re insanely lucky if that film happens to star Mary J. Blige and Carey Mulligan.

That’s the case with Hillary Jordan’s 2008 novel Mudbound about the McAllen family, who move from Memphis to a cotton farm in Mississippi in the mid-1940s. Every time it rains, the land on the farm turns into thick, black mud—which gives the story its name. The film and the movie both deal with the relationship between the white McAllen family and the black Jackson family (tenant farmers) as they struggle to survive in all that mud.

The 2017 film version of Mudbound was written and directed by Dee Rees, a critically acclaimed Black director. While both Rees and Jordan are Southerners, Rees puts the Black experience in the story front and center in her film adaptation of the novel.


Jennifer Aniston garnered praise for her role as former beauty pageant competitor Rosie Dickson in the 2018 Netflix film Dumplin’. The film tells the story of her daughter, Willowdean, who Rosie calls Dumplin’. Willowdean, or “Will,” is a heavier girl who decides to compete in the local Miss Teen Bluebonnet Pageant. Complications ensue.

While you might have seen this heartwarming film, you may not know it was based on a 2015 young adult novel by the same name by Julie Murphy. The film follows roughly the same plot as the book—with a few notable differences. For starters, love interest Bo has a reduced role in the film and a second love interest, Mitch, is totally written out of the movie.

While the film got mixed reviews, the book was a critical success. So if Dumplin’ (the film) wasn’t your cup of tea, give the book a go instead.

The Fundamentals of Caring

The dramedy film The Fundamentals of Caring, starring Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts, and Selena Gomez, was released on Netflix in 2016 after its premiere at Sundance that same year. The film tells the story of a writer, Ben, who becomes a caregiver to a teenager, Trevor, who has muscular dystrophy. Ben and Trevor become close and learn a lot about life together.

It’s a moving tale, and one based in a 2012 novel entitled The Revised Fundamentals of Caring by Jonathan Evison. Evison had been a caregiver to a young man with muscular dystrophy, Case Levenson, for three years. Their true friendship was the foundation for the relationship that is shown in the book and film. In fact, Evison invited Levenson to walk the red carpet with him at the Sundance premiere of the The Fundamentals of Caring.

The Land of Steady Habits

Do you feel trapped by the daily grind, the same old routine? Do you ever wish you could just break free of your middle-class suburban life? Then you might relate to the main character of the film The Land of Steady Habits, released on Netflix in 2018.

This film, another dramedy, stars Ben Mendelsohn, Edie Falco, and Connie Britton of Friday Night Lights fame. It was directed by Nicole Holofcener and debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2018.

This dry, sardonic film takes its tonal cues (and plot) from a book by the same name written by author Ted Thompson. The book was published in 2014 to mostly favorable reviews; it is often mentioned in comparison to many Johns’ (Updike, Cheever, and Franzen) work on suburban malaise.

If you find the film a bit depressing, the book can be even more so, so consider yourself warned. But if you can’t get enough of suburbanites behaving badly, consider reading the novel, too.

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