Personal stories written by these seven women about real life also made blockbuster films in reel time.
Is your favorite on the list? Let me know or feel free to add your favorite memoir turned movie by a female author into the comments section at the bottom of this story.
1 & 2. Julie and Julia: My Year Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell and My Life in France by Julia Child were transformed by Nora Ephron into the 2009 hit film Julie and Julia. So this point counts for two books. Both women begin their story at a crossroads in their lives and cooking helps them discover and realize their dreams. The film weaves the life of chef Julia Child in the early years of her culinary career with the life of young New Yorker Julie Powell.
Powell was employed as a civil servant, spending her days working in a cubicle. Questioning the meaning of her life, she decides to add some spice by attempting to cook all 524 recipes in Child’s cookbook in 365 days and blog about it as it all happened. Her blog titled The Julie/Julia Project became so popular, it got her the book deal. Meryl Steep stars as Julia Child and Amy Adams plays Julie Powell.
“[Julie & Julia] does it right. A consummate entertainment that echoes the rhythms and attitudes of classic Hollywood, it’s a satisfying throwback to those old-fashioned movie fantasies where impossible dreams do come true. And, in this case, it really happened. Twice.”
— Kenneth Turan, Film Critic, Los Angeles Times
Julie and Julia is the first major motion picture based on a blog. It grossed nearly $130 million (USD) at the box office worldwide.
3. The Glass Castle is a 2005 memoir by Jeannette Walls about her unconventional, poverty-stricken childhood with her siblings and their deeply dysfunctional parents. The title refers to her father’s long held intention of building his dream house — a glass castle. Walls’ memoir was adapted by Lionsgate and released in the summer of 2017 as movie carrying the same name.
Jeannette Walls is the second oldest of four children. Her father, Rex, is an alcoholic. Her mother, Rose Mary, is a painter and artist who spends a bit of time as a teacher. At one point in the book, the children resort to dumpster diving to survive. There are other horrific events that happen to the children including them being assaulted and sexually abused.
Walls’ memoir spent over 260 weeks in hardcover on the New York Times Best Seller list. Figures show that by late 2007, The Glass Castle had sold 2.7 million copies and had been translated into 22 languages. It also won multiple prestigious literary awards. Its paperback version later spent more than a year on the New York Times Best Seller list.
“What’s best is the deceptive ease with which Walls makes us see just how she and her siblings were convinced that their turbulent life was a glorious adventure.”
— Francine Prose, Film Critic and novelist, in the New York Times Book Review
The film has an all star cast with Woody Harrelson portraying the father, Rex. Naomi Watts plays the mother, Rose Mary. Brie Larson stars as Jeannette Walls. While critics thought the actors did a good job, the film’s production team received some negative reviews for their adaptation of the book.
“[The film]peddles easy uplift instead of cold, hard truths. Hollywood has a knack for sanitizing books that deserve better.”
— Peter Travers, writing for Rolling Stone
4. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail written by Cheryl Strayed and published by Alfred Knopf in March 2012, debuted on the New York Times’ Best Seller list at #7 for hardcover non-fiction the week it was released. Three months later, Opera announced Wild was her first selected read for her ‘Oprah’s Book Club 2.0’. The following month, Wild reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list and remained there for several weeks.
Wild is Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of her 1,100 mile solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, beginning in the Mojave Desert and hiking through California and Oregon to the Bridge of the Gods into Washington. It’s her journey of self discovery and healing. The book contains flashbacks to prior life events that led her to do the hike including the death of her mother when Cheryl was 22 years old, the heroin addiction she later developed and her divorce.
A few months before Wild was published, actress and producer Reese Witherspoon led an options buy for the story and made it onto the 2014 blockbuster Wild. Screenwriter Nick Hornby wrote the script and the film stars Reese Witherspoon as Strayed. She earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in 2015 for her role. However, the scenes of Cheryl as a child were played by her real life young daughter Bobbie Strayed Lindstrom.
Witherspoon told Vulture magazine that shooting the film was a lot of work:
“By far, this is the hardest movie I’ve ever made in my life. I didn’t hike a thousand miles, of course, but it was a different kind of physical rigor. I’d run up a hill with a 45-pound backpack on, and they’d say, ‘Wait, that backpack doesn’t look heavy enough. Put this 65-pound backpack on and run up the hill nine or ten times.” We literally didn’t stop shooting in those remote locations — we wouldn’t break for lunch, we’d just eat snacks. No bathroom breaks. It was crazy, but it was so wonderful. It was complete immersion, and I’ve never felt closer to a crew. We literally pulled each other up the mountains and carried each others’ equipment.”
— Reese Witherspoon, Producer & Actor, Wild
5. Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Hawking was adapted into the 2014 award winning film titled The Theory of Everything. Jane Hawking’s memoir is as much about her life as it is a biography about her former husband’s, the renowned University of Cambridge Professor and Physicist, Stephen Hawking.
In 2013 Hollywood overtook campus to film a movie about his life. I was around Cambridge myself during this time and many of my friends auditioned for a role as an extra because they wanted to be a part of sharing his heroic story. The Theory of Everything was not only a box office smash but the actor who played Hawking, Eddie Redmayne (also a Cambridge alum), went on to win the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Hawking’s life and journey with motor neurone disease. Felicity Jones received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Jane Hawking. The film made nearly $125 million (USD) at the box office worldwide.
“A solid, duly moving account of their complicated relationship, spanning roughly 25 years, and made with impeccable professional polish.”
— Leslie Felperin, The Hollywood Reporter
6. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert is a 2006 memoir about a modern woman who on paper has everything: a handsome husband, a house and a successful career — but like so many others, she finds herself lost, confused and searching for what she really wanted for her life. The book was transformed into the 2010 blockbuster film Eat Pray Love.
“To read about her struggles with a 182-verse Sanskrit chant, or her (successful) attempt to meditate while being feasted on by mosquitoes, is to come about as close as you can to enlightenment-by-proxy.”
— Lev Grossman, Time
The book remained on The New York Times Best Seller list for 187 weeks. The movie rights for the memoir were purchased by Columbia Pictures. The film version stars Julia Roberts as Elizabeth Gilbert and Javier Bardem as the new love interest she meets in Bali. Eat Pray Love was produced by Brad Pitt’s production company.
The movie starts when the newly divorced Gilbert, steps out of her comfort zone to end what she feels is a crossroads impasse in her life and embarks on a journey around the world that becomes a quest for self discovery. Through travel, Gilbert discovers the true pleasure of nourishment by eating in Italy (Eat), the healing power of prayer in India (Pray), and the inner peace and balance of true love in Bali, Indonesia (Love).
Eat Pray Love was considered a huge box office success earning more than $200 million (USD) worldwide. Marketers for the film also created over 400 merchandising tie-ins. Products included Eat Pray Love themed jewelry, perfume, tea, gelato machines and even an oversized Indonesian bench.
7. A Mighty Heart is Mariane Pearl’s emotional memoir of the search for her husband, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, during the aftermath of 9–11. A film bearing the same name, staring Angelia Jolie as Mariane and co-produced by Brad Pitt, was released in 2007. It’s been said that Mariane Pearl chose Jolie herself to star in the film adaptation of her memoir.
American Journalist Daniel Pearl was kidnapped by supporters of Omar Sheikh in Karachi in 2002. Sheikh claimed responsibility at the time and was later captured and convicted for kidnapping and beheading Pearl. In addition to sharing the love story of Mariane and Daniel, the movie also covers efforts to track the kidnappers and bring them to justice.
Angelina Jolie received a Golden Globe Best Actress nomination for her portrayal of Mariane Pearl, who was pregnant with the couple’s first child at the time of Daniel’s kidnapping. Film critics mostly gave the film two thumbs up.
“Standing at the center of the story is Mariane Pearl, played by Angelina Jolie in a performance that is both physically and emotionally convincing. A few obvious makeup changes make her resemble the woman we saw so often on TV (curly hair, darker skin, the swelling belly), but Jolie’s performance depends above all on inner conviction.”
— Roger Ebert, American Film Critic, Chicago Sun Times
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