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Movies About Writers

Updated on February 24, 2013

Escape from the stresses of freelancing and writer's block with a few of these great movies about journalists, novelists, poets, and playwrights, some real, some fictional.

The Rum Diary

Directed by Bruce Robinson and starring Johnny Depp, The Rum Diary tells the semi-autobiographical story of novelist Hunter S. Thompson. This movie explores how Thompson finds his voice in Puerto Rico as an alcoholic employed for a failing newspaper who gets caught up in a real estate scandal and falls in love with a high society woman. Although Thompson wrote the novel the movie is based on in the early 1960s, he didn't publish it until 1998 due to initial rejections from publishers. Hunter S. Thompson would go on to write Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which was previously made into a movie also starring Johnny Depp in 1998.

Secret Window

This thriller based on a Stephen King novel (Secret Window, Secret Garden) also stars Johnny Depp. This one is based on a fictional writer, Mort Rainey, who lives in an isolated cabin in the woods, making little progress on his work while strange things keep occurring around his home. In addition to writer's block, Mort is troubled by another writer John Shooter who claims that he plagiarized his work. A minimal soundtrack by Philip Glass and Geoff Zanelli sets the unsettling tone of this movie and a surprising twist makes this movie worth watching.


This is a historical fiction movie about the Marquis de Sade. With a quirky blend of humor and tragedy, it makes an interesting watch, helped along by excellent performances by Kate Winslet and Geoffrey Rush. Most of the movie is set in a fancy mental asylum where the Marquis de Sade is imprisoned. Winslet plays an innocent laundress at the asylum while Rush plays the Marquis de Sade. The asylum is run by the Abbé de Coulmier, a priest played by Jaoquin Phoenix. There is a good dose of satire in the movie. While the Marquis is the one reproached by the government for his scurrilous stories, true misdeeds are taking place in a corrupt society with real madmen.

Girl, Interrupted

Starring the talented Winona Ryder alongside Angelina Jolie as asylum inmates, 'Girl, Interrupted' is a film adaptation of Susanna Kaysen's novel of the same name. Ryder, playing Kaysen, keeps a diary as she finds her way through the chaotic turmoil of building her identity. Kaysen is swept away with the wild Lisa Rowe, played by Jolie, enjoying a care-free, hedonistic joyride until things go horribly wrong. Director James Mangold, whose other film of note is Walk the Line, does an excellent job of visualizing Kaysen's novel. The film is set in the 1960s but Kaysen's tribulations are still relevant today.


Howl is about Allen Ginsberg writing his poem 'Howl' and the obscenity trial that greeted its publication. The film stars James Franco and is directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. The weak part of the film is the subpar animation interspersed between scenes that is used to reenact the abstract poetry of 'Howl' while Franco narrates it. The strong part is Franco's performance as Ginsberg during recreated interviews with Ginsberg and dramatizations of his turbulent life while he was writing 'Howl'. Franco carefully captures the particular tone and cadence of Ginsberg, making his portrayal believable. Jazz music helps to characterize the era and vibe of the Beat Generation, which was essentially launched with Ginsberg's 'Howl'.

Naked Lunch

Naked Lunch is based on William S. Burrough's novel of the same name, which was published in 1959. The film version was directed by David Cronenberg, known for his recent film Cosmopolis starring Robert Pattinson and movies like The Fly and Eastern Promises. In addition to the original novel, the screenplay draws on Burrough's life and other writings. Two characters in the movie are based on Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, whom Burrough's knew personally. The plot is based on Burrough's accidental shooting of his wife, which actually occurred, but then drifts into a schizophrenic world where Burroughs believes he is being controlled by a giant bug. Burroughs has stated that the shooting was the motivation for his writing career.

Dream House

This movie is pure fiction, about a writer who returns home to his family in the suburbs to work on his novel after quitting his job in the city. Daniel Craig plays the main role of Will Atenton. Beautiful cinematography helps to sell the story as the family begins to suspect that someone is watching their house. Will finds out that a man named Peter Ward murdered his family in the house five years ago and goes searching for information about Ward. Most of the movie is captivating, but the climax is a bit disappointing.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is based on a novel by Swedish author Stieg Larrson, who originally entitled it Men Who Hate Women. The film version is directed by David Fincher, known for Fight Club and The Social Network, and stars Daniel Craig as the journalist Mikael Blomkvist and rising star Rooney Mara in the difficult role of Lisbeth Salander. The movie includes some disturbing scenes, and the novel was motivated by a crime Larrson witnessed but did not interfere with and his later regrets. Most of the movie was actually filmed in Sweden, where the novel is set. Blomkvist and Salander team up to investigate a woman's disappearance.

Total Eclipse

Total Eclipse

This movie is about the young and wild 19th century poet Arthur Rimbaud and his tumultuous relationship with fellow writer Paul Verlaine and his wife. Rimbaud was part of the Decadent movement in writing that occurred at the end of the 19th century and included writers like Oscar Wilde and Charles Baudelaire. Rimbaud quit writing at twenty, choosing not to pursue his considerable talent. Victor Hugo, author of The Hunch back of Notre Dame, once described him as an "infant Shakespeare." Be forewarned that the movie is quite graphic.

Shakespeare in Love

Starring Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love is a fictional account of Shakespeare's life, about a romance that occurred while he was writing Romeo and Juliet. The screenplay was written by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, who previously wrote another Shakespeare-based work, the comedic Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, a spinoff of Hamlet. The film won Best Picture at the Oscars in 1998.

On the Road

On the Road is a 2012 film adaptation of Jack Kerouac's novel directed by Walter Salles. The movie stars Kristen Stewart as Marylou as Dean Moriarty's girlfriend. In real life Moriarty is based on Kerouac's friend Neal Cassady. The character Sal Paradise is based on Kerouac himself. Another member of the Beat Generation, Kerouac's novel is about his road trip across the U.S. in the 1940s. Kerouac took the trip to remedy his writer's block, and wrote the novel itself in 3 weeks on his typewriter after he got home by referring to notebooks he took with him on the journey.

Movies from the List Available for Rent on Amazon


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      Brandt Hardin 

      5 years ago

      The high art of film has captured the brilliant moments of literary minds and their processes in countless adaptations of the lives of our favorite authors. You can read my own Top 20 Greatest Movies of All Time about Writers at


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