POSTED March 13 2012

What to Expect When You Base a Movie on a Self-Help Book

Rodrigo Santoro and Chris Rock

A few years back when He’s Just Not That Into You hit theaters, I wasn’t the only one surprised that filmmakers had turned a self-help book into a movie. At the time I joked to a colleague, what next, Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care?

No joke: Come May, What to Expect When You’re Expecting (based on Heidi Murkoff’s popular prenatal guide) is scheduled for release. The ensemble  comedy (call it Friends with Kids on the Way) co-stars Chris Rock, Rodrigo Santoro, Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz, Matthew Morrison and Brooklyn Decker.

Due in theaters about a month before What to Expect is Think Like a Man, based on Steve Harvey’s advice book that decodes male behavior for uncomprehending women. This ensemble comedy stars Chris Brown, Morris Chestnut, Taraji P. Henson and Gabrielle Union.

This is what to expect when you base a movie on a self-help book: Studio marketing departments get a presold title and a variety of cast members bound to appeal to  everyone. Screenwriters get anecdotal situations to string together into a plot. Everyone in the ensemble works only a few weeks and is spared the burden of having to carry the picture. (That was the principal lure to actors when it came to making the holiday ensemble movies Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve .) All these movies were no doubt inspired by the success of the ensemble comedy Love, Actually. (Santoro, who is in What to Expect, played Laura Linney’s crush in Love, Actually.)

What’s next, Marianne Williamson’s Age of Miracles: Embracing the New Middle Age?

Thoughts? Is there any redeeming aspect to Hollywood’s self-help trend? Any self-help books you’d like to see made into movies?



  1. This kind of material gets adapted because it’s formulaic, “pre-sold” and easy to adapt for comedic purposes, whether or not the final product actually turns out to be funny. I really wish studios/producers/writers would resist the urge to do this, but they never will. Actually, it would be nice to see Marianne Williamson’s book adapted or perhaps some relatively famous but little-read poem. Or even a famous painting. Something that would show a little imagination. Curtis

  2. Oh — nice title for this piece. Curtis

  3. Carrie Rickey says:

    @Crtis: Agreed that producers are buying the title, not the contents. On my FB site, Peter Winkler reminded me that in the ’60s and early ’70s, studios made “Sex and the Single Girl” and “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex” — and, I may add, “The Kinsey Report.”

  4. Horse Badorties says:

    Then there was the book How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, about 1958 or so..not sure if that counts.

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