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The Best TV Shows and Movies of 2023 (So Far!) Based on Books

Add these 8 top literary adaptations to your summer reading, um, watching list

spinner image justin theroux and woody harrelson in the limited hbo series white house plumbers and cillian murphy smoking a cigarette in the film oppenheimer
(Left to right) Justin Theroux as G. Gordon Liddy and Woody Harrelson as E. Howard Hunt in "White House Plumbers"; Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer in "Oppenheimer."
Phillip V. Caruso/HBO; Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures

You loved the book! Will you love the movie? Hollywood thinks you will (or at least will buy a ticket), which means that hidden among the big-budget blockbusters in movie theaters and the mindless reality TV available at home are a surprising number of smarter films, TV shows and limited series adapted from best-selling biographies, literary novels and essay collections. While we wait for more award-season page-to-screen adaptations — Killers of the Flower Moon, Dune: Part Two and The Color Purple — add these eight new shows and films to your summer watch list. We promise we won’t tell if you didn’t read the book first!


Based on: American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin

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The premise: Lovers of doorstop biographies devoured this 700-plus-page behemoth about theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, when it came out in 2005; it took Bird and Sherwin 25 years to research and write, and their efforts were rewarded with the Pulitzer Prize. Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan, 52, returns to World War II for this appropriately grandiose, three-hour adaptation, which stars Cillian Murphy in the title role alongside an ensemble that includes Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, 52, Kenneth Branagh, 62, and Robert Downey Jr., 58. If you need a palate cleanser after all that bomb-related doom and dread, remember that Oppenheimer releases the same day as Barbie, which also has a literary connection: Director Greta Gerwig has said she partially based the movie on Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia.

Watch it: Oppenheimer, July 21 in theaters

Daisy Jones & the Six

Based on: Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The premise: Reid loosely based her 2019 historical fiction bestseller on Fleetwood Mac and the recording of their 1977 album Rumours, and there’s a bit of rock ’n’ roll history baked into the casting of the Amazon original adaptation: Daisy — the Stevie Nicks stand-in — is played by Riley Keough, the granddaughter of Elvis Presley. Of course the show wouldn’t work without legitimately great original songs, and they were largely written and produced by Blake Mills with contributions from other in-demand musicians like Phoebe Bridgers, Marcus Mumford and Dawes lead singer Taylor Goldsmith.

Watch it: Daisy Jones & the Six on Prime Video


Based on: The Wool series by Hugh Howey

The premise: Fans of Snowpiercer — the postapocalyptic movie and show set entirely on a train — will love this claustrophobic sci-fi series adapted from Hugh Howey’s book series, which he originally self-published in 2011. In a toxic future, humans find shelter in an underground bunker that stretches 144 stories below the surface, and this self-contained ecosystem is populated by a who’s who of celebrated actors, including David Oyelowo, Rashida Jones, Common, 51, and Tim Robbins, 64. Rebecca Ferguson, of Mission: Impossible fame, stars as Juliette, an engineer who works on generators in the lowest levels and starts to uncover secrets about the inner workings of their mysterious world.

Watch it: Silo on Apple TV+

​​Justified: City Primeval

Based on: City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit by Elmore Leonard

The premise: The Emmy-winning neo-Western crime drama Justified drew inspiration from the stories of Elmore Leonard, and this sequel miniseries is based on his 1980 Motor City–set novel City Primeval. Timothy Olyphant, 55, returns as U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, who leaves behind Kentucky for a new life in Miami to take care of his daughter. By chance, he finds himself in Detroit, where he sets to work pursuing the elusive criminal Clement Mansell (aka the Oklahoma Wildman), a violent sociopath played by on-the-rise actor Boyd Holbrook, who appeared as one of the villains in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Rounding out the trio of leads is Oscar nominee Aunjanue Ellis, 54, who plays Mansell’s lawyer, Carolyn Wilder.

Watch it: Justified: City Primeval on Hulu

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​​White House Plumbers

Based on: Integrity: Good People, Bad Choices, and Life Lessons From the White House by Egil Krogh and Matthew Krogh

The premise: Following last year’s Starz series Gaslit, the Watergate scandal gets the limited-series treatment once again, this time in an HBO satire that focuses on President Richard Nixon’s operatives E. Howard Hunt (Woody Harrelson, 61) and G. Gordon Liddy (Justin Theroux, 51). Executive producer Frank Rich called the show a “slapstick tragedy,” and if the tone feels a bit familiar, that’s because it’s directed by David Mandel, the Emmy-winning showrunner of Veep. Keep your ears peeled for an uncredited voice-only cameo by Robert Redford, 86, who once again plays Bob Woodward.

Watch it: White House Plumbers on Apple TV, Hulu, Max, Prime Video

​​Tiny Beautiful Things

Based on: Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

The premise: Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, 56, found great success when they teamed up to star in the adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s hiking memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. They’ve partnered with the author once again, this time as producers on a Hulu miniseries based on Strayed’s collection of essays drawn from her time writing the “Dear Sugar” advice column. Good-in-everything actress Kathryn Hahn stars as the Cheryl stand-in, with Nurse Jackie Emmy winner Merritt Wever playing her late mother.

Watch it: Tiny Beautiful Things on Hulu

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Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

Based on: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

The premise: With book-banning once again in the news, it’s a vital time to revisit this groundbreaking (and controversial) 1970 coming-of-age novel by Judy Blume, 85. In this critically adored adaptation by The Edge of Seventeen director Kelly Fremon Craig, Abby Ryder Fortson plays the 11-year-old Margaret as she grapples with adolescent issues like bras, menstruation and her relationship to religion; she’s joined by Rachel McAdams as her mother and Kathy Bates, 75, as her grandmother. If you’re fiercely protective about the book and nervous about the adaptation, you’ll be happy to know that Blume worked hands-on as a producer, and she’s even said that — blasphemy! — she thinks the film might be better than the book.

Watch it: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret on Prime Video

Flamin’ Hot

Based on: A Boy, a Burrito and a Cookie: From Janitor to Executive by Richard Montañez

The premise: Mexican American actress, producer and spokeswoman Eva Longoria directs this surprisingly inspiring biopic of Richard Montañez, a former Frito-Lay janitor who claims to have created Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. While the story has been disputed by the corporation, Montañez (played here by Jesse Garcia) writes in his memoir that he took home unflavored Cheetos and whipped up a batch of spicy snacks using the flavors of Mexican street corn, later pitching the idea to CEO Roger Enrico (Tony Shalhoub, 69). In June, the White House hosted a screening of the film on the South Lawn, with President Biden introducing the film by saying, “Opportunity is a cornerstone of our democracy and the American dream. And as you’ll see in the film, that’s exactly what the Hispanic community embodies: opportunity, courage.”

Watch it: Flamin’ Hot on Disney+, Hulu

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