She’s an icon of modern cinema with more than 50 film roles to her credit. She has a trophy cabinet full of silverware, including three Oscars and eight Golden Globes. You’ve probably seen the majority of her films. We’re talking about Meryl Streep – the leading lady of Hollywood’s leading ladies.
Meryl Streep by Karina Longworth
But, as so often with movies, books have inspired many of Streep’s films. In fact, if you want an original reading list for a year of solid literature then you could do a lot worse than the books that served as the basis for her movies.
Oddly, for an actress who has appeared in so many influential films, there are not many good books about Streep herself. Perhaps only Phaidon’s Meryl Streep: Anatomy of an Actor by Karina Longworth and Ian Johnstone’s Streep: A Life in Film are worth a look.
Streep, born in New Jersey in 1949, is one of only six actors to have won three or more Academy Awards.
There are some major literary successes on this list including The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Bridges of Madison County, The Giver, Out of Africa, Kramer vs Kramer, and Sophie’s Choice. These books also cover cooking, blogging, foxes, numerous love stories and families falling to pieces, fashion, and music.
Meryl’s Movie Bookshelf
Pentimento by Lillian Hellman
Based on Lillian Hellman’s memoir Pentimento, Julia was Streep’s first film role after she cut her teeth in theatre. A chapter of Pentimento describes Hellman’s relationship with Julia, who fought against the Nazis in the years prior to World War II. The movie starred Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Jason Robards, and Maximilian Schell with Streep in a supporting role.
The Deer Hunter (1978)
This remarkable film about the Vietnam War was based in part on an unproduced screenplay called The Man Who Came to Play by Louis Garfinkle and Quinn K. Redeker, about Las Vegas and Russian roulette. There is a novelization, by Eric Corder, of the screenplay.
The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
The screenplay of this romantic comedy was written by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman. You can find the screenplay in a book format in Four Films of Woody Allen (and Annie Hall, Interiors and Stardust Memories are the other three films).
The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979)
The screenplay of this political drama, featuring a senator who has an affair, was written by Alan Alda, who also played the title role. A novelization by Richard Cohen exists.
Kramer vs Kramer (1979)
Adapted by Robert Benton from the novel of the same name by Avery Corman. Streep starred with Dustin Hoffman in this bitter tale of a family split in half.
The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981)
Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
Based on the 1969 novel by John Fowles, it’s a non-traditional Victorian love affair where gentleman and naturalist Charles Smithson falls in love with Sarah Woodruff. Jeremy Irons starred alongside Streep.
Still of the Night (1982)
Not based on a book, the screenplay was written by Robert Benton and David Newman. In case you’ve forgotten, this movie was a psychological thriller co-starring Roy Scheider.
Sophie’s Choice (1982)
A National Book Award winner in 1980, William Styron’s novel concerns three people sharing a boarding house in Brooklyn – a young writer, a Jew and his lover who is a Polish concentration camp survivor. The catastrophic decision referenced in the novel’s title is believed to be based on actual events.
Plenty by David Hare
The screenplay was written by Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen. There are now several books about the life and death of activist Karen Silkwood, including The Killing of Karen Silkwood by Richard L. Rashke, and Who Killed Karen Silkwood? by Howard Kohn.
Falling in Love (1984)
Michael Cristofer wrote the screenplay. We can skip this romantic comedy co-starring Robert DeNiro, although there is a scene in the Rizzoli bookstore in New York.
Adapted from David Hare’s play of the same name. The story concerns an Englishwoman who struggles to recover from her experiences of fighting with the French Resistance in World War II.
Out of Africa (1985)
Ironweed by William Kennedy
Inspired by Isak Dinesen’s autobiographical book Out of Africa (Dinesen was the pseudonym of Danish author Karen Blixen) published in 1937. The book focuses on Blixen’s life in Kenya, then called British East Africa, and offers an insight into colonial life.
The screenplay by Nora Ephron is based on her semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, which was inspired by her marriage to Carl Bernstein and his affair with Margaret Jay. Streep starred alongside Jack Nicholson.
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by William Kennedy, who also wrote the screenplay. Again Nicolson co-stars. The story features a homeless couple and their travails during the Great Depression.
Evil Angels / A Cry in the Dark (1988)
The Live and Loves of a She-Devil by Fay Weldon
A film with two names. The screenplay by Fred Schepisi and Robert Caswell is based on John Bryson’s 1985 book, Evil Angels. The story details Australian Lindy Chamberlain, who was tried for the murder of her baby. She claimed the child was taken from a tent by a dingo.
A very loose adaptation of the 1983 novel The Life and Loves of a She-Devil by Fay Weldon. An ugly woman goes to great lengths to wreak revenge on her cheating husband and his pretty mistress.
Postcards from the Edge (1990)
This film was based on Carrie Fisher’s 1987 semi-autobiographical novel of the same title. Fisher, who rose to worldwide fame as Princess Leia, had a bizarre Hollywood upbringing as the daughter of screen star Debbie Reynolds.
Defending your Life (1991)
The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
Albert Brooks wrote, directed and starred in this romantic afterlife comedy. Let’s be thankful there’s no book.
Death Becomes Her (1992)
Scripted by David Koepp and Martin Donovan. A forgettable black comedy fantasy – again no book.
The House of Spirits (1993)
Based on the 1982 novel La Casa de los Espíritus (The House of Spirits in English) by Isabel Allende. This debut novel was conceived by Allende when she heard her 100-year-old grandfather was dying. It tells the story of four generations on the Trueba family through Chile’s many social and political upheavals.
The River Wild (1994)
Screenplay by Denis O’Neill. No book. A rafting adventure in which Streep nearly drowned during filming.
The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
The Bridges of Madison County (1995)
Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Robert James Waller. A love story between Robert Kincaid, photographer and free spirit, and farmer’s wife Francesca Johnson. Clint Eastwood starred opposite Streep.
Before and After (1996)
Based on Before and After by Rosellen Brown. The story centers on a death in a small Massachusetts town. Liam Neeson co-starred.
Marvin’s Room (1996)
Based on the play of the same name by Scott McPherson. The tale of one family’s journey through humour, heartache, separation and self-discovery around physical and mental health.
Dancing at Lughnasa (1998)
Adapted from the Brian Friel play of the same title. Five unmarried sisters in a remote Irish village just before World War II see their isolated world fall apart. Irish angst galore.
One True Thing by Anna Quindlen
One True Thing (1998)
Adapted by Karen Croner from the novel by Anna Quindlen. The story is based on Quindlen’s real life struggle to accept the death of her mother in 1972, due to ovarian cancer. William Hurt co-starred.
Music of the Heart (1999)
Pamela Gray wrote the screenplay. It’s a dramatization of the true story of Roberta Guaspari, who co-founded the Opus 118 Harlem School of Music. There is a book about it called Music of the Heart: The Roberta Guaspari Story co-written by Warren Larkin.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Streep has just a small part in this science fiction film. The screenplay is partially based on the 1969 short story Supertoys Last All Summer Long by Brian Aldiss, which deals with life in an age of intelligent machines.
The Hours by Michael Cunningham
The Adaptation (2002)
A comedy drama directed by Spike Jonze based on Susan Orlean’s non-fiction book The Orchid Thief, which deals with the poaching of rare flowers in South Florida.
The Hours (2002)
Based on Michael Cunningham’s 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same title. The book concerns three women affected by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway novel, including Woolf herself.
Stuck on You (2003)
Streep makes an uncredited cameo appearance. It’s a comedy (!) about cojoined twins. There’s no book.
The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon
The film is based on Richard Condon’s 1959 novel of the same name. Denzel Washington stars. The novel is a rollicking good political thriller with brainwashing, communists and lashings of conspiracy.
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)
You all know Daniel Handler’s bestselling series of children’s books. The movie covers the first three books – The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window.
A prime flop. A romantic comedy starring Uma Thurman. Streep plays a therapist. No book. We’ll move along.
A Prairie Home Companion (2006)
Directed by Robert Altman. A fictional vision of behind-the-scenes at the famous NPR show of the same name. There are all sorts of books associated with the show.
The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Based on Lauren Weisberger’s 2003 novel of the same name. Anne Hathaway starred as the college grad terrorized by Streep’s fashion magazine editor. Was Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, the inspiration for Streep’s character?
The Ant Bully (2006)
A computer-animated children’s adventure based on the 1999 children’s book of the same name by John Nickle.
Dark Matter (2007)
This film is loosely based on a shooting at the University of Iowa. No book.
A drama based on the 1998 novel of the same name by Susan Minot. A dying woman looks back on her confusing past.
Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
A thriller about the CIA and their abduction practices. No book.
Lions for Lambs (2007)
A modern warfare drama film. No book. Robert Redford directed.
Mamma Mia! (2008)
“Gimme, gimme, gimme, a man after midnight. Won’t somebody help me chase the shadows away?” Meryl sings too. The film version of the smash Broadway production, which salutes the songs of ABBA.
A drama adapted from John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer-winning play Doubt: A Parable. Misdeeds in a Catholic school.
Julie & Julia (2009)
Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl
A comedy drama inspired by a blog and a book. The film looks at the lives of chef Julia Child and New York blogger Julie Powell, who aspires to cook all 524 recipes from Child’s iconic cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a challenge that moved from the blogosphere to the printed page (Julie and Julia).
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
The farmers versus the foxes. Roald Dahl’s much loved children’s story was the basis for this animated film. Streep provided the voice of Mrs. Fox.
It’s Complicated (2009)
It got mixed reviews. Another rom-com where Streep is a bakery owner and single mother of three who starts a secret affair with her ex-husband. No book.
Higglety Pigglety! Or There Must be More to Life (2010)
The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout
A live-action/animated short film about the adventures of Jennie the dog. It’s based on Maurice Sendak’s 1967 children’s book.
The Iron Lady (2011)
Not based on a book but there are several notable biographies of Margaret Thatcher, including The Iron Lady by Hugo Young. Alan Clark’s Diaries describe her downfall from the inside. For the other side of the coin, try Things Can Only Get Better by John O’Farrell.
Hope Springs (2012)
Yet another romantic comedy, this time with Tommy Lee Jones. No book.
August: Osage County (2013)
A drama based on John Wells’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name. Julia Roberts and Ewan McGregor also star in this tale of a dysfunctional family that reunites after a disappearance. No book.
My Own Story by Emmeline Pankhurst
The Giver (2014)
Streep plays the Chief Elder in this dystopian science fiction drama based on Lois Lowry’s much loved and much studied 1993 novel set in a peaceful, ordered community that has some dark secrets.
The Homesman (2014)
A period drama set in the 1850s Midwest based in Glendon Swarthout’s novel of the same name. Streep plays the wife of a priest in this story about pioneer women on the edge of a breakdown.
Into the Woods (2014)
Inspired by Grimm’s Fairy Tales, this is a musical fantasy based on the Broadway musical of the same name.
Ricki and the Flash (2015)
A comedy drama where a wife leaves her family to become a rock star. No book.
An historical drama with Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the British suffragette movement. It’s not based on a book but My Own Story by Pankhurst tells her remarkable tale of fighting for women’s rights.