14 Movies and TV Shows Inspired by Megapopular Podcasts
Podcasts have been having a moment for the last decade. And so, it was all but inevitable that they'd get the Hollywood treatment just as books have been scoring adaptations for a century. It's a no-brainer that podcasts, which are thoughtfully produced and built on extensive research, make great foundations for the cinematic form. We've seen showbiz magic transform audio shows onscreen with Dirty John and Homecoming. Episodes of This American Life have also famously inspired works such as Lulu Wang's heart-wrenching The Farewell and Netflix's powerful Unbelievable.
Connect your morning commute listen with an equally engrossing evening drama. Whether you're looking for something light and funny or dark and twisty, scroll ahead for the best movies and TV shows based on podcasts!
Amy Berg's four-part HBO series, The Case Against Adnan Syed, uses Serial (also developed by This American Life) as a launching point. The podcast's captivating first season follows the 1999 murder of high school student Hae Min Lee. Using the podcast to lay out her investigative journalism, host Sarah Koenig weighs the evidence that revolved around Syed, Lee's ex-boyfriend, who was sentenced to life plus 30 years for first-degree murder, featuring interviews with witnesses and Syed himself.
Dirty John started as a limited series on Bravo based on Wondery's podcast of the same name hosted by The LA Times' Christopher Goffard. The "John" in the title refers to John Meehan, a grifter who conned Debra Newell, a successful businesswoman, into marriage by telling her that he was an anesthesiologist. Newell's children, however, became suspicious of the new man in her life. In the first season of the series, Eric Bana and Connie Britton portray the real-life couple.
Spooky-podcast-lovers may know a thing or two about Aaron Mahnke's Lore, a horror anthology series that covers real-life events. The hour-long TV episodes are currently on Amazon, and they run a gamut of different topics, from the inventor of the ice pick lobotomy to a countess who killed young girls for blood. Amazon canceled Lore after two seasons, but the podcast lives on, and Mahnke even has a book out.
Starring Scrubs' Zach Braff and Good Sam's Tiya Sircar, Alex, Inc. tells the story of Alex Schuman, a successful journalist who quits his job to start his own podcast company. The story is largely based on the life of Alex Blumberg, who founded the podcast network Gimlet Media. The series takes root in Blumberg's audio show StartUp, which discusses up-and-coming businesses, including Gimlet itself. Alex, Inc. unfortunately got canceled after one season.
Gimlet isn't losing influence any time soon, though. Homecoming, the company's fictional psychological thriller podcast, has been getting the Amazon video treatment with lots of critical buzz. In the series, Julia Roberts plays Heidi Bergman, a social worker who works in a facility that supposedly helps soldiers transition back into civilian life. When audited by the Department of Defense, Bergman begins to look into the true purpose of her former workplace. Acting alongside Roberts are A-listers such as Bobby Cannavale, Sissy Spacek, and Stephan James.
Up and Vanished
The first season of filmmaker Payne Lindsey's Up and Vanished follows the real disappearance of high school teacher Tara Grinstead, whose unsolved case file is the largest one in Georgia. In 2018, the case became a TV special on the Oxygen network. The popularity of the podcast eventually led to the arrests of two former high school students who have both pleaded not guilty. Lindsey is also known for investigating the Atlanta child disappearances and has continued with a second season of Up and Vanished that focuses on a missing woman named Kristal Reisinger.
This American Life
Marked by Ira Glass's distinct voice, This American Life has been on for literally decades, starting first as a radio show then branching into the podcast universe later on. Over the years, it's been widely influential, single episodes inspiring whole movies and TV series. This American Life also produced its own TV series based on the radio program back in the early aughts (2007-2009). While the series is long gone (asked to be taken off by Glass and other creators because of TV's demanding schedule), you can catch new podcast episodes of This American Life every week.
This American Life: "In Defense of Ignorance"
Lulu Wang first shared her family lie on a 2016 episode of This American Life called "In Defense of Ignorance." In the episode, Wang tells the story of how her relatives deliberately kept her grandmother in the dark about a lung cancer diagnosis. The project would evolve into 2019's critically acclaimed The Farewell, Wang's second directorial gig starring Awkwafina as Billie, a fictionalized version of Wang.
This American Life: "Anatomy of Doubt"
Netflix's truly fantastic Unbelievable takes root in both a Pulitzer-winning written piece and a This American Life episode ("Anatomy of Doubt"). Both the podcast and series, published around late 2015 and early 2016, focus on Marie, a young woman who is accused of lying when she reports her rape. The gripping crime series stars Toni Collette and Merritt Wever as fictionalized versions of the police officers who uncover the truth about Marie's case.
This American Life: "Heretics"
The 2018 movie Come Sunday tells the real-life story of Carlton Pearson, a Christian minister in the Pentecostal church who started Azusa, which has been dubbed "the South by Southwest of gospel music." Pearson is infamously known for saying that everyone gets into heaven, even those who didn't believe in Jesus. In 2005, This American Life covered his story in the episode "Heretics," and later produced the underrated Netflix film about his life. The latter stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Martin Sheen, Jason Segel, Lakeith Stanfield, Condola Rashad, and Danny Glover.
Listen to "Heretics" now.
This American Life: "Fear of Sleep"
Yet another This American Life-produced project, Sleepwalk With Me follows the true story of Mike Birbiglia, a comedian and producer who suffers from REM sleep behavior disorder. The screenplay is based on a story told in the 2008 This American Life episode "Fear of Sleep," which explores how the disorder impacted the comedian's life. Birbiglia played a key role in the project, directing, writing, and acting.
Comedians Desus Nice and The Kid Mero first kicked off their podcast about pop culture and entertainment on Complex TV. Then, they'd consolidate a fanbase with their podcast Bodega Boys. Their show Desus & Mero covered the same bases on Viceland, and now, the duo officially has a late night show on Showtime.
2 Dope Queens
Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson host the hilarious podcast 2 Dope Queens, where they talk about comedy, life, and everything in between with their favorite comedians. Their live HBO show brings that delightful dynamic onscreen with a handful of hour-long specials each season. Their guests have included Jon Stewart, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Tituss Burgess.
WTF With Marc Maron
GLOW's Marc Maron hosts the podcast WTF With Marc Maron, releasing his interviews with comedians and celebrities every Monday and Thursday. Each episode consists of Maron's thoughts on his life and current events, his raw talks with his guests, and a little guitar-playing at the end. The show Maron zooms into that first part and gives us a fictionalized version of the infamously honest and just slightly curmudgeonly host. The protagonist, like Maron, is twice-divorced and many years sober, also working out of his garage to interview celebrities.