Love, Sex and Fandom

The fanfiction to mainstream media pipeline

Who knew Harry Styles fanfic could become a movie?

If you’ve read fanfiction, chances are you’re familiar with Wattpad and Archive of Our Own—online reading platforms where many fans write and read original stories, especially fanfiction. Visiting sites like, Wattpad or Tumblr to indulge in fanfiction is a core memory for many teens and young adults. You may have stayed up late into the night, typing away chapters for a new fanfic after watching the latest book-to-movie adaptation. Or, you simply curled into your blanket and read about millions of plot twists, familiar characters in different worlds filled with excitement, whirlwind romance and angst, all through a screen.

But much has changed since the early 2000s. Many Wattpad and Archive of Our Own fanfics are now sought out by publishers, producers and directors like gold mines. The race to find the upcoming big film or show specifically catered to a younger audience is laborious, and fanfiction sites—chock full of nearly endless content popular among millions of teens and young adults—are a sure-fire place to find potential adaptations. Netflix, Sony and HBO Max are just some of the big companies who have turned to fanfiction to find inspiration for their next hit piece of media. Here’s a list of popular movies and published books that started out as fanfiction!


This is one of the more well-known fanfiction-to-book-to-big-screen adaptations. The fanfiction, written by Anna Todd, garnered almost six million comments on Wattpad. Todd’s work was originally a fanfiction about Harry Styles, whose name, for legal reasons, was changed to Hardin Scott for the novel's publication. In the fanfic, Harry Styles enters a relationship with the protagonist, Tessa Young, whose point of view allowed readers to feel like they too, were dating Harry Styles. The fanfiction was published as a book in 2014 and hit the big screen in 2019, exceeding expectations and raking in $6 million domestically. Its success led to two sequels— After We Collided, After We Fell and After Ever Happy—the latter of which is set to release by the end of 2022.

The Kissing Booth

Beth Reekles, author of the then-Wattpad novel The Kissing Booth, was just 15 years old when she decided to write a story about goody-two-shoes Elle Evans falling in love with playboy Noah Flynn. The story catered to a younger audience, like Reekles herself, and reached almost 5 million readers on Wattpad. In 2018, the film based on Reekles’s novel was released by Netflix, starring Joey King as Elle and Jacob Elordi as Noah. The movie’s success led to a trilogy, with The Kissing Booth 3 being released last year. While the film was criticized for its inherent misogyny, plot holes and clichés, Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos called the movie "one of the most-watched movies in [the U.S.], and maybe in the world."

Fifty Shades of Grey

Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, the main characters of a book-to-movie adaptation Fifty Shades of Grey, made over $500 million on the global market. But did you know that these characters were once Bella Swan and Edward Cullen? The book by author E.L. James was originally a Twilight fanfic series titled Master of the Universe, which was posted onto in 2009. After ridding the book of any Twilight references, James renamed the book and published it with Writer’s Coffee Shop, an Australian publisher created by people in fandoms to publish their work. The move paid off as James was the highest paid author of 2013.

The Love Hypothesis

‘Booktok’—a term used to showcase a subcommunity on TikTok where readers and writers recommend, review and share their favourite literature—is currently obsessed with The Love Hypothesis. The story follows a third-year PhD candidate, Olive Smith, who finds herself in a fake relationship with Adam Carlsen, a well-known professor at her university. The book was originally a Rey x Kylo Ren ‘Star Wars’ fanfiction in which the characters were placed in an alternate academic universe. During publication, the characters’ names were replaced but hints of the original idea still exist. For example, ‘Adam Carlsen’ is a subtle nod to the actor Adam Driver, who played Kylo Ren in Star Wars. Author Ali Hazelwood has a PhD in neuroscience and is a professor herself, making all the STEM references much more interesting.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

You may be familiar with Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments book series, or have seen the movie The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones starring Lily Collins. But Clare wasn’t always a published author. The title ‘Mortal Instruments’ was initially used for a Draco Malfoy and Ginny Weasley-centred Harry Potter fanfiction written by Clare in 2004. Her writing was inspired by the urban landscape of Manhattan, her favourite city. Clare faced plagiarism controversies, and was ultimately banned from when readers pointed out that her fanfiction had phrases pulled from published books like The Hidden Land by Pamela Dean. Any traces of the fanfiction were soon taken down as Clare began her publishing journey.

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