Skip to main content

Could The Movie "Yesterday" be Based on the Book "Enormity"? (Maybe, but Probably Not)

The publishing industry’s current controversy of the week for this week revolves around an upcoming movie, and an author who is claiming implies that the movie’s plot is based on the novel he published back in 2013.

Here’s what The Guardian had to say:

When Nick Milligan decided to self-publish his speculative fiction novel, Enormity, he knew it was going to be a hard slog to find an audience. But seeing a similar plot play out in the trailer for Danny Boyle’s new film, Yesterday, came as a shock.

“I had high expectations for Enormity’s success,” Milligan said. “I wrote it with a movie in mind.”

That goal seems even more out of reach now.

Written by Richard Curtis and starring Himesh Patel and Lily James, Yesterday follows a character called Jack (Patel) who has a bicycle accident during a worldwide blackout. According to the trailer, which was released last week, when Jack wakes up, he finds himself in an almost identical version of Earth in which The Beatles never existed. He passes off their music as his own, and havoc ensues.

It’s a plot that bears remarkable resemblance to the Australian Milligan’s novel, which also follows a character called Jack who, after a journey into deep space, finds himself on a planet that’s almost identical to Earth, with a few exceptions – including that its people have never heard of The Beatles.

“He passes off classic music as his own material, including that of The Beatles, and the story then explores the consequences of that lie,” Milligan told Guardian Australia.

The book can be found on Amazon. Here’s one of the trailers for the movie:

I took  about four hours today to read the book. I am about half way through, and I have to say that I don’t see the connection.

Yes, the two works do have the one shared element – both main characters pass off music by famous artists as their own – but that is where the similarity ended. (If you want to claim that the name of the main character is a similarity, please go read up on the concept of the "everyman" trope before you embarrass yourself.)

The differences far exceed the similarity. The book is set on an entirely different planet (it has two suns), while the movie is set on Earth.  The main character in the book plagiarizes many great songs from bands that never existed on his new planet, while the guy in the movie starts singing Beatles songs after he realizes that no one knew who they were. And when it comes to story line, the book is heavily focused on the decadence of the rock star lifestyle, while the movie is centered around the main character realizing that what he really wanted  in life was to be with the teacher friend he left behind when he became famous.

I have seen movies with fewer details in common with the book they were adapted from (Starship Troopers is one, or The Last Mimzy), yes, so it is entirely possible that the movie is in some way related to the book.

I am also a firm believer that ideas are stolen in Hollywood all the time (I think Paramount got the idea for the idea for Star Trek: DS9 after hearing the pitch for Babylon 5, for example).

Yes, Hollywood steals, and they also recycle.

But if the author is to be believed, Universal would rather steal an idea from an Australian thriller novel no one had ever heard of when they could have optioned the rights for a pittance. The author is also implying that the writer who created Notting Hill, 4 Weddings and a Funeral, and  After Time (and adapted Bridget Jone’s Diary) could not have come up with the idea on his own.

Sure, that is entirely possible, but I really don’t beleive it.

Edit: And guess what? The idea is not as original as the author would have you think. There’s a British tv series from the mid-1990s that used a very similar premise:

Similar Articles


Steve February 20, 2019 um 8:16 pm

And "Back to the Future" stole the idea from this book and the movie when Marty McFly "invented" a song that Chuck Barrie had not yet written.

Yes, I know, "Back to the Future" predates both, but, hey, time travel! Right?

Nate Hoffelder February 20, 2019 um 8:29 pm


Bill Peschel February 20, 2019 um 9:38 pm

And who would a Brit like Richard Curtis would pick the Beatles to copy, when there are so many other groups with major hits like …. like …. hang on a tic.

Good on you for taking one for the team in reading the book, BTW.

Nate Hoffelder February 20, 2019 um 10:12 pm

It’s actually an okay novel. It’s not my thing, but I think that if this had been put out by a major US publisher, it would have hit the best-seller list.

Richard Hershberger February 21, 2019 um 9:26 am

Seriously? Because if we stipulate to this, the implication is that the author missed out on a lot of money–both royalties and publicity–by self-publishing.

Nate Hoffelder February 21, 2019 um 9:54 am

Well, it doesn’t have to be trad-pub, but I think that this book could have really succeeded with the right marketing push. (It also needs to be edited for American English.)

Richard Hershberger February 21, 2019 um 10:53 am

Have any self-published novels produced the sorts of revenue that traditionally published best sellers generate? My impression from discussions in the self-publishing world is that the top performers get annual incomes in the low six figures. Traditionally published top performers run about two orders of magnitude higher than that. E. L. James presumably knew what she was doing when she switched to traditional publishing.

Will Entrekin February 21, 2019 um 9:32 pm

EL James never "self-published," unless you count posts in a fan-fiction forum. She won a contest with a small Australian press who published those posts, and from whom Random House bought the series. But she never "switched to traditional publishing" so much as kinda failed up, and she was never indie publishing like, say, Amanda Hocking or Hugh Howey were.

Mike Cane February 21, 2019 um 10:46 am

>but that is there the similarity ended.


Plz deposit US$1.00 fine in PayPal. kthxbai.

Tim Goral June 9, 2019 um 11:14 pm

A little late to this discussion, but I recall reading a Japanese graphic novel three or four years ago with the identical story. Not "loosely based" like Enormity, but the very same story. A guy suddenly finds himself the only person who has ever heard of The Beatles, so he starts performing the songs as his own.

Now, if I could only remember the title…

Any fans of Japanese graphic novels out there who might know the answer?

Nate Hoffelder June 9, 2019 um 11:19 pm

I’m not surprised; it’s really not that original of a concept.

Julie Kelly June 16, 2019 um 12:09 pm

Enormity is a great novel!

Nate Hoffelder June 16, 2019 um 2:02 pm

it’s a pretty good novel that is hampered by the author being a dick

JL Civi July 10, 2019 um 11:31 pm

(This is a semi-shameless (yet on topic) plug, so I understand if you decide to not publish the comment.)

I also wrote a novel that involved someone "stealing songs" from famous musicians. Mine involved a time traveler from 2002 teaching popular songs from the future to his father in 1969, turning him into a folk rock star. It was released in 2008 (before Enormity) and is called Timely Persuasion.

So maybe Enormity stole the idea from me 🙂

But seriously…

When the trailer for Yesterday debuted a few friends & fans emailed me to say it stole my idea. I was flattered, but I laughed.

It’s a pretty basic idea. As one of the comments here mentioned Marty McFly did it first and most prominently in BTTF as a little throwaway joke. Goodnight Sweetheart expanded on the idea a bit, though it wasn’t the main focus of the show.

I expanded the concept a little more, but even in my book it’s more an extended subplot than the main plot. (A few reviewers call it the best part of the book and wish it was the main plot; shame on me for not seeing that at the time…) Later Enormity did it. Now Yesterday. There’s probably more we haven’t found or haven’t thought of. There will likely be more tomorrow.

In Timely Persuasion the musician who finds fame with the stolen songs is called Local Boy. When I went and saw Yesterday a few days after it came out I about fell out of my chair when the movie had a throwaway line along the lines of "Jack Malik – local boy turned pop phenomenon!"

Was it a reference to my book? As the title of this post says: Maybe, but probably not. I named the musician after a common-ish phrase; the movie used the same one. Great minds, etc.

Without giving any spoilers for the movie or my book, the end of the movie does hit four plot beats that match how I wrap up the musical subplot almost exactly spot on. Maybe I was an influence. Maybe it’s the most obvious way to conclude this kind of story. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. Again: great minds, etc. It’s all been done.

I found this blog post when I was looking for the original Enormity article to show a friend who gave me the "Hey, they stole your idea" speech earlier today and asked what I’m going to do about it.

What am I going to do? I’ll modify my book’s blurb to try to maybe snag a few more sales on the wave of Yesterday promotion (and chime in on conversations like this with my story), but that’s about it.

Oh — I’ll also add "The Digital Reader" to my RSS feeds. So I guess I win after all. 🙂

Nate Hoffelder July 16, 2019 um 8:18 am

No worries!

Write a Comment