At times it might appear that every book ever published finally mutates into a film. Of course this isn’t the case. For every Misery, The Lord of the Rings and Trainspotting (to pick three successful adaptations at random), there are a multitude of books waiting to receive the Hollywood treatment.
Some are considered unfilmable, but that doesn’t preclude ambitious directors bringing the likes of Dune, Naked Lunch and Life of Pi to life.
Other books appear ready made for the cinema, and yet, they still haven’t been adapted. What follows then are 30 of our favourite books that we feel should be made into movies.
Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy
After the success of No Country For Old Men and The Road, it’s perhaps a surprise that Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy’s acknowledged masterpiece, has yet to make the jump to the silver screen. It’s not as though it’s not dripping in cinematic qualities – it’s a bloody and graphic Western, rich in themes of retribution and spirituality, with a pounding narrative. Like Manchester United’s relentless march to the title, it’s surely only a matter of time until it’s showing at your local cinema.
Pudd’nhead Wilson - Mark Twain
Of course everything Mark Twain wrote is worthy of adaption such was his unalloyed genius. And while a praiseworthy version of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has yet to be forthcoming, we must point to a novel that has yet to cross the artistic divide. The vastly underappreciated Pudd’nhead Wilson is that book. A comedic work that grapples with the great theme of freedom, via slavery, it can also be read as a murder mystery.
An Artist of the Floating World - Kazuo Ishiguro
Masuji Ono is a retired Japanese painter looking back upon his life – the problem being that Ono was once a lauded artist but following Japan’s defeat in World War II his work, and his reputation, has been discredited. Examining notions of regret, pleasure, Empire and the inevitable grief that accompanies ageing, Ishiguro’s spellbinding work would grace any cinema screen if adapted properly.
The Secret History - Donna Tartt
Tartt’s iconic novel tells the story of a twisted cabal of Classics students in a posh New England college. When five of the students turn on one of their own, murdering him in the process, attention and suspicion naturally falls on this strange bunch. That the group get away with murder isn’t surprising, that their friendship slowly begins to unravel is. A much-loved book that would surely guarantee bums on seats.
A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
Arguably the funniest book ever written, the majestic A Confederacy of Dunces concerns one Ignatius J. Reilly, a larger-than-life idiot savant who is out of time with his immediate world, despairing about its descent into some kind of uncouth anarchy. His misadventures around New Orleans are the stuff of literary dreams. Many – including Harold Ramis, Stephen Fry and Steven Soderbergh - have tried to bring it to the big screen, none have succeeded. Indeed Soderbergh believes the book is cursed.
Lush Life - Richard Price
As well as penning the sublime Clockers and The Wanderers, Richard Price has also spent time as a screenwriter, contributing, most notably to The Wire. It’s unsurprising, therefore, that his novels lend themselves to cinematic tropes. His latest book, Lush Life, tells the ostensibly simple story of a murder in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It’s the consequences of those associated with the murder that truly excels – the family, the cop, the friend who escaped and falls under suspicion… Read it and you too will think long and hard about whom you want to play Eric Cash, Ike Marcus, Matty Clark and co.
The Power of the Dog - Don Winslow
A sprawling, epic blockbuster of a novel, The Power of the Dog was written by Don Winslow over six years as he meticulously researched the Mexican drug wars with the attention to detail of the cops he often writes about. Art Keller is a DEA operative whom over 30 years attempts to take down the drug lords of Mexico. Invoking the brutality of Elmore Leonard and the cinematic genius of Quentin Tarantino, this is just begging for a Hollywood makeover.
The Art of Fielding - Chad Harbach
Tinseltown loves a good baseball movie – probably a few bad ones too. Anyway, the majestic The Art of Fielding is a book about baseball. It’s also about love, death, dreams, Herman Melville, sex and coming of age – the stuff of life in other words. And if that isn’t a Hollywood treatment right there then we’re not sure what is.
Roger’s Version - John Updike
John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick was a big screen smash when it was adapted by director George Miller at the end of the Eighties. As such, it’s surprising that more of his novels haven’t been given the cinematic green light. Roger’s Version would be perfect – taking in middle age disillusionment, the sexual allure of a younger woman and questions pertaining to the existence of God. See, someone make it already!
The Inheritance of Loss - Kiran Desai
Kiran Desai’s second novel, The Inheritance of Loss deals with a number of grand themes (and that’s before you even get to its impossibly lavish and beguiling title): colonialism, identity and nostalgia. And in its broad sweep takes in both present-day America and contemporary India and its troubled past. If someone could condense this into a two-hour film, we reckon it’s got Oscar potential written all over it.
The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen
Reading The Corrections upon its release over a decade ago now, ShortList was immediately struck by how Jonathan Franzen’s breakthrough novel was a Hollywood blockbuster waiting to happen. Telling the story of the Lamberts, a seemingly normal middle class American family and how their lives change and develop over the latter part of the 20th Century, it is in essence a social history of America. Back then, we had Brad Pitt down for Chip. Today, we’re thinking Ryan Gosling. Interestingly, a HBO pilot was made with Ewan McGregor but it wasn't picked up.
Capital - John Lanchester
Capital tells the story of one street in south London and how it, and by extension its inhabitants, has been transformed in the wake of London’s property boom and the current economic crisis. Focussing on vacuous bankers, Polish builders, celebrity artists, teenage football prodigies from Africa and immigrant traffic wardens and how these seemingly disparate lives all come together on this Clapham street, this is a courageous attempt to bring sense to how we live today. And that is surely worthy of a Sam Mendes movie.
The Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes
Julian Barnes is perhaps the pre-eminent English man of letters writing today. His most recent novel, the graceful and immaculately crafted, The Sense of an Ending, is a stunning treatise on memory, nostalgia and friendship. Narrated by a retired man named Tony Webster, it catches our protagonist looking back on his life, and, in particular the death of an old school friend over 40 years ago. Does he remember the events correctly? And is there such a thing as objective truth? The campaign to have John Hurt portray Webster begins here.
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
That Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s most colourful novel has yet to be adapted by Hollywood is surely only down to the book’s supposed ‘unfilmable’ qualities – well, it does tell the story of seven generations of the Buendia family in the fictional town of Macondo. Granted, Marquez’s refusal to sell the rights may also play a part too! A hallucinatory and epic work it would require an equally epic leap of imaginative faith to make this work – we suggest Wes Anderson, or, if we’re looking at a more sober direction, Darren Aronofsky.
The Dark Tower - Stephen King
Stephen King’s on-going Dark Tower series is one of the great marvels of modern literature. Inspired by Arthurian legend, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and The Lord of the Rings, the stories of Roland Deschain traverse all manner of genres – sci-fi, horror, Westerns, all of them Hollywood-friendly. The first volume, The Gunslinger, in which Deschain takes on the mythical man in black, has long been talked up in filmic terms.
The Fall - Albert Camus
It would be a brave director/studio/producer to bring Camus’ last completed novel to the cinema. However, for those daring – or foolhardy – to attempt it, it would be the chance to tell a heroic dissection of the human condition. Concerning the life of Parisian lawyer Jean-Baptiste Clemence it details his fall from grace as he recounts his story to an unnamed stranger. One for late night viewings and destined to be a cult classic if handled sympathetically.
Notes From Underground - Fyodor Dostoevsky
Notes From The Underground is often referred to as the first existential novel. And like the aforementioned The Fall, it would require some bold work in front of and behind the camera. However, in the way it critiques society, truth, love – life in other words – it would find a receptive filmic audience.
Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
Ralph Ellison’s acclaimed first novel was one of the most important books of the 20th Century, describing as it does a pivotal moment in black and American history. The story of a man who is invisible because people refuse to see him, the adventures contained therein would light up the screen, both as entertainment, and, crucially, as a historical document. Spike Lee would bring an effervescent hand to this we reckon.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami
Murakami’s novels often defy description – his dreamlike prose often sending readers into turrets of their own imagination. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is no different. Ostensibly a story about the suburban life of Toru Okada – a seemingly unremarkable man living in Japan – when his cat goes missing, he embarks on a bizarre journey that shows his life (and consequently all of our lives) are more interesting than might initially seem. Murakami’s Norwegian Wood was a cinematic success: this could be too.
The Easter Parade - Richard Yates
Hollywood loves familial conflict so Richard Yates’ feted The Easter Parade which begins with the telling sentence, “Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed that the trouble began with their parents’ divorce,”, would seem ideal for Tinseltown. Yates’ second great work – after Revolutionary Road – tells the enthralling story of the troubled Grimes sisters, Emily and Sarah, from the Thirties to the Seventies and Sarah’s death.
The Ginger Man - JP Donleavy
Sebastian Balfe Dangerfield is one of the most memorable characters in literature – a feckless and charming law student with a taste for drink and an eye for women. The problem being he’s married with a young child and should be concentrating on them instead of pursuing a hopeless fascination with freedom. Set in post-war Dublin, this has been mooted for big screen adaptation before – Johnny Depp was once rumoured to be in talks about starring as Dangerfield.
The City And The Pillar - Gore Vidal
The City and the Pillar caused a scandal upon publication in 1948 for its open depiction of homosexuality. An unapologetic account of Jim Willard and his love for his childhood best friend Bob Ford, The City and the Pillar shows Jim to be a ‘proper man’ – he enlists in World War II etc – rather than the stereotypical effeminate homosexuals of the time. Gore Vidal’s astounding work still holds relevance today, and the story of doomed love represents one of cinema’s staple tropes.
Paris Trance - Geoff Dyer
Four strangers meet in Paris sometime in the Nineties and embark on a wonderful exploration of what it means to be young and free in their 20s. Drugs, sex and all manner of pop cult references abound in this fantastic novel. More sensual than the usual array of 20-something novels – and possibly more tragic - this would surely become a cult classic of the silver screen too.
Engleby - Sebastian Faulks
Sebastian Faulks’ books are tailor made for the big screen – Charlotte Gray was a Cate Blanchett vehicle back in 2001, and Birdsong is coming to Hollywood too. Which makes Engleby, his 2007 novel, a prime candidate for adaptation. Telling the story of a working class boy who gains a place at a revered university it mutates into a thrilling murder mystery – ripe for the cinema we say.
Not Fade Away - Jim Dodge
Upon its publication in the UK in 1998 (it came out in the US in 1987) one review noted that Jim Dodge’s mesmeric Not Fade Away was ‘the best road novel never to be adapted for the big screen… Vanishing Point with a point, Easy Rider with no hippies and a sense of historical depth’. Factor in fast cars, rock’n’roll mythology, America’s great open plains and an insurance scam, and you have all the ingredients for a smoking film.
Netherland - Joseph O’Neill
Cricket in New York? Some mistake surely? But no, weaved in with the greater tale of Joseph O’Neill’s hypnotic Netherland – Barack Obama read it on holiday don’t you know? – is the story of a Dutch banker in New York making friends with other cricket-loving immigrants. Obviously it’s about much more than cricket – it’s set in the wake of the September 11 attacks, and deals with love, separation, and modern identity – but as a pitch for a film? Cricket in New York? It’s a winner!
The Big Blowdown - George Pelecanos
George Pelecanos is another writer who has earned plaudits for his work on The Wire – see Richard Price. But his novels – in particular his DC Quartet, of which The Big Blowdown is the first book – resemble films just waiting to happen. The Big Blowdown takes place in Washington in the late Forties and concerns the adventures of one Pete Karras, a former mob member who has gone straight.
We - Yevgeny Zamyatin
We is the quintessential dystopian novel – a book that influenced the writing of George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World among others. Written in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and Zamyatin’s horror at the alienating affects of mass industrialisation, it combines skillful science fiction with a journalist-like observation of society. One imagines an otherworldly art world adaptation for cinema.
Imperial Bedrooms -Bret Easton Ellis
Imperial Bedrooms is Ellis’s sequel to his 1985 cause celebre debut novel, Less Than Zero. That was quickly adapted by Hollywood – starring Robert Downey Jr, James Spader and Andrew McCarthy – so who wouldn’t want to see what had happened to the vain, narcissistic and lecherous likes of Clay, Julian, Trent and co?
The Trumpet-Major - Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy classified his 1880 novel, The Trumpet-Major, in the category of ‘Romances and Fantasies’. And, curiously for Hardy, a writer never shy in handing out tragic endings for his characters, those featured here generally come out fairly well come the novel’s end. Set at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, it features Anne Garland who is chased by three suitors, one being the Trumpet Major of the title. A romantic costume drama then – surely they’re due a renaissance?