In our view, there are a lot of books that need a movie adaptation. These movies are a way to get the best of both worlds when you think about it. Filmmakers love adapting their favorite books as movies, and book fans often get hyped up too. Best of all, studios have a built-in audience for the movie, making it profitable to bring these books to life.
Many popular movies, such as The Martian, Trainspotting, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy all started as novels before they made it to the big screen.
However, some of Hollywood’s biggest mistakes were also once novels. Movies like The Dark Tower, The Stepford Wives, and The Book Thief were all well-received books before studios made subpar movie counterparts. A movie adaptation needs to honor its source material.
That said, fear of a bad adaptation can limit creativity. Maybe the only thing more frustrating than a bad movie adaptation is a novel that filmmakers won’t touch for fear of failure. Ask your local bookworm, and they’ll list several novels filled with intrigue and originality that are just waiting for the big screen.
Are directors afraid of the challenge? After all, some of these novels use unconventional storytelling and complex concepts to tell their story. However, The Lord of the Rings was once considered impossible to film and went on to be an iconic critical and commercial hit.
Sometimes all directors and filmmakers need is a bit of inspiration to jump at the challenge and bring some of these stories to life. Here are a few of our favorite examples of books that need a movie adaptation… for any directors who might be reading!
If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler
- Written By: Italo Calvino
Italian writer Italo Calvino wrote If on a winter’s night a traveler, managing to get it published in 1979. Two years later, William Weaver translated the novel into English. The novel and the writer have something of a cult following among English-speaking audiences.
Fun fact: the novel subtly influenced the work of British musician Sting, who titled his 2009 album after this novel.
If on a winter’s night a traveler is an absurd story. An unnamed reader tries to find books they’ve started but not finished. Through a printing error, the protagonist buys a book that only has the first chapter printed. When the reader tries to find the rest of the novel they’ve started, they are instead led to a completely different novel.
Through uncontrollable circumstances, they can only read the first chapter of this novel and are now compelled to find the rest of the book to read.
The book utilizes a very unique point of view: “second-person narrative.” This is rare for any written piece but especially rare for novels. By using “you,” rather than first-person’s “I” or “me,” the book places the reader into the action. You, yourself, might be the reader participating in the events.
Writing in second-person is hard to pull off, but Calvino does it. A film could be hard to pull off, too, but in the right hands, it could be fantastic.
The novel constantly jumps back and forth between the main action of the novel and the first chapters of the books the protagonist finds. Every other chapter is the first chapter of whatever book the reader starts reading. Basically, this novel has novels within the novel. Think Christopher Nolan’s Inception movie, but with books.
How To Make This A Good Movie Adaptation:
This novel’s intricate plot relies on two things: absurdism, and a large cast of characters that play off of absurdism.
While this is one of the books that need a movie adaptation, it needs a proper director to work. Wes Anderson is a great choice for this. Grand Budapest Hotel and The French Dispatch are prime examples of his skill with large casts and absurd plots. If on a winter’s night a traveler is lighthearted but complex, just like a lot of Anderson’s work.
This novel has one central plot, but several minor plots throughout the story. Every other chapter is the start of a new novel, which comes with a whole new cast of characters. These vignettes are necessary for the movie adaptation, as it is the book’s very essence. Anderson regularly uses a large cast of well-known actors.
Is it possible to make this movie adaptation and keep it in a second-person narrative? Yes, but most movies suffer from this storytelling technique. Usually, a narrator is used to keep things focused, but this is usually in first-person.
Many movies that attempt second-person narrative will typically be some sort of found-footage style, point-of-view movie.
While some movies make this work wonderfully (such as The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield), this style works best for action or horror movies. Since If on a winter’s night a traveler is neither action nor horror, it’s best to tell this story in the third person for the movie adaptation.
The portrayal of the protagonist in the novel is as highly intelligent while also being non-threatening. Our fan-cast is Benedict Cumberbatch. He has played this type of role several times, in movies such as Imitation Game and the BBC hit show Sherlock.
The Orphan Master’s Son
- Written By: Adam Johnson
The Orphan Master’s Son, written by Adam Johnson, was published in 2012. The novel was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2013.
The Orphan Master’s Son follows the life and death of North Korean citizen, Jun Do. After a life at sea interpreting English-speaking radio transmissions, he helps a North Korean general defect to the United States. The government then imprisons him.
While in a work camp, he overpowers and takes on the identity of Commander Ga. Jun Do ends up living Commander Ga’s life. He takes over Ga’s role as husband and father in his family and ends up in Kim Jong-Il’s inner circle.
The majority of the novel takes place in North Korea and highlights the despair and hopelessness the average North Korean citizen lives with. It’s also a novel about the power of propaganda, and how the truth is only what we say it is. It’s also something of a love story, as Jun Do and Sun Moon (Commander Ga’s wife) find tenderness in an uncertain time.
This novel is told in two parts.
The first part, titled The Biography of Jun Do, tells the protagonist’s life up until he is sent to prison. The second section, The Confessions of Commander Ga, tell the rest of Jun Do’s life after he takes on Commander Ga’s role in society.
Many chapters in this book are told through radio announcements and news stories, which the reader can tell are stuffed with propaganda. Indeed, some of the fun of reading this novel are these radio transmissions, where the reader gets to read between the lines of propaganda for the real story.
How To Make This A Good Movie Adaptation:
Making The Orphan Master’s Son should be easy enough for filmmakers. It’s got romance, action, and mystery. Perfect for all books that need movie adaptation.
We recommend the filmmakers take special interest in the order events are told. The second half of the novel is told from the perspective of the government agent interrogating Jun Do. Through these interrogations, the reader learns the rest of the story.
Filmmakers should rely on this storytelling technique for the first half of the movie as well to maintain consistency. Intercutting flashbacks with present interrogations would create a sense of tension and suspense.
As we said earlier, one of the best aspects of this book is all the intermittent radio propaganda. In a movie, radio propaganda could act as narration over the action for certain sequences. For instance, when Jun Do and Sun Moon have lunch in a park, the action is told first via these radio transmissions and then through Jun Do’s interrogation.
However, in the movie adaptation, propaganda could play over the scene itself. This would highlight how absurd the propaganda is, as the viewer watches the actual events while the radio tells lies.
This movie adaptation would require sensitivity. Adam Johnson is an American, born and raised, who has only been to North Korea once in his life. Despite this, Barbara Demick (author of Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea) praised the book for its accuracy. Demick wrote:
“[Johnson] managed to capture the atmosphere of this hermit kingdom better than any writer I’ve read.”
Still, we think it would behoove the producers to bring North Korean experts onto this project. It would also be good to consult with Korean filmmakers like Boon Joon-ho (Parasite, Snowpiercer) or Hwang Dong-hyuk (Squid Game, Silenced).
The Only Good Indians
- Written By: Stephen Graham Jones
The excellent novel, The Only Good Indians, was written by Stephen Graham Jones and published in January 2021. It has been a little less than two years since this book’s release, so it’s understandable that no movie adaptation hasn’t happened yet. However, this book demands a transference to the big screen, and the sooner the better.
The Only Good Indians follow the lives of four Native American men as their past comes back to haunt them, literally. One Thanksgiving day in the past, four friends poached elk on forbidden territory. They even killed a pregnant doe. Many years later, the spirit of this baby elk wants revenge, slaying these four friends one by one.
When the elk go after one of the young men’s daughters to finish the revenge, she destroys the monster and ends the carnage.
Along with its classic horror tropes, this novel explores themes of preservation, spirituality, and Native American culture. While this ghost haunts these men, the more sinister and subtle horror these men deal with as Native Americans practically represent society itself. The novel critiques modern American culture and the wastefulness of society.
In an interview with NPR’s Ari Shapiro, Jones explains the book’s title. He says,
The only good Indians are dead Indians from – you know, as ascribed to Teddy Roosevelt back in the 19th century. But it was kind of the bumper sticker that would have been on horses if horses had bumper stickers back then.”
Jones evokes the sentiment of the time, and arguably now, towards Native Americans in the title of the book. You can see why we believe it is one of the books that need a movie adaptation.
How To Make This A Good Movie Adaptation:
This book is already paced like a horror film. Like films such as Friday the 13th and Halloween, which start with the villain killing a minor character tied to the rest of the ensemble, the book starts with the elk’s first kill.
In fact, Jones consistently makes references to classic horror throughout the story. Lewis, one of the surviving four, takes a shower and continually draws back the curtain when he thinks he sees someone outside of it. This is reminiscent of Psycho’s shower scene (although no one is murdered in the shower).
These references build suspense and tension for the audience.
While the horror of the story doesn’t come from the gore, the story touches on a lot of environmental and animal protection themes. It’s important to reflect on the horror that butchered animals go through in the deaths of the protagonists. Think of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its in-your-face approach to its critique of the meat industry.
Hence, we think the filmmakers should make the film as bloody as possible.
Since this book recalls so many classic horror movies, we also think a veteran of the genre should direct this film. We immediately think of Jordan Peele (Get Out and Nope) or Ari Aster (Hereditary and Midsommer).
However, Native American themes and sensibilities need to stay at the forefront of this project. Jones himself should be involved in the movie adaptation. A Native American writer like Sherman Alexie could lend a hand. He already has film experience with The Business of Fancydancing and Smoke Signals.
The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time
- Written By: Mark Haddon
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, written by Mark Haddon, was published back in 2003. Haddon’s debut novel was an almost overnight success both in the UK and US. The New York Times praised Haddon for writing the protagonist specifically, as “one of the strangest and most convincing characters in recent history.”
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a unique hybrid of the pulp detective novel and young adult drama. Christopher John Francis Boone, the novel’s protagonist, finds his neighbor’s poodle killed with a skewer one night. He becomes obsessed with finding the killer, and his teachers at school encourage him to write about the experience.
However, Christopher is on the autism spectrum. He views the world differently than a typical detective. This perspective makes him one of the most interesting protagonists in a detective story. While solving the mystery, Christopher also writes about his own life.
We learn about his frank and straightforward approach to life. We also learn about his strained relationships with his father and his estranged mother. It’s his interactions with those he is closest to that eventually lead him to the solution of the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.
Nine years after the book’s release, Simon Stephens adapted the novel into a play. The play was an international success, winning seven of eight nominations for the West End productions. When thespians brought it to Broadway in 2015, it won five of its six nominations, including Best Play.
This is a novel and story that deeply resonates with people. This is why it is one of the books that need a movie adaptation, in our opinion.
How To Make This A Good Movie Adaptation:
Since a play adaptation already exists, a movie adaptation should be easy, right? Well, kind of. The actors and director already have dialogue and pacing created for the movie adaptation. However, plays have limitations that movies don’t.
Movies have a greater ability to play with special effects, faster transitions between scenes, and point-of-view work.
The asides Christopher inserts into the story are part of the play’s charm. He continually breaks the fourth wall to explain obscure concepts, like the Monty Hall problem or math equations. In the movie, Christopher should instead speak directly to the camera for these segments.
Think of something like The Big Short, where characters break the fourth wall to explain concepts about loans and the housing market. Along with having Margot Robbie explain complicated stuff in a bathtub to keep us interested.
Another aspect of the novel we’d like to try and carry over to the movie adaptation is the use of images and diagrams. In the novel, Christopher will mention a facial expression or a math equation and follow it up with some sort of graphic. The Filmmakers could add the graphic in after filming like it’s sitting next to the character as they’re explaining it.
Christopher is a visual storyteller, and a movie adaptation should keep it that way.
As we’ve already mentioned, The Big Short is similar to the tone of this novel. It’s no surprise, then, that we think director Adam McKay is the perfect choice for this project. McKay has a penchant for lighthearted stories about devastating events, after all. Think of Don’t Look Up, where the end of the world is hilarious. Plus all his projects with Will Ferrell.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time needs to have that same sort of tone.
The Flame Alphabet
- Written By: Ben Marcus
The Flame Alphabet, written by Ben Marcus, was published in 2012. Upon its release, it received praise from The New York Times and NPR. However, the public by and large has forgotten about this novel. This is a shame because the narrative of The Flame Alphabet is one of the most unique and haunting of dystopian literature.
In the novel’s apocalyptic earth, children’s words, specifically via talking, kill others.
Gangs of children terrorize adults with their speech and rule neighborhoods. Sam, the protagonist, and his family survive this world through silence. They worship in secrecy, and their daughter Esther must stay mute, much to her annoyance.
Of course, Esther resents this, and the parents can feel their daughter’s resentment. Sam and his wife Claire eventually decide to leave their daughter behind for their own survival. At that point, Claire mysteriously vanishes.
The Flame Alphabet immediately reminds the reader of a few different stories in the horror and dystopian genre. The novel’s writing style is very similar to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road with how bleak Marcus describes the world to be. There’s even a little dash of magical realism, like in Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One-Hundred Years of Solitude.
However, what stays with the reader the longest is the sense of horror at the end of the novel. When Wierdfictionreview.com interviewed Marcus on the inspiration for the novel, he had this to say:
I had the image of parents leaving their child behind, and it was troubling to me. I wanted to explore it, to test it, to put it into play. It felt horrible, but not random, and it consumed me enough that I started to write it, to see where it would go.”
Marcus does a phenomenal job of exploring this terror of abandonment.
How To Make This A Good Movie Adaptation:
You may be thinking that this story sounds a lot like A Quiet Place. Indeed, there are a few aspects of that movie that carry over well to this movie adaptation!
Of course, a movie adaptation should recapture the sense of isolation the family feels like A Quiet Place does fantastically. Also, ideas found in The Road and I Am Legend, like an unexplained event destroying society, are present in The Flame Alphabet.
However, perhaps the best source of inspiration for this movie adaptation might be Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. Both that movie and this book focus on family drama. However, in both pieces, the viewer/reader is constantly kept in suspense, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
When that shoe does drop, it hits with cataclysmic consequences.
We also think for this movie adaptation to be successful, it needs to rely heavily on imagery. Again, Melancholia is a great example of how to do this successfully. (Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! is another potential place of inspiration). Since the characters in the novel avoid speaking, imagery tells the story.
Additionally, this movie adaptation might be better served with a lower budget. Yes, truly.
A lot of apocalypse movies end up being these explosion-filled action-packed adventures, despite what the source material provides (looking at YOU, World War Z!).
The Flame Alphabet is just as much an internal journey as it is an external one, and we fear too big a movie studio wouldn’t honor that. Either way, it is one of the books that need a movie adaptation and there are many studios that could do this book justice.