15 Book Adaptations That Could Work Really Well (and Here's How)

I recently dissected why Tana French's fascinating Dublin Murder Squad series would make a great TV show, and that got me thinking: What other beloved books are out there that have yet to be adapted to film or television? It seems like almost every movie or TV show these days is adapted from something, whether it be a novel, a play, a comic book, or another movie or TV show. Even long-frustrated fans of such difficult material as Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series and Neil Gaiman's American Gods are finally getting to see their favorite books onscreen. (The former is currently airing its first season on Starz; the latter is in the process of being adapted by Hannibal showrunner Bryan Fuller, also for Starz.)

Of course, there are plenty of novels out there that we'll probably never see on the big (or small) screen, thanks to their widely accepted status as "unfilmable" (such as Stephen King's The Dark Tower series). And sure, there are plenty of adaptations out there we wish had never happened in the first place — the recent controversial translation of Lois Lowry's The Giver springs immediately to mind — but at least someone has tried transitioning them to the screen, unlike these classics:

(How on earth did Fifty Shades Of Grey get an adaptation before these great books?)

At The Mountains Of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft (1936)

Why it hasn't been adapted:

Good question. Though Lovecraft's most famous novella has been turned into a radio drama, a psychedelic rock song, a musical, video games, and a graphic novel, it has yet to be turned into a film... which is especially strange given that its author is basically the father of modern sci-fi horror. (So much so that his name has become synonymous with the genre itself.)

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Why it would make a great movie/TV show:

A scientific expedition gone wrong. An exotic setting in the snow Antarctic wilderness. Mysterious alien life forms. Gory death scenes. Cthulhu. Guillermo Del Toro has been attached to a Mountains project since 2004, which should make an adaptation seem like a no-brainer. But the eclectic filmmaker had trouble getting financing for the film, since it lacked such typical Hollywood trappings as a "love story" or "happy ending," and it has languished in development hell ever since.

Here's how the pros could pull it off:

At this point, Mountains might suffer from the same unfortunate fate as The Giver: Though it predates much of the entertainment that was inspired by it, an adaptation this late in the game may simply seem irrelevant at best, derivative at worst. It doesn't help that 2012's Prometheus is largely similar in structure and themes. But done right, Mountains could distinguish itself from that film by being less of a sci-fi adventure and more of a mind-bending descent into insanity. (Less Kubrick, more Lynch, to put it simply.)

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (1985)

Why it hasn't been adapted:

Prolific producer Scott Rudin owns the rights to McCarthy's most famous novel, although no project is currently in development. James Franco shot some test footage for Rudin's Meridian adaptation a few years ago, but the producer turned him down. Here's hoping that means he's excited about the idea and simply waiting for the perfect director to express interest.

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Why it would make a great movie/TV show:

Joel & Ethan Coen's adaptation of McCarthy's No Country For Old Men won four Academy Awards (for Picture, Directing, Supporting Actor, and Adapted Screenplay). There's no reason to believe that, in the right hands, Meridian wouldn't be just as successful. It contains many of the same themes, such as nihilism, violence, fate, religion, and ethics.

Here's how the pros could pull it off:

Hell, just hire the Coen Brothers again. Four of McCarthy's 11 novels have been adapted to film, and theirs was by far the most successful effort. The directors' sensibilities so clearly align with the author's, and it would be thrilling to see them reunite to bring this touchstone work of Western literature to the screen.

The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951)

Why it hasn't been adapted:

Though Salinger was initially open to the idea of a Catcher film, a critically panned adaptation of another of his short stories caused him to balk at the idea. He subsequently refused to sell the rights, even denying them to such acclaimed directors as Elia Kazan and Steven Spielberg and such eager actors as Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, and Leonardo DiCaprio. Salinger passed away in 2010, and he had expressed a willingness in allowing an adaptation after his death, so it's possible we will see a Catcher film someday soon.

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Why it would make a great movie/TV show:

Catcher is synonymous with young adult, and is there any genre more successful these days than YA? (Answer: No, evidenced by the fact that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was the single most profitable film of 2013.) The market for a Catcher film would literally be everyone: from those currently reading it in school all the way through those who remember reading it in school 70 years ago.

Here's how the pros could pull it off:

A Catcher adaptation would likely escape the Giver curse, by which I mean it has more potential to still feel relevant 60 years after its publication. The film would distinguish itself from the current over-saturated YA market for the same reasons the book's been banned so often throughout the years: its portrayal of sex, drinking, smoking, vulgar language, and general rebelliousness. The trickiest part would be the casting of Holden Caulfield himself. Child actors are notoriously tricky, and a bad casting choice would doom the project before it even started. But if Benh Zeitlin could find the right 6-year-old for Beasts Of The Southern Wild, surely someone could find a 16-year-old capable of bringing Holden to life.

Digital Fortress by Dan Brown (1998)

Why it hasn't been adapted:

To be clear, this entry is included here not because it's a particularly great novel, but because it seems strange that it hasn't been adapted yet given our country's obsession with all things Dan Brown. So far, director Ron Howard has adapted two Brown books featuring the character Robert Langdon (The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons) and is working on a third ( Inferno ), but no one has touched either of Brown's books that don't feature Langdon — because god forbid they have to cast anyone other than Tom Hanks (and his hair) to star in them.

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Why it would make a great movie/TV show:

Of Brown's two Langdon-less novels, Digital Fortress would likely make the better film (although 2001's Deception Point deserves a look as well, with its government conspiracy plot and treacherous Arctic setting.) Fortress contains giant code-breaking machines, complex unbreakable codes, globe-hopping scavenger hunts, unstoppable assassins, sexy cryptographers, conspiracies, betrayals, and murder. What's not to love?

Here's how the pros could pull it off:

Let someone other than the Howard/Hanks team tackle Dan Brown this time. The author's novels may be considered little more than breezy beach reads, so it would be easy for a producer to hire a journeyman director to churn out a by-the-numbers adaptation. So it would be awesome to see someone subvert expectations and hire an acclaimed filmmaker to polish up Brown's material. If David Fincher could make Facebook seem sexy with The Social Network, it's a safe bet he could do the same for cryptography.

The Devil In The White City by Erik Larson (2003)

Why it hasn't been adapted:

Leonardo DiCaprio purchased the film rights to this non-fiction book for his production company Appian Way back in 2010. Since then, the screenwriter behind Benedict Cumberbatch's upcoming film The Imitation Game, Graham Moore, is reportedly working on a script, although progress has yet to move forward on an actual shoot.

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Why it would make a great movie/TV show:

The Academy loves true stories, and in Devil they'd get a two-for-one biopic: a chronicle of architect Daniel Burnham's efforts to build the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago against gargantuan odds; and a ghastly account of serial killer H.H. Holmes' nefarious deeds, who used the fair to lure his victims into his twisted "Murder Castle."

Here's how the pros could pull it off:

Since DiCaprio already has the rights to the story, the obvious answer is to re-team him with frequent collaborator Martin Scorsese for the adaptation. I wouldn't trust anyone other than a master to juggle the sprawling tale, dual protagonists, and dissonant tones of this terrific book. And what a meaty role for DiCaprio: on the one hand, a serial killer would be quite the departure for the usually crush-worth star; on the other, Holmes can't be that much more despicable than The Wolf Of Wall Street's Jordan Belfort, can he?

Drood by Dan Simmons (2009)

Why it hasn't been adapted:

Because Guillermo Del Toro bought the rights. Not to denigrate the brilliantly creative director, but he is notorious for taking on more projects than he can actually accomplish. Apart from this and At The Mountains Of Madness, he's also rumored to be involved in film versions of Frankenstein, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Haunted Mansion, and Beauty And The Beast. And that's all aside from his upcoming Crimson Peak, his ongoing The Strain series on FX, and his recently announced Pacific Rim sequel.

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Why it would make a great movie/TV show:

Charles Dickens is arguably the most famous novelist in the world, and Drood tells a fictionalized account of the last five years of his life, as he descends into an underworld of drugs, murder, and madness. This scandalous take on such a revered figure would lend a film version an excitingly transgressive edge.

Here's how the pros could pull it off:

Let Del Toro pass this one off to someone else. While his sensibilities would be perfect for the story, Drood is too good to be languishing in development hell. Maybe let Christopher Nolan tackle this has his next project post-Interstellar. Drood bears much in common with The Prestige, including the time period and the usage of real-life figures (Nicola Tesla), and I'd love to see the director add "unreliable narrator" to his catalogue of mind-bending cinematic tricks.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)

Why it hasn't been adapted:

Okay, so this one's a bit of a cheat. The Handmaid's Tale actually has been adapted before, into a 1990 film starring Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, and Robert Duvall. But that was generally considered a subpar effort, and with the recent announcement that Darren Aronofsky is developing a series based on Atwood's Maddaddam trilogy for HBO, we were reminded just how good this dystopian novel is. It's crazy that, with our culture's current obsession with the genre, there's been no chatter about tackling another adaptation.

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Why it would make a great movie/TV show:

According to Slate, all adults should be embarrassed about loving Young Adult literature. But the fact is a huge chunk of the dystopian novels being written today fall under the YA umbrella (The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Giver, The Maze Runner). An adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale would give adults a post-apocalyptic society yarn they could enjoy without fear of being shamed by Ruth Graham.

Here's how the pros could pull it off:

Hire the director of one of the greatest dystopian films of recent memory to make sure Handmaid gets the adult treatment it deserves. Alfonso Cuarón (who directed 2006's Children Of Men) would be the perfect match for this material: he could transform it from the humdrum parlor drama of the 1990 effort into a visceral, important examination of a terrifying future that may not be that far off.

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman (1995)

Why it hasn't been adapted:

Yes, even though we try to forget about it sometimes, we do know that The Golden Compass (or The Northern Lights, as it was originally titled) has already been made into a movie. But there are still two terrific entires in Pullman's fantasy trilogy that have yet to make the leap to the screen. It's unfair to punish The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass for Compass's humiliating failure.

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Why it would make a great movie/TV show:

Hello? Magic. Science. Religion. Shape-shifting demons. Multiple dimensions. Pullman's epic novels are a touchstone of the genre, and deserve to be given an adaptation worthy of their greatness. Since New Line Cinema is unlikely to continue with the series after 2007's disappointingly defanged flop, let someone else give it a try.

Here's how the pros could pull it off:

Erase all thoughts of the previous adaptation by doing something completely different: abandon the big screen entirely and make His Dark Materials a television series. Think about it. A network like HBO, which doesn't need to pander to wide demographics, would be the perfect venue to deliver the novels' controversial anti-organized religion sentiments. And 10-13 hours per book would allow the adapters to finally do the sprawling material justice and include important scenes left out of the film (like, you know, the entirety of the final three chapters.)

House Of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (2000)

Why it hasn't been adapted:

Have you read this book? Even if you haven't a quick skim through its pages should tell you all you need to know about why no one has tried adapting this brain-teaser of a novel. Telling multiple stories at once through footnotes, different colored texts, and unconventional layouts, Leaves is hard enough to figure out on the page. It's hard to imagine anyone figuring out how to translate its unique structure to the screen...

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Why it would make a great movie/TV show:

...But that's exactly why I'd like to see someone try. If anyone managed to get this adaptation right, it would be one of the trippiest, weirdest, most haunting films ever made. The story of the Navidson family who moves into a house that's larger on the inside than it is on the outside — and their subsequent descent into horror — would be the kind of film that sticks with you for months afterwards.

Here's how the pros could pull it off:

No idea. Some adapters might be tempted to simplify the story by focusing solely on the Navidsons and excising the plot strands concerning Zampanò (who chronicles the Navidsons' exploits) and Johnny Truant (who is studying Zampanò's manuscript). But I'd love to see someone attempt to balance all three plots simultaneously. The only way to faithfully adapt this material would be to make sure that, like the book, the film itself reflects the maze-like structure of the Navidson house.

One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (1967)

Why it hasn't been adapted:

During his lifetime, Márquez refused to sell the rights to his most famous novel. It's as simple as that. But now that the Nobel Prize-winning author has died, fans of the book and its captivating magical realism can once again hope to see the history of the Buendía family play out onscreen.

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Why it would make a great movie/TV show:

One has to assume that at least part of the reason Márquez refused to allow an adaptation is because no two- or three-hour film could do the century-spanning novel justice. But now that television is considered just as respectable an art form as film (if not even more so), an adaptation of Solitude no longer seems impossible. Just ask George R.R. Martin — he specifically wrote A Song Of Ice And Fire to be un-adaptable, and look how resoundingly HBO has proven him wrong.

Here's how the pros could pull it off:

The more I think about it, the more it seems that Solitude can only be adapted to the small screen. The Buendía family is complicated, large, and dysfunctional enough to sustain a TV show through many years. The book itself lasts a century: You could let each season span as long as a decade and the story would still take 10 years to tell. Or you could condense it a bit further and have each season focus on one generation of Buendías, which would still allow a Solitude series to last four or five years.

The Passage by Justin Cronin (2010)

Why it hasn't been adapted:

It's a mystery. Director/producer Ridley Scott snapped up the rights to adapt this vampire novel for a cool $1.75 million way back in 2007, three full years before the book was even published. Scott hired his Gladiator screenwriter John Logan to pen the script. And now, seven years after the deal was made, there's been absolutely no forward momentum on the project.

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Why it would make a great movie/TV show:

Yeah, yeah — it's about vampires. And everyone's so tired of vampires. But The Passage is a very different take on the monsters from the likes of Twilight and True Blood. The Passage's creatures are humans who have been infected with a virus; the bulk of the novel takes place almost 100 years after the outbreak, but the first part also details the origin of the disease.

Here's how the pros could pull it off:

FX's The Strain (based on Guillermo Del Toro's novels) also advertised itself as offering a refreshingly scary take on a genre that's been overrun by sparkly-skinned, brooding teenagers. But while the vampires on that show are decidedly grosser, the show itself is still fairly campy in tone. It would be nice to see The Passage, with both its frightening creatures and its dark tone, brought to life. If Ridley Scott has been scared off of the genre by the mixed reception of his latest sci-fi endeavor (Prometheus), he should consider passing the rights along to someone else — like Gareth Edwards, for example, who recently proved himself adept with monster mayhem in this summer's Godzilla.

Redwall by Brian Jacques (1986)

Why it hasn't been adapted:

There was an animated show based on Brian Jacques' long-running series of novels that ran for three seasons back in the late '90s through the early '00s. A joint British/French/Canadian production, it aired in the United States on PBS. But the fact that none of the 22 novels in the series (yes, twenty-two) have been adapted to the big screen is a travesty of epic proportions.

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Why it would make a great movie/TV show:

Sure, they're about talking mice. But the Redwall novels are so much more than that. It's a swashbuckling adventure series featuring heroism, treachery, romance, peril, and allegory. There are terrifying villains, like Slagar The Cruel and Tsarmina Greeneyes. There are memorable heroes like Martin the Warrior and Mattimeo. And there are compelling characters who fall somewhere in between, such as misunderstood outcast Veil.

Here's how the pros could pull it off:

Turn the earlier (and better) books in the franchise into a series of animated films. Perhaps even use motion capture to turn the mice, squirrels, hedgehogs, and badgers into relatable characters. (Obviously you'd have to recruit Andy Serkis to play a part: perhaps Martin The Warrior's baddie Badrang The Tyrant?) Ideally, the tone of the series would fall somewhere between How To Train Your Dragon and The Lord Of The Rings: wholesome and family-friendly in order to draw in a wide audience, but still exciting and dangerous enough to appeal to the older audience members who grew up on the books.

Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke (1973)

Why it hasn't been adapted:

It's about a cylindrical alien spaceship so massive (30 miles long) that it contains its own ecosphere. The technological challenges would be daunting for the most accomplished of filmmakers. Morgan Freeman's production company has owned the rights to the novel since the early aughts, and the actor has even expressed interest in playing the lead role of Commander Norton. But despite a brief moment when David Fincher was attached to direct, no strides have been made on the project, due to the lack of a good script and proper funding.

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Why it would make a great movie/TV show:

It's about a cylindrical alien spaceship so massive that it contains its own ecosphere. Who wouldn't want to enter such a fantastical place? It's true that the novel itself lacks many of the central constructs of a typical film — like a plot, a central conflict, protagonists, and antagonists, for example — it's simply about a team of scientists exploring an utterly alien object. But the detail and precision with which Clarke describes the vessel is breathtaking. The opportunity to see Rama portrayed in IMAX 3D would be too good to pass up.

Here's how the pros could pull it off:

Thanks to Alfonso Cuarón and Gravity, there's a new, higher bar for outer space-based movies, which will be a challenge for any similar films to meet. But thanks to Cuarón, there's also new technology that's never existed before to help other directors bring their fantastical sci-fi visions to realistic life. If Freeman can't get him to direct, he should at least bring Cuarón on as a consultant — he's an expert in combining exciting space action and a bare-bones story to create a thrilling cinematic experience, after all.

Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham (2005)

Why it hasn't been adapted:

Über-producer Scott Rudin, who brought Cunningham's previous novel, The Hours, to life, also owns the rights to Specimen Days . But for some reason, despite the film version of The Hours earning nine Oscar nominations including Best Picture (and winning a Best Actress trophy for Nicole Kidman), no movement has occurred on Days.

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Why it would make a great movie/TV show:

Just as The Hours intertwined three disparate tales through the characters' affinity for Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, Specimen Days is a series of three novellas loosely linked by Walt Whitman's Leaves Of Grass. The first story, "In The Machine," is a ghost story set in the 1870s. The second, "The Children's Crusade," is a noir thriller set in the present day. And the third, "Like Beauty," is a sci-fi yarn set 150 years in the future. All three take place in New York City, and they all feature three similar characters (a man, a woman, and a young boy). There are ghosts, suicide bombers, cyborgs, and alien lizards. Basically, there's something in Specimen Days for everyone.

Here's how the pros could pull it off:

Unlike The Hours, the three tales in Specimen Days aren't interwoven; they occur sequentially, one after the other. But an adept screenwriter would likely be able to combine the tales into one century-hopping fantasy. With the same three actors playing the three recurring stock characters, a Specimen Days film would be much like Cloud Atlas... except with three timelines instead of six, no caucasian actors in yellowface, and a strong unifying motif provided by Whitman's poetry — which should make it more palatable for wide audiences.

Wicked by Gregory Maguire (1996)

Why it hasn't been adapted:

Well, there's this little Broadway musical you may or may not have seen over the past 11 years. But there's been no film version of Maguire's riff on L. Frank Baum's classic story since the novel was published in 1996. Universal Pictures owns the rights to the book, and as long as their stage adaptation is still playing to sold-out audiences, they have no incentive to provide a film version that will only take business away from the Broadway show.

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Why it would make a great movie/TV show:

Our culture is currently obsessed with revisionist fairytales (think Maleficent, Once Upon A Time, Oz The Great And Powerful, Shrek), and Wicked is the best of them. It's a fascinating examination of the meaning of evil, and a disturbing portrait of a willful mind's descent into madness. The musical is a fun but Disney-fied version of the story with less death, sex, and a tacked on happy ending. While it would be fun to see that version on screen some day, we're hoping for a straight-up adaptation of the novel itself.

Here's how the pros could pull it off:

Universal Pictures did sell the rights to ABC back in 2009 in order for them to make a non-musical, made-for-TV version of the story. The last update was in 2011, when Salma Hayek's production company was reportedly developing a Wicked miniseries for the network. Nothing has been heard of the project since, but somebody had the right idea: perhaps turning the story into a TV show instead of one feature film would be best for the material. We'd love to see several seasons chronicling Elphaba's transformation from unwanted child to studious witch to wanted rebel to unhinged tyrant. Somebody make this happen, stat!

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