You know that book you love that you wish you could see on screen? Yeah, we do, too, and we clearly think about it a lot, because here are ten more literary adaptations that need to happen.
1. Apples by Richard Milward (suggested by Natalie Stendall)
Richard Milward’s debut novel, Apples, would make a fantastic low budget, British indie flick. It’s the kind of book that would do well in the hands of Andrea Arnold (Red Road, Wuthering Heights) or Clio Barnard (The Selfish Giant). Set on a Middlesborough housing estate, it follows naive and reclusive teenager Adam whose cliched fantasies about falling in love with the promiscuous Eve are a sharp contrast to reality. ‘Gritty’ is one of media’s most overused adjectives, but Apples has the kind of shocking events and troubling undertones that make Skins and Shameless look like fairy stories. It’s challenging subject matter. Girls accept date rape as a trial of growing up, pregnancy is a necessary risk, and school-night pill-popping is a norm. It’s not surprising that Milward cites Danny Boyles’ Trainspotting as inspiration: a film he says opened his eyes to the vast possibilities of storytelling. With its first person narration from multiple characters, spaced out drugs sequences and perpetual daydreaming, it’s a wonder Boyle himself hasn’t attached himself to this project. Under his influence, it’s easy to see Apples as a dark, unconventional ensemble movie, but, personally, it’s Milward’s potent social commentary that I’d like to see developed. Ultimately Apples leaves us wondering what kind of future any of its teens could feasibly have and, perhaps most troubling of all, what opportunity they ever really had of changing it.
2. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (suggested by Whit Denton)
While much of the greatness inherent in Cormac McCarthy’s 1985 novel comes from its wonderfully dense, almost biblical, prose, I cannot help but feel that under the right hands, it could make an equally amazing film. The story of a young drifter, known only as The Kid, who falls in with a gang of scalp hunters is one that I believe could prove as haunting and awesome on screen as it does on the page. McCarthy has been adapted for film before, often to great success. The Coen Brothers’ adapted his book No Country for Old Men in 2007. It was an instant classic. McCarthy’s writing style may be part of what makes his books so memorable, but the themes and situations translate perfectly into celluloid. His vivid descriptions of the desolate, western landscape could make for incredible visuals, if the right director was behind the camera. If only Sam Peckinpah were alive today. He would surely be the best choice for this project. Perhaps the Coens could take the reins again? Or maybe Paul Thomas Anderson? With There Will Be Blood, Anderson showed he could masterfully shoot an adapted western. Adapting Blood Meridian is something of a foolhardy ambition we know Anderson is not only capable of but can follow through with. Whoever the director will be that adapts Blood Meridian, I just hope they know what they’re doing. This is a masterpiece of a novel that needs to be made into a masterpiece of a film.
3. Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick (suggested by Whit Denton)
Philip K. Dick seems to write novels specifically for film adaptation. His books are impressive in theme and societal context, yet are simple and digestible in prose and plot. Many films, such as Blade Runner, Minority Report, and Total Recall, have been made of his books and short stories. Dick’s 1974 novel about fame, fear, government, and identity is one of best and would make a terrific film. It tells of a talk show host living in a dystopian future who wakes up in a world where he doesn’t exist. The rest of the novel is filled with a palpable Dick-ian paranoia and some of the best dialogue he’s written. Although the ending to Flow My Tears might be a bit weak, the rest of the material is incredibly strong and would translate to the screen wonderfully. If a qualified director like Rian Johnson or Steven Spielberg was able to take on this project, it could surely become something great. If not, it would make at least a terrific summer blockbuster.
4. The Pendragon Adventure by D. J. McHale (suggested by Richard Newby)
With the barrage of dystopian young adult novel adaptations that hit the screen every year, it’s time for a reminder that the category can be something unique, instead of a retreading the “isn’t it tough to be a teenager forced into categories and responsibilities that don’t fit them” line of thinking. The ten book Pendragon series by D.J. McHale could be this reminder. The series follows Bobby Pendragon, a teenager who is selected by his uncle to train as a Traveler and protect the ten territories of space and time from the evil Traveler Saint Dane who seeks to send the universe into chaos. The territories at stake range from medieval cities, jungles ruled by cat-people, a virtual reality world, and Earth circa 1937. The series is also populated by a fantastically diverse cast that never slips into easily definable roles or clichés. While many YA books tackle easily digestible subjects without any measure of subtly, McHale’s series tackles race, genocide, classist elitism, existentialism, the difference between religions and cults, and big business.
It’s a potential franchise filled with enough big ideas, characters, and major special effects opportunities to rival any big-budget feature that’s currently on the market. Plus, with ten installments, the series could make a serious dent at the box office for over a decade. The only reason I can think of as to why this hasn’t been adapted already is that it’s so far outside the mold of traditional YA movies that it scares off studios. But most YA adaptations, despite being recognizable, haven’t made waves at the box office. It’s a risk but one that I think could turn huge profits if done right. Cast a likeable group of unknowns for the teenage roles and gather a cadre of recognizable faces for the adult roles (Cumberbatch for Saint Dane) and any studio willing to invest in the property could amass Potter-level talent. Author D.J. McHale is an experienced screenwriter, so I say let him adapt his own work. As for a director? I’d like to see someone who’s experienced with taking big budget risks and succeeding, so I’d go with Gore Verbinkski (let’s just ignore The Lone Ranger).
5. Ubik by Philip K. Dick (suggested by Richard Newby)
Filmgoers are no strangers to adaptations of Phillip K. Dick’s work (Blade Runner, Total Recall, Screamers, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next, A Scanner Darkly), but most of these films strayed from Dick’s source material. With Ubik, arguably one of Dick’s best and most insane works, there should be as little tampering as possible, lest the whole idea collapse on itself. Ubik is a difficult story to summarize, but at the center is Joe Chip, a technician for a prudence company that employs anti-telepaths to protect the privacy of business. The owner of this company, Glen Runciter, hires eleven agents (including Joe) to travel to the moon and set up telepathic protection for a lunar station. When a bomb goes off at the station, the agents are seemingly unhurt. But upon return to Earth they find their reality deteriorating as time shifts backwards to 1939. The only way to prevent themselves and their world from deteriorating is the mysterious spray-product Ubik which is claimed to be a metaphor for God. And that’s only just the basics of the world Dick creates. Like I said, it’s absolutely insane and not completely comprehensible on the first read through. To my knowledge, no time-travel story has ever come close to the complexity of Ubik.
There’s no way a film like this would get a sizeable budget, and that’s fine; it doesn’t need one. What it does need is fantastic and honestly human performances to ground viewers in the ungroundable plot. I’d cast Ethan Hawke as the down on his luck, out of his depth Joe Chip and Jeff Bridges as business man Runciter whose easy going demeanor masks God-like knowledge. In the director’s chair? I think Richard Kelly has the right balance of genius, madness, and humor to capture Dick’s voice in a way that hasn’t even been attempted before.
6. Punk Rock Jesus by Sean Murphy (suggested by Richard Newby)
We’re living in the high times of comic book adaptations, but none have had the ability to court controversy and discussion like Sean Murphy’s Punk Rock Jesus. Set in the not too distant future, Punk Rock Jesus tells the story of Chris, a teenage clone created from the Shroud of Turin to be the new messiah for the purposes of a reality television show. After a series of tragic circumstances and the media’s abuse of his virgin mother, Chris escapes the compound in which he was raised and becomes the lead singer of an anarchist punk band. Tied to his story is that of Thomas McKael, an ex-IRA terrorist and Chris’s bodyguard who is struggling to hold onto his faith on his path to redemption. As outrageous as the title and conceit is, Murphy’s graphic novel is a heartbreakingly poignant examination of faith and its power to create and destroy. Its themes are firmly situated in our modern world and are a telling reflection of our media, politics, and religious conflicts.
The toughest role to cast is easily Chris, as he undergoes a major transformation through the course of his story. The best bet would be finding a newcomer. For the rest of the cast I’d pick Shailene Woodley as Chris’ young mother Gwen, Aaron Eckhart as Slate (the sinister head of the J2 project), Harold Perrineau as Thomas’ technical assistant Tim, Judy Greer as Sarah (the doctor in charge of the cloning process), and Michael Fassbender as Tomas McKael. For a director, I think Damien Chazelle would make a great fit.
7. Belinda by Maria Edgeworth (suggested by Katherine B. Shelor)
We’re all fond of a good film adaptation of a Victorian novel–see the many versions of Pride and Prejudice if you need convincing. Though it might seem that this genre has been fully mined for potential movie material, Belinda by Maria Edgeworth is a lesser-known 19th century novel of manners that, to my knowledge, has not been put on screen. It has all of the elements of a good love story, however–as do all of Miss Edgeworth’s novels–plus some dramatic moments that would lend themselves well to film. A duel between two women dressed as men, for instance, or the painted face of a socialite concealing a (supposedly) terrible wasting disease–a good director could make these as vivid on screen as they are in the reader’s imagination.
To direct, Joe Wright (director of 2005’s Pride and Prejudice and Atonement) would be a safe choice. Because being a nobody is so important to her role as the humble paragon of morality, I’d cast a relative unknown as Belinda. For dissipated Lady Delacour, however, I choose Rosamund Pike, because she’s proven she can do pretty much anything, and I can see her playing the aloof socialite and pants-wearing politician as well as a desperately afraid woman that believes she is dying. For our hero, I choose Tom Hiddleston because of his soulful eyes and a general impression that he could easily play land-owning British gentry of a different era.
8. Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey (suggested by Katherine B. Shelor)
I know I’ve said it before, but I’m saying it again: this movie needs to be made. I’m going to repeat myself until I’m seated with a bag of popcorn watching Dragonflight on opening night. Warner Bros. bought the rights years ago, but as of yet have done nothing with it. For shame! It’s got dragons, space exploration, politics, love, sex, and high-adrenaline battles. I don’t know what the hold up is, here. It’s a no-brainer.
As long as I’m aggressively championing this film, I’m going to boldly state that it should be directed by David Yates (of Deathly Hallows), should star both Hemsworths (as F’lar and F’nor), Clive Owen (as dreamy dragonrider #1), Emma Watson (as Lessa), Viggo Mortensen (as tough as nails dragonrider #1), Ben Kingsley (as Robinton), Michael Fassbender (dreamy dragonrider #2), Keira Knightley (badass queen dragonrider #1), Marion Cotillard…
9. The Three by Sarah Lotz (suggested by David Shreve)
There’s been a neglected opportunity in the landscape of American horror, most notably missed the narrative constructed World War Z. There needs to be a long form mockumentary regarding an apocalyptic event: epic in scale, high in production value, but structured to emulate the familiar History Channel-type set. Sarah Lotz’s novel The Three is the best-suited story for this approach. The Stephen King-endorsed thriller tracks the events following four mysteriously synchronized passenger plane crashes, focusing on three surviving children (the only survivors) who all behave… differently after the catastrophe. For fans of end-of-the-world literary speculation, this book aims for everything: the supernatural, the decimation of society, eerie glances at human loneliness, etc.
Having proven themselves to be unafraid of ambitious horror, directing duo Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson might harvest the most value from this formula. The two have excelled on the independent horror circuit on relatively small budget features. Maybe on their third feature length pitch, they could swing for the fences and try something entirely new.
10. The Heart Does Not Grow Back by Fred Venturini (suggested by David Shreve)
Fred Venturini’s strange 2014 novel follows a young man who, through an unspeakable tragedy, learns that he has a superhuman ability. He can regenerate body parts, limbs, and organs. The twist here is that the protagonist is far too broken-hearted to indulge ambitions of being a superhero. At the heart of Venturini’s story is a parable about self-forgiveness, dealing with grief, and coming to terms with inevitable loss. The novel, with its tonal accessibility and its something troubling narrative twist, reads a bit like John Green meets Chuck Palahniuk. To me, the most appealing circumstance adds a third, inimitable voice to the mix. It’s high time we get a David Cronenberg romantic teen drama. It’s an unlikely scenario, but holy hell, would it turn heads.
That wraps it up. I hope you’ve been taking notes–at least, if you can’t watch these movies, you can read the books, right?
Check out our initial list of desired adaptations here.
Featured Image: First Vintage International