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10 of the Best Books That Have Never Been Adapted to Film

by Steven Clark
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

At this point, with the arms race Hollywood studios are getting involved in to option and make a movie out of every story that’s ever existed, it often feels like there’s nothing left to adapt. And this can result in a seemingly endless series of reboots, remakes, and re-imaginings appearing at multiplexes week in and week out, something which we’re all used to seeing.

That said, there are still some classic works of fiction out there that, for one reason or another, have yet to be adapted to film. And while the reasons for this vary from story to story, they all share one thing in common: the fact that they are each brilliant and could all provide a very interesting movie or TV conversion if circumstances ever allow for it.

So, let’s take a look at some of them today, ten in fact, and try to see just what it is that makes them so special, as well as some of the reasons why they have yet to make it to screen.

Related: Top 10 Classic Books That Are Unreadable

10 One Hundred Years of Solitude

Gabriel García Márquez – One Hundred Years of Solitude and Magical Realism

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece of magical realism is still considered by many to be the finest work of Latin American fiction ever created. And if you read it for yourself, it’s not hard to see why.

Telling a sprawling multi-generational story that covers the history of not only the Buendia family but also the town of Macondo in which they live, One Hundred Years of Solitude feels like it touches upon everything that life has to offer throughout its 400 or so pages.

Yes, its lack of a central focal point character, constant cast changes, and its dreamlike fantastical segments may have made it difficult to adapt to film over the years, but that’s not to say it’s impossible to do. And this is evidenced by the fact that, currently, Netflix is planning to take a crack at it as an upcoming miniseries, a format that would surely give the story more room to breathe.[1]

9 Blood Meridian

The Unfilmable Movie: 24 Years of Failure | Video Essay (feat. Benjamin August Literature)

This is another one that’s seen various aborted attempts to adapt it over the years. Cormac McCarthy’s 1985 western has seen its reputation gradually grow to the point where, today, it’s considered to be an example of the great American novel.

But for as vivid as McCarthy’s famously minimalistic use of prose can be, its sheer level of violence has often left film studios shying away from it for fear of it ending up being unsellable.

And that’s created a problem. As the story is loosely based on the real history of the Glanton Gang, a group of scalp hunters who caused murder and mayhem everywhere they went, the violence has very much become understood to be a key part of the book. And its message of the evils of men left to their own devices doesn’t help matters either.

However, if a filmmaker can figure out a way to balance this and find the right actor to play the story’s mythical villain, Judge Holden, it might still be possible. Just don’t eat anything before you go watch it if it ever does make its way to screen.[2]

8 Geek Love

“Geek Love” by Katherine Dunn Review 🎪

Written by Katherine Dunn in 1989, Geek Love has been able to find a cult audience with outcasts everywhere in the years that followed. As it tells the tale of the Binewski family, a traveling troupe of carnival workers, it’s able to shine a light on the most unusual parts of society in a way that’s often hilarious and never anything less than loving.

Throughout the story, in fact, we get to follow the adventures of Oly, the humpbacked narrator, as well as Arturo the Aqua Boy, Elly and Iphy the Siamese twins, and Chick, the telekinetic baby. Each of them was born with their deformities after their parents took various hard drugs while pregnant in the hopes of driving up interest in their carnival.

And if that sounds absurd, then that’s because it is. Still, never letting this absurdity get in the way of exploring the fundamental humanity behind these people, Dunn is quickly able to make us realize that, despite their abnormalities, they’re not freaks really, no more than you or me at least.

At one point, it even looked like Tim Burton would adapt this one to film in the ’90s. However, since that’s fallen through, things have remained quiet on the film front. We just hope that someone else takes another crack at it in the future, as it’s a tale that definitely deserves a wider audience.[3]

7 Rendezvous with Rama

Villeneuve is Making a Rendezvous With Rama Movie after Dune!

The first contact story has been told time and time again over the years but perhaps never better than in Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction magnum opus, Rendezvous with Rama.

Here, we get to see it done in less of a dramatic, War of the Worlds-style fashion—in a manner far more akin to how it would likely go down in real life. There are no dramatic battles, no enemy spacecraft blowing up national monuments. Instead, an alien spaceship passes through our solar system seemingly at random, leading a team of scientists to go and investigate.

And while there, they don’t find any little green men. No, they’re forced to contend with a cylindrical generation ship, one devoid of fully organic life but which provides a wealth of information about its creators regardless.

Would audiences be willing to see something like this play out on screen given its lack of action? Well, with the success of recent movies like Arrival, there’s really no reason it shouldn’t. And perhaps this is why Denis Villeneuve, the director of that particular movie, has been slated to direct an upcoming adaptation.[4]

6 In the Miso Soup

Book Review | In the Miso Soup by Ryū Murakami

Ryu Murakami’s work has been no stranger to successful film adaptations over the years. After all, his novel Audition would make for one of the best horror movies of its era when it was released in 1999.

One which hasn’t made its way to the screen yet, though, is In the Miso Soup, a riveting philosophical thriller that tells the tale of a young man named Kenji. He’s a nightlife guide for Tokyo tourists hoping to get a taste for what the city really has to offer.

As the story progresses, however, it becomes more and more apparent that his latest client, an American named Frank, may very well be a serial killer. And this then forces Kenji to confront not only his safety but also the morals of continuing to accept this man’s money as he shows him around the city night after night.

It’s perfect fodder for a tense horror movie and one that we’re surprised hasn’t been done yet. Still, the chances are that, with the popularity of the horror and thriller genres, it’ll hit screens eventually.[5]

5 Invisible Man

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

No, we’re not talking about the classic H.G. Wells story and its many, many adaptations over the years. Instead, we’re talking about the Ralph Ellison masterpiece written in 1952, one of the cornerstones of African American literature. It tells the story of an unnamed black man and the social invisibility he experiences throughout his life.

And this allows Ellison to touch on a variety of issues faced by African Americans of the time, such as racism, black identity, and reformed racial politics. But by also choosing to focus on the more universal themes of personal identity and mental health, the story is able to speak to those outside of this group more easily. It gives them a smoother entry point into things they may not relate to, like what it feels like to be black in America.

So, it seems strange then that, all these years later, Invisible Man has still never been adapted to film, something which we’re sure will be rectified soon as, in 2017, Hulu announced they were developing their own television series based on the book. However, it has yet to be filmed.[6]

4 The Catcher in the Rye

Why There’s No The Catcher in the Rye Movie? | JD Salinger and His Film Rights

The Catcher in the Rye may very well be the most famous example of a classic work of literature that’s never been adapted to screen. And this is partly because, with its coming of age story full of teenage angst, it seems like such an obvious choice, especially given its huge popularity with teenagers of all generations.

In fact, while it’s never officially been adapted, there have been so many movies that have taken inspiration from J.D. Salinger’s lone novel that he probably deserved some royalty checks in the mail as a result.

Given his reluctance to allow an adaptation to happen during his lifetime and his estate’s willingness to respect his wishes on this following his death, it seems like it will be a long time before we ever get to see the story of Holden Caulfield and his time spent drifting about New York City making it to cinemas.[7]

3 Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami – Book Discussion

If Ryu Murakami is the Japanese literary equivalent of The Rolling Stones, slightly harder-edged and more dangerous than his contemporaries, then Haruki Murakami is most certainly The Beatles. He’s wildly creative, prolific, and one of the more influential writers of his generation.

To most, he’s best known for his 1987 romantic coming of age drama, Norwegian Wood. While that has already been adapted to screen in his native Japan, the same can’t be said for his psychedelic masterpiece, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

Telling a dual narrative, the book flips back and forth between two tales. Firstly, there’s the film noir-style private eye who’s investigating a case that gets increasingly more bizarre as it goes in, eventually seeing him quite literally delving into the underworld of the Tokyo sewer system. And while this is happening, a second story, seemingly initially detached from the first, is a far more bizarre one. It’s set on a mysterious island where the narrator of the piece is commissioned to read memories from the skulls of unicorns.

It’s all very surreal, but by the end, it does manage to come together wonderfully. And while it would require a bit of a budget to film, what with its strange visuals, we’ve no doubt it could capture the imagination of screen audiences, too, if given the chance.[8]

2 A Confederacy of Dunces

Unmade Masterpieces: A Confederacy of Dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces was never published in John Kennedy Toole’s lifetime as, after seeing it get rejected on multiple occasions, he would sadly take his own life in 1969 at just 31 years old.

And how tragic this is then because it would eventually get published in 1980 after his mother found the manuscript following his death. From there, it pretty quickly gained a reputation as a modern classic.

Telling the tale of Ignatius Reilly, an overweight, unemployed, and deeply pretentious thirty-year-old man, we get to go on a tour of the local New Orleans area through his eyes. The reader finds themselves laughing at his wry observations in one moment while also hating him for his mistreatment of everyone around him in the next.

But while it seems like obvious fare for a hit comedy, it has still never made it to screen. And this is despite the efforts of heavyweights like John Belushi, Stephen Soderbergh, and most recently, Will Ferrell, all giving it a go. Maybe this decade will be the one where it finally happens—as it’s long, long overdue.[9]

1 Underworld

Don Delillo – Underworld BOOK REVIEW

Don Delillo’s epic tome has, like Blood Meridian, gained a reputation over the years for being an example of the great American novel. And while it is fantastic, its sheer length and density at over 800 pages have left many feeling too intimidated to try reading it for themselves.

For those that have, though, they’ve been met with a kaleidoscopic story that begins with one of the greatest opening sections in literary history. It offers a retelling of baseball’s famous shot heard ’round the word from the perspective of various figures, including J. Edgar Hoover, Frank Sinatra, and the kid who caught the home run ball itself.

After that, we take a reverse chronological journey through the life of Nick Shay, the man who will eventually come to own that very baseball, seeing his life as a waste management executive while also taking frequent detours into a number of side stories.

Like we said, it’s all very dense. But in managing to cover the entire history of the atomic age and what it meant to America across its page count, it’s able to prove it would make for an excellent miniseries if done right—maybe just like the one Netflix is currently working on developing.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen