As we recently pointed out when we tackled movie novelizations that were actually worth the read, turning books into movies is big business. The entertainment industry likes its projects pre-vetted, and Hollywood in particular loves to add "Inspired by the novel many of you bought" or "From the mind of, you know, that guy whose book never leaves your bathroom" to anything it can.
And yet, not every book can be turned into a movie. There are various reasons why that might be. Sometimes a work is just too long and complicated to boil down to a reasonable-length film, or perhaps there just isn't enough of an audience no matter how much critical acclaim a novel might have. See Watchmen or Atlas Shrugged for good examples of literary works of genius that should've stayed on the printed page.
At first look, this list reads like one of the most awesome movies that should be made, but hold on because maybe you haven't really though it through.
Why We Want It: It's Tolkien. Sure, The Lord of the Rings had its flaws, such as throwing out concepts like character motivation and the idea that crossing Middle Earth takes any length of time in the last four hours or so, but it's also a landmark series of films that did the impossible and did it fairly well. Now The Hobbit is on its way in two parts to rekindle the magic. Clearly there's a market, and now an established cinema fanbase should be able to ease a production over any errors in artistic delivery.
Why It's a Bad Idea: The Silmarillion has some of the greatest stories Tolkien ever wrote, but it's basically the poofy elvish Bible...and the Old Testament at that. The best and most cinematic story arc in it is that of the Children of Hurin, and there you're talking about incest, fratricide and an ending so depressing it makes Hamlet look like Newsies. Any other story you tackle is going to run into the uncomfortable fact that one of the main tribes of elves, the Noldor, straight up committed a holocaust on their fellow elves three freakin' times, all in the name of recovering some jewels. You may remember that premise as the whole plot by Sauron in The Lord of the Rings.
How About Instead We Film: The Father Christmas Letters. Some people help their kids write letters to Santa, but Tolkien one-ups every dad in existence (except us because we linked Santa to Doctor Who) by having Santa write his children back about his North Pole adventures. Give this to Disney and watch the brilliance roll in.
Why We Want It: Neil Gaiman's Sandman changed comic books forever. The groundbreaking series followed the almost omnipotent personification of dreams as he struggled to come to terms with a world that he feels increasingly detached from. His brief stint as the owner of an abandoned Hell where he must deal with various mythological envoys who wish to purchase it from him is worth the read alone for its existential exploration of the nature of evil and choice. Plus, we're dying to see Dream's sister Delirium brought to life on the big screen.
Why It's a Bad Idea: There is no bad guy in Sandman, not really. There are certainly no significant battles between Dream and antagonists that aren't handily ended by the fact that he is pretty much all-powerful. Mostly, Dream's struggles are inner, and that doesn't translate well in a world where comic book movies are all expected to be slugfests and freak parades. The only way you could tackle Sandman in a manner that would make money would be to play up the early adventures as a straight horror film. Even though that's a viable option, and wouldn't require too much loose adaptation, it would more or less destroy everything that Gaiman fans love about the overall series, and still isn't likely to be marketable enough to pull in a big enough new crowd.
How About Instead We Film: Good Omens. A film adaptation of the comic end-of-the-world novel that Gaiman collaborated with Terry Pratchett on has been sitting dead in the water even though Terry Gilliam himself has been trying to get it off the ground since 2002. Even with Beowulf, Stardust and Coraline doing good business, Hollywood apparently has some kind of hate-on for what would be the comedic hit of the century.
Why We Want It: House of Leaves is the most amazing experimental horror novel ever written. On the surface, it's the story of a house that is bigger on the inside than on the outside. However, that doesn't even scratch the surface of its mind-boggling and insane prose and layout that will chill you to the very bone with its bald look at complete insanity. Lovecraft himself could not have imagined a book more terrifying to read. Take our advice, never read more than one chapter a night, and never ever read it without all the lights on. Otherwise you honestly court madness.
Why It's a Bad Idea: Well, other than the fact that we're worried a perfect film adaptation might actually result in a population of highly disturbed people always fleeing from ajar closet doors, there's the fact that making a movie out of it is impossible. Hell, writing it should've been impossible. Even though at its heart the book is actually about a film about the house, it's so multilayered that the true reality of the story is a tangle of weaved plotlines with no obvious solution. We don't even know where you'd begin to write a script for House of Leaves.
How About Instead We Film: The 50 Year Sword. We're still waiting on a U.S. release date for Danielewski's comparatively normal ghost story, but by all accounts it would be a fantastic film for someone like Aronofsky to try and bring to cinematic life. Plus, it's already been presented as a shadow play, so adaptation has been proven to be at least technically possible.
2. Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land
Why We Want It: It's been frequently called the finest science fiction novel ever written. Stranger follows an orphan human left to fend for himself on Mars and raised by the strange, native race that inhabits the red planet. He returns to Earth as a full-grown man with powers no one has ever seen, and proceeds to bring a new breed of love and religion to a populace too scared to accept the magnanimity of his gifts. It's part Gospel of Matthew, part The Man Who Fell to Earth and all in all one of the best books ever written on the miracle that is humanity.
Why It's a Bad Idea: The thing about blasphemy and heresy in art? People tend to accept it better when it's presented as a willful evil. Like the time that artist Andres Serrano sold a picture of a crucifix drowned in a jar full of his urine. Everyone knew he was trying to piss off the faithful, and on one level we accept that. Stranger presents a free-love society as superhuman and vastly superior to conventional worship, and deftly co-opts God himself into what most people would consider a cult.
The utopia that Heinlein paints with his Martian protagonist would anger every single halfway religious person in the country, while its heavy Christian symbolism would alienate the rest. Plus, in retrospect the book is a pretty sexist work that would make Don Draper wince. Like Atlas Shrugged, Stranger is a novel that deep readers can appreciate for its merits, but that the rest of the world tends to view as a dangerous book.
Oh, and we're pretty sure all the sex would make it NC-17 anyway.
How About Instead We Film: The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. Actually, instead of making a movie out of Heinlein's ode to moon independence and the birth of artificial intelligence, we'd love to see BioWare take a stab at adapting it into a video game series along the line of Mass Effect. The ending is already kind of disappointing anyway, so they have experience.
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Why We Want It: Well, it's Stephen King, and most of his books make pretty damn good adaptations. The Shining, Carrie, Shawshank Redemption, Misery and a host of lesser but still excellent movies. Rage was the first book that King published under the Richard Bachman pseudonym, and follows a deranged high school student that holds his class hostage at gunpoint while forcing them to endure a round of psychological discussions that seriously unhinges them all. It's a violent look at the pressures of youth that so often lead people to brutal violence.
Why It's a Bad Idea: Rage is one of the only Stephen King books that remains out of print at the request of King himself. Why? No less than four school shootings or hostage situations involving students were at least partially inspired by the novel. The connection became so disturbing that King no longer felt comfortable with it being widely available. As violent shootings at school are still an unfortunate part of current America, a film with an armed protagonist would likely be seen as too offensive for release, even if King allowed the rights to be sold in the first place.
How About Instead We Film: The Eyes of the Dragon. Call it Game of Thrones light, with Flagg as the villain and plenty of executions. Seriously, someone should take the book and treat it like a 90-minute Game of Thrones episode, and nothing but magic would happen.