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Novel Ideas

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Mark Kermode | 10:36 UK time, Friday, 20 April 2012

I got involved in a recent Twitter exchange about The Great Gatsby and movie versions of favourite novels. This got me wondering which are the greatest novels never to be filmed - and why?

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  • Comment number 1.

    The Life of Pi by Yan Martel - you couldn't film it without giving away the ending -

    Also I know that you didn't ask for impending adaptations of favourite novels - but I'm really uneasy about the upcoming film of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas -

  • Comment number 2.

    The Catcher in the Rye. No question. Impossible to film as the interest is entirely in Holden Caulfield's narration of his life.

    Although there is a 'movie' called The Catcher in the Rye made in 2008 by Nigel Tomm ( It consists of 75 minutes and 6 seconds of pure blue screen. I'm not counting that.

  • Comment number 3.

    'Junkie' semi-autobiographical novel by William S. Burroughs.Like most things with Burroughs its abstract in many respects,but of all his works the most filmable.

  • Comment number 4.

    Hello Dr Mark,

    I know your going to say its already been made, but in my mind John Steinbeck's 'East of Eden' has never truly been made into a film.
    The story is long and at times complex and perhaps this is why we ended up with Elia Kazan's 1955 version starring James Dean.
    It only contains a small reworked section of the whole book.
    If it was made properly the result would be epic.

  • Comment number 5.

    Neuromancer by William Gibson is a good shout. Not filmed because the Matrix got there and ripped it first I'd imagine! Otherwise, Catcher in the Rye is prob gonna be the winner here!

  • Comment number 6.

    Atlas Shrugged. Something of an attempt at the first third was done a year back. It was a total flop. Why has a proper attempt never been made? The plot is long, involves many diversions and whole heap of characters. Moreover, it suffers that great problem of any source material: it's too precious to too many people. No matter how you cut it, it'll offend someone.

  • Comment number 7.

    Agree with 'The Life of Pi', although I remember hearing somewhere that it was going to be made.
    Vikram Seth's 'A Suitable Boy': it's too big, long, deliciously lazy in exploring all those tangents and perfect. Any on-screen Mrs Rupa Mehra would disappoint.

  • Comment number 8.

    For me it's Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy - labyrinthine connections, no real over-arching story, at times obtuse and three separate parts with highly different styles. Would love to see someone attempt to bring it to the screen though.

  • Comment number 9.

    Katherine Dunn's "Geek Love", it's about a traveling circus and the married couple who run it decided to use varies drugs and radioactivity to change the genes of their kids and start a freak show.

    First time I met Terry Gilliam, he said he was interested in adapting it with Johnny Depp (both are big fans of the novel), he said he was struggling to get in contract with Katherine Dunn (recently I've been able forward her contact though a mutual friend) but Tim Burton had the rights for years but he would have made the kid friendly version but Terry would struggle since he can only work in the States for 30 days a month since he denounced his citizenship and would need to be shot in Portland, Oregon (my hometown) which is where it's set and it's a bit too weird for any company to will give somebody a bunch of money for it.

  • Comment number 10.

    At The Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft, though not for want of trying on the part of Guillermo del Toro.
    It is beyond me why the films like Adam Sandler's "Jack & Jill" and endless parody movies such as "Meet The Spartans" keep getting backed, yet this gem of a story by one of the most influencial sci-fi/horror authors of all time keeps getting shot down!

  • Comment number 11.

    The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart.

    Perhaps the themes have already been well covered by now (eg American Psycho, Intacto etc), but for me this novel still has a lot to say about how we all struggle sometimes to conform to social norms.

  • Comment number 12.

    I'm yet to read a single novel where I'm glad they made a film out of it.
    The beauty of a novel is that you use your own imagination to draw all the imagery and fill in the gaps. A film is someone else's imagination and it is ALWAYS wrong.
    My OCD kicks in every time they change a character, location, line of dialogue, etc. I can tolerate it if a novel is simple condensed; changes freak me out.
    I realise that I'm in the minority here, but I HATED the Lord of the Rings adaptation - even though it's a massive oscar winning success - and all the HP movies; so I'm glad that other great novels haven't been turned into films.

  • Comment number 13.

    "Junkie" would made a really good film.

  • Comment number 14.

    Life of Pi is being made by Ang Lee.

    Best novel never filmed would have to be Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. It's been through plenty of filmmakers but it has never come into existence on screen because trying to capture the brutality of the novel as well as trying to find a narrative through line for a film is one hell of a task. The novel is also pretty much impenetrable it would take a team of writers to hack their way through it and come up with something coherent for the screen. If not film then maybe HBO miniseries but I can't see it happening.

  • Comment number 15.

    If on a Winter's Night a Traveller and Fathers and Sons by Calvino and Turgenev respectively. If.. couldn't be filmed because it's a postmodern experiment of a novel which casts the reader as the central protagonist, includes sections where the writing starts to describe the qualities of the writing you're ostensibly reading, and has a plot that takes so many digressive turns it never returns to the original track. It could be turned into a film, but it would require a total reimagining and a total genius of a filmmaker for even a half-decent result. Fathers and Sons is essentially a Russian rural costume drama with big ideas - I don't really know why it hasn't been filmed yet, other than just because Russian literature doesn't seem to get filmed much in general.

  • Comment number 16.

    Rendevouz with Rama. Morgan Freeman has been trying to get it made since 1999. David Fincher has it on his back-burner at the moment.

  • Comment number 17.

    My suggestion is Wise Children by Angela Carter. It is a fantastic novel, full of life, wit, smut, and general joie de vivre. The characters are bigger than life and ridiculous, but also warm and totally believable. It is full of great set pieces, such as fires, banquets and performances, which could look incredible in the hands of the right director (a mix of Lynne Ramsay and David Lynch?).

    Perhaps it was never filmed because the protagonist Nora Chance (and her twin sister Dora) has such a fantastic narrative voice - funny, literate, Cockney - that would sadly be lost as a film. Or perhaps it's because the book is full of twins (at least five pairs). With limited special effects it could have looked clunky and been impossible to film, but considering the Winklevii in The Social Network, maybe the time has come.

  • Comment number 18.

    Oh and I'm also raging that the charisma vacuums of Gareth Dunderhead and Kristen Stewart are starring in On the Road. Kerouac will be rolling in his grave, rage, etc.

  • Comment number 19.

    Also, 2666 by Roberto Bolano. But there are way too many reasons why that can never be filmed. If Klaus Kinski were still alive, maybe Werner Herzog could have given it a shot.

  • Comment number 20.

    I would say Neuromancer too. Gibson's concept of cyberspace is too ethereal for the screen. Flying through the idea of information as visual geography is a wonderful literary idea that sounds very visual, but doesn't look great when actually thought through. See Lawnmower man.

  • Comment number 21.

    I second Catcher In the Rye. And agree that it would be a tremendously hard book to translate to film. I believe many people have tried but JD Salinger refused to allow film adaptations of his work. Holden Caulfield also despises Hollywood and Hollywood movies - he thinks they're "phony". I hope it never happens as too many great books have been made into disappointing films.

    Another interesting question is which films of books are *better* than the book. I can't think of many, but my answer is always "Breakfast at Tiffanys".

  • Comment number 22.

    The 'Thursday Next' series by Jasper Fforde. The fact that you're 'reading' the story is integral to much of the plot. Also his latest dystopian series 'Shades of Grey' in which social status is dictated by the fact that different people see different amount of colour in the world.

  • Comment number 23.

    Despite being a book centered around a series of pieces of film footage, Mark Z. Danielewski's "House Of Leaves" is probably the novel I would most like to see filmed but is least likely to happen.
    If you've never seen or heard of it, the author winds multiple, interlinking storied around each other in a book that plays with all the established conventions of printed media. Words are printed in different colours and fonts; sections are printed upside down or backwords; footnotes and appendices take over and become the major narrative before being overtaken again by the main text. At one particular point the reader even has to read a passage THROUGH the book in the third dimention!
    A marvelous and original story, but so completely tied to its printed medium that it would be almost completely unfilmable.

  • Comment number 24.

    Hannahkc - I think Slumdog Millionaire is far better than Q & A, the book it's based on. I also might be in a minority here, but I much prefer Fight Club on screen to the book as well.

  • Comment number 25.

    Jack Kerouac adapted DOCTOR SAX into a script for a movie that will probably never be made. The crucial problem is that the novel involves imaginary people and imaginary places that only exist in the imagination of the Imaginer.

  • Comment number 26.

    A bit niche, but... Larry Niven's "Ringworld" is a sci-fi classic which would translate well to the cinema, I think. There are also a few other novels set in the same universe, which would provide perfect sequels/prequels/re-boots.

  • Comment number 27.

    I think the reason the Catcher in the Rye has never been filmed is one very simple reason. You will find Holden saying it on page two; "If there's one thing I hate it's the movies. Don't even mention them to me."

  • Comment number 28.

    I would agree with Blood Meridian. I think the main problem with it is that there is not an actor alive on Earth (nor, possibly, has there ever been) who could perform the role of Judge Holden, the book's antagonist. I think the issue here is that he holds something of a terrifying, otherworldy presence, and all of our actors are much too terrestrial.
    Honourable mention goes to William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying.

  • Comment number 29.

    One of my personal favorites: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick. Why? Because it's by Philip K. Dick.

    Nearly every adaptation of Dick's stories has been molded so much that it's almost beyond recognition. The truest one though, would have to bee A Scanner Darkly, which captures something of Dick that the others don't. His novels are like a dream in which reality is ungraspable and yet the story remains clear somehow in this world where you doubt everything you see and have good reason to.

    Mind you, I'm not at all saying A Scanner Darkly is the best of them, but it does manage better at adapting a Dick-story as Dick-story. Only goes to show how hard it is.

  • Comment number 30.

    Transitions by Iain Banks, parallels with Inception, but a more satisfying storyline.

  • Comment number 31.

    Catcher in The Rye is the obvious choice, but from my own reading experience (and a bit left field) I'd go for Art Spiegleman's Maus. A brilliant, heart wrenching story, but I suspect that (a) because it's a graphic novel, and (b) the story telling devices, while vital, mean it isn't easy to do except as an animation, as well as the fact somebody would need to persuade Spiegleman to allow it, make it one that will remain a pipe dream.

  • Comment number 32.

    Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's "Good Omens", probably because producers are afraid of lending money to Terry Gilliam. Although I think Terry Jones is working on a TV film for the book.

  • Comment number 33.

    @MusashiX: If you've so far hated every adaptation of a novel you've read, then perhaps your OCDness is the problem and not their adaptation. I'm not having a go by the way, but I want to make a suggestion. It's something I sometimes do for similar reasons.

    First see the film, then read the book. I'm very glad, for instance, that I saw V for Vendetta before I read it. This way, I enjoyed the film and upon reading the novel, I was able to appreciate the differences because "This is the original". It's easier to see what you've seen before as an adaptation rather than a failed reconstruction. This of course depends on the adaptation.

    Something I've done with the Harry Potter films is, as a huge fan, see them several times. My first two viewings of nearly all of them has been a ride of seeing what I imagined to be portrayed not as I imagined it. You know what's going to happen and the only surprise is how it's not what you want it to be. It's frustrating. But with each viewing, I enjoyed them more for the adaptation that they are.

  • Comment number 34.

    Chuck Palahniuk's "Lullaby" would make for a fantastic film. Am surprised that after the success of Fight Club that it's not happened yet.

  • Comment number 35.

    The best book that I have read, by far, is Don DeLillo's masterpiece "White noise" (closely followed by his "The island"). Neither has been made into a film, afaict.

    They are vast novels, but not that much, so I can't really see any proper reason, except perhaps for the fact that they would probably not make very good blockbusters.

  • Comment number 36.

    Not sure if we're counting comics but, Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie's "Lost Girls". And anyone who's read it will know why.

  • Comment number 37.

    Some of my favourite books that spring to mind are Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’, Halldór Laxness’s ‘Independent People’ and Arthur Koestler’s ‘Darkness at Noon’. Although I could be mistaken – maybe they have been filmed?

    I can’t quite answer ‘why’ those particular books haven’t been made into films. But I do some books aren’t particularly dramatic in their plot but contain an atmosphere or astonishing twists of phrase that are difficult to pin down cinematically. I recently read ‘Remainder’ by Tom McCarthy and think this book would be pretty much impossible to capture on film. Too much giddying repetition!

  • Comment number 38.

    Good Omens because no one trusts Terry Gilliam, the only man who was able to adapt Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (the only example of a perfect adaption of a book to film I have ever seen) to make the film.

  • Comment number 39.


  • Comment number 40.

    'Blood Meridian' by Cormac McCarthy - His darkest work by far; darker even than 'The Road', and that's a story about a post-apocalyptic world. The amount of violence, madness and depravity in it is perhaps too much for distributors to accept.

    'The Stars My Destination' by Alfred Bester - One word: jaunting.

  • Comment number 41.

    I agree with the Thursday Next suggestion and also think that the Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake would be great. I loved the books and also enjoyed the TV version which had a classic cast.

  • Comment number 42.

    Will get this in quickly because I think it may be in pre-production, "The Third Policeman" by Flan O'Brien. Brenden Gleeson has apparently obtained the rights.

  • Comment number 43.

    John Kennedy Toole's A Confedracy of Dunces. I'm guessing that having such an unlikeable grotesque as a protagonist - though his character is the genius of the book 's humour - would be a hard sell to a studio exec. Though many have come close.

  • Comment number 44.

    For me it would be MP Shiel's The Purple Cloud. The first catastrophe (last man on earth) novel ever written, I think. It would be cinematic, but it's a story about one man descending into madness and self obsession, traveling across Europe burning down cities. Why it's never been filmed? Erm... don't know. Maybe no one's heard of it.

  • Comment number 45.

    I am quite surprised no one has tried to adapt 'A Hundred Years of Solitude' by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It would have to be ten hours long and cut huge chunks out of the narrative but its not undoable. In fact, I'm not aware of any of his stories being adapted for the big screen.

    Another is 'What a Carve Up!' by Jonathan Coe. Adapted for radio successfully but never making it to the silver screen. A brilliant book by a genuine cinephile.

    Has anyone managed to make 'Don Quixote' yet?

  • Comment number 46.

    I would like to think that Jasper Fforde's 'The Eyre Affair' (and subsequent Thursday Next novels) would make good films, based on the vast imaginary world that he conjures up. Plus I am very interested to see a Dodo 'plock' on-screen!! (anyone who has read these books will understand..)

    Also Kate Mosse's Labyrinthe and Sepulchre would be a nice adaption I think.

  • Comment number 47.

    Ender's Game. That whole series of books could easily be as popular as Hunger Games.

  • Comment number 48.

    The TV series is definitive, but surely one of these days someone will succeed in making a film version of Robert Graves' I, Claudius...

  • Comment number 49.

    Related to the question of great unfinished projects/the unrealized ambitions of great directors, is it true that Kubrick wanted to film an adaptation of Foucault's Pendulum? As is well documented, Umberto Eco was utterly disappointed with Annaud's adaptation of The Name of the Rose and apparently instructed his publishers to withhold the rights to film any of his other novels. Can anyone shed any further light on this? To be fair, Foucault's Pendulum would have been a tremendously difficult novel to bring to life on film, though obviously with Kubrick at the helm great things could have happened.

  • Comment number 50.

    The Third Class Genie by Robert Leeson

    One of my favourite books growing up, would make a great film imo with the right actors and director.

  • Comment number 51.

    The Very Hungry Caterpillar.......done as a found footage monster movie - like Cloverfield.

  • Comment number 52.

    Gabriel's lament by Paul Bailey. Would make a tremendous film though probably just too sad to bear. Agree with shout for Blood Meridian, no idea why not filmed as massively cinematic, would love Scorcese to try it.

    Is is just me or dejavu or have you not Mark done this as a blog subject before?

  • Comment number 53.

    According to IMBD Blood Meridian has been optioned for a 2015 release

    I would vote for Flicker Theodore Roszak - the novel is about hiding disturbing subliminal images in films so it would be impossible to recreate (I hope)

  • Comment number 54.

    A large proportion of George Orwell's work has never been filmed but by all accounts, this is because the Orwell Estate are somewhat iffy about his words being contorted and misdirected and understandably so. For me, his best work is 'Down and Out in Paris and London' which has never even had so much as a sniff of a suggestion of a filmic adaptation. Doesn't matter though, cos I'm the one that's gonna make that film one day! Ha! Ha!

  • Comment number 55.

    In trying to think of a book I love that hasn't been filmed I realised I am the type of person who reads the books that get turned into to films. I can however think of a film that shouldn't have been turned into a film that I love. The Lovley Bones and Lolita. The former because the heaven of the book is suppost to be so fantastical it connot be put to images and the latter because the film would need to be exsplict. Both film versions were a waste of time.

  • Comment number 56.

    Gravitys Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Its often cited as one of the hardest modern novels to read, with suggestions that you just skip the first 122 pages. The plot has so many strands and is extremely complex, hence why it will never make it to the big screen.

  • Comment number 57.

    THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE. Could be made with lots and lots of cgi but it would be terrible! be very hard to capture the feel of the book. I agree with the shout out for JUNKIE also.

  • Comment number 58.

    For me it would have be The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro. It’s easily my favorite book, but it’s labyrinthine structure - interweaving dreams and reality in way that makes Inception seem like Playdays - renders it unfilmable in any traditional sense.

  • Comment number 59.

    I think for me it has to be Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. Rushdie's language and imagination would lend itself brilliantly to be adapted by someone like Terry Gilliam or Guillermo Del Toro. The themes, subtext and variation of time periods and locations would allow an epic that could maybe be split across more than one film. The huge controversy and death threats to Rushdie that followed the novels release have obviously deterred anyone from putting this masterpiece on film.

  • Comment number 60.

    Would have loved to have seen the David Lean adaptation of Nostromo go ahead with the likes of Marlon Brando, Isabella Rossellini, Peter O'Toole and Paul Schofield.

    Since then I don't think there has been a combination of actors/directors who I could say would be able to get that 'civilizing' post-colonial ambivalence right since Lean and Alec Guinness managed with Lt. Nicholson, and Coppolla and Brando created with Kurtz.

  • Comment number 61.

    "The Sea, The Sea" by Iris Murdoch. We are taken on such a deep journey into the inner voice of the main character it *seems* impossible to translate this into a film, or at least it would be a daunting challenge. "Under the Net" by the same author has never been adapted [to my knowledge] and would work as a film; but again, maybe directors are turn into chickens when they see inner dialogue [I am sure Ang Lee could do it].

    One parallel to this on a novel that was adapted: The scene in Return of the King, in which Shelob, the giant spider, attacks Frodo in the book is stunningly crafted with the inner voice of the spider at the forefront. In the film, Shelob is just a giant angry arachnid which needs killing. It is one of the weakest scenes.

  • Comment number 62.

    Northern Lights... and no, The Golden Compass wasn't a film adaptation of it because the fundamental message was skipped over. I will not accept that THAT was a film adaptation of one of the best fantasy stories ever written. It was like if JFK had skipped over the conspiracy part.

    Seriously though, Lermontov's 'A Hero of Our Time'.

  • Comment number 63.

    I love Haruki Murakami and would love to see some of his books being adapted as a movie. The wind up bird chronicles is my favorite and parts of it have great cinematic potential, but even the English translation of the book has parts cut out so if they ever gonna make it a movie it probably gets butchered.

  • Comment number 64.

    @Frank Fforde
    I think there has been an adaptation of Love in the Time of Cholera starring Javier Bardem, but it sank without a trace. Haven't seen it myself, but apparently by all accounts it's a bit of a stinker!

  • Comment number 65.

    The one book (set) I'd like to see on film is Julian May's amazing 'Saga of the Exiles' series, with it's 'Intervention' book leading to a further three prequels.

    With the CGI capabilities now, I'd have suggested another stab at Frank Herbert's Dune, but I doubt the casting (with the exception of Sting) would be anywhere near as good David Lynch's film.

  • Comment number 66.

    The Oxford Dictionary.

    Michael Bay's schedule was too busy.

  • Comment number 67.

    Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis. In equal part satire on vanity and celebrity culture, and psychological drama/horror. There have been rumours of it making to the big screen, but its never materialised in part to it being unfilmable for mainreasons. You would most likely need an absurd array of celebrity cameos, and because its so labyrinthinian in plot and character. But you just have to get lost and enjoy the ride..

  • Comment number 68.

    John Updike's Couples has never been filmed - it would make a great HBO series.

  • Comment number 69.

    I have always enjoyed books by Wilbur Smith with Warlock being a favourite, I have always felt that they would be perfect books for big screen productions. I guess that in the case of Warlock its the cost of producing a film that would live up to the scale of the books!

  • Comment number 70.

    Neil Gaiman's "American Gods" is fantastic but perhaps somewhat like Stephen King "The Stand", is too jam packed to fit into a film and perhaps probably better suited to a mini series (I know they already did a mini series of The Stand but it was pants)

  • Comment number 71.

    "Blood Meridian" by Cormac McCarthy. Even with sections that could be even more poignant on-screen (one of cinemas greatest endings is in there) the huge scope and scale of the novel would require an equally lengthy film and daring director.

  • Comment number 72.

    The Last Battle by C.S Lewis

    So far missed off the TV and Film adaptations even though it represents the culmination of the Chronicles of Narnia, one of the worlds best loved literary series. So why hasn't it been made? Beyond the reasons specific attributed to the TV or more recent Film adaptations, I would suggest that something on the scale of The Last Battle requires a) a large and therefore risky investment in a classic book that could create a backlash and b) it would require a positive and unbroken 'run-up' of the preceding films to ensure there's enough interest and so that justice is done to the story.

  • Comment number 73.

    Blood Meridian would be my choice. Like already mentioned may directors have tried to adapt it, from the likes of Ridley Scott to the likes of Nicholas Winding Refn (a brilliant choice in my opinion) Not only would it be extremely difficult to adapt, but to assemble a cast to play such characters from Judge Holden (a character that would make Hannibal Lector look like the ideal dinner guest) to The Kid. Not to mention that Holden is one of the most repulsive characters who could ever grace a cinema screen and it would be pretty difficult to find an actor who would consider in taking the role.
    In my humble opinion Blood Meridian is the last great Western story and would redefine for a new generation of filmgoers the Acid Western subgenre which seemed to have reached its high point with Dead Man.

  • Comment number 74.

    Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian is a book which I particularly want to see on the big screen. I'm aware of rumours that Ridley Scott was involved in an adaptation but he abandoned it. It might be one of those "unfilmable" books which are too violent, or too large in scope to be whittled down to a 2-hour film, but boy would I like to see someone try!

    Also, J D Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye is a book MADE to be filmed, and filmed beautifully, but Salinger apparently had a bad experience with Hollywood and decided never to option any of his works ever again.

  • Comment number 75.

    I'm going to bend the rules a bit and throw Stephen King's Dark Tower books (plural) into the mix. I know Ron Howard is attempting to bring them to both the big and the small screen but I doubt it will happen.

    With a narrative that spans across and between an expansive post-apocalyptic, western landscape that parallels our own world, each involving a vast array of characters (not all of them human), all revolving around one man's quest to fulfill his destiny and find the centre of the universe - is it possible for some stories to be too epic for cinema?

  • Comment number 76.

    Brave New World seems an obvious choice, a proper adaptation i mean (im not counting the made for TV film, too many differences). it's considered one of the greatest novels of all time, i certainly think it's an amazing achievement. it could be filmed very easily in this day and age (i'd put it with someone like David Lynch at the helm as it could make a very impressive surrealist film), however it won't be because of the content and the film industry has become more PC, although i'd argue that the way Kubrick handled Lolita by just implying some of the more controversial moments worked very well and the same technique could be applied here.

    catcher is what most people are saying, and i agree that it is also a great book that could never be filmed, i just wrote this to try and stop this being a one horse race.

  • Comment number 77.

    If were allowing comics then Turf by Johnathan Ross is begging to be made into a film! Any story that can cover so many genres and still have a clear and defined message is, in my mnd brilliant! I heard there were rumours that it was to be a film but not sure where thats gone now?

    Either that or Making History by Stephen Fry, although i suspect its probably because the alternative history Nazi genre is not as popular as it has been, especially after such shockers as Fatherland and Philadelphia Experiment 2!

  • Comment number 78.

    Nabokov's "Pale Fire". No. 53 on the list of the Modern Library 100 Best Novels, but utterly unfilmable. How do you adapt a novel that's made up entirely of an annotated poem? Talk about fragmented narrative: you need two copies of the novel to follow it (a point cheekily acknowledged by the author in the foreword). How could you possibly comprehend a film version? You'd need two DVD players!

  • Comment number 79.

    I know comic book adaptations have been rather hit and miss, but for a long I've been waiting for a big-screen adaptation of the Preacher series, by Garth Ennis. It's been talked about for years, with directors such as Sam Mendes and Darren Aronofsky attached to direct at some point. I think the mix of extreme violence, blasphemy and incredibly dark themes have put studios off financing it. With the relative success of films like Sin City and Kick-Ass, hopefully we'll all get to enjoy the delights of murderous undead cowboys, cocky Irish vampires and a man who may or may not be our Lord and Saviour called Jesus de Sade.

  • Comment number 80.

    The Awakening by Kate Chopin. It was made terribly as Grand Isle starring Kelly McGillis but if a good director got hold of it, it could be a fantastic film. I think the issue of a mother abandoning her children and the thing that happens at the end (too much of a spoiler) are probably things that studios would not want to touch unless a major director was involved.
    Also Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49. The book is so bizarre that I'm pretty sure it would be almost unfilmable but if someone tried, I'd be first in line to see it.

  • Comment number 81.

    Another vote for 'The Dice Man' from me...

    The book spends a lot of time inside the main character's mind as he de-constructs his own id, ego and super-ego into a personality determined by the roll of a die.
    The novel also has a very episodic structure that works well as a read medium but would probably appear more as a haphazard series of vignettes if translated to screen...

    Off the top of my head the only screenwriter/director I think would be capable of taking the source material and making it work well would be Todd Solondz.

  • Comment number 82.

    I was going to say Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie but thought I'd double check on IMDB and discovered there is a version in production at the moment - cool.

    As an alternative I'd have to go for any one of the Culture novels of Iain M Banks - while we have the CGI to do a lot of the special effects I'm not sure how anyone could convey the rich complexity of the Minds of the ships and drones and they are vital to the plot. R2D2 they are not.

  • Comment number 83.

    The Bible?

  • Comment number 84.

    @jwicks86 - In the past, the reason given for not filming The Last Battle was you needed to film the others first - and as far as I'm aware, there are no plans to film either The Magician's Nephew or The Horse and His Boy in the pipeline.

    Pity - particularly Horse and His Boy, which I think culd be filmed very easily.

  • Comment number 85.

    'The Master and Margarita' by Mikhail Bulgakov. One of those great books that every bibliophile discovers sooner or later an loves for the rest of their lives. A few loose adaptations have been made which only tell parts of the story, and his estate has prevented the release of a 2006 movie based entirely on his book. Could also be that the book is un-filmable but would love to see Terry Gilliam give it a go.

  • Comment number 86.

    All Thomas Pynchon Novels. Too complex and too good to be simplified for film.

  • Comment number 87.

    The Catcher in the Rye is a purely internal characterisation. Even attempting to film it would be like trying to record the Mona Lisa, it doesn't make sense. It would lose what makes it great in the first place, essentially tinkering with someone else's masterwork. The art of pure literature and pure cinema contradict each other.

  • Comment number 88.

    the shadow of the wind by carlos ruiz zafon was a wonderfull read and i really think could make a great film that would differ to alot of the hollywood blockbuster rubbish and ever present platform rom-coms that are constantly filling cinemas. it has a real storyline which is enthralling, haunting and romantic. and the characters of fumero and fumin would translate brilliantly on screen if the casting got it right.
    another book i would love to see made into a film is the relativly short 'in the miso soup' by ryu murakami a brilliantly awkward terrifying and funny novel.

  • Comment number 89.

    The correct answer to the good Doctor's question is Don Quixote - specifically Terry Gilliam's adaptation.

  • Comment number 90.

    Marks very own " it's only a movie". such genius can't be contained on a screen. :)

  • Comment number 91.

    I love Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun series, and it's pretty unfilmable. An epic sci-fi / fantasy hybrid, lots of crazy scenery and monsters, told from the perspective of an elusive, untrustworthy narrator. Schismatrix by Bruce Sterling may also just be too EPIC to be captured on screen – it has soo many ideas packed into it, it would be hard to absorb in film form. (Then again, people have tried adapting Ulysses...)

  • Comment number 92.

    William Gibson's Neuromancer is being made by Cube and Splice's director Vincenzo Natali, which is probably a god send after Joesph Kahn (Torque's Joesph Kahn) was attached to direct.

    Thomas Pynchon's latest Novel Inherent Vice is being made by Paul Thomas Anderson, but Gravity's Rainbow will never be made into a film, too long, too complex and too post-modern to be made as film. Although The Crying of Lot 49 could be done, but will have to be simplified which wouldn't do it justice really.

    Catcher in the Rye would be the only great novel that would work as a film as well, but we could turn out to be total tosh.

    As Bret Easton Ellis (author of American Psycho) puts it "Books are made as books, not as movies"

  • Comment number 93.

    Another vote for Mark Z. Danielewski's "House Of Leaves", probably not going to happen though.

  • Comment number 94.

    ALSO ANY DAVID MITCHELL BOOKS - i am aware and slightly worried about cloud this space

  • Comment number 95.

    The His Dark Materials trilogy. They'll definitely never film the second or third ones simply because the anti-religious message couldn't be hidden and there's no way the films would be able to make the money to justify the budget they'd need.

    Also, any Pratchett book. A few have been filmed for Sky recently, as well as some animated versions a while ago but, for me, those books work so much better in your head than they ever would on screen. The narration is such a central part of the narrative and of the humour. Any attempt to include it as a narration would break up the flow of the film and putting the narration into the mouths of the characters, as has been attempted with some adaptations, feels clunky and unnatural.

  • Comment number 96.

    I can think of at least three I would love to see but are probably not going to appear, for various reasons...

    1.) Red Storm Rising, by Tom Clancy. This is the one where he 'does' World War Three, properly, as it would have been in 1985. It is therefore a period piece, on an epic scale, from an alternate reality, with a huge cast of characters (the only way to do it properly would therefore be to cast it like 'A Bridge Too Far' - so it would be *massively* expensive).

    2.) The Baroque Cycle, by Neal Stephenson. Mark, if you haven't read these yet, do yourself a favour and immerse yourself in the story of the Enlightenment. (It is also the only historical fiction ever to win the Arthur C. Clarke award). But the problem lies in the space and intricacy of the tale: you could certainly condense it for film, but you would lose something integral to the pleasure the books afford.

    And finally: 3.) Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville. Mieville is the best author writing in Britain today. Hands down. And it's not simply that his stories are fun, his politics insightful, his characters layered and shaded, his moralities ambiguous, his ideas fecund and memorable - it's that he uses language with all the deft panache of a poet. *How he writes* is inseparable from the story. You *notice* his writing because it is so good. And that, of course, is an untranslateable quality that cannot be transferred on to the screen. Any adaptation of one of his Bas Lag novels (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, Iron Council) would require the equivalent of a poet of cinema to make, but it still wouldn't transfer the magic of the novel to the silver screen. It would make a different magic.

  • Comment number 97.

    Three books that should be made into movies:

    The City & The Stars by Arthur C. Clarke

    The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

    At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft

    I understand that the reason Catcher in the Rye has never been filmed is that Salinger forbids it. (It’d be better as a radio play though.)

    Unfilmable? Ulysses by Joyce.

    Best left unfilmed: The Discworld series by Pratchett. (Yes I do know of the David Jason straight to cable/DVD efforts – they prove my point.) Some books work best in a readers imagination.

  • Comment number 98.

    Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Tell Tale Heart': beautifully short, wonderfully descriptive and incredibly difficult to get right. I remember listening to it read on audio-cassette in the car on family holidays, and being mesmerised. And asking to rewind and replay. Again. And again (Simon & Garfunkel didn't get a chance).

    I read that Tony Scott was interested in buying the rights but I hope this isn't the case. I just can't see Denzel Washington and slow-motion explosions working in the old, creaking house with the heart beating beneath.

    And Tim Burton should NEVER be let near it.

    But Christopher Nolan or Darren Aronofsky (for their proven ability to imagine manifestations of guilt ['Insomnia'] and hallucinations ['Black Swan']) would do the material justice.

  • Comment number 99.

    High rise by J.G.Ballard. Unlike crash this book is much darker and unsettling, although the dark humour would this an excellent film. I think it would work better as television rather than a film. But if I had a director in mind to direct high rise, Kubrick would be my choice.

  • Comment number 100.

    Roger Zelazny's Nine Princes in Amber - or even the whole Amber Chronicles. It's probably never been done because it's just not popular enough.


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