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The Greatest Novels Never Filmed

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Mark Kermode | 14:54 UK time, Tuesday, 1 May 2012

I posted recently asking what you thought were the greatest books never filmed.

The response was overwhelming - here are just some of the nominees...

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  • Comment number 1.

    I can see Charlie Kaufman having a go at a script for The Good, The Bad And The Multiplex.

  • Comment number 2.

    What about the best comic books never filmed? Watchmen spent years in development hell, and even Terry had to give up on it - although we obviously know how that turned out.

    Obviously, comic books already come with scripts to start with, but I think The Filth is a prime example - too dark, too surreal and too non-linear to ever be filmed - at least by Hollywood.

  • Comment number 3.

    .... as Ron Howard and Tom Hanks proved....


    Another reason not to bother Catching in the Rye... Igby Goes Down provided an alternative darkly comic teenage preppie shoegazer.

  • Comment number 4.

    Would the film of the Oxford English Dictionary have to be remade as the Merriam-Webster for the American market?

  • Comment number 5.

    Holden Caulfield also critiques Olivier's Hamlet in chapter 16, and at the end of chapter 18 expresses his dislike for A Farewell to Arms, but says he was crazy about.... The Great Gatsby.

  • Comment number 6.

    I think the film versions of The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons were truly excellent is now time for my medication as the Doctor has just untied the straps of my straight jacket!!!!

  • Comment number 7.

    When "Fight Club" first hit our screens, the world sat up and took notice of author Chuck Palahniuk. But his next book, the excellent "Choke", was turned into a truly dismal film. If ever a film earned the epithet 'dud', this is it. And since then, despite a string of brilliant, dark, inventive, and hilariously funny novels, Hollywood seems to have ignored old Chuck. Maybe it's for the best. Some books are better read than watched.

  • Comment number 8.

    Oh, come on, Mark. "The Good, The Bad And The Multiplex" would make for an excellent piece of satire of modern pop culture, and honestly, when was the last time we had one of those? Robocop?

    But just imagine the kind of overblown Michael Bay style movies you could lampoon in it. And 3D. And the Oscars. And violators of the code of conduct. It would be brilliant!

    Of course, you'll need a good director.
    I wonder if Terry Gilliam is free?

  • Comment number 9.

    Why don't the blogs I DO respond to get a whopping 7-minutes + response, Doc...?

  • Comment number 10.

    I'm going to come out and say it, I liked the Hitchickers Guide to the Galaxy

  • Comment number 11.

    Chuck Palahniuk's Survivor would be great - particularly in these times of religious-terrorism-driven paranoia...

  • Comment number 12.

    For years I have been begging for a Battle Royale english-language remake (started as a novel). Looks like that won't happen with The Hunger Games now...

  • Comment number 13.

    "Its Only A Movie" would make an enjoyable comedy. That episode when you travelled to Russia and crossed paths with Mr. Nyet will certainly be a highlight. Shame John Hughes isn't around anymore, he would've made a wonderful film based on your memoir.

  • Comment number 14.

    I'm not sure that it even comes close to being one of the greatest works of fiction ever written, but 'The City and The City' by China Miéville was a fantastic future-noir about two cities living on top of each other, existing in the same space, but whose citizens have to ignore each other. If they disobey they are punished by a big brother-esque organisation and disappear forever. It's definitely something that I could see Terry Gilliam having a lot of fun with, despite it being utterley unfilmable.

  • Comment number 15.

    I read the Dan Brown's Da Vinci code a couple of years ago and hated it for the terrible writing. BUT the story was not so bad so I thought that the movie should be at least entertaining. Well, as we all know - it wasn't!

    So my idea for a blog question: Are there good movies made from really bad books?

  • Comment number 16.

    miss sophie - Quite a few. Jaws, Marathon Man, The Omen, Wild at Heart...

  • Comment number 17.

    No mention of Faulkner? Absalom, Absalom, Go Down Moses, As I Lay Dying?

  • Comment number 18.

    The novel Ritual by David Pinner was the inspiration for 'The Wicker Man'. It remains an utterly unique piece of work and one of my favourite movies. However the wonderful 'A Canturbury Tale' adapted from a story from 'Pilgrims Progress' gets my vote.

  • Comment number 19.

    i'm pretty sure that terry gilliam would make a good fist of the good, the bad and the multiplex. it must be pretty frustrating for him to struggle to get films made whist micheal bay movies make 800 trilllion dollars.

    and on the dan brown novels, i love kim newman's suggestion that does books need someone like dario argento to film them

  • Comment number 20.

    On William Gibson's works, I wouldn't say 'Neuromancer', I'd pick 'Johnny Mnemonic'. I know there's a movie with that name, but it's nothing like the printed version, so it still needs making properly.

  • Comment number 21.

    @4 "4. At 16:22 1st May 2012, Brian - New Forest wrote:
    Would the film of the Oxford English Dictionary have to be remade as the Merriam-Webster for the American market?"

    Indeed, but the word 'Chase' would get a whole chapter, and it would end with 'Xplosion''

  • Comment number 22.

    I wonder if someone like Morgan Spurlock (or, possibly, Michael Moore) could do "The Good, the Bad and the and the Multiplex.

  • Comment number 23.


    The consistency, the level, the tone, the moments forthright. You need to try and put your previous faults and fights with 3D aside and stop getting blinded by your own hatred, except that Whedon has revolutionized 3D and the comic adaptation ever- a masterpiece, a blockbuster romp with powerful moments.

  • Comment number 24.


  • Comment number 25.

    A film adaptation of Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett's GOOD OMENS has been "in discussions" for more than a decade now... Long overdue.

    spacedbeetle (19) - Terry Gilliam has been associated with this rumour since the beginning. Hopefully one of us gets what we want!

  • Comment number 26.

    Meanwhile – the new Prometheus vs Dark Knight Rises trailers. Has Prometheus just done what Avatar did in its trailer and told us the whole movie? (You think there'll be survivors? In Alien the Nostromo was responding to a distress signal, they later discover it is actually a warning.) Prometheus is looking like a straightforward Alien prequel to me, regardless of Scott's claims.

    Isn't Dark Knight Rises's new trailer – well – pretty damn dark, and with not much of the Batman either. Is this the end of Gotham's finest! Avengers Assemble it ain't gonna be. And good though he is Tom Hardy (Bane) doesn't have the stand out character that Heath Ledger had with Joker - nor its audience recognition.

    The seeming politics (in Dark Knight Rises) of - rich vs poor - are also difficult in today's economic climate.
    [Bruce Wayne is one of the wealthy. Selina Kyle to Bruce Wayne: "Do you think this is gonna last? There's a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you're all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.".

    This could be make or break for Nolan.

  • Comment number 27.

    My choice would be for The Chrysalids by John Wyndham - all his other novels have had films made of them but never this one, which in my opinion is the best, and was ahead of its time.

  • Comment number 28.

    Huseyin: "Marathon Man, The Omen..."

    The Omen wasn't a novel; it was an original screenplay. The book is a mere tie-in novelisation written after the fact.

    And I really liked the Marathon Man novel. :-)

  • Comment number 29.

    I know I'm late to the party on this one but Mark Danielewski's 'House of Leaves' is begging for a screen rendering. It is, after all, a book about a book about a film. It's a terrific cult novel, and YouTube is awash with amateur mock-ups. I'll bet my house that it's only a matter of time before someone comes along and makes a hash of it.

  • Comment number 30.

    I saw the blue Catcher in the Rye. I'd read the book though, so I knew what was going to happen.

  • Comment number 31.

    It is good there are still plenty of great novels that have not become movies - I really hate when you go to see a film with someone who has read the novel and you haven't, and all the way through they tut and tell you about how it differs in the book.

    And the worst thing about it is I become one of those people when I have read the novel of a particular film, and thus end up boycotting them so as not to unleash the hypocrite within. To be honest, I hope they don't make films of my favourite novels. I wince at the thought of anyone trying to film One Hundred Years of Solitude.

  • Comment number 32.

    10. Tachikoma.

    You know what, so do i.
    The first time i saw it i hated it, probably because it wasn't the TV series, which i saw first and loved.
    But given a year or 5 and realizing i actually like a lot of the people in it, then watching it again and taking it on its own merit, without constantly comparing it to the TV version, i have decided i was wrong about it.
    I think it's pretty good.

  • Comment number 33.

    Goes to show, crowd sourcing for answers can pull in some solid suggestions: I'll admit I was stumped.

    Related perhaps, how is it that some sources end up being filmed multiple times? Eg Batman Begins, I passed as I'd seen so many versions previously, yet the filmmaker, Nolan, he certainly knows how to make a film a real film-like experience! Even though I still found the source too much of a case of "not again!". Then there is the Aliens prequal, Avengers (more capes and capers) and "spidey" ~ again.

    Perhaps some source materials are suitable for remakes/retellings/re-imaginings/reduxes/revisists more frequently etc and others are one-offs? The commentary on the Satanic Verses for example, it's too hot a subject now, but perhaps it will be viewed as the equivalent of The Witches of Salem to film in so many further years?

    Impressed with all the suggestions.

  • Comment number 34.

    I've never understood why movie makers persist in trying to put the Great Gatsby on film when there's a much easier book to adapt by Fitzgerald in the Beautiful and the Damned. A book that zings along with its snappy dialogue and character interplay rather than descriptive prose and inner thoughts.
    Please, please, please don't make Terry Gilliam an answer to the book adaptation question. He's a great visual artist with a good imagination, but he can never successfully put his vision on the screen in a coherent, satisfying way. He has no ear for dialogue and seems to confuse a shambolic plot with an intelligent one.

  • Comment number 35.

    @14 Duncan_B: sounds like the upcoming film 'upside down', where two worlds exist one above the other, check it out.

  • Comment number 36.

    Another vote for the Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy. It took me a while to adjust to the idea of Mos Def as Ford, but I really like it. Adams has a history of rewriting that story multiple times with numerous variations anyway (radio, book, game, TV series...) so one more divergent version is no bother. It retains the charming, ludicrous and yet oddly relevant, almost reassuring spirit of the core story and adapts it to a new medium about as well as anyone could ever hope to. I particularly liked the way Trillian was better characterised than in previous incarnations. And the POV gun, of course. My only real complaint is the same as the one I have with 90% of book-to-film adaptations - too little dialogue! This means Marvin, one of the defining characters of the story, is almost completely wasted.

  • Comment number 37.

    American Tabloid the greatest Ellroy book - never filmed, I guess it was after the terrible Black Dahlia mess... I think Oliver Stone should direct it.

  • Comment number 38.

    Blood Meridian does come up as an unfilmable novel. But The Proposition was reasonably successful, and certainly a good film, so does that not suggest that there is potential for a bleak, bare, brutal Western? Nick Cave, Ray Winstone, job done! :)

  • Comment number 39.

    Most of those covered are tricksy literary fiction. More surprising is that there's never been a Flashman movie, other than the misfiring Royal Flash. The Flashman books are hugely successful, Indiana Jones-style fun historical romps that would make a brilliant blockbuster franchise. The Flashman character has already entered the vernacular, yet there's never been another attempt to put it on screen.
    The obvious problem is casting - who on earth could nail the swagger, arrogance and charm, AND look right in the part?

  • Comment number 40.

    Ok people ....The Godfather of all science fiction... the late great Aldous Huxley..... Brave new world.....? word for word... frame to frame... Get it done...! rock on... KCB.

  • Comment number 41.

    Oops.... BBC 1980 production...? hmmm? ok I lose.. KCB

  • Comment number 42.

    I've just seen that Tom Cruise is to play Jack Reacher from the Lee Child novels.

    How does a tweedy midget get cast in the role of a 6'4" 250lb bruiser? What an awful, awful casting choice.

    This is an example of a great novel that'll hopefully not get made!

  • Comment number 43.

    You can have a 'post-apocalyptic' work because people wrongly use 'apocalypse' to mean 'armageddon.' Apocalypse comes from the ancient Greek apocalypsis meaning revelation, and in its Biblical context, the revelation to many of what was once only known to a few or one. What follows the revelation is armageddon and the end of the world. Ironically, all of this plays a large part in my first attempt at writing a novel '(R)evolution' available on Smashwords, which I think would make a great film (don't all first time authors think this about their novels?) but its in some ways anti-religious sentiment would make improbable. I'm often curious as to why the writer Ian Banks hasn't had any of his novels, apart from The Crow Road, turned into films, particularly his science fictions novels set in the Culture universe.


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