10 Great Books That Could Be Movies

Adaptations overlooked by Hollywood...

The Informers is out this week.

The '80s-set flick stars Mickey Rourke, Winona Ryder and an almost constantly naked Amber Heard. It's not exactly what we imagined when we read Bret Easton Ellis' searing short story collection, but it'll do.

And it's made us think about some other unlikely adaptations - the books that Hollywood probably put back on the shelf because they're a bit too difficult.

But if The Informers can make it to cinemas, surely this lot aren't too far away...


James Joyce: Dubliners

The Book: One of Joyce’s first published works, Dubliners is a collection of short stories providing an incisive illustration of Dublin at the beginning of the twentieth century.

With fifteen separate stories taking their turn, the book is driven by characters, not plots. Perfect for award-hungry actors.

The Movie: A showcase of Irish acting talent, and of non-Irish actors’ accent attempts, Dubliners will feature fifteen different storylines.

For better screen-to-audience translation, these will be linked together somehow, all threads making up one mother narrative. Think Magnolia, Amores Perros, Love Actually, etc.

Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson and Elaine Cassidy all star in grubby flat caps and tweed. It’s in black and white, set in an age before anyone could afford colour, and the streets are as grim as the expressions on the old fellers’ puckered mugs.

There will be Baftas.

Sample Dialogue:

Gabriel Byrne’s voice-over, as the camera pans over a snowy landscape:

“Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves.”

Cue the lone penny-whistle.


Next: The Wind Singer




William Nicholson: The Wind Singer

The Book: Supposedly a children’s book (pfft), The Wind Singer is the first in a fantasy-fiction trilogy, Wind On Fire.

It follows Kestrel, and her twin brother Bowman, as they attempt to escape the meritocratic regime of their native city, Aramanth, and find the voice of the mysterious Wind Singer, so that the city may be rid of the influence of the evil Morah.

It’s formulaic, sure – but has enough original tweaks to make it worth the adaptation.
The Movie: WETA’ll want to get their claws into this one. Worthy of a massive design team, the movie features scenes set in cavernous salt-mines and towering cities, canyons, sand-storms and forests.

It’ll need a big budget, or it’ll just look rubbish.

Kestrel, Bowman and their pathetic friend, Mumpo, are played by unknown child actors. It’s risky, as child-casting often is, and to be honest, their robotic, mouths-too-wide delivery will probably ruin the film.

They’ll look cool on the posters, though.

Sample Dialogue:

Kestrel (smashing the system): “I hate school! I hate ratings! I won't reach higher! I won't strive harder! I won't make tomorrow better than today!”


Next: Franny And Zooey




J.D. Salinger: Franny And Zooey

The Book: Initially published as a series in the New Yorker magazine, Franny and Zooey was released as a book in 1961, when it became an instant bestseller.

It explores the intricacies of the Glasses, a family of seven former child prodigies, and their relationships and internal angst. Apart from shedding light on the inner torment of over-analytical academics, it is primarily a philosophical tale of ennui and enlightenment.

The Movie: Kristen Stewart is Franny, a pallid, swooning student who flits between decadent malaise and Zen awakenings.

The film is aesthetically beautiful, set amongst the ‘50s East-Coast intellectual elite. The screen is awash with fur, rouge, chrome and nicotine.

There’s some wonderfully complex and wordy dialogue, which is almost as confusing as a conversation in Dawson’s Creek. Almost.    

Wes Anderson directs with his eyes closed.

Sample Dialogue:

Franny: “I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody. I’m sick of myself and everybody else that wants to make some kind of a splash.”


Next: Voice Of The Fire




Alan Moore: Voice of the Fire

The Book: Having contributed to some of the most popular comics ever written (From Hell, V for Vendetta, The Watchmen), Alan Moore turned his talents to the humble novel, penning Voice of the Fire in the mid-‘90s.

For a book set in Northampton, it’s not half bad. Spanning several millennia, from the Bronze age to the present day, it tells the story of twelve different people, in twelve different time periods.

The Movie: It’s a good opportunity for a load of British actors and film makers to join forces and go nuts with a myriad of different costumes, sets and opportunities for historical inaccuracy.

Tilda Swinton plays a witch who’s burned alive in 1705. Clive Owen is a Roman official. Some kid who’s the next Freddie Highmore/Daniel Radcliffe/Thomas Sangster plays a dark-ages grub in a shamanistic culture.

And, to cut down on the complaints from giant hairy wizards, Alan Moore is allowed to direct it himself.

Sample Dialogue:

Swinton (about to be burned alive): “I understand it now, that there has only ever been one fire, that blazed before the world began and shall not be put out until the world is done.”


Next: Martyn Pig




Kevin Brooks: Martyn Pig

The Book: OK, so this is another one that’s supposed to be a “children’s” book, but holy mackerel, is it gory. Martyn Pig is one messed-up kid.

He accidentally kills his dad. Accidentally.

Now, if you accidentally killed your dad, you’d pretty much have one option (two if you’re a little slow). A. You dial 999. B. (The slow one) you get a grown-up to dial 999.

Martyn goes for option C. He lets the corpse decompose for a while whilst pretending everything’s fine. It’s only when the house starts to really stink that he disposes of the body. And gets away with it.

The Movie: Fincher tackles this macabre adaptation, which is set primarily within the claustrophobic confines of Pig’s house.

The film lingers on the lengthy decay of the body, with the atmosphere, mis-en-scene and lighting getting evermore grotty and stifling as the film progresses. It’s sickmaking cinema. In a good way.

Sample Dialogue:

Martyn (v/o): “So, there I was, about to present Aunty Jean to her dead brother, hoping I could get away with pretending that he was ill in bed, asleep. Not dead, just sleeping.”


Next: Esio Trot




Roald Dahl: Esio Trot

The Book: Far gentler than most on this list, Esio Trot is the story of Mr Hoppy, an old man, in love with Mrs Silver. Mrs Silver lives in a flat below with her pet tortoise, Alfie.

The story follows Mr Hoppy’s attempts to win Mrs Silver’s hand in marriage. These attempts involve an elaborate magic tortoise scam. Well, if he’d just asked her to dinner it wouldn’t have been much of a story, would it?

The Movie: Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the film has an arts-and-crafts feel to it. Flicking between animated felt collages and real-life, it slightly over-indulges on the tortoise theme, but we enjoy it anyway.

It’s quaint and family-friendly, without the syrupy sentimentality usually associated with these sorts of films.

Sample Dialogue:

Mrs Silver (after having accepted Mr Hoppy’s marriage proposal): “It’s all due to Alfie.”

Mr Hoppy: “Good old Alfie. We’ll keep him forever.”


Next: Generation X




Douglas Coupland: Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture

The Book: Coupland’s first novel, Generation X spoke for a generation, offering an insight into the concerns of young people who’d grown up in a world which was changing way too fast.

It features a group of friends who try to make sense of the Big Mac Generation. They recount various stories about the world to one another, and it's through these stories that the reader acquires a portrait of the modern-day youth of America.

The Movie: Told as a frame-narrative, the film is littered with flashbacks to different episodes of the characters’ lives.

Zooey Deschanel is Claire, friends with office worker Dag, and protagonist Andy (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The film is understated and satirical – the type that’s going to gain cult DVD status among students.

Richard Linklater directs, in an update of his Dazed And Confused template.

Sample Dialogue:

"When someone tells you they’ve just bought a house, they might as well tell you they no longer have a personality."


Next: The Wasp Factory




Iain Banks: The Wasp Factory

The Book: It’s dark. It’s really dark.

Frank is a very troubled young man. Living an isolated existence on a Scottish island with only his father for company, his life is an endless cycle of pagan ritual and animal sacrifice.

His older brother, Eric, has escaped from an insane asylum and is on the way home.

Oh yeah, and, by the by (cos that’s how it’s revealed in the book), Frank has previously murdered three children. In case you're interested.

The Movie:
Only M. Night Shyamalan could deliver the book’s final plot twist with enough gravity and clout.

Because, although Frank has lived his whole life believing that he has been disfigured as a result of a penis-devouring dog (not a euphemism), he finds out that he’s actually a girl, and that his father has been feeding him testosterone as a sort of experiment.

Cheers dad.

The whole film is shot within a small window of the colour spectrum (blue and darker blue). It’s a psychological horror, with a healthy dose of gore and apocalyptic dread.

Sample Dialogue:

Frank: “That's my score to date. Three. I haven't killed anybody for years, and don't intend to ever again. It was just a stage I was going through.”


Next: Thief Of Time




Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time

The Book:
One of the popular Discworld series, Thief of Time is the story of Time (a character)’s imprisonment, which causes time (the abstract concept) to stand still.

With the aid of Lu-Tze, Lobsang, Susan Death, and her father, er, Death, equilibrium is restored to the Discworld, though not until Pratchett has thrown a fair whack of adventure, magic and comedy into the mix.

And – thankfully – it’s the type of comedy which is actually funny.

The Movie:
After the TV adaptation of The Hogfather, it’s obvious that the Discworld has widespread appeal.

Thief of Time, however, will be bigger, and better.

With Terry Gilliam in the director’s chair, scenes will be over-colourful and over-cluttered, though we’ll excuse the excess, because he’s Terry Gilliam, and that’s what he does.

Helena Bonham-Carter will use her electric-shock hair to its full potential as the feisty Susan, and the rest of the cast will be a mélange of dwarves, Jim Henson puppets and ugly character actors.    

Sample Dialogue:

Susan: "Sometimes I really think people should have to pass a proper exam before they're allowed to be parents. Not just the practical, I mean."


Next: We're Going On A Bear Hunt




Michael Rosen: We’re Going On A Bear Hunt

The Book: It’s essentially a poem with pictures. A catchy poem, at that. A family sets out to a hunt a bear.

We’ll repeat that. They set out to hunt a bear. Either they’ve had too much ginger beer and cola cubes, or this family is on some kind of suicide mission.

What they want to do with the bear once they find it remains a mystery, although one of the kids does appear to be carrying a stick.

Perhaps he plans to bludgeon the bear to death with it. Now THAT would make good reading, although Michael Rosen would probably have scuppered his chances at becoming Children’s Laureate.

It would’ve been worth it, Michael.

The Movie: A coming-of-age drama in the tradition of Stand By Me, Mean Creek or Lord of the Flies, WGOABH follows a group of tweenage kids who set out to prove who is the ballsiest of the bunch.

Expect expansive shots of the Colorado countryside and a few heart-wrenching Homeward Bound-esque team-building moments.

Sample Dialogue:

On their return home after running away from the bear:

“We’re not going on a bear hunt again.”

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    • minorityreport

      Jul 16th 2009, 11:19

      Interesting feature, but just one thing with regard to Thief Of Time: Death isn't Susan's father, he's her grandfather.

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    • crowbar990

      Jul 16th 2009, 12:50

      thanks total film, had heard of d wasp factory from a friend, had been planning on reading it, now youve saved me the bother by giving away the ending to fill up another useless top ten to flesh out your website, this site and your mag are going downhill at a rate of knots.

      Alert a moderator

    • Ostrich

      Jul 16th 2009, 13:33

      How about Necroscope? Centres around a young boy called Harry who can speak to the dead. Written waaaaaaay before Harry Potter, for adults, and very good.

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    • lpatterson

      Jul 16th 2009, 15:23

      Oops, good spot, minorityreport! Sorry about giving it away crowbar990, but we gave a synopsis for all the others. We'll be sure to put a spoiler alert on next time.

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    • Catchphrase

      Jul 16th 2009, 16:38

      I've been saying The Wind Singer would make an awesome film for ages now, THANKYOU for agreeing with me. I hope, if someone ever decides to make it a film, that it actually works :(

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    • somewhatfrail

      Jul 16th 2009, 22:07

      Absolutely YES to The Wasp Factory. It was the book that got me into Iain Banks' work and I haven't looked back since. His sci-fi would make some cracking cinema as well, in my opinon, either Consider Phlebas or Look To Windward.

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    • Mrmotion

      Jul 17th 2009, 19:09

      Oh good- another pointless article to flesh out the website. When it's not horrible speculation and 'what ifs' its terrible film reviews. Get back to delivering news on upcoming films!

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    • booradley

      Aug 4th 2009, 1:31

      Franny & Zooey should be a wonderful film but lotsa luck getting salinger to sign off on it.

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    • thedicewoman

      Mar 28th 2011, 13:24

      SECONDED. crowbar990 Jul 16th 2009, 12:50 thanks total film, had heard of d wasp factory from a friend, had been planning on reading it, now youve saved me the bother by giving away the ending to fill up another useless top ten to flesh out your website, this site and your mag are going downhill at a rate of knots. Read more: Film features: 10 Great Books That Could Be Movies | TotalFilm.com

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