Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

9 Great Books That Haven’t Been Made Into Movies… Yet!

The book-to-film adaptation is pretty much standard for every best-seller nowadays. Sometimes, books are picked up by film production companies before they’re even released, because the buzz around them is so big. Film producers are pretty non-discriminatory: they’ll take on anything they think might be a money-maker. Heck, even the self-help book Queen Bees and Wannabes was given the treatment and became the immortal film Mean Girls (it is a vital and very important movie, don’t @ me). A lot of readers resent this constant churn, believing that movie-makers ruin their favourite stories in translation, but even the most cynical booklover can’t deny that movies get people more interested in the books that inspired them. The Lord Of The Rings movies triggered a massive surge in sales for the fantasy series, with over 25 million copies flying off the shelves worldwide after their release. All of this begs the question: why are there still a handful of good books that haven’t been made into movies… yet?

9 Great Books That Haven't Been Made Into Movies... Yet - Text Overlaid on Image of Unspooled Film - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I covered this off in my review of the hippie classic, but just in case you missed it: The Alchemist, a fable about chasing your dreams and self-belief, has never been made into a movie. There have been attempts, of course. Warner Bros bought the rights in 2003, but nothing really came of that. Then Harvey Weinstein took them on, but he didn’t seem to be in any rush, because it took until 2015 for him to secure a director and a lead actor and then… well, Weinstein got what was coming to him. It’s looking unlikely that The Alchemist will be coming to cinemas any time soon.

Why hasn’t The Alchemist been made into a movie yet?

The delay seems to be mostly attributable to Coelho’s own reluctance to sell the rights in the first place. He has said that he believes “a book has a life of its own inside the reader’s mind”, and that movie adaptations rarely live up to them; basically, he’s worried that filmmakers will butcher his life’s work, and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that could well be the case. Weinstein got the closest of anyone so far, but I don’t think I need to explain to you why that venture isn’t going to work out. I guess we’ll all just have to wait for another film mogul to convince Coelho that it’s worth doing right (and probably shove even bigger stacks of money his way). IMDB has a page suggesting the film is “in development”, but that means sweet fuck-all…

The Secret History – Donna Tartt

The Secret History - Donna Tartt - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

You’d think that this one would be a walk-up start, because all the elements are there! Donna Tartt’s The Secret History tells the story of a cabal of Classics students (yes, even pretentious nerds can have cults) at an Ivy League university who try to get away with murdering one of their own. It’s got mystery! It’s got suspense! It’s got intrigue! And given that Tartt’s equally popular book, The Goldfinch, is set to be released as a film very soon, it seems strange that this one hasn’t been picked up.

Why hasn’t The Secret History been made into a movie yet?

It’s not for lack of trying! Alan J Paukla was the first to realise its potential; he picked it up, and roped in Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne to write the screenplay. Sadly, Paukla was killed in a car accident in 1998, and the project died with him. Gwenyth Paltrow later showed some interest, and picked up the rights with her brother. They agreed to develop the film with Miramax, but then, again sadly, their father passed away and they were understandably distracted. Now the rights have reverted back to the author, and she has refused to sell them on again as yet; perhaps she suspects that the project is cursed and wants to avoid any more tragedies…

One Hundred Years Of Solitude – Gabriel García Márquez

It’s been well over fifty years since One Hundred Years Of Solitude was published, and yet there have never been any real attempts (that we know of) to turn it into a movie. The book checks a bunch of boxes: an idyllic setting (a town in beautiful Central America), social currency (with its critique of capitalism and everything), a colourful family (the Buendias, seven generations of them!), and classic magical realism (a la Amelie or Chocolat). So, where the heck is our movie?

Why hasn’t One Hundred Years Of Solitude been made into a movie yet?

Well, if I’m being honest, it’s largely because Márquez was a real stick in the mud. He famously refused to sell the rights to his beautiful book, knocking back all comers, regardless of what they offered him. Giuseppe Tornatore got the closest, but Márquez literally told him that he would only sell the rights if the director agreed to “film the entire book, but only release one chapter – two minutes long – each year for a hundred years”. That would be an artistic triumph, to be sure, but probably not the most practical project to get off the ground. Plus, the book is rumoured to be “unfilmable”, with a bunch of characters all sharing the same name, and tricky bits that would probably require massive amounts of hallucinogens to properly envisage, so… maybe the producers didn’t try that hard to get Márquez’s blessing. Netflix announced last month that they’ve purchased the rights (now that Márquez isn’t around to give them a hard time), and his sons will serve as executive producers. So, maybe soon…?

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

Life After Life - Kate Atkinson - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Look, pulling together a script (and a film) about a woman who lives her life over and over again, dozens of times, with those lives taking her all around Europe over the course of the 20th century, probably wouldn’t be easy… but heck, if Kate Atkinson can make it work as a book (and I think she did!), it can be done. Life After Life is high-concept, but no more so than other time travel and speculative fiction films, so what’s the hold-up?

Why hasn’t Life After Life been made into a movie yet?

Beats me! Lionsgate announced in 2014 that they had acquired the rights to an adaptation, and even went as far as to secure Semi Chellas (of Mad Men) and Esta Spalding (of The Bridge) as screenwriters. They’re the same production company responsible for Twilight and The Hunger Games, so we know they can do it! But they’ve been alarmingly quiet about the project since then; even Kate Atkinson’s website doesn’t say any more than that. I’ll be keeping an eye on the IMDB page, but no news doesn’t seem like good news…

The Catcher In The Rye – J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

C’mon, we all remember this one! Most of us read The Catcher In The Rye in high school, but I didn’t – I covered it last year in the early days of the Keeping Up With The Penguins project. It was the OG young adult novel, before young adult was even a thing, and it’s especially resonant now with our increased awareness around mental health issues in teenagers. Plus, it’s set in New York, an iconic visual setting that’s incredibly popular with filmmakers.

Why hasn’t The Catcher In The Rye been made into a movie yet?

J.D. Salinger famously swore, up and down, no two ways about it, that The Catcher In The Rye would never be made into a film. He thought that the first-person narration would sound “cheesy” if it were ever to be adapted. Even since his passing back in 2010, his estate has stayed firm in adhering to his wishes; he went so far as to write them into his will. All of Hollywood’s best and brightest have tried to wear them down: John Cusack once said he deeply regretted never having the opportunity to play Holden Caulfield, Marlon Brando wanted to have a go at getting up on screen, as did Jack Nicholson, Tobey Maguire, and even Leonardo DiCaprio. But Salinger was so firm in his insistence that his agents didn’t even bother showing him offers from the heavyweights Harvey Weinstein and Steven Spielberg. So, don’t hold your breath, people!

Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes

Don Quixote - Miguel de Cervantes - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

We’ve had more than ample time to get this project off the ground: Don Quixote was first published in 1605, before movies were even in the realm of imagination (so de Cervantes could hardly object to the adaptation of his work). It’s a hilarious story of misadventure and mishap, there are clearly no copyright issues or existing contracts to get in the way, and historical movies of that time period were all the rage for a time… and yet, no dice!

Why hasn’t Don Quixote been made into a movie yet?

Pick your poison. It’s too long, they say: the epic novel runs to well over 1,000 pages and follows dozens of different storylines along the way. Plus, it’s cursed! Terry Gilliam, of Monty Python fame, tried to film his version (The Man Who Killed Don Quixote), but a series of calamities shut down production indefinitely, and all of his attempts to revive it so far have been unsuccessful. There have long been rumours of Disney versions coming – one animated, one live-action – but they’ve never materialised, and no one quite knows why. In fact, Don Quixote is so notoriously unfilmable that Gilliam’s failure became the subject of a documentary that did actually get released, Lost In La Mancha – that might be as close as we ever get!

All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

All The Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It might be a little premature to include All The Light We Cannot See on this list, seeing as it was only released a few years ago, in 2014. The entwined stories of a young blind girl in Occupied France and a German boy plucked from an orphanage to join the Nazis as a radio technician captivated the world, and Doerr won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. That’s why I included it my List of books to read for this project, and I reviewed it in full here. Still, in the age of instant gratification, five years seems an awfully long wait for a film that would be so hotly-anticipated… don’t you think?

Why hasn’t All The Light We Cannot See been made into a movie yet?

Who bloody knows? The rights were instantly acquired by 20th Century Fox upon release, so all signs looked good. Then there was a Netflix announcement last month about a mini-series a la Big Little Lies on HBO. But there’s been no news since then – as far as we know, there’s no director, producers, or actors on board. So, I guess it’s a case of hurry up and wait!

An Artist Of The Floating World – Kazuo Ishiguro

An Artist Of The Floating World - Kazuo Ishiguro - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Here’s another WWII-era novel screaming out for a film adaptation: this time, from Nobel Prize-winning Japanese writer Kazuo Ishiguro. His story focuses on retired Japanese artist Masuji Ono, who is forced to confront the role he played in the war and its impact on his reputation as he struggles to secure happy marriages for his daughters. An Artist Of The Floating World is a little nutty in the timeline (see my full review for more detail on that), but there’s no flashy magical realism or any of the other logistical problems that could gum up the works in producing a film. Plus, two of Ishiguro’s other books – The Remains Of The Day and Never Let Me Go – have been adapted by Hollywood, so clearly he doesn’t object to the idea.

Why hasn’t An Artist Of The Floating World been made into a movie yet?

I have searched high or low, all over the internet, and I cannot find a single of the film rights even being sought, let alone acquired or acted on. In fact, aside from a few bloggers and commentators expressing concern that a future film adaptation might white-wash the story (as, unfortunately, has happened with so many other Asian books and films), no one seems to be talking about this potentially award-winning film at all. Maybe I should look into it myself, eh? 😉

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley - book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

OK, so, technically this dystopian classic has been made into two for-TV movies, and there have been a bunch of other types of adaptations as well, but I’ve decided they don’t count. I want to see Brave New World, with all its sex and drugs and open rebellion against the World State, in full technicolour on a huge screen with surround sound, please! This story couldn’t be more topical, with the masses separated into castes and numbed to their outrage with government provision of various sedatives, so the world is well and truly primed for this movie done properly. (I reviewed the book in full here, by the way, if that description has you wanting more!)

Why hasn’t Brave New World been made into a movie yet?

Because everyone’s too hell-bent on putting it on TV again! The production companies have signed on Spielberg, for pity’s sake, and they’ve got one heck of a budget, but it looks like the next version is going to be filmed as a miniseries to air on the Syfy channel, instead of a big-screen blockbuster. Boo, I say! Leonardo DiCaprio has made noise about adapting Brave New World to film before, though, so I’m hoping he’ll keep fighting the good fight, especially if the miniseries does well and reignites some interest…


Writing up this list might have been a bit silly on my part, because now I’m desperate to see all of these films and none of them exist yet! Wahhhh! What book do you think deserves a big-screen adaptation? Tell me in the comments (or over at KUWTP on Facebook!).

8 Comments

  1. Ooh, these are really good picks! I think I am glad The Secret History hasn’t been made into a movie, and I don’t necessarily know that I’d want it as a movie. It’s so perfect as a book! Why mess with something perfect? But Life after Life I think would be massively fun — or even a miniseries? I’d love that!

  2. It was so interesting to read about why these particular books haven’t been made into films yet. I’m one of those annoying people who always thinks that the book was better than the movie!

    • ShereeKUWTP

      April 12, 2019 at 6:32 PM

      Hahahahaha I don’t think that’s annoying at all, you’re (almost) always right! 😉👍❤️

  3. Aughh! I haven’t read ANY of these! 🙈 But three of them are sitting on my shelves. Haha!

  4. I’d go watch anything by Kazuo Ishiguro I started reading him and then ran out of books, haven’t read anything terrible by him yet.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      April 18, 2019 at 5:30 PM

      Have you seen the Never Let Me Go adaptation? I’ve heard that it’s fantastic (but, naturally, I’m saving it until after I’ve read his book).

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