10 Great Books That Have Never Been Made Into Movies

By: Jack Sackman

Some of the best movies of all time have been based on great books. Whether it is From Here To Eternity by author James Jones or, more recently, No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. Great books provide wonderful source material for screenwriters and directors to develop into films. However, some of the best books of all time—both vintage novels and more contemporary titles—have never been made into a movie. Sometimes this is because an author refuses to sell the rights to the book. Other times it is because a novel is deemed to be unfilmable. But, whatever the reason, it is a shame that many great books have not been turned into movies. Here are 10 books that we think deserve to be filmed.


10. The Dark Tower Series (Stephen King)

Considering that nearly every Stephen King book has been turned into a movie—from Carrie and Cujo to Firestarter and Misery—it is surprising that his biggest creation, The Dark Tower series has never been developed into a film or film franchise. Even Stephen King’s short stories have made it to the big screen, including Stand By Me and The Green Mile. However, the reason The Dark Tower series has not been turned into a movie yet is because it is deemed to be too big, expensive and technically daunting. The series, which centers on Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger, who is on a quest to catch “the man in black” across a vast desert, spans a total of eight novels that together comprise 4,250 pages. Director Ron Howard tried to develop the series into a number of feature films and made-for-TV movie tie-ins several years ago, and actor Javier Bardem was attached to play Roland the Gunslinger. But in the end, movie studios bulked at a price tag of more than $300 million to produce it.

9. The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen)

Jonathan Franzen’s National Book Award winner about a dysfunctional family is funny, hearfelt and contains a great deal of truth to it. With so many other family-centerd books being adapted into movies, one would assume that The Corrections would also make it to the big screen. But not yet. HBO had been working to adapt the book into a television series starring Anthony Hopkins as the family patriarch, but unfortunately that never worked out. The book follows the lives of multiple family members, so its episodic nature lends itself well to television, but it could also work well as a film. Scott Rudin optioned the rights to produce the film in 2001, but so far nothing has come of it. In 2002, author Jonathan Franzen wrote that he’d love to see the film star Gene Hackman as the family patriarch Alfred. But to date, no film has materialized.

8. A Wrinkle In Time (Madeleine L’Engle)

Published in 1962, A Wrinkle In Time has never been out of print. And the book, about a young girl whose father, a government scientist, goes missing after working on a mysterious project called a Tesseract, has won numerous awards, including a Newbery Medal and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award. However, it has yet to be produced as a major motion picture. Disney did make a TV movie based on the book in 2003, but it went largely unnoticed and was reviled by fans of the book who claim that Disney left out many of its adult themes in an effort to turn it into a children’s TV film. This science fiction rescue story that contains fantastic planets and alien beings, would make a great movie. But there’s heavy material included in the book too, including quantum physics that has kept producers and directors at bay so far.

7. One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

One of the most famous works ever in Latin American literature, and one of the most influential works of magical realism, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s book One Hundred Years of Solitude spans generations of one family and follows the creation and eventual death of the city of Macondo. The novel popularized the use of magical realism, a style where seemingly impossible or even supernatural events are depicted in a way that makes them seem believable. And although the novel is universally loved, it has been deemed too difficult to film because of its fantastical style. However, some people feel that a movie version could be made in the vein of other films that employ magic realism such as Amélie and Chocolat—both of which won Oscars. However, it may all be for naught as Gabriel Garcia Marquez has not yet allowed any production company to purchase the rights to adapt his much heralded novel.


6. Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)

Many critics consider the epic western novel Blood Meridian, published in 1985, to be Cormac McCarthy’s best. However, while some of McCarthy’s more recent books such as The Road and No Country For Old Men have been made into great films, this one has not. Speculation is that the story, which follows a teenager known only as the Kid who takes up with a gang of scalp hunters and Indian killers, is too violent and racist in tone to become a commercial motion picture. Plus, the language used in the book is extremely dense and difficult. And, while believed to be historically accurate, the novel about a gang that massacred Native Americans along the U.S.-Mexico border around 1850 has turned off most producers and directors who wonder if a movie about it would find an audience.

5. The Stand (Stephen King)

Another Stephen King novel to make this list, The Stand is considered to be the author’s masterwork. And it was made into a pretty bad TV miniseries in 1994 starring Gary Sinise and, believe it or not, Molly Ringwald. Yet King fans have been clamouring for a feature film adaptation of this book since it was first published in 1978. A post-apocalyptic horror and fantasy novel, The Stand is a monster of a book at 823 pages. Yet the tale it tells of good versus evil amid the survivors of a plague that wipes out most of Earth’s population is a classic and much beloved by readers. There have been many attempts, and rumoured attempts, to make The Stand into a feature film over the years. Earlier this year, there were rumors that Warner Bros. was going to make the movie with director Josh Boone (The Fault In Our Stars) at the helm. But, to date, nothing has been made official. Many in Hollywood consider the book just too big to adapt into a movie—even a four hour long one might not be enough.

4. A Confederacy of Dunces (John Kennedy Toole)

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and widely consider one of the funniest books ever written, John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces published in 1980 is about Ignatius J. Reilly, a larger-than-life idiot savant, who is out of time with his immediate world and has many misadventures around New Orleans. Many directors have tried to adapt this picaresque novel, including Harold Ramis, John Waters, Stephen Fry and Steven Soderbergh. But none have succeeded. Soderbergh got close with his film version when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and scuttled plans to begin filming on location there, leading Soderbergh to comment that he throught a film adaptation of A Confederacy of Dunces was cursed and doomed to failure.

3. Roger’s Version (John Updike)

John Updike’s novel The Witches of Eastwick was a big screen smash when it was adapted by director George Miller with Jack Nicholson in the title role at the end of the 1980s. So it is a bit surprising that more of John Updike’s novels haven’t been given the cinematic green light and turned into movies. And the consensus is that the novel Roger’s Version would make for a fantastic movie, as it has as its themes middle age disillusionment, sexual attraction to a younger woman and questions about the existence of God. Yet to date, nobody has made this book into the dramatic, Oscar caliber film it could potentially be. The rights to it were quickly optioned when the book was first published in 1986. But it has never made it into film production.

2. Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison)

We are not talking here about the sci-fi novel The Invisible Man. That has been made into numerous film adaptations. Instead, we are talking about the brilliant first novel by Ralph Ellison that is considered one of the most important books of the 20th Century. Published in 1952, it tells the story of an anonymous narrator who is black and considers himself to be invisible because other people refuse to see him. The book, which won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction in 1953, touches on issues of race relations, black nationalism and individual identity. Considered an important work and historical document, director Spike Lee has purportedly been trying to make a movie from the novel for years. However, some people feel that the book is too intellectual to be made into a movie. Others feel it is now outdated given that there is a black president in the White House.


1. The Catcher In The Rye (J.D. Salinger)

Arguably, the most famous book to never be made into a movie, J.D. Salinger’s classic 1951 novel The Catcher In The Rye has been sought after by a who’s who of Hollywood directors—from Martin Scorsese to Sophia Coppola. But to date, there has never been a film adaptation of the book about disillusioned teenager Holden Caulfield. Salinger refused to sign over the rights to his most famous book. And I guess this makes sense considering that the novel’s central character does a good deal of complaining about Hollywood phonies and how the movies are unrealistic. Nevertheless, that has not stopped everyone from Jerry Lewis to John Cusack from trying to get their hands on the rights to The Catcher In The Rye. There was hope that the situation might change after J.D. Salinger died in 2010 and the rights to the book might finally become available. However, that notion was quickly quashed by Phyllis Westberg, Salinger’s long time agent, who issued a statement saying that nothing has changed in terms of licensing film, television or stage rights to J.D. Salinger’s work. She also noted that J.D. Salinger himself always thought that a film adaptation of The Catcher In The Rye would end up being “contrived.”