After Hours

Geek books that should (not) be movies already

To movie, or not to movie, that is the question for many a classic science-fiction novel. Here's a list of the Top 10 most popular sci-fi novels that haven't been adapted into a major motion picture... yet. Are these masterpieces, or disasters, waiting to happen?

To movie, or not to movie, that is the question for many a classic science-fiction novel. Topless Robot lists eight geek books that should be movies already, while Mike Brotherton counters with 10 geek books that would make terrible movies. Meanwhile, Sci-Fi Lists has an aggregate collection of the 100 most popular sci-fi novels ever written, based on various reviews and polls — many of which are already movies.

Now, as John Scalzi has previously explained, books in general and sci-fi books in particular are almost impossible to adapt into great films. This rarely stops Hollywood from trying, so it's not surprising that many of the Sci-Fi Lists Top 100 have already been produced as films — most of them not so great. Below is a list of the Top 10 most popular sci-fi novels that haven't been adapted into a major motion picture... yet.

  1. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (Overall rank: #2) A film version of Ender isn't missing due to lack of trying — the project has been in turnaround hell for years. Whether that's good or bad is hard to say. How they're going to deal with the borderline child-pornography scenes of naked preteen locker room death matches is just one of many obstacles to this project, but everybody wants to see a real live version of the zero-G Battle School.
  2. The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov (Overall rank: #3) New Line Cinema is supposedly already producing this as a follow-up to its successful adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, so there may be hope. Then again, New Line had the rights before doing LOTR and dropped Foundation to do Tolkien instead, so maybe the hope is futile. In any case, if Will Smith's I, Robot is an indication of Tinseltown's competence at Asimov adaptations, I'd rather this didn't get made.
  3. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein (Overall rank: #6) Paramount announced the film production of Heinlein's foremost novel, in the we-own-the-rights-but-aren't-doing-anything-with-them sort of way. Daniel "Demolition Man" Waters and Mark "I Am Legend" Protosevich worked on the screenplay, for whatever that's worth. Personally, I think our current cultural suspicion of foreign religions is the perfect environment for a movie about a messianic free-love cult leader from another planet, don't you?
  4. Neuromancer by William Gibson (Overall rank: #10) The good news is this project has a budget and a director. The bad news is the budget is a modest $70 million, and the director is Joseph Kahn, who's only previous feature film "success" is the lame motorcycle action flick Torque. He also directed Britney Spears' "Toxic" music video, pun intended. Seeing as Britney's career is over, I guess he's the perfect guy to adapt a book that bespoke the beginnings of cyberpunk when cyberpunk itself is now almost old enough to conjure nostalgia.
  5. Ringworld by Larry Niven (Overall rank: #13) At last, a classic sci-fi novel that isn't in movie limbo. There was a longtime rumor that James "Terminator" Cameron would bring this to the big screen, but he's busy with Avatar and, also, the rumor was never true. Unfortunate, since this is exactly the sort of ginormous eye-candy book that is begging for a big-screen reincarnation by an effects savvy genius like Cameron.
  6. Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke (Overall rank: #16) Morgan Freeman's production company has been working on this forever — and even had David "Se7en" Fincher attached to direct — but since Freeman's recent car accident, the entire project has been canceled. Now, Rama is a seminal Big Dumb Object novel, and whether Hollywood could make something other than eye candy out of Rama remains to be seen, but it almost certainly would have been pretty.
  7. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (Overall rank: #18) Tim "Angel/Wonderfalls" Minear is writing the screenplay for producer David "Harry Potter" Heyman. The dirty secret about Mistress is that it's a love it or hate it Heinlein novel. Is the new Obama nation ready for a thinly veiled libertarian screed set on a lunar penal colony? Ask Ron Paul followers.
  8. Hyperion by Dan Simmons (Overall rank: #19) Warner Brothers is turning not just Hyperion, but the entire Hyperion series into one movie. They've got an indie movie guy working on it, so there are pluses and minuses, but when you consider that Hyperion is a sci-fi riff on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and you also consider that Hollywood thought the pop-historical A Knight's Tale was the perfect Canterbury adaptation, you have to worry a little.
  9. Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke (Overall rank: #20) Boys Don't Cry collaborators Hilary Swank and director Kimberly Peirce are reputedly attached to this project, but good luck finding any evidence of it being in production. A story about an advanced occupying invader taking control of Earth for the good of humankind just might resonate given current events in Iraq and Afghanistan, provided it's done right.
  10. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (Overall rank #22) Few directors have more geek cred than Ridley "Alien/Blade Runner" Scott, so news that he's the one bringing Haldeman's epic post-Vietnam relativistic warfare novel to the silver screen is good news, except that Scott has recently gone on record saying that sci-fi is dead. Here's hoping that was just a bad mood, and he is over it now.

So, of all these potential sci-fi novel movie adaptations, which one gives you the most hope, the most fear, and which one do you simply most want to see done well? The comments section awaits your responses.

About Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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