Good books sometimes get turned into movies. And good long books (The Hobbit, I’m looking at you), or good books that are especially action-packed (hey there, Mockingjay) are sometimes turned into multiple movies. Now, it looks like another planned book-to-movie project will be following this trend: Stephen King’s The Stand, released in 1978 and weighing in at 1,152 pages, won’t be made into one movie, it will be made into four. With so many books getting stretched into multiple movies, we want to take a look at a few heavy tomes that would make great blockbuster film series. Grab some popcorn, this is gonna get good.
Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
The 1996 novel is long, complex, and nothing short of brilliant. A slightly satirical look at future life in North America, it covers a number of topics in its 1,079 pages, including family life, addiction, child abuse, tennis, and, funnily enough, film theory. The novel packs in over 100 characters and nearly 400 footnotes at the end, just in case there was some scrap of information you didn’t glean from the prose.
So, where’s the Infinite Jest movie series? Some people hope it never gets made. The book isn’t a casual read by any stretch of the imagination, and just about any attempt to faithfully represent it on the big screen would run the risk of being gimmicky, especially if the filmmakers were sticklers about canon. Even with half a dozen movie sequels greenlit, some poor screenwriter is still going to have to sit down and decide which parts of the story can’t be included. But is it impossible? Probably not. An experimental theater company in Germany once staged a 24-hour stage adaptation of Infinite Jest. I haven’t seen it, but the minute I learn German and have a full calendar day free, I’ll let you guys know.
Dune, by Frank Herbert
The sci-fi book to end all sci-fi books. That it hasn’t been turned into a series of movies is something of a miracle/curse, depending how you look at it. David Lynch tried to condense Dune’s 500 pages into a movie back in 1984, but as those haunting memories of Sting in metal underpants constantly remind me, it didn’t go so well. The Sci-Fi Channel (SyFy now) did a miniseries in the early 2000s that covered much of Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune, but it was small budget and didn’t quite capture the philosophical appeal of Herbert’s writing. Then there’s the ill-fated Jodorowsky movie, which, despite its groundbreaking concepts, planned on ditching most of Dune’s events in favor of an interpreted storyline.
Dune is so perfect for the big screen it hurts. It’s got everything a blockbuster should have, including gigantic otherwordly creatures, family vs. family conflicts, a larger than life villain, a protagonist you can totally identify with, and some great messages about humanity. It’s also got everything a good movie should have, such as complex characters and an incredibly rich mythology to explore. The problem is both length and converting Herbert’s cerebral writing style into something the modern moviegoer can appreciate. Dune movies would be an enormous project requiring a custom-engineered director ghola born from an axlotl tank on Tleilax.
Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Talk about an epic set of fantasy novels. Started in 1990 by Robert Jordan and completed in 2013 by Brandon Sanderson (using notes written by Jordan), Wheel of Time is a staple for just about every fantasy reader. Dump every word from the 14 books in the series into a counting machine and it will spit out a number around 4.4 million, or nearly 12,000 paperback pages. Individual books tend to hover around the 800-page mark, which is several times longer than the average novel.
The rights to do a Wheel of Time miniseries were purchased by NBC in 2000, but Jordan himself said it probably wouldn’t see the light of day. In 2008 a movie adaptation of The Eye of the World was announced, though as you can probably tell, nothing has come of that announcement so far. That book is 782 pages long, so just one movie might be clipping it short. But hey, at this point, one would be better than none.
Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
Picking a long novel by Neal Stephenson is exactly the same as picking any novel by Neal Stephenson: the author certainly isn’t known for his brevity, which is one of the main reasons none of his books have been made into movies. Stephenson has said length was the main obstacle in making movie adaptations of his work, going so far to say it just wasn’t possible to pull it off.
But if forced to pick just one Stephenson book to see as a big screen series, the 480-page Snow Crash would get my vote. It’s possibly the least complex but most visually friendly novel he’s written, but it’s still got the depth and the cool sci-fi things we don’t want to admit we love but secretly really do. Rat Things, Hiro sword fighting, and the Metaverse? I’m there, no matter how cheesy it ends up being.
Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
One of the big sci-fi books from the 1960s, Stranger in a Strange Land tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human born on Mars who comes back to his home planet and tries to understand life in a post–World War III society. Nothing humans do makes sense to him, and half of the things he does make no sense to humans. The book eventually veers off into free love hippie commune territory that seems a little dated by today’s standards, but in 1961, it was practically revolutionary.
Filming Stranger in a Strange Land wouldn’t take as many movies as the other items on the list. The uncut edition is about 528 pages long, but the material isn’t as dense, and Valentine’s psychic powers and rise to stardom would make for some great big screen material. The MPAA would have a field day with the sexual content, but hey, if 50 Shades of Grey gets a movie, we can’t grok why Stranger in a Strange Land shouldn’t, too.
What huge books would you love to see as film series?