Summer is the season of big movies, from blow-up-the-White-House blockbusters, to family-friendly animation, to gross-out, screwball comedies that are heavy on celebrity cameos and bodily fluids. But if you don’t feel like shelling out for tickets to this year’s slate of movies, why not enjoy a book of a similar flavor? These read-alikes are guaranteed to satisfy, and they’ll keep you occupied for a lot more than the two-hour runtime of most big-screen flicks. Pop some popcorn, silence your cell phone, and enjoy.
Instead of seeing: The Secret Life of Pets
Read: The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein
For a deeper and more complex look at life from a four-legged perspective, skip this summer’s animated romp and pick up this 2009 novel instead. Enzo, a lab mix with the soul of a man, narrates this story of love, loss, and racecar driving with curiosity and passion—and only the occasional self-pitying tangent about the frustrations of not having opposable thumbs.
Instead of seeing: Independence Day 2
Read: City of Mirrors, by Justin Cronin
The epic sequel you’ve been waiting for is here! ….No, not the completely unnecessary, pandering rehash of the 1996 action classic Independence Day, but the conclusion to Justin Cronin’s epic fantasy trilogy in which an experiment-gone-wrong unleashes a horde of Virals (humans-turned-vampire-like-creatures) who decimate humanity and end the world as we know it. From the premise to the action to the character development, Cronin’s literary franchise is superior in every way to the flabby Independence Day (the one possible exception being that Jeff Goldblum is not in the books. But that’s the only downside.)
Instead of seeing: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates
Read: Losing It, by Emma Rathbone
This fresh take on the frustrating burden of adult virginity follows 26 year-old Julia Greenfield as she tries to jump-start her (sex) life with a summer change of scenery and an extended visit with her mysterious aunt…who turns out, to Julia’s horror, to be a virgin herself at age 58. In a perfect world, Aubrey Plaza would go directly from Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (where her performance is generally acknowledged to be the only really good thing about the movie) to starring in a screen adaptation of Losing It.
Instead of seeing: The Legend of Tarzan
Read: We Love You Charlie Freeman, by Kaitlyn Greenidge
If it’s a story of man and monkey you’re looking for, look no further: Greenidge breathes new life into the drama of human-ape relationships with this witty, ambitious novel about a family charged with teaching an adopted chimpanzee to communicate. What starts as a story about monkey trouble becomes an incisive exploration of race, culture, and language barriers with a surprising, explosive conclusion.
Instead of seeing: Star Trek Beyond
Read: Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi
If James T. Kirk were a senior citizen instead of a cocky young spacebro, he might look a lot like John Perry, the hero of Scalzi’s critically acclaimed debut. Old Man’s War has everything that makes Star Trek a hit: hostile aliens, epic spaceflights, and no shortage of thrilling action scenes. Also, like Star Trek, the adventure doesn’t end here; once you’ve finished Old Man’s War, there are another five books in the series.
Instead of seeing: The Purge: Election Year
Read: The Running Man, by Stephen King
Every big dystopian franchise, from The Purge to The Hunger Games, owes something to this riveting story of government-approved bloodsport. With no job, no prospects, and a terminally ill daughter, Ben Richards makes a desperate decision: to become a contestant on The Running Man, a show that pits one ordinary guy against a team of hunters assigned to kill him, and a starving populace who will betray him in a heartbeat for the bounty on his head. Where The Purge movies have never really lived up to their promising premise, The Running Man wrings every ounce of suspense out of its hero’s horrific ordeal.
Instead of seeing: Now You See Me 2
Read: The Illusionists, by Rosie Thomas
The modern-day magicians of Now You See Me are back in all their quick-fingered glory this summer, but how many times can you watch Jesse Eisenberg slip a pair of handcuffs before it gets boring? Instead, pick up Thomas’ novel and go back in time to meet a whole new team of crafty illusionists—who are just as colorful, just as dangerous, and who had to work their magic without the benefit of modern-day technology.
Instead of seeing: Ghostbusters
Read: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Forget the reboot, and all hail the original! No, not the original Ghostbusters, but the original creeptastic tale of terror about a quartet of humans who converge on a dilapidated mansion to hunt ghosts…or be hunted by them. Jackson’s famous novel features strong female characters and plenty of scares, although none of them involve ectoplasmic slime.
What readalikes are you avoiding the movie lines in favor of?