The book is always better than the movie, right? Well… not necessarily. While it’s true that some books are nigh-impossible to adapt well on screen, there are far more highly regarded movies that began their lives as books — and in the right hands, a thorough adaptation can be a thing of staggering beauty.
With that in mind, here are 10 books I think would make amazing movies. Hollywood, take note!
1. The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
What happens if you take Hidden Figures and turn it into an alternate history space-race in the wake of an Armageddon-style disaster? My friends, you end up with The Calculating Stars, the most quietly perfect sci-fi book to hit shelves in decades.
After a meteorite struck the Earth in the 1950s, wiping out most of the US eastern seaboard and cloaking the planet in a cloud of ash, the International Aerospace Coalition was formed. It had one goal: get humanity to the stars — as soon as possible. Our heroine, Alma, is a former WASP pilot and mathematical genius. She’s determined to see humanity’s mission through and open doors for women that have long been kept shut along the way. This movie would have all the lush costumes and gripping drama of The Crown, with the tension and gravity of Apollo 13.
2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
We need a really good war drama every few years, don’t we? All the Light We Cannot See is here to deliver — and though a Netflix series is allegedly in the works, I personally think it would make a better movie.
Set in France during World War II, this book centres around two children: Marie-Laure, a blind girl living with her locksmith father, and Werner, a boy with a knack for repairing radios. The novel follows each of them throughout their wartime experiences until their lives converge in unexpected ways. Poignant and delicately woven, this book would be an artistic director’s dream to translate into film (and would almost surely go on to sweep the Oscars).
3. The Girls by Emma Cline
Loosely inspired by the story of the Manson Family, this book is perfect fodder for Hollywood. It’s got the heady days of the ‘60s, a cult of personality, a group of impressionable young girls, sex, murder… what’s not for a Hollywood producer to love?
The narrative is relayed by Evie, a young teenager who feels isolated and unloved. But when she’s swept up in the world of Suzanne, a mysterious, alluring girl living on a ranch with a much older man and a group of girls like herself, Evie’s life takes a dark turn. The setting and the characters alone are already calling out for wide, artistic shots and close-ups of cigarettes smouldering on ashtrays. Between the aesthetic appeal and the tantalising subject matter, passing up this book is really just Hollywood refusing money at this point.
4. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
Cinderella as a cyborg? Moon colonies under the rule of an evil queen? How have we got all the way to 2021 and this series is still only rumored to maybe become a movie, sometime, if we’re lucky? Come on, Hollywood, what are you waiting for?
Set in the far-flung future in the city of New Beijing, the first book starts with the story of Cinder, a cyborg who’s been abandoned to the government for plague research by her evil stepmother. What ensues is a stunning story of royal secrets and hidden pasts. The cast is peppered with characters simply made for the larger-than-life world of the big screen: from the delightful android assistant, Iko, who sometimes forgets she’s not human, to the charming Prince Kai, to Cinder herself. Add in romance, drama, and abundant opportunities to show off gorgeous special effects, and there really is no excuse for this one not to be adapted ASAP.
5. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Predominantly set in the Golden Age of Hollywood, this book feels like it was tailor-made (Taylor-made?) to be a movie or limited-run miniseries. It has everything you could ever want: drama, intrigue, glamour, rivalries, crushing defeats, massive comebacks, and more.
There’s true mystery woven deep in the core of the story that will have viewers breathlessly hanging on to every word. Not to mention the inherent appeal of the protagonist herself: Evelyn Hugo, the most badass woman to ever grace the screens. This power-hungry Slytherin goddess would inspire a whole generation of women to become their most ambitious, ruthless selves, and I for one am here for it.
6. Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
I’m a huge fan of movies about movies, and Everything Leads to You would make one of the sweetest and most meta films in the history of Hollywood. Set the summer after her senior year, the story follows Emi, a budding set designer who house-sits her brother’s cool California apartment for him. The only condition: she has to use it for “something epic.” And what better way to do that than by filming part of a movie here? (Told you this was going to get meta.)
Along the way, Emi meets Ava, the secret granddaughter of a Clint-Eastwood-ish Hollywood cowboy actor. What follows is one-part sweet romance, one-part coming-of-age story, and one -part love letter to movies and the act of artistic creation in general. Plus, the lighting and sets would be absolutely gorgeous. Think of it as a less musical, gayer, more nuanced La La Land.
7. Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Perfect for fans of everything from Alice in Wonderland to Peter Pan, Every Heart a Doorway has a killer premise: what happens to kids after they’ve come back from their trips down the rabbit hole? Specifically, this book considers the kids who long to return to such Narnia-esque realms, who are desperately awaiting the day when their magical doors will reappear and let them return to the worlds they’ve come to think of as home.
This series has such brilliant potential for movies. This is due in part to the delightful whimsy and old-world charm of Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, where these misfits gather with the only other people who understand what they’re going through. Even just being able to explore each of these worlds, from the sugary-sweet, aptly named world of Confection to the unforgiving Goblin Market feels richly cinematic. I would love to see these brought to life in all their glory, and I bet there’s plenty of moviegoers who would be waiting in line with me.
8. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
Make no mistake, this would be a heartbreaking movie to watch — but also one that is both deeply moving and necessary. The story follows a black woman named Dana who gets caught in time between two worlds: her life in 1976 California and a pre-Civil War plantation in Maryland, to which she keeps inadvertently time-traveling.
Utterly haunting yet compelling at the same time, the novel has been a classic for decades, and it’s high time that a talented pool of black professionals adapted it to the screen — if only to bring such an important piece of storytelling to a wider audience.
9. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Set in the classic department of a small Vermont college, this book could easily draw in fans nostalgic for Dead Poets Society or splashes of The Breakfast Club. If that’s not enough to sell you on it, this tale is also a murder mystery, albeit one with a twist: we already know who’s confessed to the crime, and the audience is taken back in time to watch it unfold.
The characters are snobbish, messy, and downright unlikable, which is exactly what makes them so perfect, and so suited for the big screen. This is a book begging for us to look at it, to look at them, to watch them with envy and disgust in equal measure. With the right actors, this could have whole swaths of fans digging into thick tomes and quoting the classics in no time.
10. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
With Netflix so invested in rom coms lately, I’m surprised this one hasn’t already been snatched up. Set at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Fangirl follows freshman Cath as she attempts to adapt to her new life on campus and cope with the increasing distance (both physical and emotional) from her twin sister, Wren.
Cath is quiet and shy, and thoroughly invested in the fan culture of her favourite book series, even writing her own fanfiction novel. Add an adorable boy with a heart of gold, a healthy dollop of love for fandom in general, and a very Harry Potter-ish series, and this book has everything a rom com for the modern era would need. I could easily see myself curling up on the couch with a pint of ice cream and queuing up this movie a hundred times over.
Bio: Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a service for authors. She has created articles about writing and publishing for the likes if Write To Done, The Write Life, Electric Literature, and many more sites in the publishing industry.