Upcoming Books Into Movies — List 3

For an update of this post, CLICK HERE to Great Film Expectations.

What makes a book movie material? I’m not thinking of the plot-driven page turners. I mean literary fiction, albeit the term is open to debate. Anyway, what baffles me is, how do filmmakers determine whether a book is good for a movie adaptation? Just let me give a few examples.

The English Patient. Michael Ondaatje’s Booker Prize winning novel that reads like poetry and leaves me swirling in nostalgic daze. When Anthony Minghella finished reading it in one sitting late one night, he knew right away that he must make the movie. Well, he did and won 9 Oscars for his film. But for another equally poetic work that I’ve enjoyed, Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels, its movie adaptation just didn’t work that well for me.

I can name many others. Muriel Barbery’s philosophical novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog stirred up deep resonance in me, but its movie adaptation Le Hérisson failed to produce such impact. Booker Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Remains of the Day delves into the internal worlds of the two main characters, and is turned into film effectively, thanks to the fine performance of the actors, Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.  Ishiguro’s more recent work, Never Let Me Go is both cerebral and emotionally charged, it too enjoys a good film transposition.

Or, how about short stories like Alice Munro‘s “The Bear Came Over The Mountain”, about an elderly couple dealing with the wife’s Alzheimer’s. When 28 year-old Sarah Polley finished reading the short story on the plane, she decided she would adapt it into film and who she would get to play the main character. The result is Polley’s directorial debut, the Oscar nominated film Away From Her, with Julie Christie getting a nom for Best Actress and Sarah Polley for Best Adapted Screenplay.

I’ve learned to appreciate books and movies as two distinct art forms. While I used to delve into the ‘loyalty’ issue, how close the film is to its source material, now I’m more accepting to new interpretations and diverse visual representations as long as the work holds up to its artistic values. But one thing still baffles me: How does a filmmaker decide whether a book is movie material?

The following are my recent findings on some literary works that are or will be adapted into films (ie, movie rights sold). On the top of the list, generating a lot of buzz these days is Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot. Now, it’s on my TBR list, as I’m still no. 213  in the hold lineup at my local library. But for those of you who have read the book, what do you say? Do you think the book makes good movie material? And the most intriguing for me, as always, how do you transpose philosophical ruminations into a visual medium? How do you dramatize intellectual angst?

Here’s Ripple Effects generated Upcoming Books Into Movies — List 3.  If you’ve missed List 1 and List 2, just click on the links. Some of the works mentioned on those previous lists have already been shown on screen. Arti will continue to furnish you with updated info on future books into films.  And all ye book group members, here are your 2012 suggestions:

Upcoming Books Into Movies — List 3

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (2015, Scott Rudin producer, who will also bring you Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections in 2013. Impressive record as a producer of modern literary works into films: Revolutionary RoadDoubtNo Country for Old MenTrue Grit… and soon Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)

The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud (Keira Knightly, Richard Gere, Eric Bana, Emma Thompson, Rachel McAdams will be directed by Scott Cooper, who did Crazy Heart, 2009)

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (From producer Ileen Maisel who’s bringing you a new Romeo & Juliet in 2012. I’m curious to see how they approach this adaptation, a sequel to Midnight In Paris?)

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (TV movie. The Pulitzer Prize winning novelist cited the HBO series The Sopranos as her inspiration.)

The Weekend by Bernhard Schlink (2013, Schlink has a previous work The Reader adapted into film.)

Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson (Ridley Scott has got the film rights, and it’s going to be “a blend of the popular and the literary.” What’s popular may well be the subject matter these days, memory and the loss of it.)

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (2012, A Musical in “good old-fashioned 2D”, directed by Tom Hooper of The King’s Speech. Anne Hathaway, Huge Jackman, Russell Crowe, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush. Sorry, no Colin Firth singing here.)

Runaway by Alice Munro (short story, screenplay by Jane Campion. Like I said earlier in this post, a short story can be turned into a deep feature film. I await this one from Campion, who won a screenwriting Oscar as well as the Palme d’Or for her 1994 film The Piano. Her more recent Bright Star on the poet John Keats reaffirms her literary style in the visual medium.)


Other related posts on Ripple Effects:

Can a movie adaptation ever be as good as the book?

Upcoming Books Into Films (List 1)

More Upcoming Books Into Movies (List 2)

Movies Reviewed

Photo Source: Films, Wikimedia Commons, Books, Arti’s file.

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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

12 thoughts on “Upcoming Books Into Movies — List 3”

  1. If you want to keep an eye on an actual book-to-film process, you’ll want to read David Milch to Adapt William Faulkner for HBO. The post is full of detail, and links to the Slate article about it.

    Note, too, that Mr. Freeland mentions Milch’s daughter is living in Oxford and will be involved. I expect there will be posts at NMissCommentor throughout the process.

    Given your initial question – how do filmmakers decide if a book will be good for film adaptation – and given that the selection of Faulkner’s work hasn’t been made, there may be a chance for a closer look at how the process works. The comments following the post are especially interesting.Oxford on Faulkner, if you will.

    As to why Mr. Freeland would be so interested in all this, or so knowledgeable about Faulkner, there is this, from his “History” page: The predecessor of Freeland & Freeland was James Stone & Sons, the law firm of Phil Stone. The building where Freeland & Freeland is located is the oldest continuous law office building in Mississippi… During the teens and twenties, Phil Stone began sharing books with and encouraging the writing of his younger friend, Williams Faulkner. His support extended to having the secretaries in the law office type Faulkner’s early work, and to paying for vanity press publication of The Marble Faun, Faulkner’s first book. Faulkner dedicated to Stone the three books of the Snopes Trilogy (The Hamlet, The Town, and The Mansion), and based characters on both Stone and his family members. Specifically, the lawyer Gavin Stevens, a major character in Intruder in the Dust andKnights Gambit, was based upon Phil Stone.

    You can read more about the history here.


    Thanks for those informative links. As always, you send me to further research after each post. 😉 As for the Q of what makes a book movie material, I’d like to hear filmmakers give their opinion, like, how they sniff out good stuff.

    I was at TIFF in Sept. where Salman Rushdie and director Deepa Mehta talked about the adaptation of Midnight’s Children. Unfortunately after lining up for close to an hour to get a ticket, I was told it was sold out.



  2. Thanks so much for posting about these books to movies. I always like to try and read the book first. In fact my next book, hopefully, will be Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, as the English version hits the theaters on the 21st of this month.


    Same with me too, book first then film. As for the Dragon Tattoo, I’ve seen all of the original Swedish films… and they are good, esp. the first one. Have written a post about it. As for the English version, well, maybe you can come back and tell me whether it’s any good after you’ve seen it. 😉



  3. The cynic in me says that for certainly a number of books, it’s the mental translation of book dollars to box office dollars. But I think it’s more complicated than that. Sarah Polley recognized that rich characters in a moving, authentic story could be good film. And sometimes those are the best because they bring fewer expectations to the table (or theatre) than a best seller or classic. I’m trying hard to look at a film from a favorite book and say, “They left out the right stuff” because you know they can’t make it all fit. And if I feel that, then time well spent.


    You see, the cynic in you is right. Of course the bottom line is important. But then again, my query goes a bit further back, how do they know which ones to choose. Especially with the literary fiction, those where intellectual/philosophical thoughts drive the story, how do they know it’s going to work on screen? As for Sarah Polley, kudos to her. Again, my question is how did she know the story would work as a film? I mean, I read the story too, but had no notion it could make powerful cinematic material.



  4. That’s interesting, because having just read The Marriage Plot, I wouldn’t have said it would make a great movie. There’s too much going on, and no clear overarching narrative line. Plus, the characters are well done in the novel but essentially generic (maybe with the exception of Mitchell), whereas I think cinema can carry more eccentric and unusual characters – in fact they pack more of a punch. But I guess what it boils down to is that a movie gets made when a director reads something that inspires them, that mobilises their creative vision. Very interesting to see what’s up and coming – I would think the Alice Munroe short story would translate very well to the screen, and you remind me that I’d love to read more of her writing!


    Yes, I’d be looking forward to Campion’s interpretation. I appreciate her style, and I guess her adaptation of Munro should be a good combination. As for The Marriage Plot, as I mentioned I haven’t read the book. But thanks to your post and now your comment, I’m a bit more informed. My Q. to you: would you go see the movie?



  5. I’m not much of a movie person so I enjoy your lists like this because they let me know what upcoming movies I might enjoy!


    As some of these are optioned for film, the time frame might be a few years down the road, if they ever get made. But, some are underway. Go to my List 1 and 2, there are some interesting titles coming up soon… I’m thinking of Anna Karenina, and the new version of The Great Gatsby. O, and I’m looking forward to The Paris Wife.



  6. How interesting! I had no idea The Marriage Plot will soon be a film. I better start reading it soon. Before I Go to Sleep was just an ok book for me. I think it could make a better film in the hands of RIdley Scott. I haven’t read The Emperor’s Children, is it any good?

    Thanks for commenting on my movie post of The Best of Youth. I do notice that my usual readers never comment when I do a movie post. However, I’ve decided to just post about books/movies that move me rather than post about every book I’ve read. Do try to find the Best of Youth if you can. Yes, it’s 6 hours and we watched it over 4 days but it’s so worth it!

    Mrs. B.,

    Glad to find another book/film lover. I’m excited to just talk about them. Turning books into films has always intrigued me. Not only that, I’m learning screenwriting, and that makes me want to delve deeper into the writing aspect. Most of the producers/directors on this list are heavyweights, so I trust there’s certain quality in their adaptations.



  7. I always enjoy your books-to-movies posts, Arti. Like Stefanie, I don’t keep up with upcoming movies. I’m sure adaptations take a lot of skill. I’ve watched the makings-of features for Lord of the Rings trilogy and understood better the director’s need to snip and tuck great swaths of narrative that would drag down the pacing.


    Thanks… if you’ve noticed, List 1 is almost obsolete now since many of the titles there have been released. And yes, I’m one who’s devoted to all those ‘Making of’ features whenever I watch DVD’s. I’ve never used Netflix, do you know if they have special features if you rent movies from them?



  8. It really is a mystery, isn’t it? And not only the book to film issue, but how a film maker knows how to make a film work. Editing is a tremendous challenge. How to get it just right? To take such a short, spare novel like The English Patient and make it a long, lush film that works so well, is amazing to me.

    I agree complete about Fugitive Pieces too. One of my all time favorite novels, but I gave the movie five minutes and was so turned off, I turned it off.


    You should get hold of the DVD set of The English Patient, there are great Special Features with Anthony Minghella and Michael Ondaatje interviews, explaining the process. I’m just intrigued by how AM could think of turning such a literary novel into film. There’s a fantastic ‘Making of’ featurette as well. AM mentioned that he had to write the script diverged from the novel, with the full support and approval from MO, who understands that a film is a completely different art form as a novel. As for Fugitive Pieces, I just don’t know how it has failed, but probably I think, it has taken the novel too literally.



  9. I’m especially looking forward to “Runaway”. In general, movies work well for short-stories (Brokeback Mountain, Shawshank Redemption, etc) and I think Campion will do a good job – I really liked Bright Star.


    Yes, I’m too, esp. with the stylish Jane Campion doing it.



  10. I’m smiling at Alex’ comment about short stories working well. I just received my dvd of the movie “A Christmas Story”. What I didn’t realize is that the film was adapted from three of Jean Shepherd’s short stories that originally appeared in “Playboy” magazine!

    The other interesting note is that today’s beloved film got a very slow start. It was either panned or ignored for years, and then began picking up steam when it appeared on television. When I figured out no television=no Christmas movie, it was time to head to Amazon. Now I can watch it a hundred times if I want, but I’m going to search out the stories, too. It will be interesting to see how it started, and how it was adapted.


    1. Linda,

      Nowadays, with Blockbusters closed and online shopping needs waiting for delivery, I’ve borrowed numerous DVD’s from our Public Library. We have a great library system in our City, and I use it almost daily. I’m glad you’re getting into the Christmas mode by means of DVD’s. And also, about Faulkner adaptations, you know from my List 2 there’s an entry for one based on As I Lay Dying. You might like to click here to read more about this endeavour by James Franco, who’s been hailed as “The 21st Century Renaissance Man”.


  11. I am so far from being a filmmaker that I can’t even imagine what goes into choosing a book to adapt and then making it happen. I like Litlove’s comment that it all depends on what sparks a director’s imagination. Maybe there is no type of book that is more filmable than another — it just depends on what the director decides to do.


    You’re right… it’s that private vision that a filmmaker/director sees in the source material that generates the whole venture. Unlike some critics’s claims, film adaptations certainly aren’t just ‘illustrated books’.



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