24 books that Hollywood should make into movies

jshamsian@insider.com (Jacob Shamsian,Gabbi Shaw)
·15 mins read
"Harold and the Purple Crayon."
"Harold and the Purple Crayon."

HarperCollins

  • Some of the most successful and beloved movies of all time are based on books, and fortunately, there's never a shortage of quality novels that need to be adapted into films.

  • "Esperanza Rising" by Pam Muñoz Ryan is a beloved children's book that needs to be brought to the screen.

  • "We Were the Lucky Ones" by Georgia Hunter would make for a powerful film.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Many of Hollywood's richest ideas start out as books. Book-to-movie adaptations are a way for filmmakers to reinterpret another work of art into a different medium and often make for some of the best movies of all time.

And in a time when diversity in front of and behind the camera is sorely needed, they can be a great resource for stories from voices that we need to hear.

Here's a list of books that should be adapted into movies. Some of them are neglected classics, some of them are imperfect but could soar with the right interpretation, and some of them have been noticed by studios but development seems to be stuck. In all these cases, there's a great story waiting to be told on the big screen.

Anjelica Oswald contributed to a prior version of this article.

"My Sister, the Serial Killer" by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Braithwaite was born in Nigeria, but grew up in the UK.
Braithwaite was born in Nigeria, but grew up in the UK.

Amazon

After the success of black comedies like "A Simple Favor," it's the perfect time to adapt this 2018 novel. The book focuses on a pair of Nigerian sisters, Korede and Ayoola, who regularly test the limits of sisterhood, due to Ayoola's inconvenient habit of murdering her boyfriends.

It was optioned by big production companies before it was released, but there hasn't been any update since 2018.

"We Were the Lucky Ones" by Georgia Hunter

It's semi-historical fiction, but based on a true story.
It's semi-historical fiction, but based on a true story.

Penguin Random House

Hunter was a teenager when she discovered her family were Holocaust survivors — "We Were the Lucky Ones" is the result of years and years of research about her family and where they came from. All at once tragic, hopeful, depressing, and ultimately uplifting, the story of the extended Kurc family, who become scattered across the world as World War II ravages, will stick with you for a long time. That's why it's deserving of an epic film.

In 2018, Thomas Kail (director of "Hamilton"), optioned the film for a TV series, but there have been no updates since.

"Go Set a Watchman" by Harper Lee

It's still not clear if "Go Set a Watchman" was published with Harper Lee's full permission.
It's still not clear if "Go Set a Watchman" was published with Harper Lee's full permission.

HarperCollins

Harper Lee's ham-handed sequel — or is it an earlier draft? — to "To Kill a Mockingbird" is exactly the type of flawed book that could come alive with another artist's interpretation. With the right director and actor, it could make a great film that finds nuance in Atticus Finch.

It would also need the permission of Tonja Carter, the lawyer who runs Lee's estate, which could prove difficult.

"The Secret History" by Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt has published only three novels in 20 years.
Donna Tartt has published only three novels in 20 years.

Knopf

Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch" has all the attention as a Donna Tartt novel being transformed for the big screen. But it's her mammoth debut novel that remains her best, and has the most potential. It's a sort of murder mystery about a clique of students at a small New England college obsessed with Greek philosophy who push the bounds of their learning when they start integrating some of its lessons into their own lives.

"Red, White & Royal Blue" by Casey McQuiston

It's McQuiston's debut novel.
It's McQuiston's debut novel.

Amazon

McQuiston's beloved debut novel, "Red, White & Royal Blue," is an adorable (and queer!) love story between America's first son, Alex, and the Prince of England, Henry. There's a severe shortage of LGBTQ+ rom-coms, and "Red, White & Royal Blue" is one step forward in rectifying that issue.

In 2019, Amazon Studios picked up the rights to turn the book into a film, but there haven't been any recent updates.

"The Animators" by Kayla Rae Whitaker

Kayla Rae Whitaker's debut novel was a hit.
Kayla Rae Whitaker's debut novel was a hit.

Penguin Random House

"The Animators" is prime for a Hollywood hit. Kayla Rae Whitaker's debut follows two women working in the male-dominated field of animation. The best friends are working on their first feature film, but tension builds and threatens their creative and personal relationship. The novel was optioned at the end of 2017 as a potential series, but it would be great to see something come of it.

"The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" by Michael Chabon

"The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" won the Pulitzer Prize.
"The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" won the Pulitzer Prize.

Penguin Random House

"The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" is a masterpiece. Michael Chabon weaves together an imaginative story full of comic book wonder and magic. Two cousins strive to dominate the comic book industry with the historical backdrop of Nazi-occupied Prague and America during the 1940s.

The novel was primed for a film adaptation in 2001 with Chabon adapting his own novel, but the project has stopped and started multiple times since then. Most recently, in December 2019, the book was picked up by CBS as part of Chabon's overall deal with the network. It remains to be seen how long it will take for the project to get off the ground.

"The Queen of the Night" by Alexander Chee

"The Queen of the Night" follows 15 years after Alexander Chee's debut.
"The Queen of the Night" follows 15 years after Alexander Chee's debut.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

"The Queen of the Night" is a stunning novel about an opera sensation with a mysterious past. When she is presented with the operatic part of a lifetime that's full of details from her past, she tries to figure out who has revealed her secrets. On top of the romance and intrigue, there's a chance for gorgeous costumes and intricate sets. The novel also features historical figures who make appearances. It's perfect for Hollywood.

"Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison

"Invisible Man" was the only finished novel Ellison published in his lifetime.
"Invisible Man" was the only finished novel Ellison published in his lifetime.

Vintage

The classic Harlem Renaissance novel is devilishly tricky to adapt. Much of it takes place in the main character's head, and it hops and skips through multiple setpieces. But a recent acclaimed stage adaptation could be a starting point for a movie. In 2017, it was reported that Hulu was adapting the book into a series, but there haven't been any updates since.

"All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr

"All the Light We Cannot See" is a Pulitzer Prize winner.
"All the Light We Cannot See" is a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Simon & Schuster

Anthony Doerr's second novel is a dazzling story of a blind French girl and a German boy connected by World War II. While their lives are drastically different, they are drawn together in an unexpected way.

In 2019, Netflix announced an upcoming adaptation of the book into a limited series, but there haven't been any updates since.

"The Mirror Thief" by Martin Seay

"The Mirror Thief" is an impressive effort for Seay's first novel.
"The Mirror Thief" is an impressive effort for Seay's first novel.

Melville House

Martin Seay's sleeper hit from 2016 follows three intersecting plot lines over the span of several centuries in the US and Italy. They involve secret cults, inventions, automatons, and gangs. It's like "The Goldfinch" crossed with "The Godfather" with a dash of magic.

That approach is arguably even harder to pull that off as a movie (see: "Cloud Atlas"), but using just the US-set stories is achievable.

In 2016, the film was optioned for a film, but it stalled. The next year, it was announced that it was being retooled as a limited series, but there has been no news since.

"Harold and the Purple Crayon" by Crockett Johnson

Crockett Johnson was the pen name of cartoonist and children's book illustrator David Johnson Leis.
Crockett Johnson was the pen name of cartoonist and children's book illustrator David Johnson Leis.

HarperCollins

"Harold and the Purple Crayon" is a beautiful children's story of an imaginative 4-year-old who creates his own world and goes on adventures with the help of a giant purple crayon. The story has been turned into a short film and TV series, so why not a movie? 

Some reports back in 2010 said a feature film could be on its way, but nothing has come to fruition. "Harold" is prime for a gorgeous movie and could follow along in the footsteps of "Where the Wild Things Are."

"The Girls" by Emma Cline

Emma Cline's debut novel started a huge bidding war among publishers when they first saw it.
Emma Cline's debut novel started a huge bidding war among publishers when they first saw it.

Penguin Random House

Emma Cline's debut novel explores the allure of a charismatic cult leader and the mesmerizing freedom that his world seems to offer. But when things take a violent turn, one young teen must rethink where she wants her life to lead.

Though producer Scott Rudin picked up the movie rights in 2014, he's done nothing with it and the book has since gotten into a legal controversy because of (possibly unfounded) plagiarism allegations. Once that thicket is cleared, though, it could make a fascinating movie.

"Noughts & Crosses" by Malorie Blackman

There are set to be six books in the series.
There are set to be six books in the series.

Penguin UK

"Noughts & Crosses" is the first book in Malorie Blackman's award-winning series. The novels take place in an alternate history of the world where Crosses (blacks) and Noughts (whites) have switched positions of power. Seph, a Cross, and Callum, a Nought, maintain a friendship which evolves into a romance, despite the prejudices that are supposed to separate them and the dangerous consequences they could face.

There are five books in the series now ("Noughts & Crosses," "Knife Edge," "Checkmate," "Double Cross," and "Crossfire"), with a sixth and final installment on the way titled "Endgame."

"Noughts & Crossses" was adapted into a TV series for the BBC in 2020, but we still think the epic nature of the story deserves to make it to the big screen.

"Sloppy Firsts" by Megan McCafferty

There are five books in the "Jessica Darling" series.
There are five books in the "Jessica Darling" series.

Penguin Random House

Author Megan McCafferty made her debut with "Sloppy Firsts." The first in a series of five, the novel is told through the diaries of a girl named Jessica Darling. They chronicle her life from high school to adulthood. With five books to work from, the series could be a perfect coming-of-age story of what it means to fall in love and grow up.

In 2019, ABC acquired the rights to the novels to adapt into a TV series.

"The Studio" by John Gregory Dunne

John Gregory Dunne was a screenwriter as well as a journalist who wrote often about Hollywood.
John Gregory Dunne was a screenwriter as well as a journalist who wrote often about Hollywood.

Penguin Random House

The movie industry loves making movies about the movie industry, so why not adapt the best book about the movie industry ever written?

For 1969's "The Studio," Dunne asked 20th Century Fox for unlimited access to its studio. To his surprise, he got it. Dunne visited the sets of "Dr. Doolittle," "The Boston Strangler," and "Planet of the Apes" and wrote about what he saw.

The book is a startlingly frank and revealing look into what goes on in executive boardrooms, on set, and the dynamic between Darryl and Richard Zanuck, the father-son producing duo who ran the studio.

The book is ripe for a straight historical adaptation, or a fictionalized update with more modern movies being produced.

"Eleanor and Park" by Rainbow Rowell

"Eleanor and Park" is Rainbow Rowell's debut novel.
"Eleanor and Park" is Rainbow Rowell's debut novel.

St. Martin's Press

"Eleanor and Park" is a love story between two 16-year-old misfits in a small Nebraska town. But beyond their story of first love, the novel explores domestic and child abuse, bullying, and body image.

The novel was supposed to be turned into a movie back in 2014, but was delayed and the rights eventually reverted back to Rowell. In May 2019, it was announced that Brad Pitt's production company Plan B had acquired the rights, and Rowell would be writing the screenplay. In July 2020, Rowell revealed that the Japanese filmmaker Hikari will be directing.

"My Uncle Oswald" by Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl wrote about the character in other short stories as well.
Roald Dahl wrote about the character in other short stories as well.

Penguin

Roald Dahl is best known for his children's novels, many of which have already been adapted into beloved movies — like "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," "Matilda," and "The Witches" — but his sole successful adult novel, "My Uncle Oswald," deserves another look.

It's about a fictionalized version of Dahl's uncle, who he's written about in his other works, as a young dashing schemer who attempts to steal the sperm of celebrities to sell to wealthy people.

The novel would be hard to adapt tastefully. But with a good sense of fun and a contemporary update, it could be one of the most talked about movies of the decade.

"Nicotine" by Nell Zink

"Nicotine" was Nell Zink's third critically acclaimed book released in just a two-year span.
"Nicotine" was Nell Zink's third critically acclaimed book released in just a two-year span.

HarperCollins

A handful of family dramas come out as movies every year, but they're often too talky or realistic.

Zink's story about a daughter tasked with reclaiming her father's childhood home — only to join the anarchist collective she finds squatting there — is refreshingly outrageous.

"The Wonder" by Emma Donoghue

Emma Donoghue is no stranger to having her work adapted.
Emma Donoghue is no stranger to having her work adapted.

Little, Brown and Company

Emma Donoghue already received an Oscar nomination for her screenplay adaptation of her best-selling novel "Room," so she would know exactly how to adapt "The Wonder." 

"The Wonder" is a drama about a religious girl and her family who claim that she has subsisted on nothing but air and a few teaspoons of water for weeks. A nurse and nun are sent to keep an eye on the young girl to see if she is telling the truth. The mystery begins to unravel as the nurse tries to understand if the girl is slowly being killed or if she's truly able to survive on nothing. A few twists at the end leave the reader in awe of this simple world.

The same team behind "Room" was assembled in 2018 to adapt "The Wonder" into a film, but it's been quiet since.

"The Sky Is Everywhere" by Jandy Nelson

Jandy Nelson was a literary agent before writing.
Jandy Nelson was a literary agent before writing.

Penguin Random House

Jandy Nelson's debut novel follows a young high school girl struggling after the sudden death of her older sister. She becomes romantically involved with her sister's ex, as well as a new boy who moves into town, and must choose between the two. 

Warner Bros. optioned the movie rights in 2015, but it took four years for any developments. In 2019, A24 announced that it was teaming up with Apple to release the film on Apple TV Plus. Grace Kaufman is set to star.

"Stoner" by John Williams

John Williams is more famous for "Augustus," which won the National Book Award in 1973.
John Williams is more famous for "Augustus," which won the National Book Award in 1973.

Amazon

"Stoner" isn't a particularly cinematic novel, but it could make a great movie in the right hands. It's about a man who grew up on a farm in Missouri, discovers and falls in love with literature, and embraces a life as an English professor, ultimately as his personal relationships fall apart. (No, the book has nothing to do with marijuana.)

Sounds boring, but the 1965 novel became an international bestseller and cult classic when New York Review of Books Classics — which is kind of like the Criterion Collection for books — re-released it. It's totally absorbing, and the main character, William Stoner, is one for the ages.

In 2017, an adaptation starring Casey Affleck was announced to be in the works, but production seems to have stalled. With the right actor and script, a "Stoner" movie can be great.

"Esperanza Rising" by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Pam Muñoz Ryan has written numerous YA and children's books.
Pam Muñoz Ryan has written numerous YA and children's books.

Scholastic

The historical YA novel follows a young teen named Esperanza Ortega who must flee her beautiful home in Mexico after her father is killed. She and her family escape to America and settle on a labor camp where they struggle to survive during the Great Depression. Esperanza's entire life changes, and she must learn to adapt to the harsh world and face the challenges that are thrown her way. The themes of immigration and family are as relevant today as they were in 2000.

"A Great and Terrible Beauty" by Libba Bray

"A Great and Terrible Beauty" is the first in a trilogy.
"A Great and Terrible Beauty" is the first in a trilogy.

Random House

Set largely in a gothic boarding school in Victorian England, "A Great and Terrible Beauty" follows Gemma Doyle, a young girl prone to mysterious visions. She and some of her classmates uncover a magical world and secret societies that force them into dangerous situations. It's a dark fantasy. And if put in the right hands, the story could be a powerful film.

While there was hope for a film at one point, the plans were squashed in 2009, and there haven't been any moves since.

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