Unfilmable movies are a popular talking point. Beloved novels and stories once thought to be unmakable grace the big screen. Yet, despite the odds, they succeed. Lord of the Rings, Dune, and even Watchmen, to an extent, are all recent examples.
Filming these epic novels always comes at a risk. But, unfortunately, sometimes, that risk isn’t worth the reward, and our favorite stories we read are massacred on the big screen.
Despite the odds stacked against them, someone recently asked what unfilmable popular sci-fi books we may see adapted into movies or television series.
The science fiction novel was written by Dan Simmons and won the 1990 Hugo Award for Best Novel. The story shares a similar structure to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
The sprawling makeup of Hyperion’s universe is a significant hurdle for any adaptation. Man is spread out between hundreds of planets and lives alongside a civilization of AI. Because of this, many feel that the story would be one of the most unfilmable movies ever. Regardless, Warner Bros. has tried to adapt the story for the past two decades.
Many mention that Hyperion works better as a series for HBO.
Given the popularity of fantasy novels like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, Earthsea seems ripe for an adaptation. In fact, it was developed into a two-part Sci-Fi Channel mini-series in 2004. But, sadly, it didn’t work out. Ursula K. Le Guin, the author of the novels, said that Sci-Fi Channel wrecked her books.
In 2006, Studio Ghibli took a shot with Tales from Earthsea, directed by Gorō Miyazaki, but that too missed the mark. Perhaps one day, a faithful adaptation will exist, but it’s not looking good.
The Forever War
An award-winning novel by Joe Haldeman, The Forever War tells a story of human soldiers fighting an interstellar war against the alien civilization known as the Taurans. Haldeman mentions that the novel’s themes stem from experiences during his military service in the Vietnam War.
For the past thirty years, movie rights have been in discussion. Unfortunately, nothing has materialized at this time, making people believe this is just another story in a long line of unfilmable movies. Most recently, Ridley Scott has shown interest in developing a film.
Rendevous With Rama
Good news for this “unfilmable movie;” Denis Villeneuve is on board to direct an adaptation.
The award-winning novel by Arthur C. Clarke takes place in the 2130s. The story is told from the view of human explorers who intercept an alien starship entering our Solar System to unlock its mysteries.
Lord of Light
The 1967 novel by Roger Zelazny blends science fiction and fantasy elements. A $50 million film was announced in 1979, but nothing came of it. Additionally, Universal Cable Productions plans to develop a television series, but nothing has come of late from that news. As a result, many people wonder if anything will happen…
…except that it sort of already did. The CIA acquired the rights to the unmade film as part of the exfiltration of six US diplomats during the Iranian hostage crisis. This story was developed in the 2012 film Argo.
Old Man’s War
Next on the list of unfilmable movies is Old Man’s War, which is currently in development at Netflix. Sadly, there’s a 50/50 chance it sees just one season.
The military science fiction novel was written by John Scalzi and published in 2005. Scalzi mentions his influence from the works of Robert Heinlein, particularly Starship Troopers. The book’s themes go beyond a time of war, dealing with ethics, morality, and individual identity.
Edit: The novel’s author commented, saying that not only was it written to be filmable, but it’s still in development!
Children of Time
The 2015 sci-fi novel by Adrian Tchaikovsky won the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction of the year. The producers of Hunger Games and Twilight optioned the film for a movie in 2017, but nothing has happened. This leaves fans wondering if it will sit dormant alongside other unfilmable movies.
Children of Time’s cast features several spiders vital to the story, making it a little tricky to adapt into a visual form successfully.
The Demolished Man
Alfred Bester’s 1953 novel is a work of genius. It won the first-ever Hugo Award for best novel. The story focuses heavily on telepaths and mental communication. As a result, any visual adaptation will face serious challenges.
Director Brian de Palma once tried to bring the novel to the big screen but was held back by a lack of funding.
Stranger in a Strange Land
Robert Heinlen’s influence on our list of unfilmable is everywhere. Now, we arrive at his 1961 novel. The story focuses on Valentine Michael Smith, known as the “Man from Mars.” The novel focuses on Smith’s challenges from growing up on Mars and being introduced to life on Earth.
The novel’s content and messaging is the biggest issue with filming Stranger in a Strange Land. Certain parts of the book may need toning down for the audience. Maybe it could work as a Hulu series?
Perdido Street Station
Written by China Miéville and published in 2000, Perdido Street Station is a beloved work of “weird fiction.” Many regard it as one of the best fantasy works of the 20th century.
Yet one key issue may make this novel unfilmable: the needed visual effects. One of the key characters is a birdlike creature that would require a suspension of disbelief from the audience. Technology may have adapted to make it work, but many of the novel’s fans still doubt it.
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