11 Famous Books That Have Proven Impossible to Film

Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Images: iStock.com/Motizova (books), iStock.com/razihusin
Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Images: iStock.com/Motizova (books), iStock.com/razihusin

The Fault in Our Stars. Gone Girl. Wild. Hidden Figures. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Many of our most beloved and successful movies are adaptations of similarly beloved books. But just because a book reads well doesn’t mean it will film well (see: Dune), which is why history is filled with much-beloved books that have proven impossible to film—though not always from a lack of trying. Here are 11 of them.

1. A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES

An image of the cover of A Confederacy of Dunces on a black background.
Amazon (cover), iStock.com/natthanim (background)

Filmmakers have been attempting to turn John Kennedy Toole’s 1980 novel, which traces the exploits of “slob extraordinary” Ignatius J. Reilly and his mom in New Orleans, into a movie nearly since it was published. At various times throughout the past 34 years, a series of big names have been attached to the film—or at least rumored to be attached—including Harold Ramis, John Waters, Steven Soderbergh, John Belushi, John Candy, Chris Farley, John Goodman, Will Ferrell, and Zach Galifianakis. Soderbergh told Vulture in early 2013 that “I think it’s cursed. I’m not prone to superstition, but that project has got bad mojo on it.”

It seems like an adaptation of the book itself will never get made, but Cary Elwes, Susan Sarandon, and Nick Offerman have signed on for the film adaptation of Butterfly in the Typewriter, Cory MacLauchlin's book about Toole's attempts to get Dunces published. Toole’s mother found a carbon copy of the manuscript following the author’s suicide; 11 years later, it was finally published by LSU Press (with the help of The Moviegoer author Walker Percy, whom Toole’s mother pestered endlessly to read it) in 1980. In 1981, it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

2. ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE

The cover of One Hundred Years of Solitude on a black background.
Amazon (cover), iStock.com/natthanim (background)

It’s not that there aren’t a ton of filmmakers out there who would love the opportunity to turn Gabriel García Márquez’s epic tome of love and loss as seen through seven generations of a family into next year’s Oscar bait. And there are certainly millions of fans of the novel, which has been translated into 37 languages since its 1967 publication, who would happily fork over $15 to see it play out on the big screen. The biggest hurdle with adapting this one is the author himself, who passed away in April. Despite many approaches, he remained steadfast in refusing to sell the book’s movie rights—though he did tell Harvey Weinstein that he’d sell the rights to him and director Giuseppe Tornatore under one condition: “We must film the entire book, but only release one chapter—two minutes long—each year, for 100 years,” according to Weinstein.

3. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

The cover of the book 'The Catcher in the Rye' on a black background.
Amazon (cover), iStock.com/natthanim

J.D. Salinger’s 1951 coming of age novel is yet another iconic title that had its movie rights carefully guarded by its author, who passed away in 2010. Many believe that Salinger’s reluctance to see it adapted was a result of the disaster that was My Foolish Heart, Mark Robson’s 1949 movie based on Salinger’s Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut. And while the number of filmmakers who have expressed interest in adapting the book reads like the most epic Hollywood dinner party ever assembled—think Billy Wilder, Elia Kazan, Marlon Brando, Steven Spielberg, Jack Nicholson, Terrence Malick, and Leonardo DiCaprio—Salinger was always concerned that the book’s narration wouldn’t translate to film. And he didn’t want to be around to see the potentially disastrous results. However, in a 1957 letter Salinger did say that he’d be open to a posthumous adaptation, noting that: “Firstly, it is possible that one day the rights will be sold. Since there’s an ever-looming possibility that I won’t die rich, I toy very seriously with the idea of leaving the unsold rights to my wife and daughter as a kind of insurance policy. It pleasures me no end, though, I might quickly add, to know that I won’t have to see the results of the transaction.”

4. INFINITE JEST

The cover of the book Infinite Jest on a black background.
Amazon (cover), iStock.com/natthanim (background)

Set in a futuristic version of America, David Foster Wallace’s complex and occasionally rambling satire touches on a range of difficult themes, including depression, child abuse, and addiction. It’s also more than 1000 pages long, and the product of one of the great postmodernist writers of our time. The story gets even stranger when you learn that actor Curtis Armstrong, best known for playing Booger in the Revenge of the Nerds franchise, actually wrote an adaptation of the book for HBO, which was never produced. But shortly after Wallace tragically died by suicide in 2008, reports began surfacing that the author was working on an adaptation of the book with filmmaker Sam Jones. The irony, of course, is that Infinite Jest is about a movie (called Infinite Jest) that is so all-engrossing that all anyone who has seen it wants to do is watch it again and again and again … until he or she dies. Fun fact: In 2013, an episode of Parks and Recreation came about as close to an adaptation of the book as we’ve yet seen.

5. WHAT MAKES SAMMY RUN?

The cover the book What Makes Sammy Run on a black background.
Amazon (cover), iStock.com/natthanim (background)

Inspired by his producer and studio executive dad B.P. Schulberg, Budd Schulberg’s What Makes Sammy Run?—about an unscrupulous kid (Sammy Glick) who works his way up from copy boy to screenwriter—is a brilliant take on the inner workings of the entertainment industry. And while Hollywood usually loves a good meta story, the only successful adaptations of Schulberg’s 1941 novel (so far) have been a couple of television productions and a long-running Broadway musical that debuted in 1964 and was revived in 2006. While Dreamworks paid $2.6 million for the rights to adapt the book on behalf of Ben Stiller in 2001, no start date was been announced. In 2007, two years before his death, Schulberg told The Jewish Daily Forward that “I still think there’s a sense that it’s too anti-industry” and that while “Ben [Stiller] still talks about how he would like to do it … I’m not holding my breath.”

6. UBIK

The cover of the book Ubik on a black background.
Amazon (cover), iStock.com/natthanim

Believe it or not, there is a Philip K. Dick novel that has yet to be made into a movie—which isn’t to say that no one has tried to adapt Ubik, a 1969 sci-fi tale of telepathy and moon colonization (set in the then-futuristic year of 1992). As early as 1974, filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin commissioned Dick to adapt his own work for filming. Dick finished the script in less than a month; though it was never produced, it was published in 1985 as Ubik: The Screenplay. In 2006, A Scanner Darkly producer Tommy Pallotta announced that he was readying the film for production. In 2011, it was Michel Gondry who was confirmed to be at the helm … until 2014, when Gondry told The Playlist that he was no longer working on it.

7. THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY

The cover of the book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay on a black background
Amazon (cover), iStock.com/natthanim (background)

Considering both his popularity and prolificacy, it’s surprising that more of Michael Chabon’s work has not been given the big-screen treatment (Wonder Boys and The Mysteries of Pittsburgh are the two exceptions). But given the unique mix of history, coming-of-age-ness, and comic books in this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel—about two Jewish cousins who become big deals in the comic book biz—the fact that The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is 18 years old and still not a movie seems even more astounding. Especially because producer Scott Rudin bought the rights to it before the book was even published (he was sold based on a one-and-a-half page pitch). By 2002, Chabon had written six drafts of the script. Sydney Pollack was reportedly in active development on it at one point, and Jude Law, Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman, Jamie Bell, Ryan Gosling, Jason Schwartzman, and Andrew Garfield were all bandied about as possible stars. In 2004, Oscar-nominated director Stephen Daldry (The Hours) announced his plans to direct the film the following year. In 2013, Daldry was still talking up the project, telling Collider that he thought it would make an amazing HBO miniseries. No word as to whether HBO got the memo.

8. BLOOD MERIDIAN

The cover of the book Blood Meridian on a black background
Amazon (cover), iStock.com/natthanim (background)

Cormac McCarthy’s very specific cadence isn’t the easiest thing to adapt, as many of Hollywood’s most talented directors have discovered (some of whom have had more success with translating his work to film than others). But Blood Meridian, the author’s 1985 anti-Western that follows a teenage runaway known as “the kid,” has proven to be a particular challenge, in large part due to finding a way to incorporate the novel’s excessive violence in an organic and non-exploitative way. But that didn’t stop James Franco from trying. In July, to celebrate the release of his adaptation of McCarthy’s Child of God, the omnipresent actor-writer-director-model-professor-student-etc. shared a 25-minute test he shot of Blood Meridian on VICE. So far, no takers.

9. PARADISE LOST

The cover of the book Paradise Lost on a black background.
Amazon (cover), iStock.com/natthanim (background)

Though Christian-themed content has found much success at the box office, a true adaptation of John Milton’s epic blank verse poem poses a number of inherent problems, at least from a production perspective. First, there’s the challenge of casting God and Satan and Adam and Eve as main characters. Then there’s that pesky business of nakedness, "which would be a big problem for a big studio movie,” producer Vincent Newman told The New York Times in 2007, when discussing a possible adaptation. A few years later, director Alex Proyas was attempting his own adaptation of the poem—with Bradley Cooper as Lucifer—but that got scrapped in 2012.

10. NOSTROMO

The cover of the book Nostromo on a black background.
Amazon (cover), iStock.com/natthanim (background)

F. Scott Fitzgerald once remarked that “I’d rather have written Conrad’s Nostromo than any other novel.” How’s that for a ringing endorsement? While Joseph Conrad’s 1904 book about revolution and warfare in the fictional South American country of Costaguana was adapted for television in 1996, it has never gotten the big-screen treatment it deserves. Some believe that's out of respect for David Lean, who passed away in 1991, just one month before shooting was scheduled to commence. The film was a lifelong passion project for Lean, which made others reluctant to step in. Though in 2002 the trustees of Lean’s estate announced that Martin Scorsese had agreed to sit in the director’s chair for the project, there’s so far no sign of it coming to a theater near you.

11. HOUSE OF LEAVES

The cover of the book House of Leaves on a black background.
Amazon (cover), iStock.com/natthanim

It has been 18 years since Mark Z. Danielewski published his footnote-heavy debut novel. And while it became an immediate bestseller, so far there have been no official takers on turning House of Leaves into a movie—which may have something to do with the fact that the novel isn’t just difficult to categorize, it’s nearly impossible to summarize (there’s a manuscript written by a blind man about a documentary that doesn’t exist and a house with rather supernatural qualities). Which isn’t to say there hasn’t been interest in the prospect. “We get a lot of inquiries. A lot of offers,” the author told the A.V. Club in 2012. “I was definitely more closed off to it early on. I’m maybe more open to it, but I don’t want to mislead anyone. One of the things that’s sort of shifting me, changing me, is turning House Of Leaves into an e-book. Because as much as it’s the same words, as much as it contains the language that is intimately familiar to me, it is an adaptation. ‘This film has been modified to fit your airline screen,’ you know? In doing that, I realized, ‘OK, maybe it’s the same as a movie in some ways.’”

This piece first ran in 2016.

10 Sweet Facts About Napoleon Dynamite

© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox
© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

ChapStick, llamas, and tater tots are just a few things that appear in Napoleon Dynamite, a cult film shot for a mere $400,000 that went on to gross $44.5 million. In 2002, Brigham Young University film student Jared Hess filmed a black-and-white short, Peluca, with his classmate Jon Heder. The film got accepted into the Slamdance Film Festival, which gave Hess the courage to adapt it into a feature. Hess used his real-life upbringing in Preston, Idaho—he had six brothers and his mom owned llamas—to form the basis of the movie, about a nerdy teenager named Napoleon (Heder) who encourages his friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez) to run for class president.

In 2004, the indie film screened at Sundance, and was quickly purchased by Fox Searchlight and Paramount, then released less than six months later. Today, the film remains so popular that in 2016 Pedro and Napoleon reunited for a cheesy tots Burger King commercial. To celebrated the film's 15th anniversary, here are some facts about the ever-quotable comedy.

1. Deb is based on Jerusha Hess.

Jared Hess’s wife Jerusha co-wrote the film and based Deb on her own life. “Her mom made her a dress when she was going to a middle school dance and she said, ‘I hadn’t really developed yet, so my mom overcompensated and made some very large, fluffy shoulders,’” Jared told Rolling Stone. “Some guy dancing with her patted the sleeves and actually said, ‘I like your sleeves … they’re real big.'"

Tina Majorino, who played the fictional Deb, hadn’t done a comedy before, because people thought of her as a dramatic actress. "The fact that Jared would even let me come in and read really appealed to me," she told Rolling Stone. "Even if I didn’t get the role, I just wanted to see what it was like to audition for a comedy, as I’d never done it before."

2. Napoleon's famous dance scene was the result of having extra film stock.

At the end of shooting Peluca, Hess had a minute of film stock left and knew Heder liked to dance. Heder had on moon boots—something Hess used to wear—so they traveled to the end of a dirt road. They turned on the car radio and Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” was playing. “I just told him to start dancing and realized: This is how we’ve got to end the film,” Hess told Rolling Stone. “You don’t anticipate those kinds of things. They’re just part of the creative process.”

Heder told HuffPost he found inspiration in Michael Jackson and dancing in front of a mirror, for the end-of-the-movie skit. But when it came time to film the dance for the feature, Heder felt "pressure" to deliver. “I was like, ‘Oh, crap!’ This isn’t just a silly little scene,” he told PDX Monthly. “This is the moment where everything comes, and he’s making the sacrifice for his friend. That’s the whole theme of the movie. Everything leads up to this. Napoleon’s been this loser. This has to be the moment where he lands a victory.” Instead of hiring a choreographer, the filmmakers told him to “just figure it out.” They filmed the scene three times with three different songs, including Jamiroquai’s “Little L” and “Canned Heat.”

3. Napoleon Dynamitefans still flock to Preston, Idaho to tour the movie's locations.

In a 2016 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, The Preston Citizen’s circulation manager, Rhonda Gregerson, said “every summer at least 50 groups of fans walk into the office wanting to know more about the film.” She said people come from all over the world to see Preston High School, Pedro’s house, and other filming locations as a layover before heading to Yellowstone National Park. “If you talk to a lot of people in Preston, you’ll find a lot of people who have become a bit sick of it,” Gregerson said. “I still think it’s great that there’s still so much interest in the town this long after the movie.”

Besides the filming locations, the town used to host a Napoleon Dynamite festival. In 2005, the fest drew about 6000 people and featured a tater tot eating contest, a moon boot dancing contest, boondoggle keychains for sale, and a tetherball tournament. The fest was last held in 2008.

4. Idaho adopted a resolution commending the filmmakers.

'Napoleon Dynamite' filmmakers Jerusha and Jared Hess
Jerusha and Jared Hess
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

In 2005, the Idaho legislature wrote a resolution praising Jared and Jerusha Hess and the city of Preston. HCR029 appreciates the use of tater tots for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.” It extols bicycling and skateboarding to promote “better air quality,” and it says Kip and LaFawnduh’s relationship “is a tribute to e-commerce and Idaho’s technology-driven industry.” The resolution goes on to say those who “vote Nay on this concurrent resolution are Freakin’ Idiots.” Napoleon would be proud.

5. Napoleon was a different kind of nerd.

Sure, he was awkward, but Napoleon wasn’t as intelligent as other film nerds. “He’s not a genius,” Heder told HuffPost. “Maybe he’s getting good grades, but he’s not excelling; he’s just socially awkward. He doesn’t know how much of an outcast he is, and that’s what gives him that confidence. He’s trying to be cool sometimes, but mostly he just goes for it and does it.”

6. The title sequence featured several different sets of hands..

Eight months before the theatrical release, Fox Searchlight had Hess film a title sequence that made it clear that the film took place in 2004, not in the ’80s or ’90s. Napoleon’s student ID reveals the events occur during the 2004-2005 school year. Heder’s hands move the objects in and out of the frame, but Fox didn’t like his hangnails. “They flew out a hand model a couple weeks later, who had great hands, but was five or six shades darker than Jon Heder,” Hess told Art of the Title. “If you look, there are like three different dudes’ hands—our producer’s are in there, too.”

7. Napoleon Dynamite messed up Netflix's algorithms.

Beginning in 2006, Cinematch—Netflix’s recommendation algorithm software—held a contest called The Netflix Prize. Anyone who could make Cinematch’s predictions at least 10 percent more accurate would win $1 million. Computer scientist Len Bertoni had trouble predicting whether people would like Napoleon Dynamite. Bertoni told The New York Times the film is “polarizing,” and the Netflix ratings are either one or five stars. If he could accurately predict whether people liked the movie, Bertoni said, then he’d come much closer to winning the prize. That didn’t happen for him.

The contest finally ended in 2009 when Netflix awarded the grand prize to BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos, who developed a 10.06 percent improvement over Cinematch’s score.

8. Napoleon accidentally got a bad perm.


© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

Heder got his hair permed the night before shooting began—but something went wrong. Heder called Jared and said, “‘Yeah, I got the perm but it’s a little bit different than it was before,’” Hess told Rolling Stone. “He showed up the night before shooting and he looked like Shirley Temple! The curls were huge!” They didn’t have much time to fix the goof, so Hess enlisted Jerusha and her cousin to re-perm it. It worked, but Jon wasn’t allowed to wash his hair for the next three weeks. “So he had this stinky ‘do in the Idaho heat for three weeks,” Jared said. “We were shooting near dairy farms and there were tons of flies; they were all flying in and out of his hair.”

9. LaFawnduh's real-life family starred in the film.

Shondrella Avery played LaFawnduh, the African American girlfriend of Kip, Napoleon’s older brother (played by Aaron Ruell). Before filming, Hess phoned Avery and said, “‘You remember that there were no black people in Preston, Idaho, right? Do you think your family might want to be in the movie?’ And that’s how it happened,” Avery told Los Angeles Weekly. Her actual family shows up at the end when LaFawnduh and Kip get married.

10. A short-lived animated series acted as a sequel.

In 2012, Fox aired six episodes of Napoleon Dynamite the animated series before they canceled it. All of the original actors returned to supply voices to their characters. The only difference between the film and the series is Kip is not married. Heder told Rolling Stone the episodes are as close to a sequel as fans will get. “If you sit down and watch those back to back, you’ve got yourself a sequel,” he said. “Because you’ve got all the same characters and all the same actors.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

Harry Potter Fans Are Waiting 10 Hours or More to Ride Hagrid’s Roller Coaster

Universal Orlando
Universal Orlando

Muggles will do anything to be a part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Universal Orlando opened up its newest ride this week at its version of Hogsmeade, the village that surrounds Hogwarts castle. Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure takes wannabe wizards and witches on a twisting, high-speed flight through the mystical Forbidden Forest.

Diehard fans began waiting overnight outside the park in anticipation of the ride, and it looks like just about everyone had the same idea. At 8:30 a.m. on opening day, the line was already eight hours long, and quickly stretched to 10 hours long by 10:30 a.m., CNN reports.

The line is worth the wait for many fans of the franchise. As Potterheads already know, Rubeus Hagrid, beloved friend of Harry Potter and the gang, has a special affinity for mysterious creatures. So who better to see the beasts of the forest with than the half-giant?

Participants on the ride can choose to sit in Hagrid’s sidecar or in the driver’s seat. The winding track includes appearances by some of our favorite wizards, like Arthur Weasley, and creatures benevolent and otherwise, such as Cornish pixies, massive spiders, and the three-headed dog, Fluffy.

Fans aren’t the only ones wanting to experience the ride. Some of the stars of the film series had a little reunion in Orlando this week to celebrate the opening, including Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) and Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood).

Unlike the fans, however, they have magic (fame) to keep them from having to wait in 10-hour lines.

Happy riding, Potterheads!

[h/t CNN]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER