Novel Choices: 4 Classic Books That Should Be Made Into Movies

The Crying of Lot 49Sometimes I wonder if the movie industry has a small box containing only 10 or so classic novels, from which they draw periodically to craft prestige pictures.

Case in point: Come 2015, we’ll be getting a new version of the Thomas Hardy classic Far from the Madding Crowd … despite the fact that an excellent, definitive one already exists: the gorgeous, beautifully scored 1967 iteration directed by John Schlesinger and starring Julie Christie, Terence Stamp, Alan Bates and Peter Finch.

Why do we need yet another film based on this book? Surely there are other masterpieces the filmmaking world can lean on instead?

There are, and I’d like to propose a few. So far as I know, big-budget, mainstream movies haven’t made out of them … yet. I’d like to see some, though. And I think others would, too.

So without further ado, here are a number of novel (groan) suggestions that the industry should take note of … and hasn’t already, to my knowledge. Bear in mind that these books aren’t all two centuries old; I think the word “classic” can apply easily to any of them. They’re very, very good. And they’d make very, very good motion pictures, in my opinion – if given the chance.

A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy

Who doesn’t love sexy humour? Hollywood certainly does. You’ll get lots of it in this picaresque tale by Laurence Sterne, which ends with a bedroom romp. I don’t know why no one’s picked this book out yet. Someone should be able to adapt it well for the screen.

Barchester Towers

Anthony Trollope always seems to get short shrift when it comes to the celluloid arena, especially in comparison to his much more famous contemporary Charles Dickens. But Trollope was very popular in the day, and this sharp, smart book by the master novelist shows why. It’s been adapted for TV in the past. Why not make it into a movie?

Invisible Man

Ralph Ellison’s vivid, often-disturbing tale of a black man’s search for identity is great literature and should be made into a motion picture. Does Hollywood think a film of this novel would be too controversial? Difficult books by challenging authors have been set to celluloid before. What about this one?

The Crying of Lot 49

Hollywood nowadays may be in a Thomas Pynchon frame of mind, what with an adaptation of Inherent Vice (2014) coming to the fore. The Crying of Lot 49, by the same author, may be more rewarding from an accessibility standpoint, with a plot circulating around sinister stamps, rock music and a lot of satiric jibes at American culture. This would be a fun pick. Maybe next time?

What are your literary choices? Hollywood, if you’re listening, hear us out!

Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor living in New York City. He has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek and operates a restaurant-focused blog called Critical Mousse ( that showcases his opinions on the culinary arena. He also blogs about anti-Semitism for the Times of Israel. His views and opinions are his own.

14 thoughts on “Novel Choices: 4 Classic Books That Should Be Made Into Movies

  1. Just stumbled across this in websurfing. Could not agree more about Invisible Man. I’ll go further to say that I think it should be shot from the perspective of the lead character. There was a MASH episode in which you looked through the eyes of a patient the whole episode, never saw the patient himself. I’ve always thought that would be perfect for this novel, would underscore the character’s invisibleness.

  2. My pick for page to screen would be The Hawkline Monster by Richard Brautigan. The story of two assassins in the Old West, hired by twin sisters to find out what happened to their father and why strange things keep happening around their house. Hired guns meet chemistry in a story that moves along effortlessly, no mater how peculiar it becomes.

  3. I agree! When you hear of yet another old classic being re-hashed, you have to think, “is there nothing original out there anymore?” There are so many writers and authors with brilliant ideas but they never seem to get heard. They end up as ideas on crowd-sourcing sites, but as people’s money is tight, and there are so many ideas, the limited funds that the public have gets stretched so thinly cross all of the film ideas that a lot don’t reach their goal potential, which is such a shame.

    • Agreed, Jenny. These good ideas that don’t make it to the light of day … one can only wonder: “What if?” Sometimes I am concerned about the state of adventurous filmmaking, but one has to remain hopeful.

  4. Interesting post, Simon. I agree, seems like the same 10 formats shown on the screen these days. I like your suggestions! Pynchon’s novel is coming out soon ‘Inherent Vice’ starring Joaquin Phoenix. I hope its successful 🙂 Then you might get to see ‘The Crying of Lot 49’

  5. I’ve only read The Invisible Man, and that is probably indicative of a larger problem for those who would like to see more adaptations of interesting literary work. The overall decline of literature, at least in America, creates less interest in all literature, new and old. You know the old saying about Shakespeare — if he were alive today, he’d be in Hollywood cranking out melodramas. Producers will film things if they see a ready-made audience, but as we read less, the audience for literary adaptation grows smaller. I think Shakespeare and Austen, and maybe a few others, are still immune from this, but the list of classic authors is shrinking. Modern authors who have had their work adapted to film — from Michael Crichton to Nicholas Sparks — seem to set out to write movie treatments instead of literature because the ultimate payoff is so much greater.

    • It is a sad issue, Jon, and unfortunately, it is a small audience for these types of films. I wonder, though, if that audience could be expanded … with marketing. A broader audience of young people was reached with Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet about 45 years ago; movies based on great literary works that have that appeal would do just fine, methinks. But I’d still like Hollywood to broaden its horizons. An expansion of its reach, in my opinion, would do wonders to grow an audience.

  6. OK, Trying again!
    I am familiar with Trollope’s work, and I have enjoyed the BBC adaptations. I have not read the other three books, so I will happily take your word that they are good, and deserving of a film treatment. As for Hardy’s books being filmed, this has already been done so well. I would suggest that it is a pointless exercise to re-make this one. Then again, the Industry does seem to enjoy pointless exercises in remakes, a bugbear of mine Simon, as you may well remember.
    I wonder if the readership of Curnblog will suggest other books that should be made into films? I expect to see a few good ideas.
    Best wishes from England, Pete

    • They’re very good, Pete–you might like them. I agree with you on Far from the Madding Crowd; perhaps another version of The Return of the Native would work, but it would be nice to see Trollope and other authors underrepresented in the world of film get some movie activity. Here’s hoping.

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