10 Authors and the Directors Who Were Born to Adapt Them


We usually cringe when we hear about film adaptations of great, difficult literary authors’ books. But we were actually intrigued to learn that There Will Be Blood director Paul Thomas Anderson is thinking about bringing Thomas Pynchon’s latest novel, Inherent Vice, to the big screen. Somehow, Anderson and Pynchon just seem right together. Hell, this just might work! And that got us thinking about other directors who seem born to adapt the work of certain writers. See who we paired up after the jump, and suggest your own matches in the comments.

Oscar Wilde and Todd Haynes

Wilde has actually already appeared in one of Haynes’ films: He was the sort of patron saint of the thinly veiled Bowie biopic Velvet Goldmine, showing up as a child in the beginning and then returning in the form of an heirloom brooch and some appropriated witticisms later on. And in his first feature, Poison, the filmmaker drew on another hero of gay lit, Jean Genet. Throughout his career, Haynes has shown an appreciation for glamorous, mysterious, and controversial characters, as well as lush art direction and strong dialog – all of which would be necessary to pull off Wilde.

Philip Roth and Woody Allen

Slate once suggested that Roth and Allen were separated at birth, and it’s easy to see why. Both men are 70-something, Jewish Manhattanites who have had prolific and critically acclaimed careers and whose work has much to do with the libido and its discontents. Since they’re so compatible, perhaps Allen, whose recent films suggest that he’s kind of run out of ideas, could take a stab at adapting some of Roth’s finest novels.

Virginia Woolf and Sofia Coppola

Diffuse, and digressive without ever losing intellectual rigor, Woolf is among the most difficult authors to adapt. But her aesthetic has something in common with Coppola’s dreamy, light-soaked filmmaking, spanning history to examine the self, time, and their limits. Nothing much happens in To the Lighthouse or Lost in Translation, and yet each is endlessly engrossing. As long as she keeps Kirsten Dunst out of her Woolf adaptations, we think Coppola should give it a try.

David Foster Wallace and Wes Anderson

Who could adapt Wallace’s massively detailed Infinite Jest, a dystopia of tennis academies, drug problems, and footnotes? Perhaps Anderson, whose symbolic lexicon is shockingly similar. Just examine some of the sets in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou or The Royal Tenenbaums and you’ll see what we’re talking about.

Joseph Conrad and Kathryn Bigelow

Bigelow’s films vary greatly in their subject matter, but they all have one thing in common: they’re dark films populated by dark characters. Apocalypse Now may be hard to improve upon, but with her understanding of war and refusal to spell out the moral of her stories, we know she’d be able to make Heart of Darkness her own.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Guillermo del Toro

This one is so perfect it’s almost obvious. Who wouldn’t want to see film’s master of magical realism lend his Pan’s Labyrinth-making genius to Love in the Time of Cholera or One Hundred Years of Solitude?

Charles Dickens and Tim Burton

Most Dickens adaptations have been stuffy costume dramas (well, except for our favorite, The Muppet Christmas Carol). This does not need to be the case! There is a lot of weird, crazy shit in Dickens, and Burton, who has a knack for bizarre period pieces, is just the man for the job. Take, for instance, spooky shut-in Miss Havisham who’s worn her wedding dress for decades — the original Corpse Bride.

Sam Lipsyte and the Coen Brothers

No one genre hops like the Coen Brothers, and Lipsyte doesn’t even seem to care much about subject matter. But the filmmakers and writer do share a bleak but comical worldview and preference for deeply flawed anti-heroes. As No Country for Old Men taught us, the Coens also have a talent for adapting contemporary literature.

JD Salinger and Noah Baumbach

Salinger wrote stories about an upper-middle class New York family whose kids were too smart for their own good. Baumbach makes movies about overeducated, cosmopolitan characters who are… oh, that’s right, too smart for their own good. Both prize dry wit and literary references. Eventually, someone is going to make a Salinger movie. It might as well be Noah Baumbach.

Sylvia Plath and Mary Harron

Mary Harron is masterful at depicting glamor and damage. She’s done a biopic of Bettie Page, adapted Bret Easton Ellis’ ’80s business-world satire American Psycho, and dramatized the world of real-life American psycho Valerie Solanas. So we can think of no one better to adapt The Bell Jar — or, in a more creative way, Plath’s poems — into a shiny, compassionate, and compelling portrait of one of the 20th century’s great poets.