Cult Books That Need to Be Adapted for the Big Screen


It’s been a big few weeks for cult novels getting their own film adaptations. A New Yorker profile of Guillermo del Toro earlier this month provided a window into the preparations for the director’s version of the H.P. Lovecraft novella At the Mountains of Madness. Over the weekend, we got out first glimpse at the unintentionally hilarious-looking, Tea Party-approved Atlas Shrugged movie. And yesterday, the news broke that Michel Gondry is taking on Ubik, one of Philip K. Dick’s weirdest books. All of that got us thinking about some of our favorite cult novels that are dying for big-screen adaptations. Check them out, and add your own, after the jump.

The Black Book: An Agon by Lawrence Durrell (1938)

The British Lawrence Durrell is best known for his series The Alexandra Quartet, but we’re partial to this earlier, fever dream of a novel. Lyrical, surreal, and explicitly sexual, The Black Book would be best off in the hands of a weirdo auteur who knows a thing or two about portraying decadence on the big screen. Paging Peter Greenaway!

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (1989)

Considering that this outsider classic has legions of vocal fans, you’d think some indie wunderkind director would have called dibs by now. But for some reason, this story of a carnival-freak family has never been adapted. Maybe it’s because the deformed characters would be too difficult to depict on a low budget? Allow us to suggest animation.

Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger (1961)

We know, we know. Suggesting a Salinger film adaptation is downright blasphemous. Hear us out, though: Franny and Zooey are wonderful characters, and their metaphysical conversations read like they were written to be declaimed. Given the right casting (TKTK) and a script that adheres closely to the novel, we would be glad to spend a few hours in the Glass family’s mid-century New York living room.

White Noise by Dom DeLillo (1985)

Among the most important novels of the past several decades, White Noise is a page-turning combination of postmodern pastiche and unsettling, Twilight Zone-style science fiction. And it is just begging to be made into a film, preferably by a director with strong genre sensibilities and a flair for the eerie and absurd. Oddly, Barry Sonnenfeld (who brought us the Men in Black films) was supposed to be in pre-production on an adaptation in the mid-’00s. Since that never came about, may we suggest the Coen Brothers?

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter (1984)

We think of Nights at the Circus as the more glamorous (and somewhat lesser known, at least on this side of the pond) British cousin to Geek Love. Set at the turn of the 19th century and sprawling from England to St. Petersburg to Siberia, its protagonist is Fevvers — an impossibly tall, majestic circus aerialist who sprouted wings when she hit puberty. Its vivid characters, magical realism, and raw sexuality would surely make a major splash on the big screen. And Nights at the Circus was adapted for the stage a few years ago, which would give screenwriters a great place to start.

Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann (2003)

Hilary Thayer Hamann’s Anthropology of an American Girl is a cult book in the truest sense of the word. Self-published in 2003, it somehow attracted such a dedicated following that Spiegel & Grau put out a new, revised edition. This ultimate bildungsroman, about a girl growing up on Long Island who falls in love with an older man, to the point of obsession, would be perfect in the hands of a director who knows how to do dark emotional realism — like Blue Valentine‘s Derek Cianfrance.

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac (1958)

There’s already an adaptation of On the Road in the works, but we’ve always preferred this fictionalized account of Kerouac and Gary Snyder’s adventures in Buddhism. The strivings of the Kerouac character, Ray Smith, away from the big-city world of drugs and partying and toward a Zen simplicity make for a great arc. Since much of the book is set in nature, as the pair climb the mountains of California, the visuals would be breathtaking. And James Franco could reprise his role as Allen Ginsberg for the scene that recounts the first reading of “Howl.”

The White Album” by Joan Didion (1979)

“The White Album,” of course, is not a novel. It’s a personal essay from a collection of the same name about how Didion spent the ’60s — from sitting in on a Doors recording session to experimenting with drugs to meeting members of the Manson family. Uniting these separate, fascinating moments are Didion’s struggles with her own psyche and the way her anxiety mirrored the tense tone of the times. Sounds like the perfect period piece to us.

Generation X by Douglas Coupland (1991)

For better or (as Coupland seems to think) for worse, this novel gave Generation X its name. Its largely neurotic, underachieving, young-adult characters are aimless searchers — an archetype that presaged Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by about six months. Now that ’90s nostalgia is a full-blown pop culture obsession, it’s the perfect time to take Coupland’s book to the big screen.

V. by Thomas Pynchon (1963)

Just kidding. This would never work on the big screen.