6 Books That Took Forever to Become Movies

Focus Features
Focus Features / Focus Features

While the current box office is positively glutted with remakes, reboots, re-imaginings, and a healthy dose of adapted material, not every book is rushed to the silver screen—some take whole decades to make the jump from page to celluloid, often quite memorably held up in the process. From classic novels to the next big pop culture phenomenon, success as a book doesn’t guarantee a quickie movie version.

1. Dangerous Liaisons
Book: 1782 // Movie: 1959

While the best-known cinematic version of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ Les Liaisons Dangereuses is the 1988 adaptation by Stephen Frears, a big screen version arrived much sooner—in 1959 with Roger Vadim’s updated version of the classic tale.

Still, Vadim’s film arrived nearly 200 years after the book was first published, way back in 1782. Though movies weren’t actually invented (splitting hairs!) until long after the novel hit shelves, the book was exceedingly popular (and ripe for reinvention) for decades, spawning stage versions and eventual radio and television productions. It's surprising that it didn't hit cinemas sooner.

2. Winter’s Tale
Book: 1983// Movie: 2014

Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel just arrived on the big screen in the form of Akiva Goldsman’s film of the same name. While Helprin’s book pushes the 800-page mark, Goldsman’s film clocks in under two hours. So, yes, quite a bit has been cut out of the narrative in order to make it a film-friendly story.

Perhaps that’s why it took over three decades for it to fly (on a winged horse, no less) to the silver screen? It may also be why Martin Scorsese, who originally purchased the book’s rights, eventually backed out of the feature, deeming it unfilmable.

3. The Hobbit
Book: 1937 // Movie: 2012

J.R.R. Tolkien’s exceedingly beloved fantasy novel has gone through plenty of adaptation cycles, including a 1966 short film comprised of cartoon stills and a 1977 animated version, but the definitive live-action version only hit theaters in 2012. Peter Jackson’s three-part series will wrap up later this year, and the trilogy is a testament to the continued power of Tolkien’s story.

4. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Book: 1937 // Movie: 2008

A somewhat forgettable big screen outing starring Amy Adams just before she became, well, Amy Adams, Bharat Nalluri’s low-key charmer adapted Winifred Watson’s novel of the same name for some fizzy fun. Watson herself aimed to make something a bit more ditzy after previously penning darker books like Fell Top and Odd Shoes. While publishers originally rejected Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, they agreed to print it if she wrote them yet another drama (Upyonder).

Watson’s desires proved to be sage, however, and Pettigrew was a huge hit. The book was first set to be made into a musical starring Billie Burke in 1941, but the spread of World War II delayed it indefinitely. Instead, Adams and Frances McDormand starred in the film adaptation, which only took another 67 years to make it to the silver screen.

5. John Carter
Book: 1917 // Movie: 2012

One of author Edgar Rice Burroughs’ most enduring and well-known characters, John Carter first popped up in a magazine serial in 1912. Burroughs eventually made the character the central protagonist in a number of his Barsoom books—including A Princess of Mars, which was the basis for the 2012 film John Carter.

Extremely long in the making (Bob Clampett wanted to make a film out of the book way back in 1931, and the film eventually cycled through such attached talents as Frank Miller, Jon Favreau, Robert Rodriquez, and many others), Andrew Stanton’s adaptation was a notorious flop at the box office, even though it was meant to ostensibly celebrate an entire century of John Carter fandom.

6. Fifty Shades of Grey 
Book: 2011 // Film: 2015

Sure, in the grand scheme of things—and compared to a lot of others on this list—four years between the release of a book and its subsequent film adaptation doesn’t sound like a lot. But when it comes to something like E.L. James’ wildly popular trilogy, it seems unbelievable that fans of the phenomenon will have to wait until 2015 to see their favorite story steam up the big screen.

James first published her over-the-top love story as Twilight fan fiction under the title “Master of the Universe” back in 2009, and while the final product has changed significantly over time, fans have been eagerly anticipating the film version. It probably doesn’t help that the feature has already been moved once—from summer of this year to Valentine’s Day 2015.