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 has 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.

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

SIGN UP TODAY: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping Newsletter!

Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Facts About David Fincher's The Social Network for Its 10th Anniversary

Jesse Eisenberg stars in David Fincher's The Social Network (2010).
Jesse Eisenberg stars in David Fincher's The Social Network (2010).
Merrick Morton/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The Social Network—a movie made when Facebook was less than seven years old and the social media era was relatively new—seemed destined to age poorly. But in the decade since its premiere in October 2010, the film’s depiction of the website and its young founder, Mark Zuckerberg, is more relevant than ever.

Even if you haven’t logged onto Facebook in years, the film offers plenty to love, from David Fincher’s detailed direction to Aaron Sorkin’s Oscar-winning script. In honor of its 10-year anniversary, here are 10 facts about The Social Network.

1. Aaron Sorkin started writing the script for The Social Network before the book it's based on was published.

Aaron Sorkin makes a cameo in The Social Network (2010).Merrick Morton, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The Social Network is officially an adaptation of The Accidental Billionaires, Ben Mezrich's 2009 book detailing the founding of Facebook. But according to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, he had already completed 80 percent of the script by the time he read the book. The project came to him in the form of a 14-page book proposal the publisher was shopping around to filmmakers ahead of the title's release. “I said yes on page three," Sorkin told Deadline in 2011. "That’s the fastest I’ve ever said yes to anything."

Instead of waiting for The Accidental Billionaires to be completed and published, Sorkin started working on the script immediately, doing his own first-hand research for much of the process instead of referring to the book.

2. Shia LaBeouf turned down the role of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network.

When Transformers star Shia LaBeouf turned down the role of The Social Network’s lead character, Jesse Eisenberg was hired to play Mark Zuckerberg instead. Superbad's Jonah Hill was another star who came close to being cast in the movie, in his case as Napster founder Sean Parker; ultimately, Fincher decided Hill wasn’t right for the role and cast Justin Timberlake instead.

3. The Social Network wasn’t filmed at Harvard.

Harvard University is integral to the legend of Facebook, and setting the first half of The Social Network there was non-negotiable. Filmmakers ran into trouble, however, when attempting to get the school's blessing. The 1970 adaptation of Love Story been shot there, and damaged the campus; the school has reportedly banned all commercial filming on the premises since then. To get around this, The Social Network crew shot the Harvard scenes at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and two prep schools, Phillips Academy Andover and Milton Academy, in Massachusetts.

4. David Fincher did sneak one shot of Harvard into The Social Network.

To convince the audience that they were indeed seeing Harvard, Fincher couldn’t resist sneaking in a shot of the campus’s iconic architecture. When Jesse Eisenberg runs across Harvard Square (which is not on Harvard property) in the beginning film, some nearby arches (which are on Harvard property) appear in the background. Fincher got the lighting he needed for this scene by hiring a street mime to roll a cart with lights on it onto the campus.

“If security were to stop him, the mime wouldn’t talk," The Social Network’s director of photography Jeff Cronenweth told Variety. "By the time they got him out of there, we would have accomplished our shot.”

5. Natalie Portman gave Aaron Sorkin the inside scoop on Harvard.

Natalie Portman attended Harvard from 1999 to 2003, briefly overlapping with fellow star alum Mark Zuckerberg. While enrolled, she dated a member of one of the university’s elite final clubs, which are an important part of The Social Network’s plot. When she learned that Sorkin was writing the screenplay for the movie, she invited the writer over to hear her insider knowledge. Sorkin gave the actress a shout-out in the final script. During one of the deposition scenes, Eisenberg's Harvard-era Zuckerberg is described as “the biggest thing on a campus that included 19 Nobel Laureates, 15 Pulitzer Prize winners, two future Olympians, and a movie star.”

6. Armie Hammer and his body double went to twin boot camp for The Social Network.

Armie Hammer and Josh Pence (as Armie Hammer) in The Social Network (2010).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Armie Hammer is credited as playing both Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, but he wasn’t acting alone in his scenes. Josh Pence was cast as a body double and Hammer’s face was digitally pasted over his in post-production. For every scene where both twins appear on screen, Hammer and Pence played separate Winklevi, and then they would swap roles and shoot the scene again. This method allowed the characters to physically interact in ways that wouldn’t have been possible with split screens. Pence’s face may be missing from the movie, but his physical performance was still essential to selling the brothers' dynamic. He and Hammer worked with an acting coach for 10 months to nail down the characters’ complementary body language.

7. The Social Network's tagline was changed at the last minute.

For The Social Network’s main poster, designer Neil Kellerhouse made Jesse Eisenberg’s face the focal point. Over it, he superimposed the memorable tagline: “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.” Originally, the text read “300 million friends,” but it was changed under the assumption that Facebook would hit half a billion users in time for the movie’s October 2010 release.

“We were really hedging our bets," Kellerhouse told IndieWire. "But we scooped them on their own story because right as the film was coming out they got 500 million [members] so we got their publicity as well. It worked out super serendipitously.”

8. Fight Club’s Tyler Durden (kind of) makes a cameo in The Social Network.

Sharp-eyed viewers may have noticed the Easter egg David Fincher snuck into The Social Network. In the scene where Mark Zuckerberg is checking someone’s Facebook to cheat on a test, the name “Tyler Durden” can be seen in the top-left corner of the profile. Tyler Durden is the name of the narrator’s alter ego (played by Brad Pitt) in 1999’s Fight Club. Fincher directed both films.

9. The real Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t a fan of The Social Network.

Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network (2010).Merrick Morton, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The Social Network doesn’t paint Mark Zuckerberg in the most flattering light, and unsurprisingly, the real-life Facebook founder wasn’t happy about it. Following the movie’s release, he called out its “hurtful” inaccuracies, specifically citing the fictional Mara Rooney character that’s used as his motivation for founding the website. But even he admits that some details were spot-on. “It’s interesting what stuff they focused on getting right," Zuckerberg said at a Stanford event. "Like every single fleece and shirt I had in that movie is actually a shirt or fleece that I own.”

10. A sequel to The Social Network is not out of the question.

The Social Network premiered when Facebook was less than a decade old, and the story of the internet giant has only gotten more dramatic since then. Since settling lawsuits with Eduardo Saverin and the Winkelvoss twins, Facebook has been battling scandals related to privacy issues and its influence on the 2016 election. The last 10 years have provided more than enough material for a sequel to The Social Network, and both Aaron Sorkin and Jesse Eisenberg have expressed interest in such a project. As of now, there are no confirmed plans for a follow-up.