Books Becoming TV and Movies

by Public Service Associate Luke

Adapting books into movies and television is no new situation. Some of the greatest directors of all time have used the written form for story inspiration, such as Steven Spielberg adapting Jaws and the near entirety of Stanley Kubrick’s filmography. Sometimes the adaptation falls short, and others are changed with such near perfection they become cultural media juggernauts on their own, such as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Television shows are also no stranger to creating new versions of novels, which has given us The Handmaid’s Tale, Daisy Jones and the Six, The Old Man, and so much more. It is almost difficult in this IP-driven media landscape to find a current movie or TV series that does not have some form of inception from literature.

Starting with my personal favorite, the adaptation most deserving of my (and your) excitement is the conclusion of Denis Villenueve’s Dune duology. Dune: Part Two releases this November and is the follow-up to Villenueve’s 2021 hit. It was announced when the director picked up the project that he would be splitting the famously dense book by Frank Herbert into two parts for better cinematic value, and fans have eagerly been awaiting the thrill of the space epic’s second half. Picking up where part one left off, Paul and his Fremen must now prepare to go to war with the villainous Harkonnen family, and even the entire galactic Imperium. With half a year until the movie’s release, there is plenty of time to both reread the phenomenal novel and rewatch the almost-perfect 2021 adaptation. 

In 2015, The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, the author’s debut novel, released to critical acclaim and was awarded the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. With those accolades, it is no surprise that the book is being adapted by award-winning Korean director Park Chan-wook and starring a chameleonic Robert Downey Jr. in about seven different roles. The story follows a North Vietnamese soldier, spying on the South Vietnamese army, who flees to the United States near the end of the Vietnam War. Living in a Vietnamese community, the spy finds himself struggling between his new life and the consequences of his old one. The book wrestles with immigrant identity, commitment to a home country and conflict with an adopted one, and the Americanization of the Vietnam War. This last theme struck home with readers, especially with a pop culture deeply infatuated with an American perception of the Vietnam War. The series is set to air on HBO in 2024.

Mike Flanagan is one of the more sought-after horror directors working today. His “Haunting of…” series, along with Midnight Mass, for Netflix still remain some of the most watched and acclaimed series on the streaming platform. I am not a horror person, and yet these television series are some of the most profound and well-written shows you can find. Relying on character and deeply personal themes rather than jump scares and cheap thrills, I highly recommend the shows. As such, I am extremely excited for Flanagan’s newest adaptation, The Fall of the House of Usher. This retelling of one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most haunting works is sure to explore the same elements that Flanagan has become known for, as well as taking influence from the master of gothic horror. The original short story follows a man who visits his bereaved friend, mourning the loss of his dear sister. The narrator slowly begins to notice the Victorian mansion falling apart, eerily connected to his host’s mental state. The story climaxes in one of the most haunting moments in the entire Poe bibliography. The series, starring Mark Hamill and Bruce Greenwood, will land on Netflix in fall 2023.

  • The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe | print / digital

Netflix is also heading the adaptation of Three-Body Problem, based on the hit trilogy of sci-fi novels written by Chinese author Cixin Liu and translated by Ken Liu. The books have been recognized as some of the best science fiction to hit the shelves in this century, due to their adherence to science and existential questions, rather than an action-adventure hop from planet to planet. The books discuss nature and the awe of space, and hold to the question of “Where do humans go from here?” Characters struggle with issues of interspecies racism, nuclear weapons, complex orbital mechanics problems, and virtual reality and its consequences. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the duo behind Game of Thrones, are showrunning the series. Get ready for beautiful set pieces, including different planets and simulated alien worlds, and dozens of characters. 

True crime aficionados and Martin Scorsese fans alike can rejoice as the master director is finally releasing his film version of David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon. The book and movie tell the true story of the Osage people, who begin to be systematically murdered. Suspiciously, the murders started after the discovery of oil on reservation lands. These crimes would unravel a conspiracy among wealthy white landowners and businessmen to wipe out and intimidate the Osage people into giving up land rights and the money that comes with oil. Using the Burkhart family as the main throughline for the murders, the book also details the FBI involvement in the matter, which became one of the first major FBI investigations in U.S. history. The book itself is a taut historical thriller and reads like the best crime novels you’ve ever read. The film will star Leonardo DiCaprio, and despite not releasing until October 6, is one of the most highly anticipated films of 2023. 

Leave the World Behind was one of my favorite books of 2020, and Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail is tackling the thriller and social satire, set to release on December 8, 2023. The setup is simple: a family vacation is interrupted by two strangers, who bring news of impending world doom. The families must then decide how to deal with the coming crisis. A story of understanding your place in the world and how various people confront reality, the book also works in issues of race and class. How would you handle knowing the world was about to end? Would you settle in with your family? Would you travel with strangers in hopes of survival? This book was one of many apocalyptic novels that released during the pandemic, but does not wallow in the sadness of coming destruction. Instead, it asks what it means to live and be human in a doomed world, rather than just survive. Esmail has a history of writing mild sci-fi that examines human nature, and this adaptation is the perfect template for his talents.

Ottessa Moshfegh’s debut and critically acclaimed novel Eileen is a psychological thriller of the highest pedigree, asking the reader to examine how we look at ourselves and others, and the stories we tell to flee our past. Eileen is a secretary at an all-boys correctional facility in 1960s Massachusetts. As she deals with some extremely troubled teenagers, she also grows close to Rebecca, the newly hired director of education. Eileen and Rebecca are drawn to each other, which bonds the two in great friendship and also troubling darkness. A great chronicle of how inner turmoil explodes outward, Moshfegh’s novel has been described as “delightfully dour” and “pleasingly perverse”. The movie adaptation, starring Anne Hathaway as Rebecca and Thomasin McKenzie as the titular character, premiered at Sundance and became a festival favorite. The expanded release is set for fall 2023.

These adaptations are just a few to come out in the next year. There are plenty more that are currently in pre-production, have been announced, and are in the process of making their way to the screen. Studio heads love using established titles to jump into their next projects, and authors and writers are always willing to adapt those stories. Get ahead and read all the great book and short story collections you can as they are likely to get the silver screen makeover.