Columns > Published on October 1st, 2011

The 10 Best Sci-Fi Books That Should Be Box Office Blockbusters

It seems as if Hollywood is entirely bereft of fresh material. Next year, three different live-action Snow White films will be released in the States. Disney is still terrorizing audiences with the threat of fifth and sixth Pirates of the Caribbean flicks. The undoubtedly abysmal ninth Hellraiser film was released this year. And yet the dudes with the deep pockets can’t find it within themselves to fund adaptations of some of the greatest sci-fi novels of all time? Producers, if you’re out of ideas, please allow me to help. I work for beer.

The Book of the Long Sun

Gene Wolfe’s saga (first installment published in 1993) tells the story of Patera Silk, a young priest on a quest to save his manteion, the poorest church on the planet, from a savage crime boss. Silk interacts with the deities of Viron, ventures to the underworld and risks everything, including his own morality, to save his home.

Why it would make a great movie:

Silk becomes a revolutionary leader, a prophet, a lover, and a politician on his journey. The books feature gods, prostitutes, and sentient robots called “chems,” and that makes about seven different awesome movies combined into one hot property!

Casting suggestion:

 Paul Bettany as Silk

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Ender's Game

Orson Scott Card’s 1985 book is actually in development in Hollywood, but they’ve been teasing us with this project for far too long. Ender Wiggin is a bullied little genius sent for elite military training at the Battle School after he injures a fellow student while defending himself. Ender’s success in the training program makes him unpopular with other kids but highly prized by school and government authorities. As his siblings at home, Peter and Valentine, maneuver for power in the global environment of war, Ender is promoted with frightening rapidity through the mysterious ranks of the Battle School.

Why it would make a great movie:

Themes of violence versus diplomacy and a thrilling, significant subplot involving video games make Ender’s Game even more relevant today than when it was first published. And the merchandising tie-ins would be huge!

Casting suggestion:

Chandler Riggs as Ender

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Fahrenheit 451

It’s hard to believe that Ray Bradbury’s riveting dystopian novel of 1953 hasn’t been made into a film since 1966. That film (by François Truffaut) is great, but I can’t help but think that a modern update is justified. Guy Montag is a “fireman” whose sole job is to burn books for their propensity for making people think. Damn troublemaking books! Montag meets a free-thinking teenager and then reads a beautiful line from a novel he is meant to burn, and he soon begins to question his profession, society, and the entirety of existence as the world around him prepares for war.

Why it would make a great movie:

Dystopian futures are always inherently cinematic, and while a world that embraces debauchery over intellectualism may be disastrous, it’s super fun to watch!

Casting suggestion:

Cillian Murphy as Montag

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Edwin Abbott Abbott’s 1884 novella was made into a short, straight-to-vid movie in 2007, but this story would make a wonderful, big-budget animated film. Flatland is a two-dimensional world inhabited by geometric shapes. The narrator is A Square, who dreams of a one-dimensional world called Lineland and tries to convince the occupants there of a second dimension, but the lines simply cannot conceive of it. He is then visited by a sphere that he perceives as a circle, and the sphere attempts to educate him in the existence of a third dimension and the world of Spaceland.

Why it would make a great movie:

The clever conceit would be beautifully demonstrated through animation, and the film actually creates a genuinely cunning use for 3D, unlike the random pointlessness of most 3D movies.

Casting suggestion:

Voice actor Billy West as A Square

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William Gibson’s classic 1984 cyberpunk masterpiece features scam artist and former hacker Henry Dorsett Case, whose central nervous system has been damaged as punishment for having embezzled from his employer. The punishment leaves Case unable to interface with the global cyberspace system called the Matrix, making him a pretty lackluster hacker. Case teams up with street cutie Molly Millions and her boss, hacker crime chief Armitage, who works to cure Case as payment for some hefty mercenary work.

Why it would make a great movie:

Ultimately, it’s a typical heist story with all that entails: the recruiting of a ragtag team of brilliant misfits, the use of newfangled gadgetry and the high stakes race against time. Who doesn’t love a good heist flick? The cyberpunk aspect just gives it an original edge.

Casting suggestion:

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Case

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Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 satire is another book that’s been already been made into a movie (the 1972 film helmed by George Roy Hill), but that could use a contemporary update. Scrawny optometrist Billy Pilgrim makes a shockingly inadequate soldier, so his capture by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge comes as very little surprise. He is stored in a slaughterhouse and then kidnapped by the extraterrestrial Tralfamadorians, who teach Billy about the fourth dimension. Billy learns the secret of time travel and becomes “unstuck in time,” experiencing life events from the past and future non-linearly.

Why it would make a great movie:

The combination of war film and time travel adventure call for a big-budget spectacle with lots of laughs and thrills, if deftly and intelligently handled.

Casting suggestion:

John Krasinski as Billy

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Snow Crash

The 1992 book by Neal Stephenson introduces us to the adorably named hacker Hiro Protagonist, who finds his friends and colleagues falling prey to a new meta-drug called Snow Crash. As Hiro dives deeper into the mystery of Snow Crash at the behest of his hot, brilliant ex-girlfriend Juanita, he becomes further immersed in the dangerous world of hacking.

Why it would make a great movie:

It’s a cryptic conspiracy story that slowly unravels to expose a deeper mystery within—and it’s got a romance angle to boot. It’s like a well-written The Da Vinci Code, and people love that shit.

Casting suggestions:

Boris Kodjoe as Hiro

And because Party Down suggested it first: Ryan Hansen as Vitaly Chernobyl

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The Stars My Destination

The gripping 1956 novel by Alfred Bester essentially boils down to The Count of Monte Cristo in space, which is to say: rad. In a world where teleportation within a planet (called jaunting) is possible, blue-collared Gully Foyle is the last survivor of a merchant spaceship that was attacked in the interplanetary war, and he waits passively for months to be rescued. After a ship named Vorga intentionally passes and leaves him to die, Foyle finds himself truly motivated for the first time in his life. He undergoes extreme physical and mental transformation in order to craft an elaborate revenge against the Vorga and its captain.

Why it would make a great movie:

Didn’t you hear me? The Count of Monte Cristo in space! Revenge, romance, painstakingly exacted schemes, teleportation, telepathy and crazy face tattoos: this book’s got it all.

Casting suggestion:

Jason Statham as Gully Foyle

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Stranger in a Strange Land

Of all the books on this list, I am most surprised that Robert A. Heinlein’s 1961 novel has never been made into a movie. Stranger in a Strange Land tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, who is the son of astronauts from the first expedition to Mars. The space crew died, leaving orphaned Mike to be reared by Martians. Twenty years later, a second expedition results in Mike’s return to earth. Heir to a vast fortune, Mike is unfamiliar with Earth’s ways—materialism, religion, war, women, wearing clothes, stuff like that—but deeply intelligent, with psychic abilities and the capacity to grok learned from his adoptive Martian family. Mike bonds with a nurse named Gillian, travels the world and starts a church based on Martian principles—all while closely tracked and jealously guarded by the political villains of Earth.

Why it would make a great movie:

The story is poetic, enthralling and filled with intrigue. Mike is an incredibly complex character, and his education in the despair and beauty of Earth and its inhabitants would be fascinating to watch onscreen.

Casting suggestion:

Mischa Collins as Mike

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A Wrinkle in Time

Other than a 2003 Disney TV movie, Madeleine L’Engle’s classic 1962 novel has never graced the silver screen, and that is a tragedy. Querulous, mousy teenager Meg Murry finds herself overshadowed in her successful family of scientist parents, athletic twins, and her super-genius brother Charles Wallace, aged five. When Meg, Charles Wallace and Meg’s classmate Calvin embark on an adventure to find Meg’s missing father and learn the meaning of the tesseract, they travel to other planets and discover the ability to fold the fabric of space and time.

Why it would make a great movie:

Some of the greatest adventures of all time tell the story of seemingly ill-equipped kids who demonstrate profound bravery when circumstances demand it. Plus, the vastly different planets visited by Meg and her cohorts are richly described and would translate beautifully to the big screen.

Casting suggestion:

Maisie Williams as Meg

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So there you have it! Ten great stories ready to be adapted into huge blockbusters, and not a vampire or pirate in sight. Each of these novels represents nuanced characterizations, resonant landscapes, and deeply compelling stories, and I honestly believe that if well-made, they would translate into serious box office business for the powers that be.

But I must have neglected some titles. What sci-fi classic would you adapt into a big-budget feature film? 

About the author

Meredith is a writer, editor and brewpub owner living in Houston, Texas. Her four most commonly used words are, "The book was better."

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