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

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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

Buy Litany of the Long Sun: Nightside the Long Sun and Lake of the Long Sun (Book of the Long Sun, Books 1 and 2) from Amazon.com

 

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

Buy Ender's Game (The Ender Quintet) from Amazon.com

 

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

 

Flatland

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

Buy Flatland from Amazon.com

 

Neuromancer

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

Buy Neuromancer from Amazon.com

 

Slaughterhouse-Five 

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

Buy Slaughterhouse-Five: A Novel (Modern Library 100 Best Novels) from Amazon.com

 

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

Buy Snow Crash from Amazon.com

 

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

Buy The Stars My Destination from Amazon.com

 

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

Buy Stranger in a Strange Land from Amazon.com

 

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

Buy A Wrinkle in Time (Time Quintet) from Amazon.com

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? 

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Comments

jay wolf's picture
jay wolf from nyc metro is reading Transmetropolitan July 30, 2012 - 10:45am

whoa, Jason Statham as Gully Foyle... mind = blown

The Stars My Destination was a great novel but I had never thought, "Man, this should be a movie..." I could see it, though, with the revival of interest in things that are Deco and Nouveau; even though it was published in the '50s it has a lot of the classism and opulence of the gay-nineties through the 30s and it could definitely be tweaked to be whatever-the-next-thing-after-steampunk is. 

Frank Diekman's picture
Frank Diekman July 31, 2012 - 10:27pm

Roger Zelazney's "A Rose for Ecclesiastes"

Alfred Bester's "The Demolished Man"

Elizabeth Hand's Winterlong Trilogy (Hollywood loves them some trilogies) "Winterlog", "Aestival Tide", "Icarus Descending"

 

 

ocp's picture
ocp July 31, 2012 - 10:39pm

Great list here, Stranger in a Strange Land is one of my fav scify books of all time and Collins would be a fantastic choice for the role of Mike. Iv read that Neuromancer is also in the works. I would like to add another book to movie suggestion, is the end of the world book The Hab Theory by Allan W. Eckert. Fantastic but highly underrated book that would fit into todays world.

morgueanna's picture
morgueanna August 1, 2012 - 7:08pm

Half of these have BEEN movies before.  The other half are already shooting or are in preproduction.

 

Google would have saved you from posting this list prematurely.

Cade Ezell's picture
Cade Ezell August 2, 2012 - 7:50pm

we watched the film adaptation of fahrenhiet 451 in school after reading the book. I was sad they didn't include the mechanical hound in it. A remake would be awesome though

Danielle McKnight's picture
Danielle McKnight August 8, 2012 - 7:14am

Ender's Game is supposedly being made into a movie with Asa Butterfield as Ender.

Here's the imbd page for it:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1731141/

scyllacat's picture
scyllacat August 12, 2012 - 5:51pm

I never agree with these things, but I think your list nails it so many ways, I'm going to the library to check out the couple I haven't read yet!

Andrew Jones's picture
Andrew Jones August 20, 2012 - 9:27pm

Slaughterhouse Five has been in movie form for years ... great research.

 

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Stories of YOUR Life August 21, 2012 - 7:45am

@Andrew: That's the first thing she mentions. Great reading comprehension.

Hert Zollner's picture
Hert Zollner August 27, 2012 - 4:50am

Am I the only one that thought Ender's Game was childish, simplistic and overly militaristic? 

Ryan Todd Robinson's picture
Ryan Todd Robinson September 6, 2012 - 8:36pm

While not a classic (yet) I think the Otherland series by Tad Williams would be most suitably redone into film.  Taking place in the not so distant future, the story takes place in both a global setting, and local internet setting.  What appealed for me is that, while a work of fiction, the technology presented seemed very fluid and natural, like we will eventually have the technology.

The book series itself centers around a cast of characters that will eventually find themselves connected through the internet.  It also intelligently makes a ton of literary references (the opening is All Quiet on the Western Front, for example).  For me, it had everything, fantasy (John Carter of Mars, Alice in Wonderland) Mythology (ancient Egypt) as well as a look into a very realistic future. 

Robbie Deau's picture
Robbie Deau from Seminole.Florida is reading Doomed September 13, 2012 - 8:58am

I fully agree, Kurt Vonnegut’s book Slaughterhouse-Five would make a smashing hit at the box office!

mtnmedic's picture
mtnmedic October 13, 2012 - 5:26pm

I am really surprised nobody has mentioned what is quite possibly the finest work of "hard" sci-fi to date:  "The Mote In God's Eye".  Seriously good stuff that can be easily adapted.

Rekoj Eht's picture
Rekoj Eht November 3, 2012 - 1:52pm

YesYesYes! to Mischa Collins for Valentine Michael Smith! ♥ I read that book at least once a year.

Thomas Frank Jr.'s picture
Thomas Frank Jr. November 9, 2012 - 1:51pm

The Long Run by Daniel Keys Moran would be excellent... I'll have to do some thinking on casting it though...

xyshomavazax's picture
xyshomavazax November 13, 2012 - 1:51pm

I would love to see some more Heinlein dramatized, and Stranger is in my wish list. The book does have some plot problems, but overall I like the sci-fi take on Tarzan. Just like with Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, some deviation from the novels would have to occur because not everything translates from the page to television well, but the major ideas and plot points could still be used.

But I don't think his weightier novels could be blockbuster. His "young fiction" books, certainly, but the big novels really deserve the pay-cable treatment. There's just too much in them for a 2-hour movie to do them any justice, and they contain too much sex & nudity for a cable network to handle them properly.

For instance, Time Enough for Love could be done in an adapted Burn Notice -style: a "story of the week" from Lazarus Long's past as the main plot, bookended with the ongoing story of Long regaining a will to live, building a new family, and finding a new home for them.

dufrescm's picture
dufrescm from Wisconsin is reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep December 7, 2012 - 1:08pm

I've been dying for the Dragonriders of Pern to be made into a TV show or movie for about 20 years now, but I know that Hollywood would not do it well, so I'm also afraid to see it ever happen.  Maybe Zack Snyder or Joss Whedon could make it work.  But it would be such a gamble. 

Danni Ritter's picture
Danni Ritter February 1, 2013 - 8:28am

I would love to see Stranger in a Strange Land (maybe as a trilogy, since that's a lot of ground to cover) and an update of Farenheit, particularly with the casting you mentioned, but my faith that these movies could be made well and with care has been shaken over the years.  It seems like nobody in the industry cares enough to capture what makes these books amazing, or they'd beforced to homoginize it so it appeals to everyone and loses all flavor.

Christopher Clark's picture
Christopher Clark March 27, 2013 - 7:23pm

I think you need to revamp this list. It's silly that at least 3 of these have already been made into movies. They should go on a remake list.

3 Titles I would replace them with:

Mother of Storms by Barnes

Ubiq by PK Dick

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Hman5000's picture
Hman5000 March 30, 2013 - 11:46pm

Agreed, all I could think about while reading Fahrenheit 451 is what a great (updated) movie this would make. The mechanical tracking dogs alone would make it worthwhile, something left out of the sixties original version. (Hopefully not too CGI looking).

Stranger would be epic, maybe a four to six hour version by a Peter Jackson-like director? : )

zoetropez's picture
zoetropez April 6, 2013 - 1:14am

Tim Powers, one of Phillip K. Dick's proteges, whose On Stranger Tides was very loosely translated into the fourth fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie has some books that would make excellent movies such as Last Call. I think the option has been picked up on several or even most of his books at one time of another, but I'd like to see a true translation of his work onto the screen.

mascalia's picture
mascalia from Kansas is reading Rereading the Final Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever August 1, 2013 - 10:37am

I offer two nominations, with lead actors:

1.  "Time Enough for Love" (Robert Heinlein).  Jeff Bridges as Lazarus Long, acting in character as the love child of his portrayals of Rooster Cogburn (True Grit remake) and The Dude (The Big Lebowski).

 

2.  "Lord Foul's Bane" - Book 1 of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever (Stephen R. Donaldson).  Hugh Laurie as Thomas Covenant, channeling the most cantankerous version of his Dr. House character on a REALLY bad day.

Ross Eaton's picture
Ross Eaton September 12, 2013 - 8:39pm

Elric of Melnibone, Michael Moorcock.  That would be epic.

Phil Bender-Simon's picture
Phil Bender-Simon October 11, 2013 - 9:27am

I think the most obvious name missing from this list is The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. In my opinion, one of the best sci-fi books ever, and a perfect candidate for an epic film.

Phil Bender-Simon's picture
Phil Bender-Simon October 11, 2013 - 9:31am

I think the most obvious name missing from this list is The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. In my opinion, one of the best sci-fi books ever, and a perfect candidate for an epic film.

Raissa Burchell's picture
Raissa Burchell October 12, 2013 - 4:53pm

Many of these are already films. Not as great as they could be. But with 451 it's perfect. Can we start thinking wth some originality in screenwriting things that haven't yet bee done? Dune has been done. Slaughterhoue 5 has been done. Stranger would be really neat on the big screen. as would be a wrinkle in time. maybe sirens of titan? or  door into summer?

Jonathon Tyson's picture
Jonathon Tyson January 20, 2014 - 1:35pm

I think Stranger in a Strange Land would make a great movie. With one major exception. Today we know that there is no intelligent life on Mars and it would make this movie a little to far fetched for our modern knowledge. Simply replacing Mars with another fictional planet from another system would do the trick.

A. Katherine Suetterlin's picture
A. Katherine Su... January 28, 2014 - 1:40am

My dad and I are HUGE Madeleine L'Engle fans, and we both know why "Wrinkle" or any other of the Time Quintet books have not been made into big movies, other than the 2003 version, which I DID watch (just because any adaptation is better than none), but was kind of watered down, IMO.  (Disney didn't want to step on any toes, I suppose). The main reason Madeleine didn't want to grant movie rights to her work was that she wanted the scriptwriters to be as faithful to the book as possible, and Hollywood was not at the top of her list of potential movie-makers.

IF I were to pick any director to make an actual movie out of "Wrinkle" or the other books in the Time Quintet, it would be Peter Jackson. His work on LOTR and the Hobbit have been amazing, and I know he'd do his best to be faithful to the stories, per L'Engle's wishes. Of course, she's now long gone, but I would think she had some sort of codicil in her will or something that instructed about who had the rights to her books, etc. She published a lot through Farrar, Straus and Giroux, so they might still have the majority of the rights and they might be most likely staunch defenders of her wishes to not have the Time Quintet made into movies, the Disney attempt notwithstanding.

As for the other books, the only other ones here I can comment on are "Ender's Game" and "Fahrenheit 451."

I remember trying to read "Ender's Game," and found it more than a bit slow to get into, though the movie version (which I have NOT seen yet) seems exciting.

"Fahrenheit 451" needs a reboot, IMO. The old 1966 movie is good enough, and I like it for its now retro charm. But I do think they need to update it for the 21st century. Censorship is always going to be an appropriate issue to address as long as the need exists for people to speak out against atrocities, crimes, and basically have their 2 cents, for good or ill. It would indeed be an intense mirror for people to look into. I am unsure about the idea of Cillian Murphy as Montag. I was thinking more along the lines of maybe Christian Bale (when he's not playing Batman or having temper tantrums on set), or even Kenneth Branagh. Score for this movie? Definitely Howard Shore!

 

 

 

 

 

 

LobsterGator's picture
LobsterGator January 28, 2014 - 4:20am

I agree with WingFoil, the Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever series by Stephen Donaldson is just screaming for screen time - it is an epic series, and I think only now with our CG capabilities can Hollywood even dream of making this series into movies.  If you haven't read it, what are you waiting for?  Slog through the first half of Lord Foul's Bane (lots of stuff you need to know about lepers) and then the rest of the series falls into place.  I'm on the fourth book of the 3rd part of the series - it is in three parts: part 1 is three books, part 2 is three books, and part 3 is four books. 

Varrick Nunez's picture
Varrick Nunez January 30, 2014 - 7:20am

"Mother of Storms" by John Barnes. Posits a plausible near-future earth, a generation after "The Flash," an little-described event that led to massive re-organization of human society amid global rioting and war. In this new age, an incident where the U.N. intervenes to demolish nuclear weapons installed in the Arctic sea-floor by a rogue nation (an independent Siberian nation) as a deterrent, that, in an unfortunate turn, causes a sudden, massive release of methane into the atmosphere. During the next Atlantic and Pacific storm season, massive, supersonic hurricanes form attributed to the climate change. The storms persist, and never leave, scrubbing away vast portions of humanity. Lots of cyberpunk themes, including the transcendance of a human mind/soul into the world's computer networks. Not at all far-fetched, as maturing technologies and innovations in progress today could plausibly lead to many of the technologies Barnes envisions in this work.

https://www.goodreads.com/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&query=mother+of+storms

Jeff Ogrisseg's picture
Jeff Ogrisseg April 11, 2014 - 5:50am

This article is a few years old, but the technology is here now in 2014 to do any or all of these movies to incredible effect, especially "Stranger in a Strange Land." 

Kevin Starnes's picture
Kevin Starnes June 3, 2014 - 7:44am
Obviously there are thousands of titles to choose from for sci-fi movie candidates, but I'd love to see Harry Harrison's "The Stainless Steel Rat" on the big screen. Jim DiGriz, his wife Angelina and their two sons James and Bolivar, had so many great adventures together! Mr. Harrison made the series even better by balancing the action with plenty of intrigue, suprises and satirical wit.
As a movie, the Stainless Steel Rat would introduce a new generation to Jim and his enjoyable antics in crime! Actually, under the iron will and leadership of Inskipp, they end up being "harmless" crimes that are seasoned with a dash of universe-saving, crime fighting!   

 

 

 
Miral Paris's picture
Miral Paris June 5, 2014 - 4:41pm



It's really pathetic that only one of these books has a female main character. Reminds me of 1960's Star Trek where all the women have miniskirts and their only purpose is to be someone's "love interest" or to be a the sadly unused token black/token female telephone operator. What sci fi do you recommend that has female lead characters? (Not fantasy)

Richard Horowitz's picture
Richard Horowitz June 23, 2014 - 4:45am

"Woman on the Edge of Time" Marge Piercy

Stephen Osborn's picture
Stephen Osborn October 6, 2014 - 7:47am

I am rather surprised that Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End hasn't been listed yet.  Think of the controversy that film would garner.

Helaku's picture
Helaku from New York is reading Magick In Theory and Practice by Aleister Crowley December 10, 2014 - 6:09am

As for possible Heinlein adaptations, I'd like to see my favorite made into a movie: "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress." I think the novel lends itself perfectly to film. Also, "Friday." No, it is not Heinlein's finest work (though I do like it), but "Friday" is another novel that might be crafted into a decent film - and perhaps a case of the movie being better than the book, if done properly. Finally, to go the PG rating route (unlike "Friday" and maybe "The Moon..."), "Between Planets." Just substitute another planet, or a stable moon, for Venus (knowing what we now know about Venus and its inhospitable atmosphere).

g33kch1ck's picture
g33kch1ck from Madison, Wisconsin is reading Baby books. December 12, 2014 - 8:51am

I would never characterize Molly Millions as a "street cutie." Have you even read the series? 

Vladimir's picture
Vladimir September 22, 2015 - 2:26am

Ubik, Rocannon`s World, Dune.

Twilight's picture
Twilight from Paulden, AZ is reading The Long, Lost Exit Home October 20, 2017 - 11:46am

What about the new book by the Author Chris Roberts?  It is called "The Long Lost Exit Home".  It just came out and so far has 6 five-star reviews.  Read it and man was it true Horror Sci-Fi like one of Stephen Kings older books.  Think it would be a great Blockbuster.  It is on Amazon for $2,99 or Kindle Unlimited.  Let me know what you think.