4 Books That Are Just Unfilmable (And How They Can Be Pulled Off Anyway)

Books vs Movies. Nothing divides the literary community deeper than speculating which mode of media shall reign supreme, an unending war of many bloody battles that begin and shall always end with “I liked the book better”.

But no matter what you believe, some books just can’t be movies.

For one thing, you lose out completely on any third-person impartiality, whether that be backstory, or worldbuilding, or non-cringey flashbacks. They’re meant to be longer forms of entertainment, several hours as opposed to the “few” of film and cramming all of that detail into a tiny chunk of time like a narrative space bag is bound to be problematic.

But studios still try even though they should leave some of these alone.

Such as…

The Hobbit

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I know, I know, we’ve heard it before and a thousand other times that these movies were just plain terrible. I won’t delve into the why as so many others before me have. You know exactly what is wrong with this trilogy that should have never been.

But what exactly is it about this book that makes it just so unfit for the silver screen?

Well, for one thing, most of the most “cinematic” stuff happens off the page. The Battle of Five Armies? Was elsewhere. And that’s most of an entire movie right there. The book is also “narrated” in the “voice” of Tolkien, lending a very unique texture and flavor that just can’t be captured on celluloid. On top of all of this, if it feels like the chapters are on the episodic side as opposed to one cohesive story, well, it’s because they are. This book was intended to be a bedtime story, not a million-hours-long epic and shouldn’t be devoured in one sitting.

How To Actually Pull It Off

Make it actually for kids. Seriously. This was never meant to be a gritty PG-13 war epic and as much as I dig the edgification of the media I adore, this one needs to be left the h*ck alone. Let it be goofy, let it be fun, let it be a bouncy adventure with songs and riddles and magic rings.

I’m imagining a really fun animated miniseries something like Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network can air between longer shows made by an animator who knows how to have a fun, colorful time.

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A Wrinkle In Time

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Hate me all you like, Brie Larson, but neither movie of A Wrinkle In Time were very good. Bouncing between melodramatic dreck, PS1 level CGI, and overwrought feel-good moral goop, they both fell on the “unwatchable” side of mediocre.

But why?

For one thing, he book falls into a weird place in, well… time. It’s very clearly a period piece – what with how the kids talk – but from a period that makes us think of other things. And having it set mostly in space and in a sleepy town where I guarantee nothing ever changes – believe me, I grew up there – it sort of takes you out of that time period, too.

The book is deeply mired in cerebral thought, contemplating physics and religion and emotion and memory and the price of knowledge. That kind of stuff just doesn’t work on film.

Oh, and most of the science stuff is pretty inacurate now.

How To Actually Pull It Off

For this one? You kind of don’t. Maybe if you really set it in its own time and really sell the 50s Suburbia Hell of Camazotz instead of trying to shove it into “modern day” to make it “relatable” then it could possibly work. If not, then maybe it’s better as a concept album or something.

The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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This movie should have worked. It had Martin Freeman who is an excellent actor who has shamefully popped up earlier on this list. It had Sam Rockwell who went on to make one of the most moving and beautiful movies about space that you should never google before watching. It had Professor Flitwick in a robot costume with the voice of Severus Snape.

Literally what else could you possibly ask for?

But much like Tolkein, Douglas Adams had a strong, musky flavor to his writing and even when you intercut with some prime absurdity, it’s just lost on the viewer if you play everything else around it straight. It’s also a book not meant for any heart-wrenching pathos (at least not for a while), it refuses to fit any of your silly three-act structures, and also it just kinda ends. So it’s hard to wrap a script around.

How To Actually Pull It Off

Give it to Baz Lurhman. Really. This is not a joke here.

Now, you may be thinking that the man had one amazing perfect movie that was only improved upon by putting Aaron Tevit in it, one movie that had Claire Daines making weird noises, and heahyeahthatotherone….

But here’s the deal. H2G2 has been adapted, re-adapted, re-written, and chopped into stew-sized chunks by its own author. Neil Gaiman wrote a book about it!

This more or less gives any director with the rocks to try complete creative freedom to be as zany and off the wall as theoretically possible and if you don’t think Luhrman’s quick-dollying rapid-cut rave seizure gooey handprint isn’t perfect to stamp upon it, then I don’t know what to tell you.

Harry Potter

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I heard that. That gasp of utter shock and then the heart-shattering consensus that yeah, these movies weren’t that great.

Many have picked apart the shortcomings of this adaptation, from cutting every plot thread like they’re writing Game of Thrones Season 8 to squashing characters entire personalities and motivations flat like they’re the Whomping Willow, these books have not been treated well.

How To Actually Pull It Off

A part of it does come from the medium, those books were doorstoppers at their smallest, the whole series clocking in at roughly four times as long as War and Peace.

Not only that, but the way movies treat characters is very different than the way books do. Book characters are allowed to be wrong, misguided, even unlikable, and they can stay that way for a decent chunk of time. In movies, that stuff needs to get out of the way very early on – or the exploration of these gray areas needs to be the point of the entire movie which is not the point of a series like Harry Potter. Turning Harry into a lovable goody-goody with a bit of an angsty streak who can do no wrong, Ron into a doofy best friend who’s along for the ride, and Hermione into a naggy know-it-all who never needs to grow past her Smartest In The Room phase does them all a disservice.

My thought is to write it all as one collective whole. The books weren’t written that way and it kinda shows in some barer patches, but this is a chance to smooth it over.

Producers would also need to decide whether each director will be allowed to have a wildly different idea of what Hogwarts and magic and the Wizarding World are like and make their own interpretations or it needs to be handled by one director, one team, one set.

And it should probably be a much longer thing on HBO.

Which book do you think can just never be adapted? Can it be done anyway?
Share in the comments!

My own book may or may not be film-worthy, but you can read it anyway! (whether you’re a movie exec or not!)

inter_linked The Series is the fun, sarcastic story of a girl and her android.

Follow the adventures of Anny and WISR as they try to help every robot they can, while the hardest part of the journey is putting up with each other.

Absolutely free to read:

Some Assembly Required: An Avenging Retrospective

WARNING: Contains minor-to-moderate spoilers for Endgame below the fold! Please go watch this movie first!

2012 was an odd year, and stranger still is it to look back on it as a “happier” time, or at least a more hopeful one. There was an apocalypse looming, but we all ignored it (save for a few particularly devoted loonies and disaster movie directors), we had a clown vying for the White House, but the worst thing he ever said about women was having “binders full” of them, and findings from the terrifying death machine smashing atoms together (or whatever that thing was supposed to do) finally came to light, but it was no world-ending Batman villain plan. (I mean, probably)

To be fair, this is my entire extent of my knowledge on the thing, despite numerous attempts at explaining.

And lo and behold, in the midst of all the chaos and drama and apocalyptic prophecies, we finally, truly had a superhero movie that didn’t suck. It was my freshman year of college, a warm, breezy night when my friends and I pulled into the local theater not far from campus just as the clock was about to chime 12, our midnight release tickets in hand. We spotted people we knew – it seemed like everyone who was a nerdy someone at our school was crammed into that one IMAX theater – and collapsed into our seats, hopeful but unsure of the cinematic experience that was to unfold before us. What we least expected was a sound error over the first few minutes that made everyone’s voices all high-pitched and squeaky, with the first mousey lines coming from Samuel L. himself.

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“ᴵ ᵃᵐ ᵗᶦʳᵉᵈ ᵒᶠ ᵗʰᵉˢᵉ ᵐᵒᵗʰᵉʳᶠᵘ⁻”

We exited the theater on a high note, our hearts soaring with hope and optimism, our mouths salivating with dreams of schwarma in the morning.

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The place next to my dorm hall had literally no idea what hit it.

It was an action-packed film, it was clever, it was witty, it was funny. The writing was snappy, the fights were well-coordinated, and just about every character got their time to shine. Sure, we lost some good men along the way, but they were remembered and they were Avenged. The sacrifice of Phil Coulson may have wrenched at hearts, but it didn’t jerk any tears, and while the heroes got beaten up and bruised, they lived to fight another day as a team, as a family, and as the protectors of the planet. They weren’t subjected to visceral beatdowns and in-your-face brutality. They fell down, but they stood up again. They lost hope, but it was found. They were not broken. They did not bleed.

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And they weren’t half so angsty. Did “Awesome Mix Vol. 2” have The Cure on it or what?!

And the monsters back then were faceless nogoodniks with mean alien mugs, and no name beside their collective species of unchained “evil”. But now, the monsters are even more frightening. Now the monsters are people, people who look like us and talk like us and understand exactly what they’re doing besides just breaking things because they’re there. Our monsters have complex emotions, premeditated thoughts and plans, with goals and dreams and lives and loved ones. Our monsters have a face and have names. It was long before disturbing allegations were flung at our real-life heroes and before the worst of them turned out to be true. We had yet to paste together the collage of hurt and pain under the banner #MeToo and before we realized our monsters were real.

Color has drained from our screens year after year as the humor becomes more biting and caustic. Sacrifices come at higher and higher costs, and the heroes aren’t always the good guys. And the good guys don’t always win.

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Just look at how BRIGHT these two are by comparison!

It seems like over the past seven years, we’ve come up against crisis after endless crisis, losing more of ourselves with every step and the coming days and decades are hard to imagine much brighter.

But no matter what, there’s one thing that seems to be certain:

The Avengers will always be fighting alongside us.

Best-Written Fantasy Films (That Aren’t “Lord of the Rings”)

Film is a visual medium, although the visuals would be nothing without strong dialogue and a well-done screenplay to build off of.

Unfortunately, far too many fantasy movies focus on the swords and battles and magical effects without considering the writing elements.

There are a few standouts, though, a few exceptional films that really do turn their dialogue into an art. If you are a book-ish person looking for something new to watch or a movie watcher looking for the one non-cheesey flick (that isn’t directed by Peter Jackson), check out this list:


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Featuring Claire Daines and future Daredevil, Charlie Cox, this tweenage fantasy film is clever, fun, and fresh with an old concept (boy tries to win girl’s heart with an epic adventure quest) with new twists.

Much of this can be credited to the always-amazing Neil Gaiman who wrote the novel inspiring this screenplay, although huge parts of the story have been pared down, simplified, or made much less… rated R.

It also features Robert De Niro doing a can-can. Literally what else could you want?

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Edward Scissorhands

Romance movie: Edward Scissorhands

This classic Tim Burton film may have been what kicked off the Johhny-Depp-Looking-So-Pallid-He’s-Practically-Black-and-White-And-Also-Has-Bad-Hair Era of horror filmmaking, but it’s arguably the best of them.

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The most interesting part of the movie’s writing and direction is how the “normal” 50s-ish suburban world is depicted as the real “other”, the real strange place and strange people and the man with literal scissors for hands is the normal one.

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It also features horror royalty Vincent Price’s last performances and it’s as heartbreaking as it is glorious.

A Knight’s Tale


Heath Ledger, Paul Bettany and many future Game of Thrones alums gather in your typical sports movie about a lower-class underdog trying to make it in the rich man’s sport, win the upper-crust girl of his dreams, and defeat the condescending villain who inexplicably wears black all the time.

Oh, and the sport is jousting.

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This film is an interesting example because while it’s set in a pre-technological historical era with some fantastical elements (Geoffrey Chaucer running into Edward the Black Prince of Wales while writing The Canterbury Tales?!) the dialogue is mostly built on modern-day slang with the tropes and tales of a typical underdog sports movie.

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More easter-eggs from the world of today (or 2001, at least) abound with a wooden version of the Millenium Eye popping up in medieval London, jousting fans thump-thump-clap-ping to “We Will Rock You” and David Bowie being the dance of choice at a 14th-century banquet. The movie really shines, however, in Paul Bettany’s roaring, scenery-chewing speeches:

The Princess Bride

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This one is cheating and needs no introduction. If you haven’t seen it, watch it now. Seriously. How have you gone this long without experiencing this masterpiece? You can thank me later.

The dialogue is tight, every direction is deliberate and meaningful, every line stuffed with humor and intelligence and double-meanings. Some of the best parts, however, come from the fully-improvised unscripted ramblings of Billy Crystal as Miracle Max, a bumbling magic man with a nagging wife (played by Carol Kane) which nearly shut down the film’s production for being too funny.

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Every line is a classic, an in-joke among nerds and fantasy fans for close to 40 years.

If you are a film student or even a passing hobbyist, the screenplays of William Goldman (which include Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Misery) can be read like novels and are a masterclass in screenplay writing.

Seriously. Go watch this.

What is your favorite well-written fantasy movie? Which of these are you going to give a try?
Let me know in the comments!

And if you’re looking for more good fantasy writing, check out my novella In the House of Souls: a Faehunter Novella which is only 99c/99p on Amazon!