This season’s number of book-to-movie adaptations is aggressive, as packed a fall as any in recent memory.
There are more adaptations coming out in the next four months than there were in the previous eight. There will, on average, be two adaptations released each week through Christmas.
And the lineup looks … good? Maybe? The year’s already brought several very good book adaptations ( “The Fault in Our Stars,” “Edge of Tomorrow,” “Under the Skin”) and some abject failures (“Winter’s Tale,” “The Giver,” “Labor Day”). Book adaptations are a mixed bag typically and freighted with sometimes contradictory obligations. Please the readers. Please the newbies. Replicate the book. Be your own movie. Each popular property brings with it many pressures.
The best adaptations almost never come from great books. Those books are too book, their virtues too literary to ever translate to another medium. The most appealing adaptations coming out this fall aren’t adapting masterpieces. They’re adapting slick, entertaining crime thrillers, nonfiction bestsellers, frothy family dramedies. Good books that might make great movies.
Movie release dates are subject to change blah blah blah.
Release: Oct. 3 wide.
Source: Gillian Flynn’s 2012 thriller of the same name, in which a woman disappears and her husband becomes a suspect.
Movie potential: Great. Reading Flynn’s books already feels like going to the movies, so translating shouldn’t prove too difficult -- an adaptation of her book “Dark Places” might also see a 2014 release. Flynn wrote the “Gone Girl” screenplay, likely bettering its odds of success.
Production prospects: The cast (Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike) is exciting, but what makes the movie a sure thing is director David Fincher. Fincher’s one of the best filmmakers working today and a grand master at making the most of a pulpy thriller (“Zodiac,” “Seven,” “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”).
“Kill the Messenger”
Release: Oct. 10 limited.
Sources: “Dark Alliance” by Gary Webb and “Kill the Messenger” by Nick Schou. The books tell the true story of Gary Webb, a journalist who pursued a story about the CIA’s drug-profiting scheme and became a target.
Movie potential: Great. The story is exciting and outrageous, and Webb will make for a sympathetic and root-worthy hero. Could make a great ’70s-style thriller a la “All the President’s Men” or “Three Days of the Condor.”
Production prospects: Good. Director Michael Cuesta is a veteran of several good TV series. The supporting cast is rounded out with solid choices. The must-see factor, though, comes from Jeremy Renner, whose portrayal of Webb might be one of his career-defining roles.
Release: Dec. 12 limited; Jan. 9 wide.
Source: Thomas Pynchon’s hysterical 2009 book of the same name. Set in 1970s Los Angeles, “Vice” follows a drug-addled detective looking into the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend.
Movie potential: Debatable. “Inherent Vice” is Pynchon’s most accessible and seemingly most adaptable book, but it’s still Pynchon. The book’s noir elements, though, however funky, should play well.
Production prospects: The best. The best ever. Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights,” “The Master”) wrote the Pynchon-approved screenplay and directed. Joaquin Phoenix is the lead. Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Owen Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Eric Roberts, Michael K. Williams and Martin Short costar.
Release: Christmas Day wide.
Source: Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling “Unbroken,” which chronicles the real-life events of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who became a WWII bombardier, a plane crash survivor and eventually a prisoner of war.
Movie potential: Great. This is a story that would seem ridiculous and corny were it not all true.
Production prospects: I don’t mean this as an insult: This is one of the Oscar-iest movies there has ever been. It’s based on an inspiring true story. It was co-written by the Coen Brothers, it’s directed by a movie-star-turned-director (Angelina Jolie), it stars an unheard-of actor giving a star-is-born performance (Jack O'Connell), and it was shot by Roger Deakins, the greatest living cinematographer. This is an all-caps MOVIE, you guys.
“The Maze Runner”
Release: Sept. 19 wide.
Source: Book of the same name by James Dashner. In “Maze Runner,” the first installment in a popular series, a group of teen boys find themselves without memories and trapped in a giant maze filled with monsters.
Movie potential: Great. It’s a mix of “Cube” and “Lord of the Flies” that will make for a solid action movie so long as it doesn't get too bogged down in its mythology.
Production prospects: It's got a good cast of up-and-comers and appears to have better-than-average production values.
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1”
Release: Nov. 21 wide.
Source: The third “Hunger Games” book by Suzanne Collins.
Movie potential: This movie might be popular.
Production prospects: This series, like “Harry Potter” before it, has a rare consistency. More great things to come.
BASED ON A TRUE STORY
“The Theory of Everything”
Release: Nov. 7 limited.
Source: Largely based on the memoir of Jane Hawking, Stephen Hawking’s first wife. “Theory of Everything” looks at the two’s relationship amidst Hawking’s major discoveries and the onset of his illness.
Movie potential: Good. Bio movies can be boring, but Hawking’s story is extraordinary enough for the big screen. Focusing on the love story should feel like a fresh take.
Production prospects: James Marsh is directing. Marsh has made two of the best documentaries of the last decade (“Man on Wire,” “Project Nim”), but his non-docs have been much less notable. “Theory of Everything” could change that. The casting of Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones as the Hawkings would be hard to beat.
Release: Nov. 7 limited.
Source: “Then They Came for Me” by Maziar Bahari and Aimee Molloy. In the book, journalist Bahari tells of the 100-plus days he was detained in an Iran prison and brutally interrogated.
Movie potential: You got me. The story of a character being brutally interrogated for 100 days isn’t especially cinematic. But with the right actors and writer/director, it might make for a harrowing experience.
Production prospects: Jon Stewart took time off “The Daily Show” to write and direct the movie, and whatever his inexperience as a filmmaker, his passion for the project is undeniable. This movie’s going to belong to Gael García Bernal, though. In Bahari, Bernal’s getting one of his best roles in years.
“The Imitation Game”
Release: Nov. 21 limited.
Source: Based substantially on the biography “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges. The focus is on Turing and his team’s efforts to crack Nazi Germany's Enigma code.
Movie potential: Questionable. It’s at least smart enough to focus on a key moment in Turing’s life and not a full-on biography. And geniuses racing against time to save lives can be thrilling, actually. It’s working for WGN’s series “Manhattan.”
Production prospects: Well, it’s a handsome cast. Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing, with Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode and Mark Strong in supporting roles. The movie will probably be square and down-the-middle, but that’s OK.
Release: Christmas Day limited; Jan. 16 wide.
Source: Chris Kyle’s autobiography of the same name about his experiences as the deadliest sniper in United States military history.
Movie potential: Very good. There are countless military movies but too few about snipers, particularly American hero snipers. This could be “Saving Private Ryan’s” church bell tower scene, but, like, a full movie of it.
Production prospects: David O. Russell and Steven Spielberg were each attached to direct at some point, but the film ended up with Clint Eastwood, whose soporific directing style seems at odds with the story. Ken Burns’ “American Sniper” would have been more exciting. But Bradley Cooper has stayed on board to play Kyle through all the film’s production changes. He’ll no doubt be brilliant.
“Life of Crime”
Release: Now in limited release and on demand.
Source: Elmore Leonard’s “The Switch,” in which two lowlifes kidnap the wife of a wealthy real-estate developer only to find that the husband has no interest in paying the ransom.
Movie potential: Meh. It’s a prequel to “Jackie Brown,” which the masses weren’t really clamoring for. Leonard adaptations have been all over the map. Some good (“Get Shorty”), some bad (“Be Cool”), some the greatest movie ever made (“Out of Sight”).
Production prospects: It seems like a Leonard adaptation without much flash, which could be a good or bad thing. The cast is decent: Mos Def and John Hawkes as the criminals, Tim Robbins as the rich husband, Jennifer Aniston as the kidnapped wife and Isla Fisher as the femme fatale.
Release: Sept. 12 limited.
Source: The short story “Animal Rescue” by Dennis Lehane, which the author recently adapted into a short novel. The crime story revolves around a man who saves a pit bull puppy from the trash and incurs the wrath of the dog’s crazed former owner.
Movie potential: Solid-ish. Lehane’s been successfully adapted to the screen three times before, with “Shutter Island,” “Gone Baby Gone” and “Mystic River.” But this is his first short story to become a movie. Might be a little thin.
Production prospects: Good. Lehane wrote the screenplay himself. Tom Hardy plays the lead. James Gandolfini stars in one of his last roles. And there’s a baby pit bull, which means it's no less than a two-and-a-half-star movie.
“A Walk Among the Tombstones”
Release: Sept. 19 wide.
Source: Lawrence Block’s mystery of the same name. Part of Block’s Matthew Scudder series, the book’s about a private eye hired by a drug dealer to find out who killed his wife.
Movie potential: Solid. Lawrence Block’s Scudder has only been portrayed once before in a movie (by Jeff Bridges in 1986’s “8 Million Ways to Die”), which is surprising. The grizzled antihero is a great character, a character a great actor could really sink his teeth into.
Production prospects: An actor like Liam Neeson.
“The Two Faces of January”
Release: Sept. 26 limited; now playing on demand.
Source: Patricia Highsmith’s 1964 thriller about a con artist who accidentally kills a policeman and covers it up with the help of his wife and a young American. The trio heads from Athens to Crete to Paris.
Movie potential: Pretty good. Classy, old-fashioned thrillers with beautiful settings are always welcome. And several of Highsmith’s novels (which include “Strangers on a Train” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley”) have played well on screen.
Production prospects: Adapted and directed by “Drive” writer Hossein Amini, the movie at least looks great. And the cast is a good one: Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac as the complicit trio.
“Before I Go to Sleep”
Release: Oct. 31 wide.
Source: S. J. Watson’s 2011 bestseller about a woman who wakes each morning with no memory of who she is. The man sleeping next to her says he’s her husband Ben. As her slate is wiped clean each time she sleeps, her therapist recommends she keep a memory journal. And when the memory journal tells her not to trust Ben, well ... dang.
Movie potential: Meh. The book works because of how much time we get to spend in the protagonist’s head. The movie won’t have that advantage, so it might have to too clearly spell out her motives with a voiceover. The many twists of the plot, however, do boost its movie-ness.
Production prospects: Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong make for a tasteful cast. But other than that, this feels like a by-the-numbers thriller with a less-than-novel gimmick.
Release: Oct. 31 limited; available on demand the same day.
Source: Joe Hill’s darkly comic horror novel about a Ignatius, whose girlfriend was murdered. On the first anniversary of her death, Ignatius wakes up to find horns are growing out of his head. The horns give him terrible powers, powers he hopes will lead him to his girlfriend’s killer.
Movie potential: Hard to say. Hill (son of Stephen King) struck a really distinct tone with “Horns,” balancing gory horror, pitch-black comedy and a sweet love story. The movie could either strive for this eclecticism and misfire or could safely tip the scales into full-on horror, which would be horribly predictable.
Production prospects: It’s directed by Alexandre Aja (“High Tension”), who’s mostly done straight-up scary movies, so the comedy and better-written characters could prove a pitfall. I do love Daniel Radcliffe as the lead though. And Juno Temple and Max Minghella are well-cast in key supporting roles.
“Exodus: Gods and Kings”
Release: Dec. 12 wide.
Source: The Bible’s story of Moses leading the Israelite slaves out of Egypt.
Movie potential: It worked for Cecil B. DeMille.
Production prospects: It’s directed by Ridley Scott, which these days means it will be a gorgeously rendered epic that’s not very enjoyable. The cast, however, ain’t too shabby. Christian Bale as Moses, Joel Edgerton as Rhamses, Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver and a cast-against-type Aaron Paul.
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”
Release: Dec. 17 wide.
Source: The third and final long, long movie based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s 320 page book.
Movie potential: So good they spread it out over three movies.
Production prospects: Will be just as beautiful, well-crafted and endless as the first two movies. Even more dragon this time.
“This Is Where I Leave You”
Release: Sept. 19 wide.
Source: Jonathan Tropper’s dramedy of the same name, about an estranged family who sits shiva following their father’s death.
Movie potential: Pretty good. Tropper’s books are the right kind of funny/sad for a pleasant and unobjectionable movie adaptation. He’s like a sweeter Tom Perrotta or an American Nick Hornby.
Production prospects: Director Shawn Levy (“Date Night,” “Night at the Museum”) is just a few degrees too goofy for the story, but the cast is a dream: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Corey Stoll, Rose Byrne, Kathryn Hahn, Timothy Olyphant, Connie Britton and Dax Shepard.
“White Bird in a Blizzard”
Release: Oct. 17 limited; available on demand Sept. 25.
Source: Laura Kasischke’s 1999 book about a teenage girl whose mother goes missing. The daughter is unaffected yet has dreams of her mother crying for help.
Movie potential: Not great. This is a book light on events and heavy on poetical prose. The ambiguity of the plot and symbolic imagery might annoy viewers. This excerpt from the book shows the uphill battle this movie facest: “I am sixteen when my mother steps out of her skin one frozen January afternoon—pure self, atoms twinkling like microscopic diamond chips around her perhaps the chiming of a clock, or a few bright flute notes in the distance—and disappears. No one sees her leave, but she is gone.”
Production prospects: It’s directed by Gregg Araki, who’s been reasonably solid following his controversial “Doom Generation.” And as mother and daughter it stars the fantastic Eva Green and even fantastic-er Shailene Woodley.
“The Best of Me”
Release: Oct. 17 wide.
Source: Nicholas Sparks book about 1. two high school students 2. from opposite sides of tracks 3. who fall in love 4. deeply, 5. but are torn apart by unseen forces. 6. Many years later they each return to their hometown, and 7. over one weekend 8. they look back at the past and 9. rekindle a love that transcends time.
Movie potential: Grand. Just grand. Hollywood and audiences seem to have an insatiable craving for Sparks adaptations, interchangeable as they all may be.
Production prospects: A bit better than you’d expect. Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden are a likable and attractive pair as the long lost lovers.
Release: Nov. 14 limited.
Source: An unsung classic western by Glendon Swarthout. Set in 1850s Nebraska, “Homesman” follows a plucky spinster and a low-life claim jumper who escort a few mentally ill women across the state to a sanitarium in Iowa. Hardship ensues.
Movie potential: Questionable. Classic western novels have made some great movies, and they’ve made some dern tedious ones. The long, grueling journey for the characters of “Homesman” might closely mirror the audience's experience. At worst, this could feel like “True Grit” with less gunfights or “Lonesome Dove” with less humor.
Production prospects: Tommy Lee Jones adapted the novel and directed the film, his first to make for the big screen since 2005’s underrated “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.” It’s got easily one of the best casts of the year: Jones, Hilary Swank, Meryl Streep, Hailee Steinfeld, James Spader, John Lithgow, Jesse Plemmons, William Fichtner, Miranda Otto and Grace Gummer (Streep’s real-life daughter).
Release: Dec. 5 limited.
Source: Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, in which she chronicles her 1,000-miles-plus hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. Strayed took the trek in her mid-20s following her mother’s death and the end of her marriage.
Movie potential: Who knows. Recovery memoirs are very much in the author’s head, obviously. Running inner monologue and memory associations can work seamlessly in the prose of a good writer. But in movies, the same devices tend to take the form of overwrought voiceover and flashback.
Production prospects: “Dallas Buyers Club’s” Jean-Marc Vallee directed; Nick Hornby wrote the screenplay; Reese Witherspoon stars; Laura Dern costars. If the movie doesn’t work, it likely won’t be a problem of execution.
My alternative title suggestions: “Into the Mild” or “Eat Pray Walk Walk Walk Walk Walk.”
Release: Sept. 26 wide.
Source: Children’s book by Alan Snow called “Here Be Monsters.” It’s about a boy and his subterranean surrogate family of box-wearing trolls. Together they try to foil an evil plot in the city above.
Movie potential: Good. The book’s got a perfectly British, Roald Dahl vibe that appeals to children and adults alike.
Production prospects: The movie’s in good hands. It was made Laika Entertainment, the folks behind “Coraline” and “ParaNorman.” The studio’s stop-motion animation style and dark humor are a perfect fit for "Boxtrolls."
“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”
Release: Oct. 10 wide.
Source: Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz’s beloved children’s book whose titular character just can’t catch a break. Gum in his hair, wet sweaters, lima beans for supper. THE WORST!
Movie potential: Not great. Such a short and simple story being expanded to 81 minutes of movie just sounds tiresome. At least to grown-up viewers.
Production prospects: But the director and cast might pull it off. It’s being helmed by “Cedar Rapids” director Miguel Arteta and stars Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner as Alexander’s parents.
“Big Hero 6”
Release: Nov. 7 wide.
Source: More inspired by than based on the Marvel comics series of the same name. The movie focuses on a young prodigy and his robot, who team up with other heroes to foil an evil plot.
Movie potential: Good. The movie’s only loosely based on the property, giving the filmmakers plenty of flexibility. “Big Hero 6” is free to just be the best family-friendly animated superhero movie it can be.
Production prospects: Disney Animation's making it, and the studio’s had a great track record over the last few years, certainly better than that of Pixar. Recent successes have included “Frozen,” “Tangled,” “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Bolt.” If “Big Hero 6” is even the worst among these, it will still be hugely enjoyable.
“Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb”
Release: Dec. 19 wide.
Source: This is the second sequel to the 2006 movie, which was inspired by the 1993 children’s book by Milan Trenc, about a museum security guard who finds the attractions coming to life at night.
Movie potential: We’re three movies in here so … yeah, good idea adapting this one.
Production prospects: Same as the first two. If nothing else, it’s impressive that this charming series has retained its same screenwriters, its same director and the bulk of its original cast. Robin Williams completed his role as Teddy Roosevelt for “Museum 3,” which should add a layer of poignancy to the movie.
Release: Christmas Day wide.
Source: Michael Bond’s beloved series about an endlessly polite Peruvian bear with a love for all things British.
Movie potential: Great. Paddington’s one of the most loveable characters in children’s literature. If they get Paddington right, the movie is three-quarters of the way there.
Production prospects: Producer David Heyman shepherded “Paddington” into a feature-length movie. This is the guy behind such megahits as the entire “Harry Potter” series, “I Am Legend” and “Gravity.” If he’s betting on the bear, we should be as well.
“Atlas Shrugged Part III: Who Is John Galt?”
Release: Sept. 12 limited.
Source: This is the third and final installment in the behemoth adaptation of Ayn Rand’s novel, which takes place in a U.S. where bureaucracy and high taxation have destroyed the country.
Movie potential: Ugh. Forget the politics. This book is apparently unadaptable. The thick is far too plot, even though all story is subtext to the book's MESSAGE. It’s a prime example of why the novel of ideas, no matter what the ideas, is almost always doomed to fail as a movie.
Production prospects: More ugh. Despite the venom of the reviews and relative indifference of audiences, these movies keep getting made. Thanks are due to a passionate fanbase -- the film was partly funded with a Kickstarter campaign. If nothing else, the movies are a fascinating collision of ambition and limitation.
Release: Oct. 3 wide.
Source: The massively popular End Times thriller series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.
Movie potential: Kirk Cameron proved that it’s capable of being a movie. And despite a deluge of apocalypse movies in recent years, a “Left Behind” movie reboot could be the hit the Christian film industry has been looking for.
Production prospects: Kirk Cameron did not prove that this is capable of being a good movie. And the casting of Nicolas Cage, Chad Michael Murray, Lea Thompson and Jordin Sparks does not bode well for the movie’s chances at being taken seriously. The trailer makes it look like a slightly spicier Hallmark Channel feature or maybe a more somber "Sharknado" sequel. I do have high hopes this is the so-bad-it’s-good feel-good movie of 2014.
Release: Oct. 10 wide.
Source: Book of the same name by Zane, in which a successful businesswoman struggles to overcome her sex addiction before it ruins her life. Book (and presumably movie) has undertones of deadly danger thriller-i-ness.
Movie potential: Nah. “Shame” meets “Fatal Attraction” to the power of E. L. James … actually, I’ll probably Redbox this at some point.
Production prospects: If the trailer’s any indication, this is going to be amateur. Bad acting, bad writing and bad directing in the service of overblown melodrama. Again, I’ll probably see this eventually.
Release: Oct. 17 wide.
Source: Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” but not really. This is a bastardized appropriation of the character’s mythos.
Movie potential: Fantastic. A straight-faced Dracula origin story dipped in gritty, superhero cliche, well, that’s the kind of dumb and disposable dreck that keeps the American economy humming.
Production prospects: Fairly dire; not that it matters. But aside from its untested writing/directing team, it has a good cast, as these things go. Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, “Les Miserables’” Samantha Barks and “Game of Thrones’” Charles Dance.
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