Genre in the Mainstream

5 Contemporary Literary Novels That Would Make Killer Sci-Fi Movies

Despite the ubiquitous complaints that film adaptations into novels are worse than their literary forebearers, many of us still rabidly look forward to the translation of beloved books to the big screen. From the impending 3D Baz Luhrmann Great Gatsby to the eventual release of Cloud Atlas and World War Z, popular literature has and always will be great fodder for a night out at the pictures. And because we’re in full summer movie frenzy, here are five contemporary literary novels which should be turned into sci-fi film hits. (Including who should direct them!)


1.) Swamplandia! Directed by Wes Anderson

Karen Russell’s 2011 novel of family of alligator wrestlers is already in development for an HBO mini-series. But, I would personally love to see it as a big screen film directed by Wes Anderson, if only because his anachronistic aesthetic would be, in my head, the ideal and best way to depict the Bigtree family. Chief Bigtree—the bizarre patriarch of the family—would be a made-to-order role for Bill Murray, essentially combining his performances in The Life Aquatic and the recent Moonrise Kingdom. For the all-important role of 14-year-old protagonist of Ava Bigtree, things would be little trickier. Casting an actual 14 year might seem risky, but Willow Shields (Primrose Everdeen in The Hunger Games) could totally pull it off.

For Ava’s older sister Ossie, I would really love Evanna Lynch (Luna in the Harry Potter movies) if only because she’s able to play a complete nut job in an already insane environment. Also, because Ossie is dating a ghost in a family of alligator wrestlers, that kooky inside of crazy quality is essential. 


2.) Big Machine directed by Guillermo del Toro

Though more of a contemporary horror novel with elements of portal fantasy than straight science fiction, Victor LaValle’s creepy novel occasionally feels like an unholy lovechild of Harlan Ellison and H.P. Lovecraft. To me, a movie version of Ricky Rice’s slow discovery of a world in which demons do battle with The Unlikely Scholars would be just as gritty and unsettling as the book. Here, the film would need to slowly reveal the various hinted-at paranormal powers structures to be eventually real. Ricky himself would be pretty difficult to cast, but I guess without thinking about it too hard, I’d say Denzel Washington. Denzel might be too handsome for the down-on-his luck Ricky, but I feel like he would rock the role out of the park. In terms of direction, Big Machine would benefit from some kind style which could easily switch from real-world to crazy demons. Which means I’d either want a Guillermo del Toro-style of direction. Or maybe, just maybe, a sly and earnest Darren Aronofsky.


3.) Geek Love directed by Tim Burton

If I were to try and pitch Geek Love to a major studio, I might describe it as The Incredibles, only really deranged and set in a circus. But in a way, that wouldn’t be fair, because a family of intentionally created mutated circus freaks isn’t deranged, per se, it’s just disturbing. Because the book is narrated by an albino bald hunchback named Oly Binewski, casting wouldn’t be the easiest. I feel like this is a case where an unknown dwarf actor could really make name for themselves in the way Peter Dinklage has with Game of Thrones. In terms of actors of a small stature with awesome talent, Linda Hunt certainly springs to mind, though I do worry she would be just a little too old for the part at this point. For the flashback sequences involving the Binewski mother, I can only imagine Tilda Swinton in the role. Finally, I think Cillian Murphy would make an awesome Arturo, the boy with flippers.

A director for Geek Love might be difficult to find, because it would need to be both realistic and a little absurd. Because of the macabre material inherent to the movie, Tim Burton might seem like the way to go. But really, the film might need a more straightforward approach. Imagine a movie about circus freaks, who have been intentionally created by their parents. And then imagine that movie directed by…Clint Eastwood. It could work!


4.) The Flame Alphabet directed by Christopher Nolan

This year’s disturbing literary hit deals with a world in which language itself becomes toxic. Though Ben Marcus’s awesome novel has a pandemic central to its plot, a film version of this wouldn’t necessarily need to have a global scale, though I can see why filmmakers might be tempted to go that route. Instead, I’m picturing a tight film, which takes place mostly in small rooms with lots of close-ups on the characters. Oddly enough, I think Christopher Nolan could break new ground here, where the gimmick of the story is inherent to the narrative, meaning his style of pacing and camera work could only benefit from the profound chops of the writing.

As for who would play Sam and Claire, the parents who central to the novel, I really could see Adrian Brody and Laura Linney here. It’s the first thing that hits my brain when I think of the movie being translated into a big screen film. Adrian Brody might make Sam a little more dashing than Ben Marcus intended, but it would make for a hell of a movie.


5.) Super Sad True Love Story directed by Miranda July

The best dystopian novel written in the past several years would be forced to cast Paul Giamatti as Lenny if a film version were made. No other role would work for me. The breathy humor and complete nerd-credibility imbedded in Shteyngart’s prose would be so well channeled by Giamatti. Like Shteyngart, Giamatti is a bonafide nerd and well-versed reader of science fiction. The inherent concepts of Super Sad True Love Story range from a depiction of a near-future, somewhat depressing New York City, to immortality, to disaster, to romance. A director for this film would be tough to find, but I suppose I’d trust someone more familiar than comedy, than drama. Super Sad True Love Story is certainly not a book of humor, but it is a humorous book. 

And so, even though she is also a writer of prose, and a contemporary of Gary Shteyngart, filmmaker Miranda July could make an amazing, and funny film version of this one-of-a-kind novel.

Any literary crossover novels you think would make a good sci-fi movie? Chime in below.

Ryan Britt is the staff writer for


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