Even before the technological advancements in special effects and CGI of the 21st century, filmmakers were never shy about adapting the most popular science fiction novels into movies. Recapturing the magic of the written word and its ability to render images in the mind of the reader is always a challenge. The results have been mixed, to say the least. Like all movies, there have been some great successes, some absolute catastrophes, and a lot of mediocre productions.
There are also many as yet unadapted sci-fi masterpieces. Perhaps we will see them on the big screen in the near future. Here are the 5 best sci-fi books made into movies (& 5 we wish would happen).
10 Best: Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep (Blade Runner)
Philip K. Dick’s classic novel about a man assigned to hunt down escaped “replicants” (man-made humans designed to be slaves) in a post-apocalyptic America resulted in one of the best sci-fi movies ever made. Ridley Scott created a film that could stand beside the novel. Blade Runner‘s visuals and atmosphere are on another level, even if some aspects have not aged particularly well.
The adaptation spawned a sequel, Blade Runner 2049, directed by Denis Villeneuve with similar creative panache. Both films are raised to another level by fantastic performances from the leads – Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Ryan Gosling, and Ana de Armas.
9 Wish: Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths
Elizabeth Acevedo’s collection of folklore poetry takes the reader on a mythical journey that leads back to the reality of having to live with a body. This may strike as an odd choice because it is poetry and a collection of myths, but like all collections, there is a narrative center.
It may not be a mega-million box office type movie, but in the right hands, it could be an experimental masterpiece.
8 Best: Dune
Frank Herbert can be credited with spawning a generation of sci-fi nerds thanks to Dune. In fact, one could make the reasonable argument that there would be no Star Wars had Dune not been written. The comparisons between the novel and George Lucas’s paradigm-shattering franchise have been made over and over.
The novel has been adapted before with very mixed results. A second adaptation is set to be released later this year. It is helmed by Denis Villeneuve and stuffed with A-listers. Maybe the second time is the charm.
7 Wish: The Intuitionist
In literary circles, Colson Whitehead is the “it guy.” He is also big on science fiction. Stephen King is one of his inspirations, nestling in alongside his comic books. One might go so far as to call The Underground Railroad a sci-fi novel.
It would’ve been on this list, but Barry Jenkins is developing it as a limited series. That leaves us with The Intuitionist, his debut novel about competing elevator inspectors. The novel would make for great watching in the right hands. Ava DuVernay, you reading this?
6 Best: Stories of Your Life and Others (Arrival)
Ted Chiang has steadily been building a career of writing some of the best sci-fi short stories literature has ever seen, collecting a trunkful of major awards along the way. “Story of Your Life” was adapted by screenwriter Eric Heisserer and director Denis Villeneuve (he’s been on this list a lot) into Arrival.
The film is among the best produced in the 21st century. Amy Adams turns in a fantastic starring turn in the time-bending story.
5 Wish: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories
Ken Liu is another writer of fantastic short science fiction, though he has ventured into novel writing. His best work, however, remains the tender and heartbreaking “The Paper Menagerie.” While there may not be flashing lights, space travel, and universe-deciding clashes between good and evil, the story has heart, love, and the pain of growing up between two worlds.
Given the down-to-earth nature of the material — origami brought to life by a mother’s magic — perhaps animation would be the best home for “The Paper Menagerie.” Here’s looking at you, Laika.
4 Best: Iron Giant
Iron Giant wins a place on this list not because the children’s book is better than some other works that could be in its place, but because the animated film is nearly unmatched in its quality. Brad Bird’s debut film as director is a true masterpiece. More than a boy and his giant alien robot, the film is very much about the human spirit and facing mortality.
Bird has gone on to establish himself as one of the best directors (animated and live-action) working today.
3 Wish: A Wind in the Door
Madeleine L’Engle has recently had her most famous novel, A Wrinkle in Time, adapted for the screen with less than stellar results. A Wind in the Door is another top quality children’s sci-fi novel that could offer a second chance for Meg, Charles, and Calvin to get the screen treatment they deserve.
Disney may already have the rights. Does it fit into their plans for total domination over the box office?
2 Best: Frankenstein
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is considered by many to be the first sci-fi novel, a claim that has been disputed. Everyone knows the story. A scientist is driven by the urge to play God and creates a monster that wreaks havoc on his creator’s life. The work has been adapted ad infinitum.
The 1931 version remains the gold standard for them all. When we think of the monster, the stiff, blocky character unable to speak in whole sentences is the image we see in our minds. The movie also spawned one of Hollywood’s most iconic moments: “It’s alive! It’s alive!”
1 Wish: Heir to the Empire
What is a wish list without a little wishful thinking? Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars novel, Heir to the Empire, introduced the intelligent and tactically astute Grand Admiral Thrawn, the most complex villain faced by Luke, Leia, Han, and co. It spawned a trilogy, which has now been de-canonized.
Thrawn has, however, been re-canonized through another Zahn novel, Thrawn, and his inclusion in the animated series, Star Wars: Rebels.
The movie will never happen. It might have been a better place for the franchise to go after Return of the Jedi than the sequel trilogy, but those are the breaks.
10 Best Action Directors Of The 2010s
About The Author