It’s a common cliché that Hollywood is running out of ideas (check out last year’s article on a lack of originality at the Oscars). That might not be true, but the movie industry does appear to be focusing more on rebooting existing material and creating adaptations these days. Disney are even regenerating live-action remakes of their own animated classics and franchises like Star Wars and the world of Harry Potter are adapting even the smallest books into big blockbusters. In this spirit, it’s not inconceivable that we could be on the cusp of a sort of classic novel reawakening. We see examples now and then. For instance, both Anna Karenina and The Great Gatsby have been adapted for the big screen in the past six years or so (and both got pretty good reviews as well). This leads us to wonder what other classic novels could stand to have fresh cinematic adaptations.
Here’s a few ideas.
Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
It’s somewhat unbelievable that this book – perhaps the most famous in the esteemed canon of Russian literature outside of Tolstoy’s War And Peace hasn’t been attempted more frequently. There was a black-and-white adaptation way back in the ’30s, and a far more recent review concluded that it “pales considerably when compared to the book“. That is probably to be expected, as it’s difficult to approximate the quality of a novel like this one. However the fact that no modern studio even seems willing to attempt it is odd. Perhaps the relative success of the aforementioned Anna Karenina film will inspire an effort.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
More than anything else on this list, Dracula is adapted now and then although is responsible for numerous spin-offs (we will try and erase our memories of Hugh Jackman’s Van Helsing). There have been two extremely recent adaptations. The first was in the much-maligned 2014 film Dracula Untold, and in a very different medium, the tale has been retold via an online game designed by NetEnt. The game actually indicates how many adaptations there have been, with its “about” section specifically saying it took its inspiration from the Universal film from 1931 (as opposed to the novel). It really hasn’t been done well since the ‘30s though, with each fresh adaptation in gaming, cinema, etc. seeming to stray further from the source material. Christopher Lee’s famous depiction in 1958 with Hammer Films was often referred to as the Horror of Dracula when released in the United States to avoid the association with both the 30’s film and the book, although the film remained somewhat faithful to its titular text. The franchise then spawned a spectacular sequence series including titles such as The Bride of Dracula (1950), and a personal favourite Scars of Dracula (1970). A new film with a script directly adapted from Stoker’s novel would undoubtedly be a hit with modern audiences that love horror and even vampire romances and there is certainly the space for a new adaptation.
Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory
Tales of King Arthur have been adapted to the big screen (as well as video games) more times than we’d care to count. However, what we usually see is some sort of reimagined version of the classic legend. For instance, 2004’s King Arthur aimed to set the character of Arthur in a real historical context, and 2017’s King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword turned the whole thing into more of a generic swordplay epic with few nods to its cultural grounding. It would be wonderful to see a filmmaker offer a fresh perspective based on Le Morte d’Arthur, which is effectively the foundational piece of writing for all other Arthurian legends. It’s a big book, but all that means is that there’s more than enough in it to make a fine film.
A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
A Confederacy Of Dunces isn’t quite the traditional “classic” the rest of these are, but it did win a Pulitzer and the novel has a certain aura around it. It was published posthumously and has become perhaps the closest thing to an American (or modern, for that matter) Don Quixote. As you might guess from that description, the central character would be a tough cast, though several actors have actually come close to taking on the role. Some of the most recent attempts involved Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, and there was actually a little bit of noise last year about renewed efforts regarding an adaptation. We’ll have to wait and see, but it’s never been tried before meaning that for some brave filmmakers there is a potential hit in the making.
“Light In August” by William Faulkner
Faulkner doesn’t exactly lend himself to cinematic adaptations, so it’s understandable we haven’t seen many in recent years. Historically there was a huge uptake in the 30’s anf 40’s but these This 1932 novel could be his most adaptable, however, not because it’s particularly full of action (none of Faulkner’s work is), but because its atmosphere jumps off the pages. If a filmmaker could recreate Faulkner’s fictional world of Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi (which factors into several of his works), it could make for a very rich film. And when you further consider some of the themes of the work – race relations, class struggles, religious motivation, etc. – it even begins to sound like the sort of thing that could produce Oscar material in the right hands.