There’s an odd phenomenon in Hollywood, which we’re going to call the ‘two-year bestseller delay’. Due to the trappings of production and the time it takes to actually produce a film, 2014 in novels is 2016 in film. And around 2014 was a great period for fiction.
So what’s happened to all those bestsellers which had us praying for film adaptations two years ago? Which are charging towards a screen near you and which are floundering in development hell?
It seemed an impossible task: producing an adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s incredibly chilling sci-fi series, in which a four-woman expedition is sent to investigate the mystifying ‘Area X’, an area of alien biology that has appeared suddenly and impossibly on a stretch of US coastland. At least, that was before the announcement that Alex Garland (he of Ex Machina, Sunshine and 28 Days Later fame), would be taking Annihilation – or possibly an amalgamation of all three books in the series – on as his next project. The latest news suggests Garland will begin filming some time this spring and thrillingly he’ll be joined by Natalie Portman, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh and his Ex Machina muse, Oscar Isaac. You’ll have to go a long way to find a more promising cast than that.
An airborne virus spreads rapidly. Patients don’t seem to be responding to medication and hospitals soon become overloaded. Patients begin to die, and then so do the doctors. Within weeks, 99.9% of Earth’s population are dead. Each central character has a different perspective, and a piece of the story to tell: before, during and after. In October of last year, the Hollywood Reporter announced in an exclusive that the TV and film rights to Emily St. John Mandel’s phenomenal dystopian bestseller had been acquired by Jane Got a Gun producer Scott Steindorff, and the adaptation would be produced by Steindorff and Dylan Russell. An actual film adaptation could be a long way off, and its production team have been quiet since the initial announcement, but the novel has hoards of devotees who will be eagerly awaiting any further news.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Ransom Riggs’ extraordinary and extraordinarily strange novel about Jacob Portman, a teenager who discovers an orphanage on a Welsh island after a horrific family tragedy, spent 63 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list. After being scooped up by 20th Century Fox, it is due to hit cinemas this September as Tim Burton’s latest directorial offering, and will star Eva Green as the titular Miss Peregrine. Oh, and Jane Goldman, writer of Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class and Kingsman, adapted the script.
The Girl on the Train
Paula Hawkins’ thriller rocketed to success after its debut in February 2015, selling over a million copies by early March and 1.5 million by April. DreamWorks are striking while the iron is hot, and the adaptation is expected to be released this autumn. It will be directed by Tate Taylor (The Help, Get On Up) and star Emily Blunt as Rachel, one of the novel’s three unreliable narrators. Recently divorced, embittered and struggling with addiction, Rachel becomes fascinated with a couple whose house she sees each day from the train which takes her into work, envying and embellishing her imagined version of their idyllic life, but when she sees something shocking, everything changes.
Jesse Burton’s novel was a smash hit, garnering award after award in 2014 including Book of the Year in the National Book Awards and Waterstones Book of the Year. Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam, The Miniaturist follows Nella Oortman as she moves to live with her new husband, wealthy businessman Johannes Brandt, and is gifted a cabinet–sized replica of their home which begins to reflect their lives in mysterious ways. Encountering his formidable sister, she realises she must learn the rules of this world fast if she is to survive it. Intensely coveted by TV and film companies, hopes were high for an awards-level film adaptation; however, the show was won by Company Pictures who intend to turn it into the next Wolf Hall (their most successful production to date) as a high-end television drama series. Despite the fears that the tight, delicate story could be somewhat dismantled in the attempt to expand it into further seasons, with Burton herself confirmed to be acting as a consultant this may well be the format which gives her gorgeous story room to breathe.
The Knife of Never Letting Go
Patrick Ness’ trilogy is set in a dystopian world where a virus has allowed – or forced – all living creatures to hear each others’ thoughts, known as ‘noise’. The only boy in a town of men makes a terrible discovery and goes on the run with the help of Violet, a strange silent girl. After a bumpy start, with Charlie Kaufman’s original screenplay being scrapped in favour of a rewrite by Jamie Linden, Robert Zemeckis is attached to direct and there seems to be movement from the project that Lionsgate are surely spearheading as their next Hunger Games-style young adult franchise.
Donna Tartt’s bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about Theo Decker’s tumultuous life and his ownership of the eponymous painting seemed ripe for adaptation, but was last heard from upon its release in 2014. It was announced that Peter Straughan, the writer who adapted Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, How To Lose Friends and Alienate People and The Men Who Stare At Goats and recently co-wrote Frank, was signed to adapt the story – another promising sign for such a popular book. Warner Bros. speedily acquired the rights in early 2014, in the wake of intense interest in the novel, but production appears to have floundered. Such a promising pre-made audience may reignite Warner’s excitement for the project, but right now, The Goldfinch is dead in the water.
The Girl With All The Gifts
A fungal infection has zombified (‘hungries’ in this world) the majority of the world’s population, and only small bands of survivors continue research into the fungus with the hope of cultivating a cure. In a research lab, a scientist and a teacher experiment on the hungrified children who appear to maintain their mental faculties, but one girl may prove to be unlike the rest. Colm McCarthy (Doctor Who, Sherlock, Peaky Blinders) is directing, and the film will star Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close and Paddy Considine, for a September release. A chilling trailer has already emerged, which has reignited serious excitement around Mike Carey’s 2014 bestseller.
The Invention of Wings
Sue Monk Kidd has already tasted adaptation success with The Secret Life of Bees, and Oprah herself has ensured Invention of Wings, which debuted at number 1 on the New York Times Best Sellers list, will have a decent chance of getting through any quiet development periods. In this fictionalised story of real-life 19th century abolitionist sisters Angela and Sarah Grimke, Sarah is gifted a 10 year-old slave girl called Hetty for her 11th birthday and, though she is repulsed, finds herself unable to free or even protect her. Little has been said of the project since Oprah announced her involvement, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to hope that such an important and emotional story would make it to the big screen and maybe even win some major awards.
All the Light We Cannot See
Despite winning the Pulitzer Prize, and just about every other fiction prize of note, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See has struggled to find a studio to take it on. In May 2015, a year after its publication, 20th Century Fox acquired the film rights, but there hasn’t been a peep from production since. Set during WWII, the lives of a blind French girl – who learns the streets of Paris by touch from a model made by her devoted father – and an orphaned German boy become inextricably intertwined. Though the novel is ultimately concerned with universal human acts of kindness, and the persistence of goodness in the harshest of environments, it’s possible that a film in which two children navigate the physical and emotional traumas of war just doesn’t feel like an easy sell at the box office.