Classic book lovers, get excited about these book-to-movie adaptations coming to theaters, Netflix, and streaming in 2021! Dozens of books get turned into movies each year, but this streamlined list contains just the classics. So now go read the classic books and plays these movies are based on, before they reach screens later this year!
Classic Literary Works Coming to Theaters and Streaming This Year
I’m always interested to see what book-to-movie adaptations are scheduled for release, especially movies based on classic books. I love a good period drama, but more than that–I love it when filmmakers use their art to bring books to life that are 50…100…200 years old. It’s a net positive if these movies based on classic books inspire audiences to read the originals for themselves. And if you watch a good movie version of a book you already love, that’s a real gem.
Now, as far as 2021 book-to-movie adaptations go, things are understandably fluid. My research has turned up seventeen potential classic books becoming movies this year in the US and UK. Some of these have definite(ish?) release dates, and others are probable, if the world behaves itself.
I’m including classic literature adaptations for both the big screen and small screens, since streaming services have blurred the lines between TV and movies. There’s a couple of titles on this list that I’m looking forward to–in particular Death on the Nile and Dune. But those are kind of “old news” since we expected them to premiere last year. It will be interesting to see what new classic page-to-screen versions are at least announced in the coming months, as production companies recover and set their sights on 2022 and beyond.
17 Classic Books Getting Turned into Movies in 2021
All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot – January 10
James Herriot’s short stories about a Yorkshire veterinarian will be available as a miniseries to US audiences on the Masterpiece website beginning January 10. You can watch each episode for free, but they expire quickly so keep that in mind! Season one aired in the UK in 2020, so they’ll be getting season two sometime in 2021. The new season will include six episodes plus a Christmas special.
Blithe Spirit by Noël Coward – February 19
Blithe Spirit was actually a 1941 play, not a novel, but because we have so many dark and serious book-to-movie adaptations coming out in 2021, I wanted to balance that with something light! This comedy gives us Dan Stevens in a love triangle with his living wife and his deceased wife–who has been summoned accidentally by an eccentric spiritualist (Judy Dench).
The Green Knight – July 30, 2021
From A24–the indie film studio behind Moonlight, Lady Bird, and an array of horror films–this will be an R-rated Medieval fantasy based on the 14th-century chivalric romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Is that different enough for you? Featuring Dev Patel, who starred in the 2020 David Copperfield.
Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie – September 17
Kenneth Branagh’s second Agatha Christie adaptation has been complete and ready to drop for over a year now, but thanks to the pandemic it’s now been pushed back to September of 2021. But I think it’ll be worth the wait, n’est-ce pas? It has a phenomenal cast, a lush setting, and the reassuring track record of Branagh’s excellent Murder on the Orient Express.
Dune by Frank Herbert – October 1
Fans of Herbert’s sci-fi classic thought they’d get to enjoy this on the big screen in December of 2020…but alas, the planets did not align for that! Now the film has been pushed back until October of 2021, at which point it will come to theaters and HBO Max simultaneously. At least this will give you time to read the book first! You’ll find elements of Star Wars therein…because George Lucas must’ve liked the book, too.
Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham – December 2021
Guillermo del Toro is directing this film based on the 1949 noir thriller. Expect something artistic but grim; the story follows a former carnival worker who teams up with a femme fatale psychologist to swindle people out of their money. The cast features some big-name actors including Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchette, and Willem Dafoe.
Across the River and Into the Trees by Ernest Hemingway
This is a wistful, contemplative tale about a U.S. Army officer in Italy reliving his experiences in both World Wars. Hemingway’s original 1950 novel unfolds mostly through a series of flashbacks, with the “present day” narrative spanning just a day. This frame-and-flashback technique will lend itself well to the screen. Filming began in Venice in the fall, with Liev Schreiber in the leading role.
Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
Filming stalled on this proposed 2020 release due to the pandemic, but it’s going ahead now and will hopefully come out sometime in 2021. David Tennant, whom many fans know and love as the tenth Doctor of Doctor Who, will star as Phileas Fogg, a man who attempts to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days in order to win a bet. The eight-part series will air on the BBC.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
Netflix has owned the film rights to Lewis’s fantasy series for a couple of years now, but details are sparse. We do know that there will be multiple movies and possible spin-off miniseries, creating a Narnia “cinematic universe.” Matthew Aldrich, who co-wrote the animated film Coco, will be the creative architect of the universe. Douglas Gresham, stepson of C. S. Lewis, is listed as a producer, as well as Vincent Sieber, who worked on the Narnia movies from Disney.
Death Comes As the End by Agatha Christie
If you think Agatha Christie is all quaint British countryside or holidays on the Continent, you’ll be surprised by this murder mystery, which takes place in Ancient Egypt! BBC One will be adapting this as a three-part series.
Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov
Before Star Wars, before Dune, was Asimov’s genre-defining classic sci-fi series, which has influenced countless science fiction epics that came in its wake. The original series was a collection of short stories about a massive Galactic Empire on the brink of collapse. Apple TV+ will be releasing a 10-episode season sometime in 2021.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
After writing and producing a dark adaptation of A Christmas Carol in 2019, Steven Knight is turning his sights on Great Expectations next. The six-part series will air on BBC One and FX. Knight has plans for other Dickens adaptations down the road, possibly David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Joel Coen (without his brother, this time), is directing a new adaptation of Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, which will be called The Tragedy of Macbeth. Denzel Washington will play the Scottish nobleman, while Coen has cast his wife–Frances McDormand–as the infamous Lady Macbeth. Don’t read too much into that, though; apparently McDormand has been vying for the role for years.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
This 1967 magical realism classic has never been adapted for the screen, despite the book having sold almost 50 million copies. Now Netflix will be taking it on, although we don’t have many details yet other than that it will be in Spanish and filmed in Colombia. The multi-episode format will suit this long book, which lays out a family saga across seven generations.
Passing by Nella Larsen
Based on the 1929 Harlem Renaissance novel, the film tells the story of two reunited high school friends–one of whom passes as white and has married into a white family. Cast includes Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, and Alexander Skarsgård. The film releases at the Sundance festival on January 30th, but with Covid it’s hard to know when it will reach a wider audience.
Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
Based on the 1883 Italian novel, this movie isn’t going to follow the trend of live-action remakes. Rather, it will be a stop-motion animated film headed by Guillermo del Toro (so expect the book’s darker elements to stay)! Watch for it on Netflix.
The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
Nancy Mitford’s 1945 novel was the first in a trilogy that follows the foibles of an upper-class English family in the interwar period. The film version will be a three-part miniseries produced by the BBC, starring Lily James. It was filmed in the fall, but a release date has yet to be announced.
Modern Adaptations and Spin-offs
The above list contains classic book-to-film adaptations that retain their period setting. However, while I was scouring the internet for these titles, I did come across a few upcoming modern and spin-off adaptations of classics. As follows:
- Twist – A modern Oliver Twist with Michael Caine as Fagin.
- Marley – A Disney spin-off musical of A Christmas Carol, told from the perspective of Jacob Marley (possibly played by Eddie Redmayne).
- Lupin – A modern rendition of the early 20th century French detective novels by Maurice Leblanc. On Netflix January 8.
Book-to-Movie Adaptations from Years Past
Want to know what classic works of literature were made into movies in 2019 and 2020? Here’s a list of classic books that were turned into movies and miniseries in 2019, and here’s the 2020 list.
What are you most looking forward to from this list?