7 Underrated Classic Books That Should Be Movies

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These classic books aren’t movies yet…but they should be! They’ve been ignored by filmmakers long enough! Here are 7 underrated classic novels that would make fantastic movies or miniseries. Some of these books are better suited to the big screen, others to TV, but all of them need to be filmed!

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Books That Should Be Movies and TV Shows

Why do filmmakers keep adapting the same classic books over and over, when there’s such a deep well of literature to draw from? I can’t help but ask myself that every time I hear there’s a new version of Wuthering Heights or A Christmas Carol.

I know other fellow classic book lovers feel the same way. We still get excited when tried-and-true books get adapted yet again, because some of these adaptations are fabulous. And probably the main reason why there’s a surplus of remakes is because filming an author’s best-known work is a safe bet.

BUT…what about the rest of a beloved author’s canon? Or amazing authors who haven’t gotten much screen time at all?

Let’s take a look at some classic books that should be movies.

Modern Library Torchbearers edition of Villette by Charlotte Brontë - inverted red triangle with floral design

1. Villette by Charlotte Brontë

Villette was Brontë’s last novel and it’s a thing of beauty. The heroine, Lucy Snowe, is an expatriate teaching at a girls’ boarding school in a French-speaking country. There, she grapples with independence and identity, love and longing.

I think Villette would make a fascinating movie or miniseries for its un-Hollywood love story. The autobiographical nature of the novel makes it a good candidate, too, since there’s as much popular interest in the Brontë family’s lives as in their writings.

The Italian by Ann Radcliffe - bearded man in monk's habit holding a sleeping woman

2. The Italian by Ann Radcliffe

I’ve often wondered how one would film Radcliffe’s Gothic romances. What tack you would take. You could be tongue-in-cheek and a bit spoofy like Jane Austen’s take in Northanger Abbey. You could also try to make a true horror film (bad idea, in my opinion). What I would do is faithfully adapt the book, Ghothicness and all. Let viewers suspend disbelief and get swept up in the melodrama the way you do with The Phantom of the Opera. The reason I would pick The Italian over Radcliffe’s more famous The Mysteries of Udolpho is that the former is less sprawling and more tightly paced.

Here are more classic Gothic novels if you love reading the genre!

Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery - Girl reading in a meadow with a cat

3. Emily of New Moon trilogy by L. M. Montgomery

After Anne Shirley, Emily Starr has the next most page time of Montgomery’s heroines. Yet there’s only been two film versions that I can find–a Japanese anime series and a late 90s TV show. I’m curious to watch both, although the image stills I’ve seen of the TV show don’t fill me with great hope. If Netflix wanted to make a darker Montgomery, why didn’t they [faithfully] film Emily instead of the recent Anne with an E abomination?

I think Emily would make a fantastic miniseries. There’s plenty of episodic material to choose from, but also compelling story arcs and character development to give the overall series a satisfying cohesion. (The Pat books, while I love them dearly, are more localized and less dramatic, so I don’t think they’d lend themselves to TV quite as well.) Since Emily is 10 at the start of the first book and 28 at the end of the third, you’d probably need two actresses to play the part, unless you aged her up a bit and managed another Meagan Follows.

If you’re curious about L. M. Montgomery’s other novels, here’s an overview with the best book covers and editions.

The Lost Princess by George MacDonald - painting of a peasant girl in the countryside

4. The Lost Princess by George MacDonald

In this tale, two spoiled girls—one a princess, the other a shepherd’s daughter—magically step into each other’s worlds. Under the guidance of a mysterious Wise Woman, each girl is confronted with her own fears and failures, and offered a chance to change.

With Hollywood’s resurgent interest in live-action fairy tales over the past decade, I feel that the time could be right to bring MacDonald’s classic to the big screen. Except for one 2012 independent French film, it’s never been done. I can see actress Meryl Streep playing the nuanced role of the Wise Woman with ease. (Or maybe Gal Gadot, twenty years from now?) I’m sure every filmmaker would feel the need to dilute the story’s allegory and morals, but if viewers are okay with experiencing this in The Chronicles of Narnia it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott - Victorian girl playing the piano

5. An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott

While Little Women has been filmed many times, (with three new adaptations in the last few years!), An Old-Fashioned Girl only has one screen adaptation to its name: a musical released in 1949. Yet Alcott’s standalone novel was immensely popular, hitting shelves just one year after the second volume of Little Women.

The story follows Polly Milton, a country girl who goes to stay with her rich friends in the city. She often feels out of place in the bustling and glamorous city, but as a true literary heroine, Polly manages to hold her own and influence others for good. The novel reminds me of Jane Austen with its critique of society life and its inevitable but circuitous love story. Some classics would work far better as miniseries, but because of the tight plotting of An Old-Fashioned Girl, I think this would translate well to the big screen.

Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain - book cover with painting of Saint Joan of Arc going to battle

6. Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain

It took Mark Twain twelve years to plan and research Joan of Arc. It was the last novel he finished, and his favourite. If you know and love Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, you’ll be immensely impressed with Twain when you read Joan of Arc. It’s astounding that he could write something so very different in tone, style, and subject matter.

Although there have been many films about Joan of Arc, no one to my knowledge has adapted Twain’s classic. Part of what would make this a good choice is its unique angle: it’s framed as a memoir of someone close to St. Joan. This would give the viewers an outside perspective to identify with, and make the story feel both more realistic and more fairy tale-esque. (Kind of like Ever After, although I’m sure that’s not the best analogy.) What I envision for this is a careful period piece with a long run time. I can see Ridley Scott at the helm.

Penguin edition of The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton - painting of a theater interior and play

7. The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton

In this odd classic, a poet named Gabriel Syme is recruited by Scotland Yard to go underground and infiltrate a ring of anarchists. The seven members of the anarchist council use the days of the week as names to protect their true identities. Thursday is the only vacant spot, and Syme manages to get himself elected to fill it. From there Syme must attempt to thwart the council’s plan to assassinate two European leaders.

This cerebral and philosophical thriller has enough twists and turns to hook modern viewers. As a short novel, it would be better suited to the big screen than to a miniseries. You’d have to simplify some of the heady dialogue, but a good filmmaker (and astute viewers) could have all kinds of fun with the abundant symbolism in the book. And the premise of seven secret anarchists unmasked one by one absolutely begs for an A-list cast.

What classic books do you think need to be made into movies or miniseries? And who would you cast in these hypothetical films? I hope some of these potential classic book-to-movie adaptations are just biding their time, waiting for the right team!

Related Book-to-Movie Posts:

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11 Comments

    1. Reading it is time very well spent. I would love to hear your thoughts on it! I’m planning to read Shirley soon for the first time, which should be interesting…I know very little about it!

  1. I’ve always wanted to see The Long Fatal Love Chase By Louisa May Alcott made into a movie. It’s such a dark and intense story.

    1. Indeed! It would be so much fun! And I feel like it wouldn’t be that hard to make. There’s no “special effects”; you’d just need a lovely period setting and a sparkling cast.

  2. @Zeenat Kalla:

    There are a few adaptations of Daddy-Long-Legs floating around out there, but I don’t think any have quite captured the spirit of the original. As a character, Jerusha/Judy is feisty and intelligent, with a lot of playfulness and heart, and I would love to see her shenanigans brought to the screen. I think it could work well as a limited series. Webster’s work could do wonders if adapted properly.

    The anime fleshed the story out, but de-aged her, which made the prospect of a relationship developing seem more squicky than they likely intended it to. There was also an Instagram musical in the last few years, but I have not had the chance to investigate it further.

    Then again, maybe the likes of Judy Abbott and Anne Shirley have simply made me covet life in a girls’ college!

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