THN’s Top 5 Seemingly Unfilmable Stories Brought To The Big Screen

A book filled with inner monologue, a Bengal tiger and a shipwrecked boy somehow managed to be turned into a film; an Academy Award-winning one at that. Ang Lee has himself called LIFE OF PI the most difficult film he’s ever made. LIFE OF PI was once considered unfilmable due to the importance of the tiger and its human qualities. However, thanks to the required technology being enabled a few years ago, the tiger and story could finally be brought to the big screen. Check out THN’s list of seemingly unfilmable films which were made into movies.


THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY (2001, 2002, 2003)

A key to bringing those supposedly unfilmable movies to life is modern CGI. Where would the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy be without it? Children would have played hobbits, Nazgûl-birds made to fly by hanging them on strings, and a doll would have portrayed Gollum, with a less than an impressive voice. The world and words of Tolkien are intricate and were deemed unfilmable until Peter Jackson came along and mastered the depiction of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING.



Depicting high society mixed with debauchery wasn’t the challenging aspect of adapting ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. Neither was it difficult to have a handsome man remain handsome, while those surround him age. It was the portrait of Dorian Gray – a single painting shown only in one scene which complicates the film. Funnily enough, the 1945 offering seems to be the only one that can do the portrait and the work of Oscar Wilde justice. How does one show the sin, the downfall, and corruption which ages the painting and not the protagonist? Check out THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY to find out.


PSYCHO (1960)

Trashy you say? Yes, the novel was, and as shown in HITCHCOCK (2012), which focuses completely on the making of PSYCHO, it wasn’t easy to adapt. Robert Bloch’s novel was slightly altered for the big screen. The biggest changes were the focus on Marion in the first part of the film and Hitchcock turning Norman Bates into a handsome man; quite different from his overweight and drunken demeanour in the book, but brilliant and even more terrifying for viewers. Not only does the difficulty of filming PSYCHO lie in it being based on a trashy novel, but also due to the fact the inner dialogues between Mother Bates and her psychotic son had to be omitted from the film.



Based on Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ from 1964, the screenplay was originally supposed to be written by Dahl himself. However, he never got around to doing so and was immensely disappointed with the novel-turned-musical starring Gene Wilder. A world made of wonderful treats have the children excited at first, but after Willy Wonka goes on a homicidal mission, it’s understood he is just as bonkers as his crazy world. Oompa Loompas and edible walls are only part of the wackiness transferred to the screen from the book.



Similar to the problems facing LIFE OF PI, PLANET OF THE APES had to deal with humanizing animals. The apes from Pierre Boulle’s french novel spoke, walked, acted like humans and were the intellectually superior beings. The prosthetic make-up in the film is considered groundbreaking for its time and despite the difficulty of bringing the educated apes and humans-turned-slaves to the big screen, they must have done something right, because the film spawned many sequels, a tv-series adaptation and has now been rebooted for the second time, with James Franco in the lead role.

THE LIFE OF PI is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK today.

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Isra has probably seen one too many movies and has serious issues with differentiating between reality and film - which is why her phone number starts with 555. She tries to be intellectual and claims to enjoy German and Swedish film, but in reality anything with a pretty boy in it will suffice.


  1. sds

    April 29, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    cloud atlas?

  2. Mark Harding

    April 30, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    Interesting thing about Planet of the Apes is that it was given a special Oscar to makeup man John Chambers for the ape makeup. However, things probably would have been quite different if the Academy had known that the apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey were in fact human mimes in makeup. The Academy thought they were REAL trained apes because they were so convincing and Kubrick doesn’t like to indulge too much on his filmmaking techniques.

    From what I’ve read, Kubrick had a real laugh over this.

  3. Dr.boyhowdy

    April 30, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    Watchmen was made because Alan Moore tried to make something that couldn’t be made into a movie. Get it sorted.

  4. Shayan Ansari

    May 3, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    In an interview with Rolling Stone, Peter Jackson said, ” [The Hobbit] always struck me as a more difficult book to adapt” .
    I was reading someone’s critique of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and he explained that The Hobbit was virtually unfilmable. He wrote – “This is largely because it was written in 1937, in an era when a writer would have been far less influenced (if influenced at all) by the tropes, structures and cliches of film, things that inform the very fabric of more modern works of fantasy, from Harry Potter to Game of Thrones, where the writers seem to be writing a story that they are watching on a big screen in their imaginations. Tolkien, by contrast, lingers on whimsy, riddles, idiosyncratic dialogues, and gives little focus to action and adventure”.

  5. !

    May 5, 2013 at 8:52 pm

    I’d like to read an article about obscure stories that seem improbable to film.

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