The future of movie theatres may be up in the air, but we know movies will exist in some form (streaming? VOD? drive-ins?) in 2021. As per ever, filmmakers have looked towards books to find ideas for their next blockbusters. Much like this past year, the release dates for 2021 book adaptations are, shall we say, tentative. However, with most of these films finished, and with more streaming and VOD options than ever before, chances are that at least most of these movies may come out in 2021.
There are very few adaptations of work from BIPOC authors to note here, not because there aren’t numerous books that would make fantastic films, but because those works continue to be underappreciated and under-promoted by major film studios. Several of these works featuring all or mostly-white characters in print have been adapted to change some characters to POC, but the dearth of adaptations of books by BIPOC and women is notable yet again in 2021.
Note: some of these films have confirmed release dates (which may wind up changing) while others seem to be either completed or ready to premiere in 2021. As we all know too well, unforeseen circumstances could change any of their release dates. But the great news is all the books are available for you to read right away, so what are you waiting for?
The Dig by John Preston
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Lily James
This historical novel casts a fictional lens on the real-life events of the archaeological finds in Sutton Hoo in 1939. The author is upfront about the creative license he used in writing this novel, especially in fleshing out the everyday English people whose lives were upended by the dig.
Without Remorse by Tom Clancy
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jodie Turner-Smith
This first book in the John Clark series serves as an origin story for the Navy SEAL Vietnam veteran character. Previous actors attached to this role include Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, and Tom Hardy, but it will be recently crowned Sexiest Man Alive Michael B. Jordan bringing this character to the big screen in 2021.
Cherry by Nico Walker
Starring: Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård
This book garnered a lot of buzz when it was published in 2018, largely owing to author Walker being imprisoned at the time it was published. The book is not his memoir, but rather a novel about an unnamed narrator’s time in college, as a soldier during the War in Iraq, and as a drug addict and bank robber after returning from the war during the midst of the American opioid epidemic.
French Exit by Patrick DeWitt
Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer, Lucas Hedges
Oscar buzz is already circling Michelle Pfeiffer for her starring role in the movie adaptation of this surreally comedic novel. All you need to know is the premise: A close-to-penniless widow moves to Paris with her son and cat, who also happens to be her reincarnated husband.
Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love by Matthew Logelin
Starring: Kevin Hart, Alfre Woodard
This heartfelt memoir covers the first year of the author’s life following the birth of his daughter and the death of his wife, who passed away just 27 hours after their daughter’s birth. Renamed Fatherhood, the film will star Kevin Hart as the grieving new father.
The Reincarnationist Papers by D. Eric Maikranz
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Chiwetel Ejiofor
This book is the basis for the 2021 film Infinite. This reincarnation-based sci-fi thriller depicts a secret society, the Cognomina, who possess the ability to recall events from their past lives. Wahlberg’s character, Evan, is haunted by what he thinks are hallucinations but are actually memories from two of his past lives.
Marry Me by Bobby Crosby
Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson
Yes, this graphic novel is the source material for JLo’s latest big movie. She plays a pop star who, after learning her onstage partner has cheated on her, agrees to marry a fan holding a “Marry Me!” sign in the audience of one of her shows. Hijinx, we can assume, ensue.
Deep Water by Patricia Highsmith
Starring: Ana de Arnas, Ben Affleck
It was while filming this adaptation that Affleck and de Arnas seem to have begun their now highly photographed pandemic romance. A favorite read of Gillian “Gone Girl” Flynn, this is a noir about the psychological battle of wills between a profoundly disturbed married couple.
Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge
This horror novel, set in 1963, is focused on a legendary monster known as October Boy. Every year on Halloween, he rises from the cornfields with a butcher knife in his hand. And every year, the town’s young men eagerly await the chance to confront him. But Pete, a boy more determined than anyone else to kill the monster, comes to learn the terrifying true secret of the October Boy.
Dune by Frank Herbert
Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya
This iconic sci-fi novel was first published in 1965. Set in the distant future, the story’s hero is a young man sent to live on an inhospitable planet home to a drug known as “the spice”. Initially announced to premiere in theaters in 2020, this is one of the Warner Brothers films set to drop on HBO Max and theaters on the same day in late 2021.
The Last Duel by Eric Jager
Starring: Adam Driver, Jodie Comer
This is a narrative nonfiction history book focused on the last officially recognized judicial duel fought in France. In 1386, two former best friends face off when one is accused of assaulting the other’s wife. The wife’s life is held in the balance as well, as if her husband was killed, she would be burned at the stake as punishment for her false accusation.
The House of Gucci by Sara Gay Forden
Starring: Lady Gaga, Jeremy Irons
The basis for the upcoming film Gucci, this true crime book explores the sensational saga of the Gucci fashion family. At the core of the book is the question of whether or not Patrizia Reggiani murdered her ex-husband, Maurizio Gucci, in 1995. And if she did do it, why? The story examines the ascent, eventual collapse, and resurrection of the Gucci dynasty, including behind the scenes information about Patrizia’s trial.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Starring: Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning
The Fanning sisters are set to star in the movie adaptation of this book, playing—what else?—sisters. The novel tells the story of two sisters in France during World War II, and their struggle to survive and resist the German occupation.
Dear Zoe by Philip Beard
Starring: Sadie Sink, Theo Rossi
Stranger Things standout Sink takes the lead role in the adaptation of this 2004 YA novel. Written in diary format, the narrator is teenage Tess, learning to live after her sister Zoe died in a hit and run accident the day of the September 11 attacks.
Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
Starring: Famke Janssen, Logan Marshall-Green
This bestselling Christian novel updates the Biblical story of Hosea to Gold Rush era California. First published in 1991, the novel has sold over three million copies worldwide, and has been translated into 30 languages.
The Last Letter From Your Lover by Jojo Moyes
Starring: Felicity Jones, Shailene Woodley
This love story, told across two generations, seems ideal for a film adaptation. One plot line is focused on 1960, when a young woman wakes up with amnesia. She finds an anonymous letter entreating her to leave her husband. In 2003, a journalist finds the same letter in an archives and becomes obsessed by the story.
Last Looks by Howard Michael Gould
Starring: Morena Baccarin, Charlie Hunnam
This screwball thriller, set in Hollywood, finds a disgraced ex-cop recruited by a private eye to investigate a murder. The story’s antihero, having lived off the grid for years, has trouble fitting back into society, let alone solving a murder. And it doesn’t help matters that he’s plagued by a confounding array of assailants who want him gone.
Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
Starring: Olivia Colman, Colin Firth
The narrative of this novel moves back and forth between 1924 and the late 1990s, revealing the whole of one woman’s remarkable life. As we see the same woman in different eras, our understanding of her expands with every vividly captured moment.
Passing by Nella Larsen
Starring: Ruth Negga, Tessa Thompson
This classic of the Harlem Renaissance, first published in 1929, is as riveting today as when it first came out. The story centers on the reunion of two childhood friends and their increasing fascination with each other’s lives. One of the women is passing as white, which her white husband doesn’t realize. Her lie, and the two women’s mutual fascination, become catalysts for tragic events.
The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons
First published in 1967, this is the story of two brothers who jointly own a Montana ranch. One of them is a sadist, the other gentle. When the latter unexpectedly marries a young widow and brings her to live at the ranch, his brother begins a relentless campaign to destroy his brother’s new wife. But he reckons without an unlikely protector.
The Stars at Noon by Denis Johnson
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Margaret Qualley
Originally published in 1986, this novel follows an unnamed American woman, supposedly a journalist, living in Managua, Nicaragua in 1984. At the hotel where she engages in sex work, she meets an unnamed English oil businessman and falls in love. When they are forced to flee, an American who is most likely a CIA agent tracks them and pressures her to sell out the Englishman.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Starring: Frances McDormand, Denzel Washington
You may have heard of this 17th century play by William Shakespeare. A wildly ambitious Scottish man kills the King at the urging of his even more ambitious wife, after misinterpreting the words of three witches. Chaos ensues. With McDormand as Lady Macbeth opposite Washington as Macbeth, directed by the Coen Brothers, this will certainly be one to watch.
True Things About Me by Deborah Kay Davies
Starring: Ruth Wilson, Tom Burke
This novel, told in short, surprising chapters, has the makings for a singular film. The story goes something like this: one ordinary afternoon in a nameless town, a woman has sex with a stranger in an underground parking lot. She charts her deepening erotic obsession with painful, sometimes hilarious precision, as she tries to understand why she did this.
Nightmare Alley by William Lindsey Gresham
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Bradley Cooper
This 1946 horror novel was first adapted into a film in 1947, with a noir twist. With director Guillermo del Toro at the helm of the new version, we can expect something more horror-adjacent. The story centers an ambitious young carny with the talent for manipulating people with a few well-chosen words. When he hooks up with a female psychiatrist who is even more dangerous than he is, all goes to Hell.
Across the River and Into the Trees by Ernest Hemingway
Starring: Josh Hutcherson, Liev Schreiber
Based on Hemingway’s last full-length novel published during his lifetime, this book is set in post-WWII Venice. An American army colonel, haunted by the war, commandeers a military driver to facilitate a visit to his old haunts in Venice. But a chance encounter with a remarkable young woman begins to rekindle in him the hope of renewal.