There’s never been a better time to be a fan of sci-fi movies. Whether your tastes favor action-packed spectacle or subtle, thought-provoking tales that explore life’s biggest questions, the last few years have given sci-fi fans plenty of films to celebrate — and there’s more on the way.
Thanks to all of the great sci-fi literature out there, it’s easy to get ahead of the curve when it comes to sci-fi projects headed to the big screen. In order to help you decide what to read first, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best sci-fi novels that currently have big-screen adaptations in various stages of development, so you can get an early peek at the next big things hitting theaters.
Hold Back the Stars
By Katie Khan
Two star-crossed lovers find themselves adrift in space, untethered from their spacecraft, with only 90 minutes of oxygen left in each of their tanks. As they attempt to figure out a way to survive their predicament, their memories drift back to the world they left behind: A utopian Earth that brought them together but never felt like home.
With its blend of romance and sci-fi themes, Katie Khan’s debut novel has been described as “Romeo & Juliet meets Gravity.” An adaptation of the novel, set to be directed by Five Feet Apart filmmaker Justin Baldoni from a screenplay by I Am Not Okay With This writer Christy Hall, is currently in the works.
The Reincarnationist Papers: A Memoir of Past Lives
By D. Eric Maikranz
This 2009 novel follows a man who discovers that the hallucinations and strange visions he’s experiencing are actually memories from his past lives, and he is introduced to a secret society filled with others who have found ways to use these memories to change the course of human civilization.
The adaptation of The Reincarnationist Papers began filming in September 2019 with director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) behind the camera and Mark Wahlberg in the starring role. The film’s official title will be Infinite, and Wahlberg will be joined in the cast by Dylan O’Brien, Sophie Cookson, Jason Mantzoukas, Rupert Friend, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. The current release date set for the film is May 28, 2021.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest sci-fi novels of all time, Herbert’s Dune has been adapted for the screen multiple times over the years, with various filmmakers putting their spin on the generation-spanning saga of rival families vying for control of the planet Arrakis. The original novel follows Paul Atreides, whose family’s stewardship of the planet is brought to a violent end, thrusting Paul into the center of a conflict that ranges from the far reaches of the interstellar society to the ground beneath the sands of Arrakis.
In February 2017, Legendary Entertainment announced that Sicario and Arrival director Denis Villeneuve was attached to helm a new adaptation of Dune. Oscar-nominated Call Me By Your Name actor Timothee Chalamet was cast as Paul Atreides in July 2018, with Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible — Fallout) later cast as Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica. More high-profile cast members subsequently joined the project, including Dave Bautista, Stellan Skarsgård, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Charlotte Rampling, and Oscar Isaac. The film is currently scheduled to hit theaters in October 2021.
By Ernest Cline
The follow-up to Ernest Cline’s runaway hit Ready Player One — which found its way to the screen in 2018 with Steven Spielberg in the director’s chair — Armada follows a high-school student who discovers that his favorite online game might actually be a sophisticated simulator training him to thwart an impending alien invasion. As he gets pulled deeper into the secrets surrounding the game, he finds the history of both video games and his family are woven together in unexpected ways.
The hype surrounding Ready Player One led to the movie rights for Armada being sold off before the sci-fi book was even published. Universal Pictures nabbed the movie rights to Armada in December 2012, and the film is currently in development at the studio. There is no release date set for the Armada movie at this point.
More book lists for active readers
The Knife of Never Letting Go
By Patrick Ness
The first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy, this 2008 novel follows a young boy on the alien planet of “New World,” which was recently colonized by humans, who fought a disastrous war against the planet’s native inhabitants, known as The Spackle. During the war, a viral weapon killed off much of humanity on the planet, including all of the women, with a bizarre side effect: It made it possible for the survivors to hear each other’s thoughts. The young boy finds himself on the run from his colony town after he discovers a strange patch of silence in the wilds and a strange girl at its source, and the two embark on a journey that will delve into the long-hidden secrets of New World.
Spider-Man: Homecoming star Tom Holland was cast as protagonist Todd Hewitt in the upcoming film, titled Chaos Walking, with Star Wars actress Daisy Ridley co-starring as the mysterious Viola Eade. Edge of Tomorrow and The Bourne Identity director Doug Liman helms the adaptation of Ness’ novel, which has Oscar-winning filmmaker Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump) on board as one of the primary producers, and an impressive cast that also includes Mads Mikkelsen, Demián Bichir, Kurt Sutter, Nick Jonas, and David Oyelowo.
Get your exclusive first look at the sci-fi action film @ChaosWalking starring Tom Holland & Daisy Ridley!
— IGN (@IGN) November 17, 2020
The first footage from the film was released via Twitter on November 17, with Chaos Walking now scheduled to hit theaters January 22, 2021.
By Gerry Dugan and David O’ Sullivan
Set in the year 2024, this comic book series unfolds in a world where a massive security breach has made online privacy a thing of the past. The cyberpunk-noir saga follows a pair of couriers — dubbed “Paper Jockeys” — who are tasked with delivering secrets the old-fashioned way: With a briefcase and a gun.
In May 2018, Lionsgate won a bidding war for the adaptation of Analog, which will be penned by Ryan Condol, the creator of USA Network’s alien-invasion series Colony. Chad Stahelski, who directed John Wick for Lionsgate, is expected to be behind the camera for the big-screen version of Analog, which doesn’t have a release date scheduled yet.
By Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey’s self-published ebook was a surprise hit when it debuted in 2012, and it went on to spawn a multi-novel series known as the “Silo” franchise that included several prequel stories and spinoffs. The series follows the residents of a massive subterranean city that extends 144 stories down into the surface of the Earth. With the outside world rendered toxic to humanity, the residents of the silo deal with the struggles of an uncertain future beneath the world they once walked, and a strict governing body with little tolerance for free thought.
The movie rights to Wool were optioned in 2012 by 20th Century Fox, and Guardians of the Galaxy screenwriter Nicole Perlman was hired to rewrite the script for the film in 2015 from an earlier draft by J. Blakeson (The 5th Wave). Although Ridley Scott is attached as one of the producers on the movie adaptation, the project also appears to have a TV adaptation in the works, with AMC hiring Into the Badlands writer and producer LaToya Morgan in July 2018 to develop the story as a TV series. It’s anyone’s guess as to which adaptation makes it to the screen first.
By Andy Weir
Andy Weir followed his 2011 novel The Martian — which was adapted into the Oscar-nominated 2015 movie of the same name — with this 2017 book set more than 60 years in the future. Published in November 2017, the story follows smuggler Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara, who finds herself caught up in a dangerous conspiracy on the lunar city of Artemis.
Given the success of The Martian, it should come as no surprise that the rights to make a movie based on Artemis were picked up by 20th Century Fox months before the book hit shelves. In September 2017, directing duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller were attached to helm the adaptation of Artemis — making it the pair’s first project on the calendar after exiting Disney’s Solo: A Star Wars Story. Captain Marvel and Tomb Raider screenwriter Geneva Robertson-Dworet joined the project in July 2018.
There is no release date set for the film at this point.
The Book of Joan
By Lidia Yuknavitch
The Book of Joan is a retelling of the story of Joan of Arc set in a post-apocalyptic future in which humanity has left the Earth to live on a floating platform far above the surface. The story follows a young woman who leads a rebellion against the police state that governs this new society. The book was published in April 2017 and was celebrated for its strong feminist themes.
In early 2017, Stone Village Productions won a bidding war for the rights that was reportedly very competitive, and now Scott Steindorff (The Lincoln Lawyer) and Dylan Russell (Penelope) are attached as producers on the film. There’s no word on a production timeline for the film at this point.
By Daniel H. Wilson
Robopocalypse describes the origins, evolution, and culmination of mankind’s devastating global battle with an artificial intelligence that takes over automated services and machines. Much in the same way World War Z chronicled humanity’s war with zombies through a collection of fictional accounts from the front lines, the story unfolds from the perspective of several characters in different locations around the world as they watch the world change dramatically — and often horrifically — in front of their eyes. The characters eventually find themselves playing integral roles in the war that will decide humanity’s fate.
The book was optioned by Steven Spielberg in 2011, with the filmmaker planning to direct the adaptation himself from a script by The Cabin In the Woods screenwriter and director Drew Goddard, but the project was put on hold in 2013 in order to further develop the script and make it a more manageable production. In March 2018, Spielberg passed the project to Michael Bay to direct, and the Transformers franchise filmmaker now aims to make it one of his next projects.
By Julie Cross
Another story envisioned as the first chapter in a trilogy, Julie Cross’ 2012 novel is a time-travel adventure that has its teenage protagonist accidentally discovering his ability to move through time after he witnesses the murder of his girlfriend. That discovery puts him in the crosshairs of a shadowy government agency and in the middle of a time-spanning war as he struggles to save the life of the girl he loves without ripping apart the fabric of time.
The rights to the novel were picked up by producing partners (and brothers) Scott and Sean Cross — who aren’t related to Julie Cross — as well as Mimi Polk Gitlin, a former producing partner of Ridley Scott who teamed with Scott to co-produce the 1991 classic Thelma and Louise. There’s no official development timeline or release date announced for the film.
Children of Time
By Adrian Tchaikovsky
When the last humans left on a dying Earth are forced to flee the planet, they set off in search of a fabled, far-off planet that’s already been terraformed and prepared for their arrival. There’s only one catch: The planet is occupied, but not by humans.
That’s the basic synopsis for Tchaikovsky’s 2015 novel Children of Time, and it was enough to catch the attention of The Hunger Games and Twilight studio Lionsgate and its subsidiary, Summit Entertainment. The studios bought the feature rights to the story in 2017, and screenwriter Colby Day was hired that October to adapt the story for the screen. Still in the development phase, Children of Time doesn’t have an official release date yet.
The Forever War
By Joe Haldeman
Another Nebula Award winner, The Forever War tells the story of a soldier recruited to battle an aggressive alien species light-years from Earth. He discovers that traveling to and from the battlefield has actually caused several decades to pass on Earth. Coming home to an Earth very different from the one he left, he’s uncertain whether this new world was indeed worth fighting for.
Ridley Scott first announced he was adapting The Forever War in 2008, but the project eventually fell into development limbo until Warner Bros. Pictures picked up the rights to the story again in 2015. Prometheus and Passengers writer Jon Spaihts is currently penning the script for the film, and Channing Tatum is attached to star in it. There’s no release date for the film yet.
Fortunately, the Milk …
By Neil Gaiman
Acclaimed storyteller Neil Gaiman and comic book artist Skottie Young collaborated on this 2013 story about a father who goes out to get some milk, only to get caught up in a wild adventure involving time travel, a stegosaurus piloting a balloon, and a volcano god, among other unexpected obstacles.
In 2015, it was reported that Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs the World filmmaker Edgar Wright was attached to direct Johnny Depp in an adaptation of the story, with Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords penning the script. That combination had 20th Century Fox in early talks for the rights to the film, but it almost seems too good to be true — which is probably why we haven’t heard anything about the project since that initial announcement.
By William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson
This 1967 novel is set in a dystopian future where resources are scarce, which leads society to implement a rule that requires everyone over the age of 21 to voluntarily end their lives. When one of the agents tasked with killing citizens who “run” from the rule decides to run himself as his time comes due, it sets off a chain of events that shakes the very foundation of this dark human civilization.
The novel was adapted into a 1976 film starring Michael York that was nominated for three Academy Awards and won one for its visual effects. A remake was first announced back in the 1990s, and an update in July 2015 had X-Men franchise screenwriter Simon Kinberg penning yet another draft of the script. The studio is also reported to be considering a female lead for the adaptation.
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
By Robert A. Heinlein
The winner of the Hugo Award in 1967, Heinlein’s celebrated novel chronicles a lunar city’s revolution after years of serving as a penal colony for Earth. The story follows the revolt from its earliest stages to its final outcome and explores a future in which humanity must contend with the ramifications of extending its reach beyond Earth.
In March 2015, X-Men franchise director Bryan Singer announced plans for an adaptation of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress based on a script penned by Arrow series producer Marc Guggenheim. Given Singer’s well-documented troubles — which culminated in his abrupt departure from the director’s chair on the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody — it’s uncertain whether this adaptation is still moving forward. However, the title of the film is expected to be changed to Uprising if it does proceed.
By Wesley Chu
Wesley Chu’s 2015 novel unfolds in a future that has seen mankind depart Earth to colonize the stars, leaving behind a bleak, toxic planet. The protagonist is a convicted criminal whose psychological profile makes him the ideal candidate for an agency that sends people back in time to recover valuable resources and treasures from mankind’s history on Earth in order to prolong the species’ future. On his final mission, he saves a female scientist destined to die, turning them both into fugitives in the future timeline.
Paramount Pictures picked up the rights to Chu’s novel before it even hit shelves, and Michael Bay is attached to direct the adaptation. There’s no word on when the project will go into production or what sort of timeline (pun totally intended) the studio is envisioning for it at this point.
Rendezvous With Rama
By Arthur C. Clarke
Set in the 22nd Century, this story follows the crew of the exploration vessel Endeavor as they investigate a massive, cylindrical alien starship that has entered the solar system for unknown reasons. With only a limited amount of time to explore the strange craft, the human scientists attempt to unlock its mysteries before it journeys out of range.
Morgan Freeman has been a vocal proponent of adapting Rendezvous With Rama since the early 2000s, and has repeatedly attempted to garner support for a film based on the 1973 novel. David Fincher was attached to direct the project at one point, but it slipped into development limbo due to difficulties in securing an acceptable script and funding. Freeman reiterated his interest in producing and starring in an adaptation of the story during a 2012 interview, but there haven’t been any more updates since that time.
By Sylvain Neuvel
This debut novel tells the story of a young girl who falls through a weak spot in the ground one day and lands in the palm of a giant, mysterious metal hand. Years later, that girl is a physicist still trying to unravel the mystery of the metal hand, and her quest for answers sends her around the globe as the mystery deepens.
Neuvel’s self-published novel was optioned almost as soon as it was published. The last update on the project (from 2016) indicates Spider-Man franchise producer Matt Tolmach will oversee the adaptation, with War of the Worlds screenwriter David Koepp penning the screenplay. The big-screen version of the story is expected to be retitled The Themis Files and is envisioned as the first chapter of a trilogy.
By Clifford D. Simak
This Hugo Award-winning novel tells the story of Enoch Wallace, the guardian of a cosmic way station on Earth that serves as a hub for intergalactic travelers. His position had seen him bestowed with all kinds of alien gifts — from vast knowledge to virtual immortality — but all of these gifts have made him aware of humankind’s impending destruction, and the only way he can save the human race.
Netflix partnered with Cloverfield and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves to adapt the novel in September 2019, with Reeves’ production studio developing the film as a large-scale, sci-fi thriller.
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