15 epic sci-fi novels you should read before they become blockbuster films

It’s a good time to be a fan of science-fiction movies. Whether your tastes favor explosive, big-budget spectacles or subtle, thought-provoking stories that explore life’s biggest questions, the last few years have offered something for sci-fi fans of all stripes — and the same can be said for what’s headed to the big screen down the road.

Sci-fi literature has long been fertile ground for Hollywood, and with some of cinema’s most popular projects beginning as novels or short stories, it’s easy to get ahead of the curve when it comes to sci-fi movies. In that vein, we compiled a list of some of the 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.

We’ll periodically update this article as time goes on, so feel free to leave a comment with any projects you would like to see added to the list.

‘Armada’ by Ernest Cline
sci fi movies based on books armada by ernest cline cover

The follow-up to Ernest Cline’s runaway hit Ready Player One — which recently found its way to the screen 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 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.

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Amazon

‘Artemis’ 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 StoryCaptain 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.

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Amazon

‘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.

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Amazon

‘Children of Time’ by Adrian Tchaikovsky
‘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.

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Amazon

‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert


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. No release date has been announced yet.

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Amazon

‘The Forever War’ by Joe Haldeman
The Forever War

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.

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Amazon

‘Fortunately, the Milk’ by Neil Gaiman
THE FOREVER WAR BY JOE HALDEMAN

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.

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Amazon

‘Logan’s Run’ by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson
Logan's Run

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.

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Amazon

‘Mortal Engines’ by Philip Reeve
‘Mortal Engines’ by Philip Reeve

First published in 2001, Mortal Engines is set in a world where cities roam the land on massive wheels, capturing and consuming smaller cities for their resources. This “Municipal Darwinism” comes about in the aftermath of a horrible war that caused much of the existing technology and scientific knowledge to be lost, only to have a steampunk-style society emerge from the ashes of the old world. The award-winning story follows a young engineer’s apprentice in London, one of the largest “traction cities” roaming the remains of Europe, after a chance encounter with a young assassin kicks off a wild journey across the land — and through the air — in the tale’s post-apocalyptic world.

Peter Jackson serves as co-writer and producer on the Mortal Engines film, which will be the directorial debut for Christian Rivers, who served as a visual effects supervisor on (and won an Academy Award for) Jackson’s King Kong remake. The first teaser for the film premiered in December 2017, offering a peek at the movie ahead of its arrival in theaters December 14, 2018.

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Amazon

‘The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress’ by Robert A. Heinlein
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

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 to adapt Heinlein’s story for 20th Century Fox from a script by Arrow series producer Marc Guggenheim. Given Singer’s recent 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. There’s no official release date set for the film at this point.

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Amazon

‘Robopocalypse’ by Daniel H. Wilson
ROBOPOCALYPSE

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.

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Amazon

‘Sleeping Giants’ by Sylvain Neuvel
Sleeping Giants

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. Spider-Man franchise producer Matt Tolmach is overseeing the adaptation, with War of the Worlds screenwriter David Koepp penning the screenplay. The big-screen version of the story was retitled The Themis Files and is envisioned as the first chapter of a trilogy.

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Amazon

‘The Tempest’ by Julie Cross
The Tempest

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.

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Amazon

‘Time Salvager’ by Wesley Chu
Time Salvager

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.

Buy it now from:

Amazon

‘Wool’ by Hugh Howey
‘Wool’ 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). Ridley Scott is one of the producers on the project, so it has a good sci-fi pedigree behind it, but the studio will likely wait until it’s happy with the latest draft of the script before bringing it to directors and scheduling a release date.

Buy it now from:

Amazon

Updated September 7, 2018: Added casting news for the Denis Villeneuve’s Dune adaptation.

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