Time travel is huge at the movies right now. This Friday sees Hot Tub Time Machine 2, and Terminator 5 is coming soon. But as Predestination recently proved, the smartest movies about time warps are often based on literary sources. So here are 10 time-travel books that would make bloody amazing movies.
1) The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov
There are so many great ideas in this 1955 novel, it’s hard to believe nobody’s made it into a movie — although apparently there were film versions in the Soviet Union and Hungary. Asimov envisions Eternity, a group of super-powerful time-travelers from the distant future, who travel “upwhen” and “downwhen,” across the centuries, changing history to create the most benign possible timeline. But maybe Eternity’s idea of the “most benign” timeline isn’t actually the best for humanity after all?
2) Hyperion by Dan Simmons
This book has been optioned for film several times, but never actually filmed. And it’s too bad, because this weird spin on The Canterbury Tales has so many fantastic ideas. Including the Time Tombs, which are mysterious artifacts that travel backwards in time, and a monster called the Shrike that is associated with them. A group of pilgrims travels to Hyperion in an age-old ritual, and on the way they each tell stories — it sets up an epic story that continues in the second book, and at one point the plan was to combine the first two books into one movie.
3) Kindred by Octavia Butler
We’ve had 12 Years a Slave, so maybe we’re finally ready for a movie of Kindred, in which a present-day woman keeps traveling back in time to visit her ancestors — who include both slaves and slave owners. Dana has to learn to survive the institution of slavery and become part of the plantation’s community. But she also has to ensure her own existence, which involves her cruel, callous slave-owner ancestor Rufus.
4) Replay by Ken Grimwood
You should just go read Brad Meltzer’s essay about what Replay meant to him and why he was so eager to option the movie rights at one point. This isn’t exactly a time-travel book, it’s a time-looping book (one of two on this list). The main character dies at age 43 and then lives his adult life over again, and this keeps happening — which means he gets several chances at getting it right, except that it’s not that simple. As Meltzer says, “this book isn’t a thriller. Rather, it’s an instruction manual.”
5) The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
We loved this book about a serial killer who travels through time, targeting “shining girls” who have the potential to make the world a better place. As Beukes explained to us, she explores a fatalistic universe with “loops and paradoxes,” in which you cannot escape your destiny. This leads to a great examination of what history is, and whether progress can be derailed by one person’s insanity. It’s an edge-of-the-seat thriller that leaves you pondering its big questions long after you close the book.
6) The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold
OK, so this one could be hard to capture on screen because of all the orgies where the main character has sex with alternate versions of himself. So many, many orgies. But then again, we live in a world where Lars von Trier has already created explicit orgies on screen, with CG-pasted heads on peoples’ bodies. So you never know, right? And at its heart, this is a moving, fascinating story with a lot on its mind. As we wrote back in 2007, “Though it begins as a sex romp, The Man Who Folded Himself winds up being a meditation on trying to find yourself when there are so many possible selves you could have.”
7) The First 15 Lives of Harry August by Claire North
Here’s the other time-looping novel, where someone lives his life over and over again. But unlike Replay, this book really is a kind of thriller, and it’s immensely clever and satisfying in a way that could actually translate to film really beautifully. One clever bit — not only does Harry August live his whole life over and over, but so do a whole society of other people. And the mechanics are carefully worked out, so that all of these immortals share a “turn” each time, and can rewrite history on each turn through the loop. But someone is trying to bring about the end of the world early, and is killing other immortals… permanently.
8) Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
Here’s another classic time-warping novel that has meant a lot to many people. And I could see this becoming a fascinating period piece, in the vein of Predestination. Basically, in the 1970s, Connie Ramos is trapped in a horrible dystopian mental institution, where they want to give her brutal therapies. And then somehow, she finds herself traveling forward in time to two possible futures: a utopia where people live in peace in happy communities, and a dystopia where people’s minds are controlled by a handful of overlords who live on space stations. And Connie has a chance to prevent the dystopian future from taking shape, through her actions in the 1970s.
9) Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
Really, all of Connie Willis’ Oxford Time Travel stories would be great movies. She has a great, coherent rationale for time travel that rules out paradoxes, because the time machine won’t let you visit any time where you could cause a major change to history. In this first novel, a woman historian goes back to the Middle Ages, but discovers that nothing is what she expected — and she’s landed up in the middle of the Black Plague.
10) The Shadow out of Time by H.P. Lovecraft
This short novel was recently rediscovered in its most authoritative version and republished in book form. And it’s got all of the things that make Lovecraft such a fecund source for movie adaptations: mysterious eldritch creatures, a complex mythos, horrific discoveries and alienation. Plus a crazy-pants time travel plot. The Yith, super-advanced creatures, send their minds forward in time to take over the bodies of people in the present, including an unlucky Miskatonic University professor named Nathaniel. And it turns out that the Yith are worried about the Elder Things, which may be destined to destroy them unless they can keep fleeing into the future.
Also noteworthy: The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer, The Company Series by Kage Baker, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu, The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt and Consider Her Ways by John Wyndham