All the Best Literary Screen Adaptations to Stream in 2021
There is so much to look forward to in film and TV this year—and so much audio to make you the ultimate insider.
April 23, 2021
Entertainment has always been a big part of our lives, but in the past year the situation has gotten a little...extra. While the pandemic has disrupted the TV and film slate, it's also curtailed other cultural activities, making our questions about upcoming releases all the more urgent. How closely will blockbusters like Dune and Death on the Nile hew to the books? Will the headlining stars match the dream casting in our heads, and could they give our favorite narrators a run for their money? How good will the '80s fashion be in Gucci, and how bad do we want Henry Cavill and Joe Goldberg to come back to our screens this year? This 2021 preview offers reason to hope!
It might also offer a surprise in terms of just how many movies and TV shows were adapted from excellent audiobooks. Get ready to dig in, because this covers just about every great adaptation for 2021, and then some. Whether you want to listen before you watch or take a deep dive after the credits roll, chances are good you'll find something great in this guide to the year's buzziest literary adaptations.
Page to Screen Adaptations
Netflix, January 1; starring Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James
Based on John Preston's 2007 novel of the same name, The Dig is a pre-WWII British drama that reimagines one of the most important archaeological discoveries of all time, the treasure-filled "Sutton Hoo find."
Sundance, January 30; starring Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland, Alexander Skarsgård
This classic Harlem Renaissance novel, first published in 1929, finds two old friends reuniting to discover their lives have taken different paths, with light-skinned Clare living as a white woman married to a racist man. The recently released audiobook is narrated by Tessa Thompson, who also stars in the film. (Watch an Audible Live conversation with Thompson and Brit Bennett!)
Netflix, February 3; starring Katherine Heigl, Sarah Chalke, Ben Lawson
Katherine Heigl and Sarah Chalke exude chemistry in Netflix's drama about two unlikely best friends and their ups and downs through the decades, based on Kristin Hannah's beloved Girls of Firefly Lane series.
STXfilms, February 12; starring Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, Benedict Cumberbatch
Director Kevin Macdonald's legal drama is based on Mohamedou Ould Slahi's groundbreaking memoir Guantánamo Diary, written while the author was imprisoned in the notorious detention camp, where he was held without charge for more than 14 years.
To All the Boys: Always and Forever
Netflix, February 12; starring Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, Janel Parrish
If anything is more beloved than Netflix's teen rom-com trilogy To All the Boys, it's the original audiobooks penned by Jenny Han and voiced by narrator Ali Ahn. The books and films follow 16-year-old Lara Jean Song, whose secret stash of love letters to different boys are—the horror!—actually mailed out and delivered.
Behind Her Eyes
Netflix, February 17; starring Simona Brown, Eve Hewson, Tom Bateman
One of our favorite thrillers with a truly bonkers twist, Sarah Pinborough's Behind Her Eyes had the whole office talking when it came out in audio, and again when it became a Netflix series—it's just that good.
Apple TV+, February 26; starring Tom Holland, Ciara Bravo, Jack Reynor
Netflix, March 3; starring Hadley Robinson, Lauren Tsai, Patrick Schwarzenegger
Amy Poehler directed the Netflix film adaptation of Jennifer Mathieu's teen novel about high schooler Viv, who takes a page from her former Riot Grrrl mom's playbook and distributes a feminist zine in her small Texas town. Girl power ensues!
Lionsgate, March 5; starring Daisy Ridley, Tom Holland, Mads Mikkelsen
This star-studded action film is based on the first novel in Patrick Ness's best-selling YA science-fiction series. It takes place in a dystopian world where all living creatures hear each other's thoughts in a constant stream called Noise.
City of Lies
Saban Films, March 19; starring Johnny Depp, Forest Whitaker
Randall Sullivan’s 2002 true crime book about the investigation into the unsolved murders of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. got a splashy audio release—with narration from Hall of Fame performer Prentice Onayemi—before becoming a Johnny Depp-fronted film.
Exterminate All the Brutes
HBO Max, April 7; starring Raoul Peck, Josh Hartnett
Though the title of this often shocking but wholly necessary HBO docuseries comes from Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the latest effort from director Raoul Peck (I Am Not Your Negro) is based on An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, Michel-Rolph Trouillot's Silencing the Past, and a book by Sven Lindqvist that shares its name with the series. Like Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's acclaimed work, the series is a necessary corrective to the racist and powerful myths at the foundation of much American history.
Shadow and Bone
Netflix, April 23; starring Jessie Mei Li, Ben Barnes, Freddy Carter, Archie Renaux
Netflix's latest fantasy epic is based on Leigh Bardugo's Grishaverse, set in Ravka, a fictionalized version of imperial Russia with a supernatural twist. The series follows orphan Alina Starkov, whose powers could save the world from The Fold, a dark region filled with monsters.
Prime Video, April 30; starring Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Jodie Turner-Smith
Based on Tom Clancy's 1993 novel of the same name, this hotly anticipated spy thriller is part of the Jack Ryanverse and stars Michael B. Jordan as the once-ordinary John Kelly, who evolves into the remorseless warrior John Clark.
Those Who Wish Me Dead
Theaters and HBO Max, May 14; starring Angelina Jolie, Jon Bernthal, Nicholas Hoult
Based on Michael Koryta’s Audie-winning suspense novel, the film stars Angelina Jolie as firefighter Hannah Faber. When a teenager witnesses a murder and is pursued by two assassins, Faber must protect him as a forest fire threatens to destroy them all.
Roadside Attractions, May 14; starring Rose Reid, Jedidiah Goodacre, Katherine McNamara
This coming-of-age dramedy—based on Jenny B. Jones's teen novel There You'll Find Me—follows budding violinist Finley on a life-changing trip to Ireland, where a celebrity romance collides with grief from her brother's recent passing. Have tissues ready!
The Underground Railroad
Prime Video, May 14; starring Thuso Mbedu, Joel Edgerton, Chase W. Dillon, Aaron Pierre
At press time, there's still time to listen to Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer-winning novel, narrated by the one and only Bahni Turpin, before the Barry Jenkins-directed adaptation drops on Amazon Prime. The 10-episode series follows young slave Cora, played by rising South African star Thuso Mbedu, who escapes a Georgia plantation and finds a literal train system to freedom underground.
The Woman in the Window
Netflix, May 14; starring Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Anthony Mackie
We can't wait to see one of the buzziest psych thrillers in audio—A. J. Finn's 2018 novel about an agoraphobic woman who thinks she witnesses a nefarious crime from her New York City apartment—become a Hitchcockian, Amy Adams-helmed film.
Disney+, May 28; starring Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry
Dodie Smith's 1954 classic, The 101 Dalmatians, is charmingly read by British performer Martin Jarvis. We can't wait to see what dotty new twist Emma Stone will bring to one of Disney's most famous villains in this tale inspired by the beloved novel.
Paramount Pictures, May 28; starring Mark Wahlberg, Dylan O’Brien, Chiwetel Ejiofor
We've been semi-patiently rolling with the COVID delays for this sci-fi action film, because it just sounds that good. Based on The Reincarnationist Papers by D. Eric Maikranz, the story follows a man struggling with hallucinatory memories of his past lives.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
Theaters and HBO Max, June 4; starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ruairi O'Connor
The Conjuring Universe will expand this year—as will our fears—with the release of the franchise's eighth installment. The director of the first film, James Wan, once said that paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren have enough stories for plenty of Conjuring films, many of them straight from Gerald Brittle's The Demonologist and the Warrenses's own series of terrifying tales. Listen with the lights on!
Netflix, June 18; starring Kevin Hart, Alfre Woodard, Anthony Carrigan
We predict ugly-cries ahead. Based on Matthew Logelin's best-selling memoir Two Kisses for Maddy, it follows a brand-new dad who must go it alone when his wife dies a day after giving birth. The source material is heartbreaking and surprisingly funny, so we think Kevin Hart's casting is particularly apt.
20th Century Studios, August 13; starring Ben Affleck, Ana de Armas
A film adaptation of one of Patricia Highsmith's lesser-known works, focused on a suburban couple who attempts a polyamorous arrangement with deadly results and starring Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas? Sign us up immediately.
Death on the Nile
20th Century Studios, September 17; starring Kenneth Branagh, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer
The long-awaited sequel to Murder on the Orient Express is finally set to come out this year. Follow impeccable Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot—and a plethora of clues and red herrings—in Agatha Christie's Egyptian mystery, which stars Kenneth Branagh both on screen and in the positively sumptuous audiobook.
Warner Bros. Pictures, October 1; starring Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Momoa
What can we say about Dune that hasn't been said already? Frank Herbert's 1965 novel is one of the greatest sci-fi epics ever. The Audie-winning audiobook, which features a stellar cast of narrators, is one of the greatest listens ever. The film has a lot to live up to, but based on the cast, trailer, and hype, it's well on its way to G.O.A.T. status too.
The Last Duel
20th Century Studios, October 15; starring Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer
We can't wait to see what Ridley Scott's atmospheric visual style and a chef's-kiss cast will bring to this under-the-radar nonfiction book about a 1386 rape accusation and the ensuing duel. Medieval revenge sagas, so hot right now!
MGM, November 24; starring Lady Gaga, Jeremy Irons, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Al Pacino
Sara Gay Forden's fascinating nonfiction book explores the 1995 murder-by-hitman of Maurizio Gucci, grandson of the founder of Italy's famed Gucci fashion house. This heavy-hitter film adaptation is directed by Ridley Scott and stars Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jeremy Irons, and a cornucopia of eye-popping fashion.
Sony Pictures, December 22; starring Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning
Real-life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning play fictional sisters in the French Resistance in this adaptation of Kristin Hannah's mega best-selling 2015 novel, set during WWII.
The Tragedy of Macbeth
A24, TBD; starring Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Brendan Gleeson, Corey Hawkins, Sean Patrick Thomas
Take one part cursed Shakespearean tragedy, add Joel Coen and A24, mix in Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in the lead roles, and what do you get? Us on the edge of our seats, waiting on pins and needles for this film to drop already.
Netflix, TBD; starring Ron Perlman, Cate Blanchett, Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton, Christoph Waltz, Finn Wolfhard
While details are still scant about Guillermo del Toro’s first animated feature—a stop-motion musical adaptation of Carlo Collodi's 1883 The Adventures of Pinocchio—we invite you to gaze at that cast list and imagine what dark spell we're about to fall under.
Netflix, TBD; starring Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale
We can't wait to see Knives Out's Ana de Armas transform into Marilyn Monroe in this film adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates's 2000 book, Blonde. The historical novel delves into Norma Jeane's inner life and marriages to Arthur Miller and Joe DiMaggio, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
The Power of the Dog
Netflix, TBD; starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons
Thomas Savage's complex psychological drama will find new fans when Jane Campion's film adaptation hits screens. Set in 1920s Montana, this compelling domestic Western has LGBTQIA+ themes in the vein of Brokeback Mountain.
You, season three
Netflix, TBD; starring Penn Badgley, Victoria Pedretti
Netflix's bonkers TV series may have made Caroline Kepnes's You series a household name, but insiders know that the audiobooks, voiced with seductive creepiness by Hall of Fame narrator Santino Fontana, are the version to beat. The new season will be based on the latest installment, You Love Me.
The Witcher, season two
Netflix, TBD; starring Henry Cavill, Freya Allan, Anya Chalotra
It's happening! Netflix has confirmed that we're getting a second season of the blockbuster TV series, based on Andrzej Sapkowski's Witcher Saga, in 2021. Henry Cavill's Geralt, Feya Allan's Ciri, and Anya Chalotra's Yennefer are all set to return in the eight-episode season, which is expected to air in the back half of this year.
Lionsgate/Sony Pictures Classics, TBD; starring Odessa Young, John O’Connor, Olivia Colman, Colin Firth
Based on Graham Swift’s 2016 novel, this incredible-sounding film adaptation stars a divine cast in the tale of a day in the life (March 30, 1924, to be exact) of orphan and housemaid Jane Fairchild on her own motherless "Mothering Sunday."
Hulu, TBD; starring Michael Keaton, Peter Sarsgaard, Kaitlyn Denver, Will Poulter, John Hoogenakker, Rosario Dawson
Director Danny Strong gives Beth Macy’s groundbreaking, award-winning account of the American opioid epidemic, Dopesick, the miniseries treatment. If it's anything like the book, it won't be easy to consume, but it will be gripping and utterly necessary.
Apple TV+, TBD; starring Jared Harris, Lee Pace, Lou Llobell, Leah Harvey, Laura Birn
We’ve been waiting a long time for this adaptation of Isaac Asimov's science-fiction classic, but here's hoping it actually comes out this year. While you wait, check out the original series, with stellar narration from Scott Brick and Larry McKeever.
Audio Companions to New Releases
CBS, February 11; starring Rebecca Breeds, Michael Cudlitz, Lucca De Oliveira, Kal Penn
Thomas Harris's Red Dragon series continues to evolve on screen. After the blockbuster success of Silence of the Lambs and NBC's Hannibal, the latest adaptation tells the untold personal story of Clarice Starling. While the show doesn't mention baddie Hannibal Lecter by name, its mix of psychological horror and police procedural is a female-centered return to the same world.
The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Hulu, February 26; starring Andra Day, Trevante Rhodes, Garrett Hedlund
In this companion podcast to the film The United States vs. Billie Holiday, writer, creator, and host Rebecca Carroll digs deeper into the jazz legend’s complex legacy and ongoing impact on Black artists and Black womanhood. Guests include Laverne Cox, Mariah Carey, Dr. Angela Davis, and Andra Day, who won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Holiday in the movie.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Disney+, March 19; starring Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is both a fascinating glimpse into life after the events of Avengers: Endgame and a deep meditation on humanity, race, belonging, and what it means to be a hero. So there’s no pairing more apt than Marvel legend Stan Lee’s final project, an audio adventure narrated by grown-ish star Yara Shahidi. Like TFATWS, Alliances: A Trick of Light is as much about out-of-this-world superheroism as it is the need for human connection.
Godzilla vs. Kong
HBO Max, March 31; starring Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall
Stay a little longer in the Monsterverse in this fan-approved novelization of one of the year's biggest blockbuster films. When kaiju icons Godzilla and Kong embark on a path of destruction, nothing less is at stake than the future of humanity and the planet itself.
PBS, April 5; starring Peter Coyote, Jeff Daniels, Michael Kitakis
This six-hour documentary from Lynn Novick and Ken Burns takes on the tumultuous life of monumental American author Ernest Hemingway. Featuring readings from actors including Jeff Daniels and Meryl Streep, the film is officially paired with this new release of Papa's best-known stories, featuring the voices of actor Stacey Keach and author Tobias Wolff, among others.
No Time to Die
Eon Productions, October 8; starring Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux
The final Bond film to star Daniel Craig, director Cary Joji Fukunaga's upcoming movie features a brand-new espionage adventure but will contain material from Ian Fleming's best-selling novels. Stay up to date on insider info and interviews with the official podcast companion to the film.
Downton Abbey 2
Eon Productions, December 22; starring Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter
Fancy a holiday in Yorkshire this Christmas? We'll meet you at Lord and Lady Grantham's country estate on December 22, when the sequel to the Downton Abbey film (based on the beloved PBS series) hits screens. Until then, catch up on this Audie-nominated memoir by Lady Almina, fifth Countess of Carnarvon and resident of Highclere Castle, the real-life inspiration and setting for Julian Fellowes's Emmy Award-winning series.
Even More Adaptations Ahead
Finally, keep these upcoming screen adaptations on your radar—release dates have yet to be announced, but (fingers crossed) we'll see some of them in 2021!