After Watchmen, What’s Unfilmable?

Alan Moore once called his Watchmen series “unfilmable.”

But, with Zack Snyder’s three-hour-plus director’s cut hitting store shelves Tuesday and Watchmen’s international box office slugging its way past $180 million, that claim has surely been laid to rest.

So, which revered books and comics are next up for the film treatment? Try these five sacred texts on for size.

The Sandman
Writer: Neil Gaiman

Lame excuse: Too long. Spanning 74 issues and more than a decade, if you count spinoffs and standalones, Neil Gaiman’s decorated mythopoetic fantasy starring Dream, Death and other revered, abstract personifications is stuck in film limbo.

“There is talk of an HBO Sandman,” Gaiman told in March, “because no one quite knows what to do with it. But the truth is, if anybody is going to make [it] a movie, it will probably be a kid in film school right now to whom The Sandman was the most important thing ever. It will take the amount of commitment, dedication and madness that Peter Jackson brought to Lord of the Rings to get it on the screen. Honestly, it could happen after I am dead.”

But we doubt it. After the runaway success of Coraline, Gaiman’s stop-motion stunner with director Henry Selick, the writer’s fabled franchise is overdue for cinematic adaptation. The biggest hurdle? Where to start.

“It’s not film-shaped,” Gaiman said. “I went out to Hollywood with beautiful artwork and toys and did a presentation…. I got to the end, very proud of myself for encapsulating 2,000 pages of comics into a giant visual pitch, and what I got was, ‘Does The Sandman have a clearly defined bad guy?’ I said, ‘No it doesn’t,’ and they said, ‘Thanks for coming!'”

Chance in hell? Slight. Gaiman’s not holding his breath. Why would you?

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Writer: Frank Miller

Lame excuse: Batman’s too old. Quick, what helped Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight rake in more than $1 billion worldwide? Tech noir, and an untimely death. That pretty much encapsulates Miller’s milestone comic, which catches up with an aging Batman nearly trampled underfoot by a strange new technoculture of media overload, gang warfare, geopolitical intrigue and a compromised Superman.

Not that fans, including Gaiman, could resist dreamcasting the possibility. Once Miller’s comic exploded into pop culture, Gaiman explains, “there was all this talk about whether Clint Eastwood could do it. If they actually made The Dark Knight Returns with Clint, I would have gritted my teeth and seen it. It probably would have been awesome.”

An elderly Batman is only the appetizer. In The Dark Knight Returns, villainous geriatrics like Joker and Two-Face either die or succumb to failure. The death of Heath Ledger, the actor who played Joker in The Dark Knight, no doubt garishly contributed to the blockbuster’s allure, but re-creating the haunting suicide of Batman’s nemesis onscreen is another matter entirely. As is the matter of Superman killing Batman, come to think of it, or the entry of yet another Robin, this time a tomboy who haunts the Caped Crusader’s steps.

But if the success of Nolan’s Dark Knight proved anything, it’s that fandom wants Batman’s younger model to stick around for awhile. Leaping from his early years to his last in Miller’s Dark Knight Returns might not be the smartest cinematic move to make. But hey, a past-it Bruce Wayne made the underrated animated series Batman Beyond a show worth watching. Done right, bringing Miller’s graphic novel to the big screen would be a brave, and lucrative, move.

Chance in hell? Definitely. Come back next decade. Bring your wallet.

The Invisibles
Writer: Grant Morrison

Lame excuse: Too taboo. Like Gaiman’s The Sandman, Grant Morrison’s hyper-allusive, brain-bending mega-narrative about a band of subcultural superagents is a serious yarn, albeit slightly shorter. It has inspired The Matrix (and more), borrowed from The Prisoner (and much more) and rubbed readers not hip to Morrison’s merry pranksterism the wrong way (a lot).

It was routinely censored, with offended parties simply blacked out of the comic in some cases. A sequence involving the Marquis De Sade was inflammatory, leading to questions of child abuse in comics, and bad-mouthing of Walt Disney was summarily redacted. And that’s just the start of The Invisibles’ gleeful transgressions.

Plus, the comic boasts a band of anarchist outsiders often mistaken for terrorists. From Morrison’s bald-headed avatar King Mob and his time-traveling girlfriend Ragged Robin to the transgender Lord Fanny, hedonistic Jack Frost and the ex-NYPD female cop named Boy, The Invisibles aren’t exactly the Justice League.

But that’s what makes Morrison one of comic’s enduring greats: His resistant texts are meant to be challenging, to make you think of comics in entirely new ways. Whoever translates his biggest middle-finger to the big screen will be in for a seriously bumpy ride.

Chance in hell? Probably not on the big screen. But a kick-ass television series would not be out of the question. BBC Scotland reportedly finished two out of six scripts, before rethinking. It will happen.

Gravity’s Rainbow
Writer: Thomas Pynchon

Lame excuse: Too inaccessible. Cinema in the 21st century has so far made its name adapting seminal comics, but the 20th century was spent on great novels. From The Bible to the Mahabarata, from Shakespeare to Naked Lunch, literature has pretty much had its day.

But what of this cryptic, challenging tome from literature’s last superstar? Gravity’s Rainbow is packed with paranoia, rocketry and post-World War II occultism, and barely clocks in under a thousand pages. Plus, it is written by a reclusive genius with a gift for brain-teasing gab and a tendency to avoid the press like the plague. How does that translate into a popcorn blockbuster? It doesn’t.

Chance in hell? Next to none. Think The Invisibles, plus Naked Lunch, stir in some Watchmen and you’re there.

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