Issac Asimov
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Hollywood’s favorite and forgotten sci-fi writers

By Patrick Day, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Isaac Asimov

Major adaptations: “I, Robot,” “The Bicentennial Man,” “Nightfall”

Major works unfilmed: The “Foundation” series, “The Gods Themselves,” countless short stories

What gives? The prolific Asimov, who had written or edited nearly 500 books by the time of his death in 1992, was a source of inspiration and influence for many science fiction filmmakers, including George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry, but it wasn’t until 1988 that a full-length production of his work “Nightfall” was released. The film was a little-seen dud, and similarly ill-received adaptations featuring Robin Williams and Will Smith have done little to bolster his box office potential. (Digital Domain / Twentieth Century Fox)
Michael Crichton

Major adaptations: “Jurassic Park,” “The Andromeda Strain,” “Sphere,” “Congo

Major works unfilmed: “Prey,” “State of Fear,” “Next”

What’s the secret? At the same time his writing career was taking off, Crichton took on an additional career as a movie director. His film “Westworld” featured many of the same themes as his later novel “Jurassic Park,” but he also was able to transpose his ability to tell a story visually. His novels have sometimes been criticized as bulked-up film treatments, but that certainly hasn’t hurt his success in either medium. (Universal Studios)
Arthur C. Clarke

Major adaptations: “2001: A Space Odyssey”

Major works unfilmed: “Rendezvous With Rama,” “Childhood’s End”

What gives? Of all of Clarke’s work, only two have become feature films, but one of them is a doozy. His collaboration with Stanley Kubrick to create a “good science fiction film” resulted in one of the screen’s most lyrical and transcendant works of art: “2001: A Space Odyssey.” His follow-up novel, “2010" became a more literal-minded sequel in the 1980s. Despite interest from director David Fincher in adapting “Rama,” most of Clarke’s work has proved too vast or intellectual to survive the Hollywood process. (Beitia Archives)
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Major adaptations: “Slaughterhouse-Five,” “Mother Night,” “Breakfast of Champions,” “Kurt Vonnegut’s Monkey House”

Major works unfilmed: “Cat’s Cradle”

What’s the secret? Charm. Even though many of Vonnegut’s books are considered close to impossible to film, that hasn’t stopped Vonnegut-loving filmmakers from trying again and again. Some succeed beautifully, such as director Keith Gordon’s “Mother Night.” Others are admirable messes, such as Alan Rudolph’s “Breakfast of Champions” that was entirely funded by its star, Bruce Willis. The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia owned the rights to Vonnegut’s “The Sirens of Titan” and struggled for years to make a movie of it. (Joyce Rudolph / Hollywood Pictures)
William Gibson

Major adaptations: “Johnny Mnemonic,” “New Rose Hotel”

Major works unfilmed: “Neuromancer,” “Idoru,” “Pattern Recognition”

What gives? In terms of influence, Gibson can’t be topped -- “The Matrix” wouldn’t exist without his 1984 novel “Neuromancer.” He coined the term “cyberspace” in 1982 and is largely credited as the father of the cyberpunk genre. But influence isn’t the same as adaptation and in that field, he hasn’t had much luck. He wrote a couple of episodes of the “X-Files,” but the big screen version of “Johnny Mnemonic” starring a pre-"Matrix” Keanu Reeves was a flop. (Takashi Seida)
H.G. Wells

Major adaptations: “The Time Machine,” “The War of the Worlds,” “The Invisible Man,” “The Island of Doctor Moreau,” “The First Men in the Moon”

Major works unfilmed: All of Wells’ major works have been adapted, some of them multiple times.

What’s the secret? Along with Jules Verne, he’s often called “the father of science fiction,” and the fact that most of his work is now in the public domain probably hasn’t hurt him in the eyes of thrifty film producers. But his real secret was an ability to understand mankind to such a degree that his writing has transcended time and place. “War of the Worlds” may have been set in England in 1898, but it was easily transposed to New Jersey in 1938 by Orson Welles, to Southern California in 1953 by producer George Pal, and back to New Jersey in 2005 by Steven Spielberg. (Andrew Cooper / Paramount Pictures / DreamWorks Picture)
Ray Bradbury

Major adaptations: “Fahrenheit 451,” “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms,” “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Ray Bradbury Theater”

Major works unfilmed: “Dandelion Wine”

What’s the secret? Bradbury does not consider himself a science fiction writer, but the title has stuck. And perhaps it’s his emphasis on humanity over ideas that has kept filmmakers returning to his stories over and over through the years. His stories have popped up in nearly every anthology TV series, from “The Twilight Zone” to “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” to his own anthology series “Ray Bradbury Theater.” Mel Gibson worked for years to bring a new adaptation of “Fahrenheit 451" to the screen, but he was replaced in 2001 by director Frank Darabont. Though the project’s history is tortured, it never seems to be allowed to disappear. ()
Harlan Ellison

Major adaptations: “A Boy and His Dog,” “The Outer Limits” and several original teleplays

Major works unfilmed: “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” “'Repent Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman”

What’s the secret? Tenacity. When it appeared that James Cameron’s “The Terminator” bore too many similarities to Ellison’s teleplays “Demon With a Glass Hand” and “Soldier,” he went to court to get his due credit. The film now acknowledges Ellison’s work. Similarly, his teleplay for the original “Star Trek” episode “The City on the Edge of Forever” is one of the most discussed and reported on episodes of the entire franchise, mostly because of the controversy behind its creation. ()
Orson Scott Card

Major adaptations: None

Major works unfilmed: “Ender’s Game”

What gives? Despite writing one of the most influential science fiction novels of the last 20 years, the multiplexes have remained curiously Card-free. The closest the writer has come to a major blockbuster has been writing the script for the Xbox video game “Advent Rising.” But now that the generation of teens who fell in love with the adventures of Card’s Ender Wiggin are populating Hollywood’s production offices, things may change. A Wolfgang Petersen-directed adaptation of “Ender’s Game” was aborted at the last minute and the project is currently looking for a new home. (Majesco)
L. Ron Hubbard

Major adaptations: “Battlefield Earth”

Major works unfilmed: “Mission Earth” books 1-10, “Fear”

What gives? For a guy whose personal religion is a favorite of several major movie stars, Hubbard sure has gotten a raw deal from Tinseltown. Scientologist John Travolta shepherded an adaptation of the author’s 1,000-plus page epic “Battlefield Earth” into cineplexes, but audiences couldn’t get over Scientology’s sinister reputation and Travolta’s ridiculous alien make-up. (Pierre Vinet / Warner Bros.)