The Story of the Three-Day Pass (1968): Melvin Van Peebles took the long way to becoming Hollywood’s first black director. Unable to impress American execs, he wound up in France, where he wrote plays, novels, and even translated Mad magazine. One of his novels, an interracial romp, proved the basis for his Nouvelle Vague-ish debut. Hollywood finally took notice, flew him home—and were shocked to see their new hire was African-American; they assumed he was French. He proceeded to make the 1970 studio comedy Watermelon Man, and the rest is history.
The Man Who Sleeps (1974): How does one translate avant-garde prose to filmmaking? Georges Perec’s 1967 novel A Man Asleep is told in the second-person, with the narrator talking to a student who drops out of society without leaving Paris. All Perec (and co-director Bernard Queysanne) did was add visuals and an atmospheric score. But that was enough for a bone-chilling portrait of willful isolation.
The Great Train Robbery (1978): Before the Michael Crichton film bash of the ‘90s, there was the Crichton film bash of the ‘70s. That includes the director’s own directorial output, including this bland version of his own bestseller, plus Westworld and later the Tom Selleck-Gene Simmons robot spider thing Runaway.
Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1987): In the ‘60s, Norman Mailer embraced no-budget experimental cinema. Beyond the Law, Wild 90 and Maidstone were hotly divisive, but nothing compared to the ire that engulfed his version of his 1984 trash noir novel. Once Razzie-fêted, it’s more accurately read as a gonzo campfest. Mailer even intentionally included Ryan O’Neal’s infamous reading of the line “Oh God, oh man,” cried ad infinitum, against the actor’s protestations.
The Exorcist III (1990): John Boorman’s Exorcist II had presumably killed the franchise dead with its incomprehensible batshitness. But William Peter Blatty, novelist of the original, took a belated whack anyway. Adapted from his 1983 novel Legion, the result is as sedate as Exorcist II was insane, though its one great scare—involving a hallway and a crash zoom—is a doozy.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012): In which Stephen Chbosky himself turns his epistolary novel into a traditional coming-of-age saga. Hey, better him than someone else.