1. The Sandman
Why It's Awesome: The anthropomorphic personification of dreams goes on a quest to right the wrongs caused by his previous dickish behavior. Dream is helped and/or hindered by his equally anthropomorphic Endless siblings Death, Destiny, Destruction, Despair, Desire, and Delirium.
What's the Holdup, Then?: The complexity and fractured nature of the plot, spanning several hundred years over 75 issues, is just too much for a movie. Or even a series of movies. The fantastical art design for the Dreaming — the world the protagonist inhabits — lends itself more to animation than live action, and Hollywood hates adult animation with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. Sure, HBO hasn't really done animation since Spicy City, but if they wanted to get their foot back in the door, they couldn't ask for a more perfect candidate.
2. Y: The Last Man
Why It's Awesome: A dystopian near-future in which all but one human male have been wiped out by a mysterious plague is a setting rife for the picking. Sociopolitical commentary, ethics, and equality can be explored side-by-side with the struggle for survival and sanity in a world where over half the population dropped dead overnight.
What's the Holdup, Then?: Other than the obvious balking at a 99% female cast, Hollywood doesn't really funnel money into political dystopias. Thanks for ruining everything, Kevin Costner. On top of that, the story involves a two-year trek across the width of America followed by an extended voyage across the Pacific, and that's only part of the story. That kind of character intimacy — living with these people as they trek through broken towns and roving bands of marauders — is more easily captured on the small screen than the silver.
3. The Dark Tower
Why It's Awesome: The man in black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed. This series has something for everyone. King Arthur, feudalism, parallel universes, a love story, magic in the Wild West, broken and flawed protagonists, and all of it revolving around a creepy mysterious tower.
What's the Holdup, Then?: Well, it's not for lack of trying. HBO has been looking to get this off the ground for a while, but the fatal mistake is trying to somehow do a simultaneous series of movies and a show. No. Stop that. Just do the show. There are more than 4,000 pages spanning eight unevenly paced novels — two of which are nothing but flashbacks. This is no time for a new format. If you can turn George R.R. Martin's sprawling feudal war into a coherent story line, Stephen King's opus should be cake.
Why It's Awesome: Literally a story about a small-town preacher named Jesse Custer who is accidentally possessed by an all-powerful supernatural being named Genesis, who is in turn the product of an angel and a demon getting it on without protection. Custer accidentally kills his entire congregation and flattens his church in the process and now speaks with the voice of a god powerful enough to force people to obey him. He sets out on a journey to help Genesis find God — who is AWOL — with the help of Custer's ex-girlfriend and a drunken Irish vampire. Together they will fight off — among others — a man with an ass for a face, members of a secret organization protecting Jesus's bloodline, and Custer's Cajun grandma.
What's the Holdup, Then?: Go back and re-read the above paragraph. I'll wait. Yeah. Only HBO would have the cojones to do this series justice and even they backed out on the deal. Pansies.
5. World War Z
Why It's Awesome: Like any piece of zombie media worth its salt, Max Brooks' novel isn't really about the undead but instead uses them as plot device to explore how humans react to disaster situations. Set a decade after humanity has tentatively "won" the war on zombies, each chapter of the book is from the perspective of a different survivor from various locations and cultural backgrounds around the world. It is held together by the narrator — a United Nations employee tasked with compiling data on how the pandemic spread.
What's the Holdup, Then?: This insightful piece of cultural commentary was sacrificed on the altar of Hollywood to bring forth the abomination known as the Summer Action Film. While they share the same name, the book's similarities to the recent World War Z movie end there. Leaving plenty of room for HBO to swoop in and make a disconcertingly realistic series about how shamblers — not rage zombies — could almost cause the end of humanity due to our own hubris, deceit, greed, and ignorance.
Why It's Awesome: It's only the world's best-selling science fiction novel of all time, spawning five sequels. It only features feuding interstellar noble houses trying to control the galaxy's mind-enhancing drug trade while exploring themes like extreme religious cults, ecological ramifications of mining, and a sci-fi universe fearful of technology. All on a backdrop of warring empires and cloak-and-dagger espionage. It's only set twenty-one thousand years in the future so that humanity has populated countless worlds leading to a unending source of material. No big deal.
What's the Holdup, Then?: Your guess is as good as mine. This series has all the hallmarks of a television series. The only stumbling block is our generation doesn't really know Dune outside the campy 1984 David Lynch film and "The spice must flow," being indelibly inked on our collective consciousness. Written in 1965, the book might not be contemporary, but the themes are far from dated. On a basic level, it's just Game of Thrones in space. With drugs. And wicked cool blue eyes. What's not to love?
7. Bas-Lag series
Why It's Awesome: Take an alien world, add industrial capitalism, including a burgeoning mafia, throw in a pinch of steampunk mechanical trappings, sprinkle with magical creatures, and shake vigorously. The result will be barely scratching the surface of this epic fantasy universe with historical lore going back thousands of years.
What's the Holdup, Then?: More so than any other series on this list, the universe of Bas-Lag is a logistical nightmare for the effects department. With no less than 16 nonhuman species — including the humanoid birds of prey known as the Garuda and the half-human, half-rock lobster Cray — wandering the city streets of Bas-Lag, any series would have to find inventive ways to suspend audience disbelief. With The Walking Dead and Hellboy proving practical effects are far from dead, though, there is always hope, right?
8. MaddAddam series
Why It's Awesome: A little bit 1984, a little bit Fallout, Atwood's series takes the concept of playing god to the extreme. A post-apocalyptic society in which most humans have been wiped out from a viral "flood" to be replaced with more compliant and "perfect" genetically altered humans, the series takes place from multiple perspectives over three books and deals with the ramifications of a corporately controlled dystopia.
What's the Holdup, Then?: It's a hard sell. Hollywood isn't exactly backing a truck of money up to the ideas that hold a mirror up to society and then refuse to give it the shine of a happy ending. Margaret Atwood will make you think, but she won't sugarcoat it for you. HBO is no stranger to bittersweet realism, though — looking at you, ending of The Sopranos.
9. Ex Machina
Why It's Awesome: Set in our universe, it tells the story of our first superhero, Mitchell Hundred known as The Great Machine. After using his powers to control machinery in order to keep Flight 175 from crashing into the south tower of the World Trade Center on September 11th, Hundred is elected the mayor of New York as a national hero. The story follows him through his four years as mayor, with heavy themes about his role in the coming end times as per Revelations.
What's the Holdup, Then?: It'll be a long, long time before anyone is comfortable enough converting an alternate reality center around 9/11 into something for mass market consumption.