John Grisham may be the master of the legal thriller, but he also has solid comic timing — as evidenced during a Q&A on Wednesday at Politics and Prose, where he stopped by on his first book tour in more than two decades. The bookstore’s co-owner, Bradley Graham, reeled off the best-selling author’s accomplishments. “‘The Firm,’ which ended up on the New York Times bestseller list for 44 weeks …”
“45,” Grisham interrupted with a deadpan expression. The several hundred in the sold-out crowd — many of whom had waited an hour in line for Grisham to sign copies of his newest mystery, “Camino Island” — burst into laughter.
“I stand corrected, your honor,” Graham joked. “Do you want to proofread the rest of this?”
“You’re doing great,” Grisham assured him.
Even after three dozen novels and 300 million copies sold worldwide, Grisham is self-aware enough to get away with a joke about his ubiquity — as well as bring up part of his career that has slowed down. Specifically: Hollywood stopped turning his books into movies.
“It has been 15 years since there was an adaptation,” Grisham said. “And they’re all for sale!”
A trip to IMDB shows the last Grisham book made into a movie was “Runaway Jury” in 2003, which starred John Cusack and Dustin Hoffman. Technically, 2004’s “Christmas With the Kranks” was based on his short novel “Skipping Christmas,” but we assume he’s talking about his legal thrillers.
Grisham added that he currently has four projects under contract (including “The Partner,” which was once linked to Mark Wahlberg, and “The Litigators”) that have been in production for years, which, as he says, means nothing is happening. He would be shocked if anything is filmed by 2018.
There’s also a “serious contract” for “The Rainmaker” to be turned into a TV series, Grisham said, though no concrete news. And the stories from three years ago that Zac Efron would produce and star in an adaptation of “The Associate”? No update on that front, either.
So, what’s the deal? Grisham didn’t offer any guesses, other than that in recent years, it’s nearly impossible to produce any film that’s not a superhero franchise. “Hollywood has changed so much in the last 20 years that it’s just very difficult,” he said. “It’s hard to get a movie made.”
“You gotta write a comic book,” said journalist and author David Grann, also onstage for the Q&A, which was recorded for an episode of Grisham’s new podcast.
Grisham agreed that studios “would rather spend the big money on ‘Superman’ or ‘Spider Man 5’ or whatever.”
“As we know, there are so few good adult dramas being made, you can’t find one,” he said. He acknowledged it’s especially confusing considering how well the adaptations of his novels did at the box office. “Given the success that the early ones had, it’s hard to believe that they don’t get that model. I can’t control it.”
Indeed, Grisham’s first movies were big hits: “The Firm” (1993) starring Tom Cruise earned $158 million; “The Pelican Brief” (1993) starring Julia Roberts earned $101 million; “The Client” (1994) starring Susan Sarandon earned $92 million; and “A Time To Kill” (1996) starring Matthew McConaughey earned $109 million.
They slowed down after that: “The Chamber” (1996) earned $16 million and “The Rainmaker” (1997) earned $46 million; “Runaway Jury” raked in about $49 million. So although maybe studios sensed a pattern, it’s still surprising they wouldn’t give it another shot to recapture the glory days of the earlier films.
And if you’re surprised that Grisham cares about things like this, he still sounds excited when he talks about the thrill of seeing “The Firm” on the big screen for the first time.
“I’ve been very lucky dealing with Hollywood. I’ve had good success, I’ve enjoyed watching almost all the movies — almost all of them,” he said, adding, “As writers, we would love to see all of our books be adapted into a good movie. Because we all love good movies.”