Is a 'Catcher in the Rye' movie possible?

Hollywood has for years yearned to get their hands on that holy grail of screen rights: The Catcher in the Rye. Now that author J.D. Salinger has passed away, the question looms even larger.  Much is being made of a 1957 letter to an enquirer in which he lays out his antipathy towards selling his work to filmmakers, but leaves open the door to a posthumous adaptation. In it he states: “Firstly, it is possible that one day the rights will be sold. Since there’s an ever-looming possibility that I won’t die rich, I toy very seriously with the idea of leaving the unsold rights to my wife and daughter as a kind of insurance policy. It pleasures me no end, though, I might quickly add, to know that I won’t have to see the results of the transaction.”

For years, Salinger refused outright any requests to adapt his iconic 1951 novel. Much of his ire was rooted in a 1949 failure from Samuel Goldwyn called My Foolish Heart, which turned his short story “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” into a mushy, saccharine mess. From that point on, Salinger turned down a long list of notables, including Goldwyn (who had the nerve to ask for more), Billy Wilder, Elia Kazan (for the stage rights), and Steven Spielberg.

Whether or not Salinger retained the attitude expressed in that letter over 50 years later — after having separated from his wife and after the named daughter, Margaret, wrote a scathing memoir of him — remains to be seen. But it is interesting to ponder whether or not we could be seeing a Catcher movie any time soon. Salinger believed it was a “very novelistic novel” and thus did not necessarily lend itself well to adaptation in other media, but clearly the bulk of Hollywood has disagreed for decades.

What do you think?  Do you want to see Holden on screen?

Comments (256 total) Add your comment
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  • Chris

    No. Stay away from it. HOllywood ruins almost every literary masterpiece they touch. The man didn’t want it to happen – leave it alone.

    • Matt Tritton

      Oh, this movie is gonna happen. If he left the rights to his ex-wife and/or daughter, they will sell them to the highest bidder (which, presumably will damn high) – especially if they hate him. The rights have become part of his estate, so those millions were left to someone.

      I think Justin Timberlake would make a great Holdin.

      • Kevin

        Except for the fact that JT is like 12 years too old.

      • Katie

        And the suggestion that Justin Timberlake should be in this movie is exactly why Salinger did not allow his novel to be sold…

      • Scott

        If you think about it, Benjamin Braddock was a watered-down Holden Caulfield and “The Graduate” was a great movie. Still, Holden’s pathos would be very, very tough to capture on film. Justin Timberlake?? Good grief.

      • Celia

        Justin Timberlake?? He’s a great singer, but he can not play Holden Caulfield and I haven’t been sold on his acting ability yet. I’m not sure this film could work as a movie, since it’s a first person narrative and he’s talking to his shrink the whole time.

      • Christi

        Justin Timberlake? Yeah, no…

        I know when I was 13 and read this book I thought Leonardo DiCaprio would have been a PERFECT Holden. Too bad he’s way too old now…

      • Mike

        Zac Efron???? Totally. And like, he could break out into song and dance spontaneously throughout. His skills are one step above ‘porn actor’. He’s a porn actor that can sing.

        Alpha Dog convinced me that Timberlake can actually act. I was skeptical before I watched, but really convinced by his performance.

      • Celia

        Ryan Gosling would be perfect for the role…he’s in his late twenties, but I think he can easily play a 17 year old.

      • Chris

        How about Jesse Eisenberg. He seems like he would be the perfect Holden. His character in Squid and the Whale kinda reminded me of him

      • jp

        my predictions: 1) jerry bruckheimer purchases the rights 2) michael bay signs on as director 3) macaulay culkin aka rory culkin aka timmy o’toole-culkin as holden 4) nick cannon as stradlater k. voldamort 5) susan boyle as little pheobe 6) 11th hour script changes give holden the power to change from a catcher in the rye to a pitcher in major league baseball

      • kylie

        Who is hot right now but can act?

        Holden Caulfield is so perfect, I see Daniel Radcliffe working with a vocal couch and playing the disenchanted teen.

      • Kait

        You know who would have made a great Holden back in the day? Joseph Gordon Levitt.

        In all honesty, I agree with many of the posters here. Catcher in the Rye should be left alone in the form it is perfect for–literature.

      • Nick

        I hope to god they don’t make a Catcher in the Rye movie. The book was damn good, damn good! But Hollywood ruins everything they get their hands on. I think eventually it will be sold, but I hope that it never does. I honestly wish I’d have read this book sooner, just so I could right J.D. Salinger myself and tell him what a fantastic job he did on this novel. 5/5

      • Nick

        Whoops, I meant write.

      • Mark

        Hey, how about somebody brand new? Crazy idea right? Maybe, and i’m just spit-ballin’ here. Just maybe, we don’t have to use the same recycled actors in every movie. Holden is 17 in the book, and jumping ahead 15 years probably isn’t what Salinger had in mind. Boycott the movie when, not if, it comes out.

      • Nate

        I would like to see the movie taking place in present time or the 90′s, and Holden being way into punk music. A for who plays him, I think it should be someone undiscovered.

      • dan

        are you guys kidding me? Justin Timberlake!?!? Jessie Eisenberg!?!? Good Lord. DiCaprio would have been perfect. If you see him in The Basketball Diaries, youd know what im talking about. Unfortunately he is nearly 40…so looks like the movie will suck.

      • CA

        First off, don’t make it a movie, second; if they do, j timberlake is like 30. Holden Caufield is 17 in the book. Have you even read it? If they did a movie it would have to be a cast of unheadrd of’s.

      • alex hunt

        i disagree with that leonardo dicaprio would be a much better holden

      • arya

        Shia LaBouf will be better

    • Patrick

      Hollywood hss already made an adaptation of The Catcher In The Rye and it was called Ordinary People. We don’t need a repeat. Leave Salinger alone.

      • Mon

        I believe you are wrong, Ordinary People is also a novel. I remember reading the book in high school.

    • Terri Schiavo

      Taylor Lautner would be a great choice!

      • Jake

        Yeah right. It’d be too big of a roll for him. He hasn’t even show actual talent in movies besides working out.

      • DK

        @Jake: You spelled “role” wrong but I agree with you. He’s just a pretty boy so far (and will probably stay that way).

      • John

        Yeah, cause thats what Jd would have wanted. An actor who sells tickets by removing his clothes. Holden isn’t a pretty boy. He is a mediocrely attractive lanky insecure teen who may or may not be gay. That definatley isn’t taylor lautner, zac efron, or justin timberlake.

      • Ashley

        You know… someone mentioned it… as a joke, maybe… But IF the book was ever made into a movie… Rory Culkin could TOTALLY pull off Holden!

  • Tom

    Leave this book alone. The story is great in one’s own imagination – why count on Hollywood to ruin it and make it ‘phony’ – just the kinda thing that would’ve made Holden gag.

    • Brian

      Well said, Tom. Couldn’t agree more. Sometimes, the best movies are the ones we imagine in our minds while reading the book.

    • Thomas

      Haha, that is so true, Holden always had a disgust for movies. If he existed he would despise his own movie.

  • niki

    No – leave a good story alone and let our minds do the imagining for once.

  • Katie

    “The Catcher In The Rye” is probably the ultimate example of a great book that would be a terrible movie.

    • kirsten

      well stated. Ninety minutes of Holden rambling around New York would be a bad movie and what more, would spoil the book. ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ with Michael J. Fox is a perfect example of why this should not be done.

      • kenneth

        Do not compare ‘Bright Lights / Big City’ with the RYE. Hollywood can work magic and with this particular story the RYE would be made well. As for actors -Jeeze Louise- don not go down the Justin T route, he is probably a nice guy but no Holden. How about Emile Hirsch, Lucas Grabeel, Alex Frost and they are all talented actors, but how about Aaron Johnson from the new Kick-Ass movie. I feel that given the right team and the write scripting any great book can be converted into a great movie. Give some good examples please.

  • Ed

    I’m not sure if I want to see Holden on screen, but I’m sure it’s going to happen. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a screenplay already written, and it’s been shelved until Salinger’s death. And though I also don’t find the novel very cinematic, I am sure some filmmakers have the talent to make it into a good film. I thought “The Hours” was going to be a horrible film, but it turned out to be one of the best adaptations I’ve ever seen. Same for “Atonement.” So, in the right hands, “Rye” certainly can be effective on screen.

    • Jinx

      i agree.

      • 42man

        I don’t agree. See, Atonement, while extremely literary in its tastes as a novel, is also very visual and very action-driven. Catcher in the Rye is a groundbreaking novel simply because it exemplifies a character that chooses to do nothing with his life. And while on the page, it’s a fascinating character to study, on the screen, it would be unbelievably hard to convey this visually.

        So not even Scorsese, or Darren Aronofsky, or the Coen Brothers could adapt this LITERARY masterpiece into a visual treat.

    • Patrick

      But the odds are that it won’t. For every good adaptation there were probably 100 lousy ones. I say leave Catcher alone.

  • K

    Please leave Holden where he belongs, on the pages of a book. A movie of Catcher can never capture the character as Salinger intended and his wishes should be respected that it not be made into a movie.

    • adj

      salingers “wishes” were that his book never be made into a movie while he was ALIVE so given the fact that he is DEAD means that his wishes were respected

  • Jessica

    Any movie made from this book would never be able to capture the nuance of the book or the desperation and confusion Holden feels. The movie would probably make obvious things in the book that were meant to be subtle. Please Hollywood, stay away from it!!!

  • Mike Demczuk

    Yes, make it into a movie. There have been some blunders in the movie business but also there have been many triumphs. From the time the book was written till now many movie makers have contemplated this project. The book at last count has sold over 60 million and read by many more. With this many people having been exposed to the novel the movie mogals would feel a sence of responsibility depicting the message of the novel in its true life form. Lets see it happen.

    • Dave

      Yeah, because trusting the movie moguls worked perfectly when the works of Dr. Seuss were adapted.

  • keith

    NOOOO. I can not imagine the book as a movie. Especially now, all these years later. Leave Holden in the rye where he belongs.

    • Malin

      This story will be absolutely ruined if placed into the jaws of Hollywood ! It should stay in it’s original literature form and not made into a “phony” movie (as Holden would put it himself!) one of my favorite quotes from the book was when Holden said if you don’t want to throw up don’t see this movie ! How horrible it would be if we had to say that about the Hollywood version of Catcher in the Rye!!!!

  • ERIN

    I think finding a great Holden would be impossible. They would probably cast RPatz and f the whole thing up from the get go.

    • Jamie B.

      My thoughts exactly!

  • Dennis

    Just leave it alone. No.

  • Some Crank

    Someone will eventually make a movie from the book. It will disappoint fans of the book and whoever finances the movie.

    • Hasmin

      I agree with you on this one. I read this book a while back and, while the crceaathr’s voice was excellently captured, I remember thinking that the entire book seemed to be devoid of any actual purpose.

  • Rachel

    I want to see it done RIGHT – like Watchmen or something…no sensationalist Harry Potter/Twilight/media frenzy.

    • Celia

      Are you kidding? Catcher in the Rye is one of the most popular, banned books in the world. It will spark some media interest if it’s made into a film.

  • M.

    First of all, I really think we should respect what J.D. Salinger wanted. While I first thought it might be good as a movie, I don’t think I’d want it to be one. In my opinion, Holden belongs in a book, so the readers can imagine him as they want.

    • adj

      salingers wishes are that it not be a movie until he dies

  • D

    Use Simon and Garfunkel songs as the soundtrack

    • Patrick

      @D. Are you serious? This is exactly why Salinger did NOT want Catcher adapted into a movie–for stupid ideas like using rock songs from the late 60s when Catcher takes place during the early 50s.

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