Besides being full of books, libraries also seem to be full of potential movies for Hollywood to make money from. However, not many books translate well to film. We have all heard the phrase “lost in translation”, a saying that definitely applies to adapting a work of literature for the big screen. This is why so many people complain and say the book was better than the movie.
The fact is books and movies are two very different mediums that have different requirements to tell a story. Books have the luxury to take time and many pages to tell its story, whereas movies usually have to get to the point.
Not every detail from a book can make it into its film adaptation, which often disappoints viewers who have read the novel first. This has made many book lovers around the world very angry, almost to the point that they feel like the movie is an insult to the book and their love of the book.
With that in mind, many movie adaptations are well made and convey the same story as the book, with the added visual element to get a whole new experience from the story. However, there are just some adaptations that are nothing like their origin stories. It makes you wonder why they bothered to adapt these books at all if they were going to change so much. Perhaps the studio wanted to cash in on the book’s popularity rather than the story, and that assumption would not be too far from the truth.
Below are 15 of the worst film adaptations of novels. Whether it was that the film completely missed the point of the novel, or the story simply does not suit the movie format, or the actors were miscast, or the script just goes in a completely different direction to the novel, these films disappointed fans of the books.
15. Eragon (Stephen Fangmeier, 2006)
In the aftermath of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy being a major success, Hollywood adapted other popular fantasy novels for the big screen, but with mixed results. The novel Eragon was originally published in 2002, during the height of the popularity of The Lord Of The Rings, so naturally Hollywood saw dollar signs with wanting to adapt a new popular novel in the same vein.
The 500+ page book was turned into an hour and a half film, an obvious sign that a lot of the book would not make it into the movie. The film has numerous changes to the plot and characters from the book, making the adaptation barely recognisable.
The plot has become a clichéd hero’s journey story with nothing new to add to the formula. The film did modest business at the box office, but despite the book series having sequels, no sequels to the movie were ever made.
14. The Golden Compass (Chris Weitz, 2007)
On the surface, The Golden Compass film appears to be a standard fantasy adventure movie, and it seems that was the case. The deaths of some characters in the book were removed to make the film more family friendly, and the chronology of scenes is different in the film from the book.
The biggest difference that annoys the book’s fans though is the film does not touch on the philosophical themes of the book at all. The book was anti-religion and received a lot of criticism for its atheist views, whereas the movie seemed to oversimplify the themes of the story for a broad audience.
The novel’s sequels were never made into films, and the anti-religion theme was even more present in the latter novels, so this was probably for the best.
13. The Great Gatsby (Baz Luhrmann, 2013)
The Great Gatsby is a classic American novel that has been admired for many years. Critics and fans of the novel were always going to be picky over any film adaptations of this story, but Baz Luhrmann’s film just went into a very different and crazy direction. Besides deviating from the novel’s plot, the general execution of the story was what bothered people the most.
Many people disliked the way the story was told, since The Great Gatsby is considered a classic American novel about the 1920s, whereas the film uses modern music and was filmed in Sydney, Australia, rather than America.
The film has been both praised and criticised for visuals and colours, making the film definitely a case of style over substance. The film is more about the typical type of music video-like spectacle typical of a Baz Luhrmann film rather than conveying the themes of the book.
12. A Walk To Remember (Adam Shankman, 2002)
Nicolas Sparks has written many bestselling romance novels that have received the Hollywood treatment, and like so many other film adaptations of books, much of A Walk To Remember was changed. The book is set in 1958, while the film is set in the late 1990s when it was made, altering the era and the feel of the story.
Many scenes play out very differently and the characters have different motivations. The novel’s subplot of the Christmas play the school puts on that shows the Reverend’s struggle at being a good father to Jamie was removed, since the film didn’t have the time to get into it. Whether Jamie (Mandy Moore) died or not is left ambiguous in the novel, whereas she explicitly did die in the film.
The film is considered very soppy compared to the book. The novel was written by the renowned romance novelist Nicolas Sparks, who also wrote The Notebook and Dear John. So if people complained about the film being more sappy than the book, that is saying something.
11. Dune (David Lynch, 1984)
The 1965 novel Dune by Frank Herbert is considered a science fiction classic that is still held in high regard to this day. Various directors try to adapt it for the big screen, but it was eventually made by an unlikely director, David Lynch.
More known for his experimental films these days, Dune is the closest Lynch has ever come to creating a commercial blockbuster movie. This in itself was probably a sign that the film would not be a success with Lynch’s arthouse sensitivities clashing with the studio’s desire to create the next Star Wars.
The book had so much going on that a film could not possibly put everything in. Dune has both a 137 minute theatrical cut and the 177 minute extended cut (that Lynch disapproved of), but even with the extra scenes, it just could not do the book and its expansive plot justice. With the film trying to condense all the essential plot points of the novel, the story is a muddled mess.
The voiceover is extremely unnecessary and annoying, as the actors’ facial expressions captured everything the character was feeling, only to have it spoiled by a voiceover that states the obvious. Dune was a big disappointment that failed at the box office and it really could have been a masterpiece.
10. The Da Vinci Code (Ron Howard, 2006)
A lot of religious people protested against the book for being sacrilegious, but the film adaptation proved to be just as sacrilegious to the book’s fans. The novel was very controversial for making claims that Jesus had children, so Hollywood were wanting to make a film version to cash in on all the hype.
The main crime the film did against the book is that it is dull compared to the exciting, fast paced book, as well as many plot differences that change the story. The Da Vinci Code novel is actually a sequel to Angels And Demons, but it is the other way around in the film series. Many fans also believe that Tom Hanks was miscast as Professor Robert Langdon and made fun of his hairdo.
9. Queen Of The Damned (Michael Rymer, 2002)
Interview With The Vampire was a big hit and exposed the filmgoing public to the work of novelist Anne Rice. Warner Bros had acquired the rights to the other novels in The Vampire Chronicles series, The Vampire Lestat and The Queen Of The Damned. When their contract for the film rights was about to expire, Warner Bros acted quickly by deciding to combine the two novels into one film that ultimately became Queen Of The Damned.
Without any of the first film’s cast coming back for a second bite, it was inevitable that this film wasn’t going to be as good. The filmmakers then decided to pretty much ignore the first film and create their own story. While the book is dark, the movie is very teenyboppy and trying to be cool for the sake of being cool, which is cringe worthy.
The film is almost like an excuse to have early 2000s goth rock stars get together, with songs by the likes of Jonathan Davis from Korn (who also produced the soundtrack), Marilyn Manson, and Chester Bennington from Linkin Park. An irony of having all this goth music play is that this was RnB singer Aaliyah’s last film as the vampire queen Akasha before she died.
8. Less Than Zero (Marek Kanievska, 1987)
Most fans of author Bret Easton Ellis’s novels will loathe the film adaptation of his debut novel, Less Than Zero, because it has very little to do with the book. Ellis commented that when he first saw the movie back in 1987, he kept looking out for events and dialogue from his book, and he couldn’t find anything resembling his novel.
This film was made during Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign in the late 1980s, so the studio wanted to comply with this and make an anti-drug movie, rather than the novel’s neutral stance on drug use.
The book is about the apathy of the characters and their lifestyles, being bored and not caring about the horrible things they do, such as drug use, violence, rape and prostitution. The movie is a very tame version of the novel, although the movie does depict the grimness of Julian (Robert Downey Jr.) having to become a male prostitute to pay off his debt to his drug dealer Rip.
On the plus side, the film has great visuals and neon lighting that highlights 1980s Los Angeles and the acting is good, especially Robert Downey Jr. playing a drug addict that he more or less became in real life for a while.
7. I Am Legend (Francis Lawrence, 2007)
This is yet another case of where the main thing the book and film have in common is having the same title. There are so many differences in the story that the film could have easily been titled something else, and it probably would not have received as much negativity because it would not be associated with the classic science fiction novel.
The book takes places in mid-1970s Los Angeles, whereas the film is set in 2012 New York. Before the apocalypse happened, Neville’s (Will Smith) family die from the virus in the book, but die in a helicopter crash in the film. In the book, the monsters are vampires. In the film, they are zombies who cannot go out into the daylight. Besides Neville, all the other characters have different names and backstories.
6. The Bonfire Of The Vanities (Brian De Palma, 1990)
The Bonfire Of The Vanities is synonymous with bad movies, but mostly because of being such a poor adaptation of its acclaimed novel rather than having poor production values. With Brian De Palma directing and starring A-list actors like Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith, this should have been a hit. Despite these normally winning factors, audiences saw past them and witnessed a film they despised.
The film tried to make the unlikeable characters of the book likeable to audiences, which just simply did not work. There’s a book called The Devil’s Candy that details everything that went wrong in this adaptation. The fact a whole book was written about the film’s problems is testament to why it receives so much hatred.
5. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Stephen Norrington, 2003)
Although superhero movies are being made by the dozen these days, they were not as popular in the early 2000s, and The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen failed to connect with audiences. Adapted from the work of acclaimed graphic book writer Alan Moore, the dark, gritty characters in Alan Moore’s universe are now generic movie superheroes, and the plot and characters in the film are very different from the source material, adding insult to injury to his fans.
The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen could be considered to be an early 2000s version of The Avengers that failed miserably. Perhaps this may have been more successful had it been made a decade later and with better writing. There was also too much CGI, taking any thrill out of the action scenes. Sean Connery hated making this movie so much that he retired after making it.
4. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (Ron Howard, 2000)
During his lifetime, author Theodore “Dr Seuss” Geisel refused to have his books licensed to become films. After How The Grinch Stole Christmas was made, it is understandable why he thought this.
The original children’s book was actually darker, but with the film being directed by Ron Howard, this of course was meant to be a “safe” family movie. Reading and hearing all the rhyming in the story are two different things, the latter being very annoying to audiences who watched this film.
While Jim Carrey gave a great, manic performance as the Grinch, and the visuals are outstanding, the story just simply did not entertain people.
3. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (Garth Jennings, 2005)
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy is considered both one of the great comedy and science fiction books ever written, so the film of the same name had a lot to live up to. The book was published in 1979, 26 years before its eventual film adaptation was released. Perhaps too much time had passed, with the public having lost interest in the book, but the film itself is a complete dud.
The book sees its characters travel around a fictional universe and giving information on what to expect from different planets. The book was too big and detailed to put everything into a single movie. It was doomed to fail before anyone had even seen it. Worst of all though is that the jokes from the book just were not executed well and the film is ultimately not funny at all.
2. The Cat In The Hat (Bo Welch, 2003)
Even though How The Grinch Stole Christmas was not loved, any hatred aimed at that film is nothing compared to the wrath The Cat In The Hat received upon its release. Besides being yet another bad adaptation of a Dr Seuss book, the film is generally considered to not be funny at all, even annoying. It tried to add its own jokes on top of the already wacky story, which did not gel well at all.
The world the film is set in is over the top and too colourful to the point of being nauseating. Many say that this film was the start of the decline of Mike Myers’ career, since he only made a few films after this one. This is one of the few films ever made to get almost universal hatred surrounding it that still lingers long after the movie was made.
1. The Scarlet Letter (Roland Joffe, 1995)
The Scarlet Letter is considered to be a classic American novel that has been studied for many years. It examines what early life in America was like when the puritan settlers arrived and changed the whole country.
The protagonist Hester Prynne (Demi Moore) is a wife whose husband is at sea, and she and the local reverend Arthur Dimmesdale (Gary Oldman) have an extramarital affair. Once the town discovers this, the town considers the two lovers adulterers that must be punished in the name of God.
This film was universally hated by audiences and critics alike for straying so far from the book’s plot by adding an unnecessary subplot and tacking on a happy ending that screams “Hollywood”. Many filmgoers felts that Demi Moore was miscast and that the film seemed more interested in having titillating sex scenes than making a good movie that followed the novel it is based on.
Originally published here at tasteofcinema.com on Monday 28 March 2016