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7 Worst Book-to-Movie Adaptations in Recent Memory

19 November 2012 | Features, Film Lists, Guest Posts | by David Zou

Look Hollywood, it’s not that difficult. A talented author writes an amazing book. You make a movie out of it, keeping all the parts that people love about the original work. Yes, I know that some changes have to be made when switching from the written word to film, but generally speaking, if the book’s incredible, you should be able to make a decent movie out of it, right?

Sadly, for every The Princess Bride we have a live-action Cat in the Hat. Hollywood has a knack for making bad movies based on great books. As proof, here aresevenrecent movies that managed to make cinematic lead out of literary gold (and one series that was awful in both formats).

The Cat in the Hat (2003)

Doctor Seuss is one of the world’s most beloved children’s authors, and The Cat in the Hat is one of his most popular works. It’s a frenzied twirl of rhymes and madness as the titular Cat turn a rainy day into a memorable afternoon. It’s also a wee bit too short for anything longer than a 30-minute animated adaptation.

So, naturally, Hollywood decided to make a full-length movie out of the classic, cast Mike Myers as a smarmy Cat, and fill in all the empty space with bad slapstick and off-color jokes. This Cat should have a restraining order keeping him at least 150 yards away from all children and lovers of Seuss.


Alice in Wonderland (2010)

alice in wonderland
When making this adaptation, director Tim Burton said he believed that Alice in Wonderland had never been successfully adapted to the big screen. Without being too catty, his assessment still rings true.

On the surface, Wonderland seems custom-made for Burton’s bizarre, oddball filmmaking style. In practice, it’s like trying to build a Mustang with Jaguar parts. The film mangles the original story with an older Alice returning to Wonderland to fight the Red Queen and the Jabberwock while she wears armor left over from a Joan of Arc biopic.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts One and Two (2010 and 2011)

Okay, technically this is two films, and I’m tempted to cut both directors and actors some slack here. Why? Because the final book in the Harry Potter trilogy had a dark, complex plot that really didn’t fit well with the action-oriented films from earlier in the series.

Quite frankly, there was so much important information in the book that in order to make both movies huge (and vital), parts of the story had to be expunged, including Harry’s long struggle to reconcile his image of Dumbledore with the old wizard’s actual life. Perhaps the movies work better if you haven’t read the book, but as a Rowling fan, the last two movies in the series left me feeling nothing.


The Scarlet Letter (1995)

This is the oldest movie on the list, but it bears mentioning. Demi Moore as Hester Prynne? Bathtub scenes? A happy ending? I’d like to see a sequel in which Nathanial Hawthorne rises from the grave to wreak vengeance on everyone associated with this movie.


Beowulf (2007)

Full disclosure: I hate 3D movies. That bias, however, isn’t enough to explain how Beowulf stuck in my throat like a Danish thighbone in a troll’s gullet.

The movie was in trouble when director Robert Zemekis announced, “nothing about the original poem appealed to me.” Here’s an artistic tip: if a story doesn’t appeal to you, don’t make a movie about it. You’ll make a crappy movie.

The only thing the film has in common with the Old English epic is that some guy named Beowulf shows up and kills things. Not that I’m suggesting the Anglo-Saxons wouldn’t have appreciated Angelina Jolie in gold body paint and a prehensile tail . . . .


Twilight (2008)

Actually, the movie’s anaccurate adaptation of the book. In that respect, this flick doesn’t belong on the list. As a lover of both literature and film, however, let me speak for millions when I scream, “Burn it! Burn it all!”


The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009)

A confusing novel becomes an even more confusing movie. That should have been the tagline for this book-to-film adaptation. The novel, written by Audrey Niffenegger, tells the story of Henry (a time traveler) and how he met his future/current wife, Clare. The book is written in first person and chapters alternate between Henry and Clare’s perspectives throughout different years of their lives.

The novel actually does a beautiful job of tying the storylines together in a beautiful and simple way. The movie struggles to keep that effortless flow. Multiple characters and arguably vital scenes from the novel are eliminated to attempt to simplify the still confusing film. This science fiction-esque, yet still classic love story, is one that would have been better left on paper.

Michael is a full-time blogger who has passions in all corners of the online world. In his down time he enjoys being outdoors, traveling, and blogging on everything from technology, to business, to marketing, and beyond.


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  • Steven Flores

    In my opinion, splitting up the last Harry Potter book into two films was a major mistake. I really felt that today’s audience were robbed of a rare filmgoing experience in seeing the entire story be packed into one entire film. Not as a regular release but as a road-show presentation.

    I agree with you on Cat in the Hat, it’s a blasphemous film. No, I take that back. It’s beyond that. It’s not even a film. Once you have a Paris Hilton cameo in there, that’s when you know that it’s not family entertainment. The Scarlet Letter… oh that was so horrible.

    Here’s another one, The Black Dahlia. I read the book in a month before I saw Brian de Palma’s film. I usually don’t read a lot of books but this one was truly engrossing. The film was a total let down. Things got over the top while I felt it lost the book’s psychology and character study. Not to mention that Josh Hartnett was badly miscast in the lead role.

    And Twilight… I haven’t read the books nor will I ever in my lifetime. The moment I heard Edward comparing Bella’s blood like heroin. That’s when I knew this was bad. And I saw parts of the next two films. God, they were horrendous. Burn those fucking books!

    • David Zou

      Sadly,that’s the truth.Literature is hard to be adapted to film version,especially the famous ones,screenplay and casting could easily go wrong.Also the duration,I had that problem with David Lean’s Great Expectations,it needs to be longer.

  • Chris

    I’d have to pick Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, namely The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. I really enjoyed Dragon Tattoo but the two follow ups were just plain dull and captured absolutely nothing of the books.

    • David Zou

      Never seen the other two,but year,Dragon Tattoo is a fine film,pity that the whole trilogy couldn’t be made into three awesome films.

  • http://Website Billie

    While I’m not saying it was a great film, Alice in wonderland was written as a sequel, not an adaptation of the original novel, so I don’t think it really belongs on this list, (and Alice fights the Queen of Hearts, not the Red Queen).
    How about Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?