10 Great Books Transformed into Horrible Movies

10 Great Books Transformed into Horrible Movies

Kathryn Whitworth| March 18, 2015

These days, movies that are based on a completely original idea are hard to find. Most of the time, the movies we see today have been adapted from stories that already exist, such as those that are written in the books.

For many years, books transformed into movies have become a trend on the big screen. In fact, there are lots of movie classics based on books, and usually, the movies end up becoming bigger than life and better than the book.

But sometimes, it would have better for some of these stories turned into movies to have remained as books because they just did not turn out as well as expected at all. The running time of most films is not always enough to squeeze every twist and turn of a story into a rational screenplay.

If you won’t take our word for it, take a look at these 10 great books that have been transformed into horrible movies and be the judge:

10. The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987)

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Written in 1987 by Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities is a book about racism, ambition, politics, social class and greed in New York City in the 1980s. It follows the story of three characters – Sherman McCoy, the WASP bond trader, Larry Kramer, the Jewish assistant district attorney, and Peter Fallow, the British expatriate.

In 1990, Bonfire was adapted into a movie, which starred Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, Kim Cattrall, Sam Rubinek, and Morgan Freeman. It was directed by Brian De Palma. Wolfe received $750,000 for the rights. Although the book was a major bestseller, receiving strong reviews, the movie was the complete opposite.

Upon release, the film was a commercial flop, grossing only over $15 million with a budget of $47 million. It also received negative reviews, with critics complaining about the pacing and the casting of Hanks and Willis.

The Bonfire of the Vanities received 5 nominations from the Golden Raspberry Awards, including Worst Director, Worst Actress, Worst Supporting Actress, Worst Picture, and Worst Screenplay.

9. The Scarlet Letter (1850)

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Set in 17th century Puritan, Boston, Massachusetts, The Scarlet Letter is a romantic work of fiction in a historical setting by Nathaniel Hawthorne, exploring themes of sin, legalism, and guilt. It follows the life of Hester Prynne, who gives birth to a daughter because of an affair, and struggles to have a new life of dignity and repentance.

The book was widely read and discussed by many. Eventually, it became one of America’s first mass-produced books, with 2,500 volumes sold out within ten days. Its first edition copies are now sought by collectors as rare books, with price reaching $18,000.

The book’s success has led to several plays, operas, and film adaptations, including the 1995 film, which starred Demi Moore, Gary Oldman, and Robert Duvall. However, upon release, it was panned by critics because of its deviation from the original story by Hawthorne.

And because people hated the film, it received seven nominations from the Golden Raspberry Awards. These include the Worst Remake or Sequel, Worst Actress, Worst Director, Worst Picture, Worst Screenplay, Worst Screen Couple, and Worst Supporting Actor.

The 1995 film adaptation of The Scarlet Letter only grossed $10.3 million against a budget of $50 million.

8. Gulliver’s Travels (1726)

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A satire written by Anglo-Irish writer Jonathan Swift in 1726, Gulliver’s Travels is an adventure story involving the various journeys of Lemuel Gullliver. He is a ship’s surgeon, who ends up on different unknown islands because of a series of mishaps. Still, he is able to return to his home in England and recovers from his unusual experiences.

As soon as the book was published, it became popular. Since then, it never ran out of copies. It has also been adapted several times for films, with most versions avoiding the satire completely.

In 2010, a film based on the book was released. Directed by Rob Letterman, the film starred Jack Black, Emily Blunt, Jason Segel, Amanda Peet, James Corden, and Catherine Tate.

Though it has been modernized, the film still follows Gulliver’s adventures with Lemuel Gulliver portrayed as a light-hearted and curious man working in the mail room. The 2010 film has received generally negative reviews upon release. It was also a major box office bomb, grossing only $237.3 million worldwide.

Although Black was nominated for Favorite Movie Actor during the 2011 Kid’s Choice Award, he also received a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actor.

7. The Golden Compass (1995)

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Known as The Golden Compass in North America, Northern Lights is a young-adult fantasy story written by Philip Pullman. It follows Lyra Belacqua’s journey to the Arctic in search for her missing friend Roger Parslow, and her imprisoned uncle, Lord Asriel, who has been performing experiments with a mysterious substance called “Dust”.

The book earned Pullman several awards, including the Carnegie Medal for British children’s books, and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. Also, it was named Booklist’s Editor’s Choice in the United States. Northern Lights was the first book in the trilogy His Dark Materials, followed by The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.

 In 2007, a feature film adaptation of the novel was produced, which starred Nicole Kidman, Eva Green, Sam Elliot, Dakota Blue Richards, Ian McKellen, Daniel Craig, Kathy Bates, and Ian McShane.

The Golden Compass received mixed reviews from critics. For some, the special effects of the film were outstanding, but for others, the film itself failed to live up to the book’s popularity. With the two-hour running time of the film, all the happenings in the book weren’t effectively shown.

Nevertheless, the film still received awards and nominations. It won the 2008 BAFTA Award for Special Visual Effects, and an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. It also received two nominations in 2007 from the Critic’s Choice Awards for Best Family Film, and Best Young Actress for Richards.

With a budget of $180 million, the film grossed more than $372 million worldwide.

6. The Positronic Man (1976)

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A novelette by Isaac Asimov, The Positronic Man tells the story of a robot named Andrew that serves the Martin family. Eventually, he learns about human emotions and behavior and begins acting like them.  He then yearns to be more than just a robot and over time, his body’s mechanical parts are replaced with organic parts, turning him into a human.

Because the plot of the novelette explored issues of slavery, prejudice, humanity, intellectual freedom, love, sex, mortality, and morality, it was awarded the Nebula Award and Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novelette in 1976.

In 1999, the novelette was adapted into film. It starred Robin Williams as the robot Andrew Martin. Though the film followed the same plot as the book, it still received mixed reviews, with critics saying William’s performance was not convincing enough.

Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times said, “Bicenternnial Man begins with promise, proceeds in fits and starts, and finally sinks into a cornball drone of greeting-card sentiment. Robin Williams spends the first half of the film encased in a metallic robot suit, and when he emerges, the script turns robotic instead. What a letdown”.

Bicentennial Man still received nominations, including an Academy Award for Best Makeup, two Blockbuster Entertainment Awards for Favorite Actor and Favorite Actress, a Hollywood Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild Award, a Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Award for Favorite Movie Actor, and a YoungStar Award for Best Young Actress Performance in a Motion Picture.

Bicentennial Man was also a box office flop, grossing just over $87 million worldwide against a budget of $100 million.

5. The Cat in the Hat (1957)

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The Cat in the Hat is a children’s book written and illustrated by Theodor Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss. It follows the story of a tall anthropomorphic cat, who wears a red bow tie and a red and white-striped hat.

The book is about two kids left at home on a rainy day with nothing to do. And suddenly, the cat with a tall hat and a box filled with random stuff arrives at the doorstep and entertains them. At the end of the day, everything is in chaos.

Just like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the book was also a  financial success, with critics praising it as an exciting alternative to the usual books. Three years after its release, it has sold over a million copies. It even placed number nine on Publishers Weekly’s Best-Selling Children’s Books of All Time.

In 2003, Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat was adapted into film. It starred Mike Myers as the Cat in the Hat, and Dakota Fanning as Sally. Spencer Breslin played Sally’s brother Conrad. Initially, Tim Allen was cast as the Cat, but he dropped the role because he had to work on The Santa Clause 2.

Because the story was too short, new characters and subplots were added to fill out the 82 minutes running time of the film.

While the makeup effects and the costume and production designs were praised, the film still received generally negative reviews. Many complained about the dissimilarity of the film to the original story.

The Cat in the Hat received nominations from the Golden Raspberry Awards, including the Worst Actor of the Decade, Worst Supporting Actor, Worst Supporting Actor, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Picture.

The movie was so bad that Theodore Geisel’s wife, Audrey Geisel, decided not to allow any live-action adaptations of her husband’s work ever again. Against a budget of $109 million, the film only grossed $134 million at the worldwide box office.

4. The Da Vinci Code (2003)

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Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is a mystery detective novel, following the chronicles of symbologist Robert Langdon, and cryptologist Sophie Neveu. After a murder in Paris, Langdon follows some clues that lead him on a mission to track the actual location of the Holy Grail.

The novel took the world by storm as it explored an alternative religious story about the Holy Grail legend and the role of Mary Magdalene in the history of Christianity.

Even though the book has been extensively condemned by many Christian groups and criticized for its scientific and historical inaccuracies, it still became a worldwide bestseller, selling over 80 million copies. Because of its success, it has also been translated into 44 languages.

In 2006, a film adaptation was released under Columbia Pictures. It starred Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Jurgen Prochnow, Alfred Molina, Paul Bettany, and Jean Reno.

Just like the book, the film was considered controversial. It was met with harsh criticisms, majority from the Roman Catholic Church. Critics were also negative about the film, citing it as an attack against religion.

Although The Da Vinci Code was banned in a number of countries, this did not hamper its box office performance. The film grossed more than $758 million worldwide against a budget of $125 million. It is also the 51st highest-grossing film worldwide.

3. The Time Machine (1985)

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Written by H. G. Wells in 1985, The Time Machine is a science fiction novel about a nameless inventor, who creates a machine that allows him to travel through time. When he uses it, he finds himself in the year 802,701 A.D., where planet Earth has deteriorated into a more natural habitat inhabited by two species, the peaceful Eloi, and the nocturnal monster Morlocks.

With many books introducing ideas that form the basis of modern day science fiction, H. G. Wells is considered as the father of science fiction. Because of his novel, The Time Machine, the term “time machine” is now universally used.

The success of the book has led to a number of comic book adaptations, two television versions, and two feature films of the same name.

In 1960, the first feature film based on the novel was released which starred Rod Taylor. It was met with critical acclaim, winning an Oscar Award for Best Effects.

After more than four decades, another film adaptation was released. It starred Guy Pearce, Jeremy Irons, Orlando Jones, Mark Addy, Sienna Guillory, Samantha Mumba, and Phyllida Law.

Instead of London, the 2002 film is set in New York City. Also, certain story elements were added to make it more logical. As a result, the characters and the story suffered. With a budget of $80 million, it only grossed over $123 million at the box office.

2. All the King’s Men (1946)

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With the title taken from the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty, All the King’s Men is a novel written by Robert Penn Warren about the rise and governorship of the pessimistic populist Willie Stark. The political reporter Jack Burden narrates the novel, who comes to work as the right-hand of Stark.

 In 1947, the novel earned Warren the Pulitzer Prize and is ranked by the Modern Library as the 36th Greatest Novel of the 20th Century. It was also chosen as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Best Novels.

In 1949 and 2006, All the King’s Men was adapted for film. The 1949 film, which starred Broderick Crawford, won the Academy Award for Best Picture while the 2006 film was panned by critics.

With Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Anthony Hopkins, Mark Ruffalo, and Patricia Clarkson included in the cast, it was still a commercial and critical failure. The film’s narrative was so complicated and boring. It lacked the energy and political sense that made the book a classic.

Out of a budget of $55 million, All the King’s Men only grossed $9.5 million at the box office.

1. Eragon (2003)

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The first novel in the young adult tetralogy Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, Eragon follows the story of a young farm boy named Eragon, who finds a mysterious stone in the mountains. Eventually, a dragon hatches from the stone, which was actually an egg. However, the evil King Galbatorix finds out about this, so he sends his servant to capture them.

Eragon became the third best-selling children’s hardback book of 2003, and the second best-selling paperback of 2005. Also, for 121 weeks, it was placed on the New York Times Children’s Books Best-Seller list. After that, it was adapted into a feature film of the same name, which was released on December 15, 2006.

Directed by Stefen Fangmeier, the film featured Edward Speleers in the lead role, with Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, Garrett Hedlund, Robert Carlyle, John Malkovich, Djimon Hounsou, Joss Stone, and Alun Armstrong in supporting roles. It also featured the voice of Rachel Weisz as the dragon Saphira.

Unfortunately, the movie lacked the excitement, which made the book a classic. The 2006 film presented nothing new and it was fairly lifeless. At times, it was a bit silly. For Rotten Tomatoes, it was the 10th worst reviewed film of 2006.

But, despite the poor reviews, the movie was still a commercial success. It grossed more than $249.5 million at the box office against a budget of $100 million. The film’s worldwide gross was the sixteenth highest for 2006.

Aside from doing well at the box office, it also received two Saturn Awards nominations for Best Fantasy Film and Best Performance by a Younger Actor.

People love seeing a good book made into a good movie. They all love watching the stories they once imagined, brought to life by their favorite actors on-screen. However, not all good books have successfully made the leap onto the big screen. Just like the books listed here, some books would have been better if they stayed on the shelf.

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