Top 10 Worst Book-to-Film Adaptations

Script written by Tiffany Ezuma. Hearing that your favorite book is being turned into a movie can either be the best news in the world, or the worst. More often than not, it’s the latter. In this video, WatchMojo.com counts down our picks for the top 10 worst book to film adaptations. For this list, we’ve focused on critically acclaimed or fan favorite books that were adapted to the screen in order to capitalize on their success, but which resulted in disappointing or flat-out bad movies. We’ve excluded Stephenie Meyer’s "Twilight" and similar entries that we didn’t actually expect to be any good. Special thanks to our users cgarrett2021, Jess-Man-Dude, Tom Webb, Joe Greenwell, MetroidAssassin, HungerGamesFansNever, Rodi Ali, Minnesota Grit, duckboy416, Sean HK, alecompte, rattlesnakevenom1, Ian Lawson, Damian_L, Juan Saldana, Quetzal00358, Erica Jones, THeImpostor7, Andrew A. Dennison, bigrichpene, gretchenvila, Andrew Horton and BeckyofIowa for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Script written by Tiffany Ezuma.

Top 10 Worst Book-to-Film Adaptations


Hearing that your favorite book is being turned into a movie can either be the best news in the world, or the worst. More often than not, it’s the latter. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 worst book to film adaptations.

For this list, we’ve focused on critically acclaimed or fan favorite books that were adapted to the screen in order to capitalize on their success, but which resulted in disappointing or flat-out bad movies. We’ve excluded Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” and similar entries that we didn’t actually expect to be any good.

#10: “Gulliver’s Travels” (2010)

Published in 1726 by Jonathan Swift, this novel is a parody of society’s rules and the popular travel-writing genre, and it became an instant classic; this movie, not so much. Casting Jack Black as a lead is always a gamble and this time it didn’t pay off. Black relied on potty humor and 3D effects to carry the movie. Instead of being a tongue-in-cheek jab at society like the book, the 2010 film left audiences feeling like the joke was being played on them.

#9: “The Time Traveler’s Wife” (2009)

This was Audrey Niffenegger’s debut novel about a time traveler who involuntarily jumps around in time, where he meets his future wife at different points in her life. As you can imagine, the book is complex, heartbreaking and woven with rich language and metaphors. But the on-screen version falls flat. The movie manages to leave out many of the book’s smaller, interesting characters and it’s a confusing watch for those who haven’t read the novel. But hey, at least the leads are attractive.

#8: “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” (2001)

Not known for his skill with accents, Nicolas Cage isn’t the most obvious choice to portray a Greek-speaking Italian soldier. But here we are. Louis De Bernières’ book is a sweeping romance and historical tale of a Greek island that’s under occupation by the Italians and Germans in WWII. While the cinematography in the film is beautiful, the movie fails to explain the history correctly and the attraction between Cage and Penelope Cruz just isn’t there. Also, that accent!

#7: “The Bonfire of the Vanities” (1990)

Tom Wolfe is one of the 20th century’s most celebrated American writers, but this movie isn’t a calling card for his work. With A-list actors cast and Brian De Palma directing, Wolfe’s story of greed, race, and politics should have been success, but it was a major, major flop. The film sanitized the intensity and grittiness of the novel and focused too much on making the characters more likeable. Recently, Morgan Freeman stated that this movie was the “one major nightmare” of his career. Ouch.

#6: “The Scarlet Letter” (1995)

Many high school curricula now include Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic tale of double standards and intolerance, but its 1995 movie adaptation is far from a must-see. This version is a prime example of what happens when Hollywood tries to make source material sexier. It’s pretty tough to take Demi Moore seriously as a Puritan woman, but audiences’ biggest quarrel with the film was its dramatically altered ending. No wonder it holds a 14% on Rotten Tomatoes.

#5: “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” (2003)

Alan Moore is pretty much the god of graphic novels, so it isn’t a surprise that he distanced himself from this weak adaptation. His graphic novel tells the story of a group of exceptional people who come together to defend the British Empire, while the movie is merely a grouping of random action sequences. The screen adaptation lacks any real character development and its credibility suffered as a result. Not even Sean Connery could save this one.

#4: “Eragon” (2006)

When the plot revolves around a boy who learns to tame dragons, it should be easy to create movie magic; but something was lost in translation between page and screen. With its iffy pacing, the film adaptation of the Christopher Paolini novel lags on with no direction, often giving the impression it’s trying to be the next “Lord of the Rings” franchise. Unfortunately for “Eragon,” however, it lacks the intimate relationships of J.R.R. Tolkien’s series and brings nothing new to the screen.

#3: “The Cat in the Hat” (2003)

This is one of the most beloved children’s classics ever; but let’s face it, there’s not much of a story there. Dr. Seuss’ book is full of his trademark illustrations and rhymes. The film, on the other hand, fills in the story’s blanks by making up some ridiculous plot points, and adding potty humor and sexual innuendo into a children’s story. Between this and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” Seuss’ widow vowed there would be no more live action adaptations of his work.

#2: “The Golden Compass” (2007)

What made this children’s series so good was the fact that author Philip Pullman trusted the intelligence of his audience. His book is a fantastical epic about a girl growing up in a world where freewill is suppressed. Though the source material had strong anti-religious undertones, the film glosses over its complexities to avoid unsetting viewers, resulting in an action film with no story and tons of special effects. The effects were the film’s only high point, winning it an Oscar and BAFTA.

Before we uncover our number one pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- “The Da Vinci Code” (2006)
- “All the King’s Men” (2006)
- “The Lovely Bones” (2009)
- “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (2005)
- “Congo” (1995)

#1: “Dune” (1984)

Sometimes a book’s plot is just too complex to be turned into a feature, and that was the case with this Frank Herbert adaptation. His book is a sci-fi classic that tells the story of a young man whose fate is to free his people from the evil House Harkonnen family. A lot of the key points are there, but David Lynch’s movie version is hard to follow and became a box office bomb, not earning back its $40 million budget.

Do you agree with our list? Which adaptation disappointed you the most? For more fan-approved Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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