4 of the Worst Film Adaptations of Beloved Books

popcorn and a clapper

Hollywood is always looking for inspiration for movies that they hope will become massive blockbusters. One of the most readily available sources for inspiration is literary fiction. Some of the first movies in the world were inspired or direct adaptation of books such as “Dracula” and “Gone with the Wind.” However, Hollywood doesn’t have a stellar track record when adapting books into movies or even television.

Take for example the much-maligned final season of “Game of Thrones,” which were inspired by the critically acclaimed “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels. The series was derided for mangling popular characters, like the Sand Snakes and invalidating character arcs left and right.

But what other film adaptations have been scorned by readers and non-readers alike?

Below are six of the most abhorred movie adaptations of beloved books to ever hit the big screen.

  1. The Dark Tower

riding a horse
The Dark Tower novels follow a lone gunslinger traveling through a desolate land.

Based on Stephen King’s dark fantasy/horror epics, 2017’s “The Dark Tower” had a stellar cast, with the charismatic Idris Elba portraying Roland Deschain, the tortured and ruthless gunslinger protagonist. However, the movie runs into so may problems that movie adaptations encounter.  From poor characterization, nonsensical thematic changes and rushed plots, the movie has it all.

First, the film abandons the aura and themes established by the first book to come up with a generic people-pleasing popcorn movie. This robbed the movie of the slow menace and desperation so prevalent in the novels. Ostensibly, the books are about the slow degradation of an entire world and how one boy’s appearance could change everything. However, the movie abandons this premise, condenses plots for no discernible reason and makes it a bland shoot-‘em-up.

  1. Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief

Young adult movies gained a lot of momentum when the Harry Potter movies reached peak popularity in the late 2000s. The Twilight saga also appeared at the time, drawing in millions with its teen cast and romantic plots. Overall, it seemed to Hollywood studios that the key to make millions is to pander to the teens of the world. Unfortunately, some intellectual properties were never geared for teens but for much younger audiences. One such casualty of this relentless pursuit of young adult entertainment was Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series.

In 2010, 20th Century Fox produced and released “Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief”. The books were originally targeted at children aged 8 to 11 years old and was very much a children’s series. The movie featured teenaged characters and had scenes that occurred in casinos. The movie was a travesty, even though Riordan himself desperately tried to set things right, as documented in a series of now famous emails.

It’s clear that the movie, and its even more horrible sequel, were the victims of studio mismanagement and producers desperate for a young adult blockbuster.

  1. Gulliver’s Travels

Updating books for modern audiences tends to be a difficult job with little pay off. However, Hollywood seems to be unable to accept that some stories just cannot be turned into modern tales. This is especially obvious with 2010’s “Gulliver’s Travels.”

Generally speaking, updating a Victorian novel into a modern-day story can be difficult. But the movie does it in all the wrong ways.

The original novel was a lighthearted adventure featuring misunderstandings, some physical comedy and a lot of metaphors regarding European politics. Rather than put in the effort to transform these themes properly, the movie does away with all of it and turned it into a farcical tale.

Jack Black stars as the titular Gulliver as he bumbles his way on an island of tiny people. The film tries to follow some of the book’s plot, but all subtlety is thrown out the window to make room for Jack Black’s signature kind of crude and bland humor.

  1. The Scarlet Letter

woman reading a book while taking a bath
Instead of focusing on its themes, 1995’s “Scarlet Letter” featured a lot of baths.

Badly made film adaptations of beloved books don’t just exist in the 21st century. Even in the 90s, there  have been books that were ruined as badly as “City of Bones.” One of the most egregious examples is 1995’s “The Scarlet Letter,” starring Demi Moore.

Supposedly based on the classic work by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the movie turned a cautionary tale about persecution and small-mindedness into an erotic thriller featuring a lot of baths and tawdry sex scenes. Not only does this do a disservice to the book’s main message, it also butchers the characterization of basically every other character in the book.

The film is also not helped by Moore’s perplexing and ludicrous accent.

Poor film adaptations of beloved books will exist, so long as studios care more about making money than faithfully translating them into a visual medium. Although adaptations should never be complete translations of a novel, there should still be enough of the story’s spirit to ensure they remain watchable.

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