- Not all movie adaptations of books have been successful.
- “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them” became a film series widely regarded as a “cash cow” that couldn’t recapture the magic of the original “Harry Potter” movies.
- “The Cat in the Hat” was panned by critics for its vulgar jokes and a nonsensical plot.
- The “Eragon” movie deviated completely from the bestselling book, so much so that author Christopher Paollini says he’s hoping for a reboot.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Adapting beloved books for the big screen is no easy task.
With a good script, talented cast, and effective world-building, the stories can come to life in a new way. But Hollywood has been known to butcher book adaptations, leaving both fans of the books and film critics dissatisfied with the results.
Here are 16 book-to-movie adaptations that just didn’t work.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them” was a wholly unnecessary addition to the “Harry Potter” franchise.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” was published in March 2001 as part of a collection of fictional Hogwarts textbooks written by J.K. Rowling.
The entire “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them” series was widely regarded as a “cash cow” when it was first announced in 2015. The first movie in the franchise didn’t live up to the magic of the original “Harry Potter” movies, sacrificing character development to rush the plot along. The second instalment, 2018’s “Crimes of Grindelwald,” was the lowest-grossing “Harry Potter” movie ever and received poor reviews.
The casting of Johnny Depp also proved controversial, as he was the subject of domestic violence accusations.
The “Ella Enchanted” movie had great source material to draw from. If only it had used it.
The “Ella Enchanted” book by Gail Carson Levine features a headstrong protagonist who saves the prince, the kingdom, and herself on her mission to lift a curse of compulsory obedience she received as a baby.
In addition to adding unnecessary characters and elements that weren’t in the book, the 2004 movie starring Anne Hathaway turns her into a damsel in distress, and makes the way she lifts the curse much less compelling. The movie bears little resemblance to Levine’s novel and suffers as a result.
The “Cat in the Hat” movie sullied the good name of Dr. Seuss.
Dr. Seuss’ classic children’s book was turned into a joyless, needlessly complicated movie featuring crass jokes and an obnoxious iteration of the titular Cat in the Hat, played by Mike Myers. Critics panned the film.
“The big-screen ‘Cat’ represents everything corrupt, bloated, and wrong with mainstream Hollywood movies,” wrote Ty Burr of the Boston Globe. “It takes a slender toddler-classic about the joys of anarchy – a 10-minute bedtime read at best – and pumps it into 73 minutes of state-of-the-art vulgarity.”
The “My Sister’s Keeper” film adaptation changed the book’s twist ending into a much less interesting conclusion.
In “My Sister’s Keeper,” Anna Fitzgerald was conceived to help treat her sister Kate’s cancer. Anna then sues her parents for emancipation, saying she wants control over her own body. The book ends with a shocking twist – Anna dies in a car accident, and Kate receives her organs and recovers from her illness.
The 2009 movie, starring Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin, changed the ending, making Kate the one to die, which fell flat compared to the drama of Jodi Picoult’s bestseller.
“Eragon” the book became an international phenomenon. “Eragon” the movie was not worthy.
When a farm boy named Eragon stumbles upon a dragon egg, he revives the kingdom of Alagaesia’s history of Dragon Riders and sets out to destroy the evil King Galbatorix.
The “Eragon” movie, which was released in 2006, deviated completely from the bestselling book with its weak script and disjointed plot. The movie’s low budget also resulted in less-than-stellar special effects.
Author Christopher Paollini deserved better. In a Reddit AMA in April 2020, he expressed hope for a remake in the future.
“The movie was . . . an experience,” he wrote. “The studio and the director had one vision for the story. I had another. So it goes. That said, the movie did introduce a ton of new readers to the series (which I’m happy for), and the books themselves haven’t changed. Now that Disney owns Fox, maybe we’ll see a reboot of the series. Especially now that I have a new book out.”
The “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie was better than the book, but that’s not saying much.
EL James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” series about a rich billionaire and a young, innocent English major outsold “Harry Potter” with sentences like, “My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves.”
While the movie, which was released in 2015, improves on the source material and omits the book’s most nonsensical scenes, Anastasia and Christian’s imbalanced sexual relationship remains toxic at best and abusive at worst. The story was not worthy of being spun into a Hollywood romance released in time for Valentine’s Day. Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan’s onscreen chemistry also leaves much to be desired.
“The Golden Compass” movie became embroiled in controversy that overshadowed the message of the book.
Author Philip Pullman wrote “The Golden Compass” as a thinly veiled criticism of religion. Though he has said it’s not about the Catholic church specifically, the book’s villain is an evil theocracy called the Magisterium that abuses children. It’s even referred to as “the Church” in the book.
The 2007 movie adaptation watered down the religious parallels in an attempt to avoid controversy, and changed the morally ambiguous ending to be more in the realm of good vs. evil, but was still protested by Catholic groups and Pullman’s fans alike.
The book was given new life as the HBO series “His Dark Materials” in 2019. The expansive saga is better-suited as a television show, anyway.
“The Hobbit” book is around 300 pages long — not nearly enough material for the film trilogy it became.
The first “Lord of the Rings” movie trilogy was a masterpiece. Each film was based on one book from J.R.R. Tolkien’s series, with well-paced plots and gorgeous cinematography. For “The Hobbit” adaptation, a single book was stretched into three unnecessary movies, which were released between 2012 and 2014.
Production issues also marred the film’s success – after director Guillermo del Toro quit the project, Peter Jackson stepped in at the last minute. In the DVD special features of “The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies,” Jackson admitted to “winging it” without storyboards or a satisfactory script, according to IndieWire.
“It was impossible, and as a result of it being impossible I just started shooting the movie with most of it not prepped at all,” he said, continuing, “I spent most of ‘The Hobbit’ feeling like I was not on top of it.”
“The Giver” is a classic, beloved book, and the movie made too many changes.
The simplicity, ambiguity, and world-building of Lois Lowry’s “The Giver” have made it a compelling read for people of all ages. However, the 2014 movie dialed every aspect of the book up too high.
Jonas’ community becomes a futuristic sci-fi world full of CGI. The Elder is villianized to replace the book’s thoughtful musings about the nature of humanity. Jonas’ interest in Fiona is expanded into a distracting romantic subplot. His escape from the community becomes an involved, over-the-top spy-movie sequence.
The movie would have been better off had it followed Lowry’s lead instead of trying to make another action-packed “The Hunger Games” or “Divergent.”
The movie version of Eoin Colfer’s “Artemis Fowl” was past its prime.
The film adaptation of “Artemis Fowl” had been in production since 2001 before finally being released in 2020. Even if the movie had been done well, it came too late for there to be any real interest in it.
The movie sanitizes the book’s portrayal of a shrewd 12-year-old criminal mastermind who falls in with a secret fairy realm, and chops up the plot so badly that even Josh Gad’s near-constant voiceover exposition does little to help viewers follow along.
“Every Day” straightwashed the relationship between A and Rhiannon.
David Levithan’s book “Every Day” features a protagonist, “A,” who wakes up in a different body every day and falls in love with a girl named Rhiannon.
In the book, A is genderless, inhabiting bodies of multiple genders and gender expressions. A’s relationship with Rhiannon serves as important LGBTQ+ representation with a fantasy twist. However, the 2018 movie adaptation makes “A” male most of the time, essentially erasing the queer nature of the story.
“The Sun Is Also a Star” made for a captivating book, but the pacing didn’t work onscreen.
“The Sun Is Also a Star” takes place over one intense day – Natasha Kingston’s last day in America due to her family’s looming deportation – that she spends with a stranger she meets in a chance encounter named Daniel Bae.
The book version of the whirlwind romance by Nicola Yoon switches between the two characters’ internal monologues, giving the reader more insight into their blossoming love. On film, their sudden connection feels forced and rushed.
“City of Ember” was a box office flop, earning back only $US17.9 million of its $US55 million budget.
“City of Ember” follows two teenagers in a dystopian underground city who work to solve the mystery of how they ended up there. The duo must figure out how to escape its failing infrastructure while battling a corrupt, selfish leader.
Variety film critic Justin Chang called the 2008 movie “a good-looking but no more than serviceable adaptation of Jeanne Duprau’s 2003 novel.” The four-book City of Ember series could have become a successful film franchise if the movie had retained the book’s sense of adventure, danger, and suspense.
“A Series of Unfortunate Events” tried to cram three novels into one film.
“A Series of Unfortunate Events” by Lemony Snicket follows the Baudelaire orphans through a series of misadventures, mishaps, and mysteries in 13 books. Where the 2004 movie went wrong was trying to cram the first three books in the series into one film, cutting and pasting the story in ways that did a disservice to the popular series.
The books were given a second chance in a 2017 Netflix series starring Neil Patrick Harris – a much better format.
The “Cloud Atlas” book has too many moving parts for a meaningful adaptation.
“Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell features six interconnected stories that span the past, present, and future, each with different characters, setting, and plots. It’s a thought-provoking but dizzying read.
The movie version, which was released in 2012, cuts characters, amps up the romance, and has the same actors play different roles in each story to drive home the book’s message about how humanity is connected through time and space. It also does away with the book’s nested storytelling structure, where the first halves of the stories are followed by the second halves in reverse order, to put them more in conversation with each other.
While screenwriters did their best to streamline the multiple plotlines, “Cloud Atlas” is just a complex book that doesn’t lend itself well to a film adaptation.
“The Goldfinch” was unsuccessful at the box office and with critics.
“The Goldfinch,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Donna Tartt, centres around a boy named Theo who steals a painting called “The Goldfinch” by Carel Fabritius after his mother is killed in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The film version was released in 2019.
Insider’s Kim Renfro wrote that the movie adaptation failed on several fronts: It doesn’t spend enough time developing the characters, jumps through time in confusing ways, withholds information, and leaves plotlines unaddressed even though they were resolved in the book.