Great Book, Terrible Movie: When Film Adaptations Go Wrong

It always seems that whenever Hollywood adapts a book for the silver screen, the movie never quite lives up to the book. There are exceptions (The Talented Mr. Ripley comes to mind), but for the most part the movie fails to capture whatever it was that made the book great. And then there are movies where the studio completely misses the mark. Here’s a list of 5 book-to-movie trainwrecks:

1. The Time Machine – This 2002 travesty was adapted from the classic novel by H.G. Wells. Featuring pop singer Samantha Mumba as a love interest for the main character, the film was plagued with plotholes, poor acting, and too many characters. The film’s early sequences in the 1900’s worked very well, but once the time traveler jumps to 802,701 AD, things just get ridiculous. Ultimately, the movie failed because it felt hollow and heartless.

2. The Scarlet Letter – Marketed as a “free adaptation” of the classic story by Nathanial Hawthorne, Demi Moore starred as Hester Prynne in a movie than brings new meaning to the term “free adaptation”. I can understand the introduction of the sex scenes. They add a certain appeal to the movie, and arguably they add a dimension of realism. Still, the voyeuristic sex scenes with the slave girl, the lack of Pearl as an important character, and above all the happy ending combine to make a truly terrible movie with no respect for the source material. I’m sure Hawthorne is rolling in his grave.

3. A Scanner Darkly – There’s a lot to like about the movie adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel. The innovative animation style works well in a world where most of the people are on drugs. There are even some great performances from Robert Downey, Jr. and Woody Harrelson. But once again, this movie falls flat because of Keanu Reeves. The movie lacks suspense, the viewer is unable to become emotionally invested in the characters, and you can see the “twist ending” coming from a mile away.

4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – One of the funniest books of all time is transformed into a campy, slapstick, boring mess. Despite great casting (Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent, Mos Def as Ford Prefect, and Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox), the movie lacked the warmth of the original book. While there were some laughs to be had, overall the movie pales in comparison to the book.

5. Battlefield Earth – Arguably not a great book, but merits inclusion on this list because the film adaptation was nauseatingly bad. Strange camera angles, lackluster performances, and an over-the-top score all combined to make one terrible movie. Universally despised by critics, the movie received such glowing reviews as:

“What was he thinking?” – LA Times

“Zero Stars!” – NY Daily News

“A million monkeys with a million crayons would be hard-pressed in a million years to create anything as cretinous as ‘Battlefield Earth’!” – The Washington Post


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