It seems to be all the rage these days when it comes to movie studios turning every popular book, novel, or series into a live-action film. They all believe the fan-favorite comic book or the critically acclaimed graphic novel will easily translate into box office success. And it makes sense that moviemaking institutions would think that as it has been very profitable in the past. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Twilight are all examples of franchises that found an audience and did very well financially. This would leave many to believe that every time this endeavor is attempted it results in a win and that could not be farther from the truth.
Sometimes even the most popular piece of literature won’t do well with viewers no matter who hard they try. There are many factors that could result in this. The material may need more than just a two-hour time limit to get the message across. It could also be because of a lackluster cast, poor production budget, or just a complete lack of understanding of the source material. Whatever the reason may be, their more examples of failed film adaptations of popular reading materials then Hollywood would like to admit. Of all the swings and misses in this department here are ten worst book-to-movie adaptations that failed to resonate well with audiences.
Battlefield Earth (2000)
Most popular Science fiction films are based on books, like Blade Runner and Total Recall. But just because its popular on the page does not mean it will translate into a film people will enjoy watching. Battlefield Earth is the famous 1982 sci-fi novel written by L. Ron Hubbard that was a New York Times best-seller. This film was a long time passion project of actor John Travolta who went on to star in the film adaptation along with Barry Pepper and Forest Whitaker. This film, taking place in the year 3000 where human beings are an endangered species failed on virtually every level.
The story was pretty by the numbers and the visuals were not up to par with what moviegoers needed to see in order to make a science fiction adaptation work. This came out with the intention of being a powerhouse like Star Wars or Aliens but sadly ended up costing the studio $73 million while only bringing in a measly $29.7 million, less than half. The book seemed to resonate well with readers but could not find its place among theater audiences. This out of this world tale belongs in the deep reaches of space where no one can see its mediocrity.
A Wrinkle in Time (2018)
Children’s stories seem to do pretty well when they are turned into films, but not every endeavor in this department results in a victory, despite how everything involving the project reads like a guaranteed win on paper. A Wrinkle in Time is an example of this particular aforementioned situation and it goes without saying, it is by no means a masterpiece. Helmed by the very talented movie director Ava Duvernay and featuring a rock-solid cast of A-listers, this Disney blockbuster attempt based on the 1962 novel by Madeleine L’Engle’s did not do as well as expected. This one barely made back its budget as it cost $130 million to be made and only brought in $132 million total.
This magical fairy tale book about a girl and her brother’s mystical search for her father starred the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and even features Chris Pine. But all this star power was not able to replicate the magical experience that turned the literary version of the story into such a memorable experience for its large fan base. Disney has been notoriously known to do well with adaptations but this title will remain a wrinkle in their impervious record for a very long time.
The Golden Compass (2007)
Northern Lights is the first novel in the His Dark Materials trilogy written by Philip Pullman. This very popular piece of literary greatness was a huge hit with readers all over the world and Hollywood had its sights set on turning it into the next big franchise. While it looks like the studio behind it all planned to turn all three stories into films, they ended up falling flat on their faces with their first attempt. This Inevitably destroyed any actual chance at a sequel, let alone a trilogy. The film had the players everyone thought was necessary to carry a franchise. Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman Eva Green and Sam Elliot were the talented individuals that made up this movies roster. Even Ian Mckellan who was thought to be adaptation gold with his success in The Lord of The Rings and X-Men franchises.
The film’s over-bloated story and lengthy exposition eclipsed the cool talking polar bears and stellar visuals. The studio messing with the director’s vision in the post-production didn’t help matters either. In the end, the magic that jumped off the pages of the books that did so well with readers was unbelievably absent in this jumbled mess of a motion picture. Its low domestic take was too low for the studio to take and its lackluster reception leads to the sequels being canceled, as well as New Line needing to get taken over by a larger entity to bear the financial hiccup from this disappointment in the adaptation department.
The Dark Tower (2017)
Stephen King is one of the most famous horror writers out there and many of his terrifying tales have been successfully adapted into great films. The Shining and Pet Sematary are just a few of the truly iconic pieces of horror cinema greatness that have come from the pages of King’s writing, but not every single one of them worked out this same way. One title that falls in this category of adaptation failure is The Dark Tower. This motion picture is about a badass gunslinger who takes on an evil demonic force bent on the world being covered in darkness.
It is the kind of story most people were wondering why it took so long to get made. And then after witnessing the horrific mess of a movie, those wondering about its absence from the silver screen becomes a regretting experience every second of watching it. This film felt like a bad action movie attempting to be a good Stephen King flick. Idris Elba as the gunslinger and Academy Award Winner Matthew McConaughey as the villain couldn’t save this film, nor find an audience to get behind it. The Dark Tower was a dull disappointment that was not only not faithful to its source material but was also not being faithful to the devoted Stephen King fanbase.
Some books seem like they are written to be turned into films because of the epic story they contain. Based on the 2002 novel of the same name, Eragon falls in this category and attempted to be a powerhouse like Lord of the Rings. The story has knights, dragons and epic battles, so it seemed it had all the ingredients destined for box office glory and critical praise. The film received neither and was one of the worst reviewed films of 2006. The acting has been described as lame and lifeless which is odd considering its famous cast. John Malkovich is definitely giving in a phoned-in performance and Jeremy Irons is blander than usual.
It also probably didn’t help matters that this pile of fantasy garbage was written by the same writer who penned the inexcusably bad Jurassic Park III. Both critics and book fans fell that this adaptation felt generic and lacking in depth. The silly dialogue, derivative storyline, among everything else made sure the chances at this franchise continuing on in theaters were dragon-slayed worse than any dragon in the history of its mythology.
The Giver (2014)
For a story that camps on individuality and self-expression, the film version of The Giver feels very generic addition to the once-popular young adult genre. The film, based on the very famous Lois Lowry novel, follows the story pretty well. A seemingly perfect place on Earth where there is no war, no suffering, and no pain quickly, becomes all those things for the viewer. The story centers on a young boy who ends up learning from an elder about the pain of the real world, and the audiences quickly learned this would also be a painful experience.
Even with Academy Award winners Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges adding their talents to this motion picture it fails to achieve any of the residual impacts its literary predecessor did on a global and legendary level. The Giver is such an iconic tale that the film adaptation felt like it never even came close to the game-changing experience felt by reading the book. Not even close at all.
Green Lantern (2011)
Comic book adaptations have a built-in audience and are usually a safe bet for studios to put their faith in. But not every masked vigilante or advanced being from the cosmos is a guaranteed box office juggernaut. Some are even considered some of the biggest mistakes in the history of making superhero films. The one that really comes to mind in this department is 2011’s Green Lantern. After Superman and Batman had a solid run of consistency with pleasing their fanbase, the hotshot pilot turned galactic protector powered by a jade piece of hand jewelry was poised to follow suit.
This was not the case as even heartthrob funny man Ryan Reynolds and all his charisma couldn’t put this iconic DC hero successfully into a movie anyone wanted to see. Hardcore fans despised it and casual moviegoers thought it was so campy that the character has since been shelved from the major rebooted shared universe that has spawned a successful Wonder Woman film, as well as a film about a hero that talks to fish. Green Lantern continues to be a joke among the genre of comic-related films and is one failure no studio wants to repeat.
Watchmen has always been regarded as a comic that would be impossible to adapt into a film. Director Zack Snyder attempted to bring his signature style and adapt the famous Alan Moore comic for the big screen. This ensemble flick takes place in an alternate version of 1985 where masked heroes with powers are an everyday thing. When one of them is killed, a mysterious conspiracy unfolds involving several members of a superhero group that disbanded once it became illegal to wear a mask.
This neo-noir movie looks great and definitely has its moments, but overall is kind of a drag. Watchmen’s dark and unique take didn’t do well with hardcore fans of the source material and the characters involved lacked authenticity. Snyder’s interpretation feels more like an action film than it should. His take painfully lacked the subtlety and wit people loved so much from the original story. While it serves as a solid topic for debate among experts and fans of the graphic novel, it definitely failed to match the overall success that most superhero films and the Moore novel ever achieved.
Beautiful Creatures (2013)
The YA genre seemed for a while like a surefire way to print money at the box office. But certain titles were immune to this popular trend, even if it had so many things fans already have proven to love in their movies. Zombies, wizards, and vampires have been the all the rage in Hollywood so it is understandable why some execs would think that witches would fare just as well. So they decided to adapt the famous 2009 romantic gothic fantasy novel written by Margaret Stool and Kami Garcia. Beautiful Creatures ended being a bland experience overall that is devoid of any actual movie magic, which is ironic considering the film’s premise.
It’s recycled light vs. dark storyline fail to bring much of anything new to the table. It ultimately feels like a disappointing combination of a poor man’s version of Harry Potter and a watered down version of Twilight. The performances are pretty solid throughout and the romantic leads do a good job of keeping things somewhat interesting, but in the end, there isn’t anything very beautiful about this lackluster cinematic creature.
The Mortal Engines (2018)
The Mortal Engines had everything it needed to be a worldwide success. The novel written by Philip Reeve takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where cities have been mounted on wheels and battle each other for resources. Peter Jackson was serving as Executive Producer on this one and brought many of his production people from his hit adaptation endeavors The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The final product was heavily criticized for its lack of direction, poor screenplay, and being devoid of any noticeable personality.
All the great things about Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations were missing and this felt like a poor attempt at recreating that Lord of the Rings magic that resonated so well audiences. While its visuals were impressive and the score was powerful, this was not a hit with fans of the book and most Jackson fanatics to this daydream of what this could have looked like had the man himself directed this one. The price tag on this bad boy was somewhere between $100-150 million, which hits you like an engine of mortal pain when you find out it only brought in a pitiful $83 million, making it one of the worst box office bombs of 2018. This proves just because the book is popular, it does not mean that victory will be guaranteed for the silver screen.