Hollywood churns out around 700 feature films every year. All that content has to come from somewhere. And while screenplay writers are doing their best, producers often find inspiration in popular novels. After all, they have a built-in fanbase that provides some assurance of a blockbuster opening weekend. But not all film adaptions are hits. The two storytelling methods use wildly different conventions. Not all writers are adept at turning 35 pages of exposition and monologue into quality entertainment.
There’s always one person whose opinion ironically seems to matter the least, the author of the original material. Once they’ve sold their book rights, they get a big check and not a lot of say in the production. Here are ten of the worst movie adaptations of books of all time.
Earthsea wasn’t a major picture release but a quiet adaption of science-fiction heavyweight Ursula Le Guin’s novel on the Sci-Fi channel. In a later piece for Slate, Le Guin wrote that when she finally saw the script, the producers had no understanding of the book.
Some critics call this movie the worst ever. It’s based on a novel of the same name by Gore Vidal. Vidal blamed critics for lauding the film director, who he claims ended up working as a tavern server because of the hack job he did on the production.
While Mary Poppins is a beloved childhood movie for many, the author of the original novel, P. L. Travers, felt the film committed an act of violence against her story. She said there was no magic in the movie, which is a sophisticated take on Disney’s productions.
This one feels inevitable; it’s bound to get trashy when you’re on movie #11 from a single source material. Clive Barker, the author who started the Hellraiser series with his novel, took to Twitter to disavow the 2011 production. He tweeted it wasn’t from his mind or “even from my butt-hole.”
A Wrinkle in Time
To be fair to the film adaptations, this YA novel from the 60s is heady. Madeleine L’Engle, the author, wasn’t alive for the 2018 disaster but said of the 2003 production, “I expected it to be bad, and it is.”
My Foolish Heart
My Foolish Heart was the only JD Salinger work adapted for film. The inspiration was the short story, Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut. Hollywood gave it the old razzle-dazzle, infuriating Salinger and ensuring Catcher in the Rye would never become a screenplay.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Roald Dahl himself wrote the screenplay, proving that movie magic is truly a collaborative effort, with dozens of opinions laying in wait to ruin it. Dahl was so upset he considered campaigning against the movie, despite having written it himself.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Capote dismissed the adaptation after they cast Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly instead of Marilyn Monroe, condemning the production as a “valentine to New York.” Sorry, Capote, but that’s what we love about the movie.
Stephen King found the Kubrick adaptation tone-deaf to the emotional dynamics of the family. The 1980 movie is horror and gore without unnerving suspense. Stephen King describes Jack Nicholson as showing up to the job interview at the Overlook Hotel “already bonkers.”
Bret Easton Ellis doesn’t feel the same way about the movie version of his book as the rest of us. He claims the book is unadaptable because of its ambiguousness and sensibility. The Huey Lewis and the News scene is more than enough redemption for whatever the movie lacks.
I Know What You Did Last Summer
Who knew this was even an adaptation? The author of the book of the same name, Lois Duncan, thought she’d walked into the wrong theater when she went to see the movie. Ironically, the over-sensationalized violence bothered her the most, calling it “a travesty.” She was too upset even to eat her popcorn.